No fear. People can smell that. Just project friendly confidence. Greet him as you would your buddy, just come over for a bite of barbeque.
Upward nod of the head, companionable: "Hey, man."
He's thirties, slightly older than me, in worn Adidas running pants and a dark jacket; a scrappy vision in deep black, save for the whites of his bloodshot eyes. There's a glint, a cornered bulge in the left side of his jacket, above the waistline; you know what that is.
Him, swaggering in place, grabbing the door handrail to keep from falling backwards: "Ey, bro!" he says in a first-generation accent. "Wha's goin' on?"
He recognizes me, suddenly excited, and I register the familiarity of this human face. I extend my hand with enthusiasm, giving him the classic handshake, firm and at an angle. Often I do the fistpound, and occasionally one of the many street handshakes; but most regularly I find myself settling for the firm classic. Why mess with an original?
There is something genuinely appealing to me about this man's smile, and as such my enthusiasm manifests itself with my elbow extended away from my body. He likes it. He apologizes for not shaking my hand correctly, but of course "it's all good." I'm exhilarated by his kindhearted side.
"I doan' see you on dis route befo'!"
"Yeah, man! I remember you from that number 7 bus! How you been?"
Our 358 lumbers away from the zone, powering up the crest in the road. The electric assist drops out as the diesel kicks in with a fluid push. We're on our way.
"I been great. I come from Tukwila, getting all my paperwork straight, work permits, everything ready to go."
"All cleared away!"
"I can do anything, man, oil derrick, boats, floor and motor, construction,"
"Nice. Ready for anything."
He leans in, a friend standing at the front, explaining the particulars. I'm all ears.
"Plus I'm an immigrant, so I send the money to my family back home. Africa."
"That's good of you, man. You're a gentleman, takin' care a your people."
"Oh yeah, man, you got to do it."
"I think tha's beautiful."
We carried on like co-conspirators up there, each warming to the sounds of the other's voice. He was no intimidating figure now. Why treat him as the "other," when he was no different? I saw and heard him as I hear myself, clawing through the vagaries of life, searching for sounds of comfort. Two people talking in the dark, united in the ongoing quest to make life familiar.
"Awright, I get out here."
"Good to see you!"
The difficulty of the labor he wants to embark upon sits on my mind. "Stay strong," I say.
"Always!" he responded, with a newfound energy in his voice. It wasn't there in those first moments when he stepped on.
Left-turn signal, as I pulled back into traffic. I smiled to myself. If I accomplished nothing else the entire day, nothing besides contributing in some small way to the creation of that energetic timbre I just heard, well, that was reason enough for me to come to work.