Driver Gregg and I are sitting outside our buses at Third and Main, on the overpass, sitting on the railing there, talking. We like to talk. Except we're at Third and Main, which means we're liable to be interrupted at any time.
Two fellows are approaching. They're arguing. One feels he knows all about the midwest, but the other one, well, he feels differently. "I'ma Indiana boy," the second man says confidently. "Grew up out there."
"Fuck that," says the first man, a disheveled character with curly hair and a windbreaker on at the height of summer. His knuckles have blood on them. He pauses when he sees Gregg and I, slowing down. Indiana Man walks past us and carries on alone.
I make eye contact. "How're you doin?"
"I'm OKAY," he says forcefully. He seems mentally unsteady, and primed for a bar fight.
"Yeah, you're doin' okay?"
"Yeah, well, it's what happens when things rush up to ya." He holds up his fists for me to observe. The wounds have clotted, and some are scabbing over.
He looks at me for a moment, taking me in. "You look like you don't do SHIT," he says finally.
"You know, sometimes I just DON'T. Sometimes I just get up late-"
"I just got back from Alaska."
"Oh, man. How long were you up there?"
"Three months, like three months."
"Right on, man. That's work."
"Were you up there for work? Were you on a boat?"
"Fuck," he says, as naturally as breathing. "Yeah," he says, trailing off, balling his fist.
He's a little too unstable for this moment. I'm not sure how long this conversation can stay civil. I decide to wrap it up.
"Okay. You have a good night now."
"You be safe now."
"Yeah, you too. And don't... SUCK ON TOO MANY WIENERS," he yells suddenly, almost losing balance.
"I'll try not to," I respond in a reasonable tone. Hey, I've gotten worse advice in my life!
"See? He's gonna try not to," he yells at an unsuspecting woman, following her down the street and continuing his haranguing. "It's the best we can do is TRY..."
The layover at Third and Main is not really a break. It's a break from driving, sure, and there is a restroom, which is great, but you're still very much at work. You've got to stay "on," as it were, what with the characters sauntering by. I'll leave my doors open and usually be standing somewhere just outside my bus, reading, stretching, eating. There've been a couple wonderful interactions with people I've had in the past because I've left my doors open at terminals, and because of those few incidents I tend to leave them open most of the time now. It's in line with Metro's notion that buses are "always in service," even if they're on deadheads or Y-routes.
In any event, there's always people hanging out at Third and Main. I can understand the appeal. You have the railings which are convenient to sit on; there's the terrific views facing both north and south; the sight and sound of the trains passing by below; and, though unused by me, multiple nooks and crannies for urinitating and defecating. Someone's always hanging around. Once at 6:00 in the morning a man walked by. "UUGGHAAOOWWWUU-UU," he said to no one in particular, roaring into the foggy quiet. The fact that Foster/White and a number of other genteel galleries are just around the corner amuses me; what business do they have in this neck of the woods? Ah, but they are equally part of the neighborhood. Such conflations and collisions of worlds are among the many joys of Seattle.
Today we have Walking Man (he goes for long pre-dawn walks) loitering on the south side of Main; on the north side are Those Three Guys, a contingent of three (or four) folks who've comandeered their own section of railing to sit on; they like being by the back of Foster/White, and always say hello when I jog past them. (Part of my routine includes running up to the bathroom a block away and running back).
Further up is Kneeling Man, living up to his name by kneeling on the ground and staring into space with a sad face; sometimes he takes a break and lets his body rest, slumping on the concrete and taking sips from his paper bag. I've spoken with him only when he's on my bus. He's a mellow presence, and typically unresponsive. Maybe there's a lot on his mind.
There's also I'm Hurting. I'm Hurting is around forty, and he logs serious time at both Third and Main and Third and James. Judging by his cleaner skin and his clothes, which are not quite rags, he has a better living situation than Kneeling Man or some others. Nevertheless, that doesn't stop him from Hurting. I think he's a champion actor- and that's a polite term for it. Every time I see him, he's got a story.
"Hey man, listen," he'll say, tilting his head at an angle to evoke sympathy. "I'm hurting. I need two transfers. I been out all..."
"You gotta say please, dog!"
"Please, man. Iss for me and mah wife, we been runnin around-"
I don't recall the rest of the story.
They say faking a limp is notoriously difficult because most people tend to over-fake it. They'll put too much into the movements, exaggerating everything, as compared to someone with an actual limp. I'm Hurting is similar in his outlandish appeals for sympathy. I can see that he isn't telling the truth. Yesterday it was his wife, today it's his girlfriend...but not every actor can be perfect right out of the gate. It can be a long walk to stardom. I'm Hurting is still working on his craft. The following day he's there again, not terribly respectful this time as he solicits me once more.
"As long as you go for a ride," I say.
"Sure okay, I'll go for a ride," he responds, though after he takes the transfer, he doesn't go for a ride, somehow managing to be oblivious of my request.
Several days later he's hanging around again. I'm coming back from my bathroom jog.
"You runnin' late?"
I slow down, and we walk together for a short time.
"Naw, it's just gets my blood flowin,'" I explain. "You know, keeps the energy up."
"I can dig that. Get them endorphins up."
"Exactly, gettin' the endorphins goin,' keepin me alive..."
"Cool cool. Listen Boss, I'm Hurting."
I've decided it's time to say something.
"Alright my friend, check this out. Every time you see me you be hittin' me up for transfers. I can't be doin' that every day (This behavior is getting a touch egregious). Today I'm a hook you up (But I'm not overly miffed). But. I need you to be hittin' me up only when you REALLY need that (However. Recognize this is a privilege). You understand what I'm sayin'" (I'm not angry at you; we're on the same side).
"I gotchu, I gotchu." He's paying attention.
"'Cause I appreciate you bein' respectful, man (If you show respect, I'm grateful for it). That's what it's all about (This is important to me). As long as we got this respect goin' bof' ways, we could make it work" (It's not about the money. It's about the gesture, humans acknowledging other humans).
"I can dig it" (I can dig it).
"I appreciate you, man. You have a good evening, be safe tonight" (Thanks for letting me get that off my chest).
"Yeah man, always. You too now" (Thanks for treating me like a human being).