Union Street. Parthid's in the house: a lively, well-dressed Indian man.
"You used to drive the 358, right?"
"Yes! You remember me!"
"I hope I left a good impression!"
He's here on a three year work Visa. Research, mostly neuroscience.
"That sounds great," I say, mentally trying to situate myself in that world for a moment. "Pretty good funding for that?"
"Yes, but there's been a lot of cutbacks in research, since the economy."
"Some of them you can't really cut though. I mean, you can cut things like, you know. Marine science. Nobody really needs..."
"But mental health, brain research..."
"Kind of important!"
We both burst out laughing. Something about the fact that we're sitting at a light at Third and James, surrounded by the Frye, the Morrison, and Triangle Park, makes it all the funnier. Goya-esque figures lurk all around us.
"Yeah, we sort of need to continue studying that!"
"That's good," I say. "The need will always be there."
"Which is good. Reliable."
We move on to discussing Visas and green cards; I mention a friend of mine, who was recently only too thrilled to finally get her green card, after a long fight and many delays. "So what do you think you'll want to do in three years?"
"I like it here. I love it, actually. The people are friendly, the weather's nice. The country's really big. And it's great for research. There is still a lot of money set aside here for research, and so many Universities working on different things; you have access to a lot of different lab equipment,"
"Even though I bet your home country has a lot of technology,"
"True. the technology is there, but so much of the research is being done here, results and hardware don't have to be shipped across the ocean, you know. Don't have to wait three weeks for results, and so on. Anyways, it was nice talking with you!"
"I'm so glad you got on my bus!"
"I like it when the driver is chatty!"
"Oh, I'm so glad!"
"It really makes a difference. To get on the bus like this after a long day of work..."
I really am glad. I'm thrilled but not surprised when the poor appreciate my humanity toward them; I'm sure those more well off are no less cognizant of a job well done, but I'm gladdened when they too express the value they see in direct human interaction. It doesn't happen as often. The personal touch. Those slightly older can recall the days when customer service was nothing but; our self-worth and sense of belonging can reach heights unfound in self-checkout machines and canned announcements.
Parthid and I shake hands at Main Street. I may not see him again, but going our separate ways I imagine he and I both have a different conception of community on this day than if we had remained silent and uninvolved. It was worth it to talk. The pleasantries and sweet nothings do count toward something tangible; you feel differently when you're surrounded by friends.