Helpers in the Night
The running joke in my head is, I just don’t know how to talk to the ladies!
I think of it when I have particularly awful or unsafe encounters on the bus, which in my experience have nearly always been with female passengers. Most of my worst nights on the road have involved challenges with severely unstable women; I imagine the opposite is true for my female colleagues. I’m also guessing it’s harder to be homeless and female rather than homeless and male, perhaps accounting for more extreme cases. Personally, I chalk my circumstance up to coincidence and find it unhealthy to do otherwise.
Regardless, anyone who thinks all women are angels has clearly never been on an elementary playground, gone to high school, or driven a city bus. This job has taught me in potent terms that no declarative statement on human behavior is ever true. No demographic fits into a box, or has a monopoly on good manners. It’s easier to just say:
Everyone’s great, and everyone’s awful.
You drive long enough with open eyes, and you’ll find a counterexample to whatever we've been taught to assume. There are nice cops, despotic women, polite hoodlums, capable female professionals, snobby homeless people, safe Uber drivers, buff nerds, tender he-men, black people who don’t like sports, Asian people who are bad at math, compassionate and empathetic rich white people, responsible drug users, criminal angels and every other stereotype-busting attitude you could possibly imagine out here.
It’s a wide world, as they say.
Tonight a lone King County Sheriff was gamely doing his best to remove a passenger from my coach. He kept politely exhorting the young lady sprawled out across the front seats, telling her this was the last stop and so on. I’d tried the same to no avail earlier. She ululated in tongues, a primordial roar from a time before language, expressing anguish in its purest form. She periodically rose from a shapeless collection of sweatshirts and sagging sweatpants to assault the air, besieging him with profanities you know he won’t be repeating to his mother.
A couple had gathered outside the bus– a thirty-something pair, good-looking as models, perhaps young professionals out on the town for a night out. The woman, with straightened blonde hair and fashionable knee-high boots, held her fellow’s arm as they looked on, watching the proceedings. He had close-cropped dark hair and a fitted rainproof jacket. They took a step forward, catching the Sheriff’s eye; the man made a gesture with his hand, one I had not seen before. The Sheriff nodded, and the couple took a step back but continued watching.
Now the woman inside leapt up with her arms flailing, her teeth bared and going for the officer’s neck. Her mouth stretched wide open with eyes squinted almost shut, giving the impression of a faceless collection of incisors, saliva flying and bellowing with vampiric abandon.
Here is the man from outside already bounding in, his arms forceful and crooked at ready positions, completing a precision strike I was still trying to process as his steel-toed shoe intersected with her right calf, neatly reducing her to the ground without a sound in seconds flat.
I thought, that’s combat training for sure.
They didn’t know each other, but he’d communicated by signal beforehand: I’m here if you need me.
Together they carried her wrestling form outside, efficiently, avoiding her still-gnashing teeth. I stepped outside the bus also, hands in pockets and taking it all in. The blonde half of the professional duo who’d been watching approached me.
“How are you,” she asked, with an easy smile.
“Oh, pretty good. She was fine two hours ago,” I said, referring to our misbehaving friend. “But I guess we have our good moments, and our…”
“Not so good ones?”
“Exactly, not quite so good! How's the night for you?”
“Pretty good,” she replied. “We're just visiting for the weekend.”
“Oh, cool! Where from?”
“Well, Washington. Just the other side of the state.”
“Where all that great sunshine is!”
“Yeah! It's a desert. We live in a desert.”
“I love deserts. Do you like it out there?”
“It has its good moments and it's not so good ones, I guess!”
“Right on! Your man's awesome, by the way. I really appreciate you guys taking a second to check in on us and help out.”
“Oh totally. No problem. My husband's with the police force over there.”
“Oh okay. Cool!”
“Yeah. It's like a brotherhood kind of a thing.”
“Gotta look out for each other?”
“That's great. Props to him, to the both of you for taking the time.”
“Oh, it's really no problem. So, do you have kids or anything?”
She was so friendly. She had the ready welcoming charm I’ve found more often in small towns or the Midwest, where I’ve noticed a more prevalent tendency to take real time to help strangers. How wrong I had been to assume they were a couple of young hipster Seattleites looky-looing their way past a Sheriff working way too hard. No, they were skilled at the patient art of caring, of civic brotherhood and support. She was genuinely interested in making conversation, the two of us discussing child-rearing as the boys struggled with handcuffs.
How little did I know. Another assumption checked off the list: a chic couple strolling through Chinatown dressed like supermodels maaaay sometimes stop everything they're doing and take time out of their evening to use highly specialized skills and help strangers out of physically dangerous situations!
Just another day in the game of life.
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