It's near midnight. Isn't always near midnight when stories happen? A figure is running over. I'm early, sitting here at Campus Parkway for an extra light cycle. No need to leave this fellow in the dust. I'm feeling generous. Why am I feeling generous?
About twenty minutes ago eggs were thrown at my bus, spew-cascading off my left side and mirrors. It took me a bit to piece together. First a flash more like a sound, a scattering sparking flare on the asphalt; then I notice my left exterior mirror, newly hazy, slimy, the only time yellow is ever offensive. The car speeding off now makes sense. I'm more confused than hurt. What did this mean? What can it mean?
Seeing this running figure now, I didn't have the energy to be spiteful. He was a tall black man wearing all black, American, hiking up the fabric of his jeans, the better to allow him to run. Urban fashion du jour– sagging pants, overheavy construction boots, unlaced basketball sneakers, loads of heavy fabric, layered jackets over hoodies… people who dress like this can't move quickly. But he put himself together as best he could, hustling briskly over. You do what you have to do.
“Man,” he breathed. “I appreciate you so much.”
“Oh for sure.”
“Seriously though, thank you.”
“Always! I know the feeling!”
“Oh man. You changed my night. I'm so grateful.” I could tell he meant it, too, out here in the late night. Not everyone about at this time is actually going anywhere. But for those with destinations, a desperation sets in as the buses become less frequent, each hour a little colder.
“Dude, for sure. Too long to wait for the next bus, you know?”
He grinned in the dark. “I KNOW!”
As we pulled away I added, “I ride the bus all the time, so I know how it feels.”
“You already know. Man there's times when I come runnin’ up on the side the bus I got my hands together like this, begging. I'm begging! And he done just drives off.”
“Ooohh! That's terrible! Why!”
“Or another time I'm tryna get the 49, it's 'bout two o’clock in the morning, right–”
"Yeah." I've driven that one. He had the storyteller’s enthusiasm, and more. Look at his eyes glinting brightly, his pearly white teeth gleaming against the dim interior. I briefly wondered if he’d had braces, like me. Straight teeth, clean skin. Good-looking guy. He continued.
“And I'm begging, bro!”
I was reminded of this moment. The gesture of an appeal to one's better angels gets to me. I said, "how could anyone say no to that?"
“Yeah! And he leaves me, but I run after him. And I make it down to the next one, and then the next one and he lets me on. But that was after I chased him all the way down.”
“Man, the stress! ‘Specially that time of night. I'm so sorry. I try to make up for those guys.”
“You so do. Man, thank you. You made my night. Now I got something to tell my wife. This was th’ highlight of the whole day. What's your name?”
“Nathan, my name's JJ.”
“Good to meet you.”
Some people hide their enthusiastic verve because they're worried about being made fun of. He didn't have an iota of that in his DNA. I decided to be honest about my feelings. Do you know the sensation, when you realize you’re among like company?
“Actually, dude, I'm glad you stepped in, ‘cause right before you got on there was some guys in a car that was throwin’ eggs at the bus.”
“Yeah, just drivin' past. There's some on the outside of the bus." I gestured to my left.
He heard me. He really heard me. He was slowing down now, a birthing seriousness. I could see him picturing the event. “Man, that's messed up.”
“I was like, where's this coming from, why would they do that? Are these high school kids or something?” At what age do we learn that being spiteful, holding grudges– is a waste of time?
“Eggs? At a bus? Maaan," he said, incredulously. "I wish't I could a been there, I woulda hopped out and–”
“It's like, come on now! And it's not like I did anything to them, cut 'em off or something, they just came outta nowhere.”
“Yeah, I see one on th’ glass there." Referring to my left side mirror.
“I can't take it personal though, cause... they don't know me.”
“Yeah. That's the world we live in though.”
“Yeah, it's a funky time right now.”
“TikTok and all that, people rather do that and go to jail. Man, why they wanna throw shit at a bus?”
“Doesn't make any sense!”
He said it suddenly, with urgency: "I wanna wash it off for you."
I looked at him. The passion in his voice went straight to my heart. I didn't know what to say.
"I’ll hop out really quick the next time you stop.”
