Meanwhile though, there's also just some guys who are doin' okay, capably making it through another day and feeling all right about it. And that's as much a part of life as anything else. Like this bald-headed fellow in his forties now, gravel-flecked voice and unassuming blue sweatshirt, manly but companionable. He'd been watching me work for most of the ride, and only now spoke up.
"Day's pretty rainy, huh? Haven't seen days like this in a minute, huh?"
"Oh my gosh! Like I forgot what rain looked like, it's been so long!"
"Thought this place was California!"
"I like it like this though! Instead of it's hot all the time."
"Yup. Easier to fall asleep, when it's not hot."
"Yup yup I hear you, exactly."
We went on about the weather for a while. I'll spare you the play-by-play: how falling sleep when it's cold can also be trying, how many blankets we use to keep warm, the impact of living on lower or upper levels….
What are people really talking about when they talk about the weather?
I'd argue it's the same thing they're intimating when they quickly breathe, "how's it goin'." Sounds almost like they're asking how your day is. Sometimes that's true, but more often they're sharing something else, something different, which I find just as comforting.
They're telling you they acknowledge and respect you. They're recognizing you with a sense of togetherness. We're on an equal plane here. This is a safe interaction. We are fellow human beings, sharing time and space, and I want to take a moment to recognize that. It isn't that weather is so scintillating a topic we simply have to discuss it with complete strangers. The talk of clouds and rain, the inquiry after your well-being– it's a shorthand for something altogether more meaningful. I respect you. The number of times I've defused a situation on a bus by simply asking how someone is doing… real communication is happening there, in what we may once have called wasted air. Confucius wrote that pleasantries don't make us better people, but they keep us at the good quality we're already at. Respect and acknowledgment. That's what we were telling each other, as I explained about using five blankets in the winter.
"I got a job actually," he was saying, "where they're cool people, this place called Labor Works, it's a temporary–"
"Yeah yeah, up there on,"
"They have it in uh, they have it in Lynnwood, Renton,"
"Dude, that's a great thing for the people."
"Y'it is! Labor Works. I can go up there get paid like the same day, the next day,"
"Isn't that awesome?"
"It is awesome, and they put it on like a debit card fo' you. The only thing is as long as I don't mess up, like they say don't do drugs and stuff,"
"Right. You seem to have it under control."
"Yeah I have it all under control, but the thing is as long as I keep comin', to work you know, I pretty much got me a job!"
There was a humble pride in his tone, with a hint of self-surprise. The journey of our short conversation had reminded him he'd made it here from somewhere different. And that was worth something.
"That's beautiful, man! You got it goin' on!"
"I do got it goin' on. Alright thank you!"