"Young driver!" he slurred, three syllables a bit much to handle in his intoxicated state. He's a young thirty, this Somalian man, saliva pooling around his lips, in a sports coat and beanie.
"Young driver, how old are you?" Di-ryvah.
"You are young driver!"
The subsequent clarification and understanding weren't terribly exciting. He was too drunk even for a fistpound, gazing confusedly at my proffered fist and then grasping it like an tennis ball.
"Okay, come on in," I said.
My notes now read, "young driver 50x," and I think this is a genuine underestimation. For a solid forty minutes or so he bellowed from the back inarticulately and repeatedly, "young driver! Young driver! Young driver, are you 29?" I'd told him my age. It was hard to discern anything of substance beyond the repeated "young driver." It's a strange feeling, knowing someone is talking about you, but not knowing if the talk is negative or positive. Periodically I'd holler things like, "I can't hear you, my friend, come on up! I can't hear nothin' you're saying!"
Eventually he did stagger up. "Give me your bag," he said.
"But I don't have a bag."
"Give me your bag!"
"Oh I see, you want a bag." This was no attempted robbery, but rather a request for some basket-like object to carry his eight-pack of orange Fanta and six-pack (now five) of Heineken. His drinks were on the brink of collapsing out of his cradling arms.
The wheel, paper, or the printing press are generally acknowledged as the great human inventions in history, but some anthropologists have made a compelling case for the basket. The concept of carrying an extra item that can contain multiple items is rather revolutionary, and vital in daily life regardless of how developed a society is. I actually remember thinking this while the guy was accosting me. I'm sure he would have agreed.
"Give me your bag," he begins yelling to each individual passenger.
"Oh you gotta say 'please give me your bag,' yeah, that's the only way people are gonna give you their bags!"
Delicacy is not his strong suit right now. Free bags are not forthcoming, and he stumbles back to his spot in the rear. "Young driver," I hear amidst the traffic noise. "Young driver…." A woman sitting near him comes up to the front to exit, and I ask her, "what's he goin' on about back there?"
"I hope he's a friendly drunk. That's more than we can ask for."
"Good. Thanks for being patient!"
That was at Boren Avenue, outbound. Ten minutes later, at John Street, he staggers up to the front again, struggling like Sisyphus up the mountain.
"That is me! You wanna step out here?"
"Wha…? No, I wanna go back," and he dodders back down the aisle, teetering by the middle door, finally collapsing in a heap at the bottom of the stairwell.
I open the doors and walk back there. "Hey, how ya feelin'?" I ask the collapsed heap, realizing mid-sentence that the line probably sounds insensitive. I step around him and out of the bus, speaking to him from my position on the sidewalk.
"Uuhhh…," he says.
"Maybe wanna step outside, cool off for a bit?"
"I think it's time to step out, man."
"No, I wanna go back in…"
"No my friend, it's time for you to step outside." Say it with confidence. "It's time to jump out the bus, I'm gonna help you. I'm gonna take your hand–" didn't think I'd be saying that to a drunk male today, but hey, the world is full of surprises– "I'm gonna take your hand like this and we're gonna get you back up."
"I'm gonna help you out." Taking just his hand isn't going to work. His body is diagonally laid out on the stairs, with his head at lowest point, near the bottom step. "I'm gonna reach under your shoulder and lift you up like this, okay?"
"Yup, it's time to step outside, get some fresh air. Here we go."
"But I wanna go back and get my drink!"
Angel of Broadway and John at this moment stepped in to assist. I love it when angels help out. He was a passenger our friend had been accosting (benignly), and this man, a healthy guy also in his thirties, ably grabbed the drunk figure's other shoulder and we lifted– actually dragged is more like it– his form back into a standing position on the sidewalk. In response to the cries for his drinks, Angel of Broadway and John went back and retrieved them. All the while I kept reassuring the guy everything was all right, as he was getting darkly anxious. "My friend is getting your drinks, he's helping you out. We're gonna get your drinks back for you– look, there he is! Fanta! You have your Fanta back, everything is good!"
I think he was more excited by the beer.
"Okay, you have a good night now!" I said.
Having another body helping out in a situation like that is huge. I thanked Angel of Broadway and John profusely. We got to talking afterwards.
"Hey. Were you the driver who missing in Paris?"
"Oh my goodness, how did you know that!"
"You had a bunch of people worried. I talked to five or six drivers who were worried about you."
"Oh my goodness, no way! Yeah, I was declared missing by the US Embassy for three days. Them, and the French Police, and CNN eventually found me."
"Wow. Yeah, I was on a 49 when the radio message came out that you were okay. The driver told us about it, and the whole bus gave a round of applause!"
"WHAT?! are you serious? No way! Wow! That's humbling beyond belief. A round of what? Oh my goodness, I had no idea. I didn't know that! Thanks for telling me!"
For some people, their ego inflates from such acclaim. I think I'm closer to the opposite: it's my opinion of people at large, not myself, which skyrockets. That there were that many people who cared, about the welfare of myself, just the friendly stranger? That this guy wanted to help carry a drunk man down some stairs, for nothing in return? What glorious space are we living in?