“Aw, it's cool," I said. "Thank you though, I appreciate you.”
“You don't have to do that.”
He said, “Bro. We gotta take care of each other.”
And with that he was out the bus at Rainier Vista, before I could say anything. I pulled the emergency brake. He grabbed a few masks from the dispenser as impromptu paper towels and scrambled over to my left side, scrubbing and wiping away. This man cared. He needed to balance out the world's hate. He wanted to show me my fragile goodness, my kind intentions, were appreciated. That they deserved more than trampling.
We gotta take care of each other.
I could have cried. He leapt back inside with alacrity, saying, “There, that's better. I hope that's better.”
“You're amazing,” I said, looking at him. “Seriously, thank you.”
“Got to look out for our bus drivers!”
“Man, JJ, thank you so much.” We were parked at a bus stop, and outside my still-open doors was a young woman waiting for another bus. I looked at her and yelled out, gesturing to my friend whom she’d just watched clean the bus, “this is the man o' the year right here! Man of the year!” She smiled. He did too.
We were on our way.
Like nothing had happened, he and I were back to talking.
“It's crazy, 'cause, I'm used to driving routes that are more... intense than this, like I drive the 7 and the E Line, but this never happened on those ones! And this' the 75, and nothing ever happens on the 75–"
“NOTHING!” he practically roared, in wild agreement. This guy knew the lay of the land.
“Totally! On those routes, people would sometimes step up to help me when something was going down, and I always appreciated that. People helping each other out.”
“Man, if this happened on those routes I bet some folks woulda stepped out the bus to take care of that car, no questions asked. Eggs? Seriously, who is these people?”
At some point you run out of air complaining, and life starts back up again. Thank goodness for that. I said, “so you just gettin' offa work?”
“Yeah, I'm at the Gyro place on the Ave.”
“I hope they give you a discount on the food.”
“Yeah, family owned, so stop in!”
So that's why he was out here. His last words are how I remember him. He said them with unabashed enthusiasm:
“Man, I wish there was more I could do for you. You changed my night. Thank you!”
Some guy running after the bus from across the street holding up his pants with one hand. Can you believe it? That's the nicest passenger of the night.
I reflected as I drove away. I thought about him, but I couldn't help think about the eggs and eggers as well. You've been there, I think, mistreated before in some way. Our friend above has too, I'm sure, and I imagine that's at least partly what motivated his vigor in correcting the night's error. You've suffered, and afterwards the question has nagged you also: why do certain people sometimes hurt other people?
We have to start by remembering two things. Firstly, as Rutger Bregman points out, humans only do evil when it's disguised as good. When it achieves a balance or aim they deem worthy. Secondly, people often assume other people think and behave like them. A cynic will interpret your actions cynically. A pessimist will think you're pessimistic, or else not pessimistic enough. Crucially, a distrusting and deceitful person will assume you are the same. They will not perceive their slip-up in assuming this. You may be gullible and friendly, like me; but they can still think you're manipulative and hateful, if that's their own modus through life. People don't see you. They see their experience of you, and that perception is based on the totality of their life experiences up until that moment. Which have nothing to do with you, of course. You want to ask them, are you really at all surprised by your conclusion?
The root of all anger is mistrust. And anger's search for a release can manifest in harm done to others, feeble attempts to assert power over others, the self hunting for itself in all the wrong places. These poor souls don't have a clue. They spend a lifetime not figuring out what the rest of us already know: none of that will actually help you. Stop looking outward.
In the long run, for the ease of your heart and the health of your soul, it is infinitely better to receive harm than to cause it. Nothing calcifies the soul like pretending to yourself you are good when you know, deep down, that you aren't. As the film says, better to suffer injustice than to do it.
Those boys (or girls) had no idea why they egged my bus. But I know why. It was so I could be bathed in glowing goodness and love twenty minutes later. So I could know how that feels, how real and true the best sides of humanity are.
You remember Angel of Third and Marion, from this speech of mine. I'm now christening this fellow Angel of Campus Parkway. Remember: Some Guy running around Campus Parkway at midnight.
I'm so glad I gave him a chance.