There's a figure crossing the street in front of me. We're stopped at Aurora and 155th southbound- I've just announced it as "the Safeway stop." To some, that might sound like I'm advertising a store. This would be incorrect. Out here, Safeway isn't a store. It's a cultural landmark on the order of the Jefferson Memorial or the Washington Momument. Places like Lowes and Grocery Outlet aren't stores that sell things. They hardly have interiors. They're Mount Rainier. They're the North Pole. You mark your geography by these towering monoliths, and negotiate your way through the city accordingly. Saars. Home Depot. It's how you get to the point where the word "McDonalds" actually means Third and Pine.
Anyways, we're sitting here at the North Pole stop, and I'm zoned out with a half-smile on my face, my thoughts drifting fast in the 90-second light cycle. This dark figure brings me back, out there in front of the bus, waving his hand high toward me. Man on a bicycle, mid-thirties, and he's no dealer- it's not one of those child-size one-speeds. Ambling across the intersection. In his tow is a young girl in a pink jacket, struggling forward on a bike of her own. The father isn't dressed to look like most people's first idea of a caring, gentle human being, what with his massive gray hoodie (hood up today), tough-guy goatee, and pants that never heard of a belt line.
But I know this fellow. Like a lot of folks in the young/youngish African-American set, it's just his getup. He's a well-rounded badass. He's only masquerading as the unidimensional, proverbial "one tough mother." His eyes, far from flat, carry a depth and humility built out of the passing years. Empathy. Being a father brings out a certain side of you, making real what were only possibilities before. He's the fellow I once wrote about as follows- "there's a satisfaction in getting a regular rider on a new route, where you sense that they're in on your whole schtick, they know how you roll and they like it. I see him in the mirror, looking toward me with mild amusement as I do my thing."
He gets around, and I mostly know him from the 7 and other south-side work, so to see each other out here in the far northern hinterlands is a welcome surprise. Aurora is great, but it's not quite my turf in the way Rainier is (I grew up riding the 7), so seeing a familiar face is always nice. My face lights up with a look of half-mock, half-real surprise, and I return the wave with elated gusto.
There is a world-weary kindness in him that washes into excitement when he sees me, and, I realize, in myself as well. It's his day, each one better than the last, and I'm nourished by the sight of it all, the richness of possibility I see in him, in his daughter, the new directions they'll pave that I can only guess at. You seem him and you think, he'll smile again before his time draws to a close. He gestures at his daughter, pointing me out to her: "it's that bus driver!"
She's too busy trying to stay balanced on her bike to pay attention. We'll forgive her that. "Happy New Year," I yell out my open window. "You too, Happy New Year!"