He's in construction gear, three horizontal stripes and a flourescent vest. You imagine him kicking the dirty boots off and flopping down in front of the tube after a long twelve hours.
I ask, "all done with work?"
"Oh, yeah." He's exhausted. His vowels hang in the air little longer than usual; not from around here.
"Always a good feeling. Indoor or outdoor?"
"A bit a both. Mostly turnin' the Slow and Stop sign."
"I wish I had one of those things sometimes. Stick it out the window."
He chuckles. "Whip it out like a school bus."
"Exactly. Well, a job is a good thing to have these days."
"Oh, yeah. Anything at this point. Anything's better than holdin' the sign." He means panhandling.
"Holding the sign is tough. Mentally, I mean. Getting to that headspace."
"Yeah, people don't realize."
He watches me greet the passengers. "This one's for you," I say to somebody, handing them a transfer.
"Where you from?"
He listens while I mention LA and its differences from Seattle. I ask the same of him. Our conversation about work has been fairly routine, but a wistful tone emerges as he says,
"Virginia. Tha's my home."
"What brought you up here?"
"J. O. B., man. No wife, no kids, my cousin was up here..."
"You're free then. That's rare."
"It's not for me though," he says, gesturing at an ambulance blaring past.
"Gets kinda crazy sometimes."
"Not used to all this. Give me dirt roads, grass fields..."
It is a mistake to consider the uneducated as somehow lacking in depth of perception. There's a melancholy, plaintive air to his words, less disconsolate than meditative. His face and stance are an actualization of his years past, his gaze invested with a sea of memories, enriching the soul, weighing it down, making it whole. He wipes dirt off his fingernails.
"Oh, I know what you mean. Wide open space,"
"The air, the feel of it all, man. Give me nature. Seeing the stars at nighttime,"
We rhapsodize the countryside a little further, and arrive at his stop.
"Well, welcome to Seattle. I hope you make it back home one day."
"Thanks, man," he says, energized by our short talk. "I will. You got a good attitude."
He leaves us and rejoins the fray at 3rd and Pike, seeking out the next leg of his trip home; there's a little more vigor in his step now than when he came aboard. He was exhausted then, but in the space of a mere five minutes... where does our vitality continue to spring from, even after we think we've used it all up?