I'm working absurd 16 hour days all this week, hence my smaller presence on the site this week. I've been racking up stories to share- unavoidable, really, when that much time is spent on the road with all my wild and crazy friends on the street.
I did, however want to take a moment and offer an update on our friend discussed in the post entitled Hesitant- that was the one about the east Asian man being held by the police. He showed up a few days later, with his girlfriend in sight as usual. It turns out that he wasn't being arrested, but was involving the police because his girlfriend had been attacked by a couple of teenagers while he was buying drinks. He was standing there while they investigated the situation. "Age fifteen and eighteen, they killed me," she told me later in clipped English, showing me the bruises on her neck. I'm going to assume that by "killed" she meant "hit," as she was still alive when she told me this; I told them to be careful. We all shook hands a bunch of times, and she relayed the story again, and then once more. It was turning into one of those situations where you really do care about them, and you want to keep talking, but you feel the pressure mounting, cold stares from the other passengers, and a mounting antsiness bubbling from the professional side of you that wants to offer good bus service. Call it a psychological bathroom urge- you gotta get outta there. Can't sit around on Graham Street all day.
A short while later they showed up again. They never have fare. It's the 7. The rules are different out there. The continual hovering presence of physical violence in the neighborhood, both latent and actual, reinforces what's very important (staying alive) and highlights what's completely superfluous (chump change). What this couple always has to offer instead are warm smiles and handshakes, which I frankly consider more valuable; the acknowledgement means something. I happily welcome them in every time.
But- here he is, both of them, outbound 12th & Jackson, a lot of color and activity right here, hard shadows from the decreasing sun, and he's waving his wave at me. It's a little different every time- today it's an outstretched straight arm, an intriguing mixture of Black Power salute and Seig Heil Nazi salute- which I excitedly return as I pull up to the zone. He can keep his face stoic, with only his eyes smiling, but I can't help but wear a huge open smile upon seeing him. As he steps on, we begin our regular ritual: peace symbol, two fingers, from him, which I return, as he says "two!" and I say, "two for you! Later!" Then we shake hands. If I give people transfers when they don't have money (per policy) I do it when they get off- it keeps them behaving during the ride. I'm not expecting anything more.
Today, though, he has something up his sleeve- he's holding four sticks of gum, pictured above, which he sticks into my shirt pocket. Smile spreading across his face, watching my thrilled reaction. A few days later he brought two bags of cherries- one for the two of them, and a bag for me. It's obvious they don't have the income to pay $10 a day in travel expenses, and I never asked for compensation- and yet! Gum and cherries! I don't even really chew gum, but I'll take it.
They go to the back and sit together, talking quietly. A glance and a smile. It's about the gesture.