In such places, people have to rely on each other. They can't hide from everyone all the time. Walking down Lake City Way at midnight last night, this was certainly the case; people nodded and smiled at each other, at me, as they walked by. I didn't know these people. Same thing in the alleys off East Cherry, those clumps of sidewalk obscured from light by glowering trees. I'd be walking past as the Barbeque place was shutting down, and the guy coming the opposite way would ask how my night was going. It's a sort of safety check: okay, here's someone who's not a threat.
The most obvious place to observe such dynamics is on routes. Where a route happens to travel through determines how 90% of the people on board will behave. On the 7, everyone knows everyone. On the 358, it's similar. People talk. They're a little more accommodating and otherwise world-ready than the insular commuter folk I sometimes bemoan- like that 303 passenger I mentioned earlier (not to keep harping on the poor lady). I remark about this to a passenger, Donna, on a 358.
"Oh. You had one of the 303 WeatherWhiners. Is what it sounds like."
They have a name for it!
"You bet we do," she says. "If they get to be fed from a silver spoon their whole life, we get to laugh about it a little."
"That sounds fair enough."
She nods decisively.
It's cold today- a lot of black ice- and we have no heat in the front half of the bus. The heat in the back half works- perfect for sleepers and freeloaders. "You're welcome to move to the back, or- you're welcome to freeze up here with me..." My driver heater works, but I leave it off- that just wouldn't be fair, to rub that in all their faces. "I'm doin' the best I can," I tell them- "I'm trying to round up as many people as I can here-"
"Body heat!" someone chants.
"Exactly, body heat! like Emperor Penguins!"
Doing a double shift is nice, because you see some of the same faces going to work, and then going home again ten, twelve hours later. No matter how long their day has been, it's implicit that your day is as long or longer, and there's a certain respect there. A friend in red and gray, a built black man in his thirties- "I saw you this morning!'
"That was such a long time ago," I say, having trouble remembering if that was indeed today. "We made it!"
"Time to relax."
The responding affirmation in his voice carries the hours, the weeks and months of hard stress.
"You gon' be here tomorrow?" he asks.
"You and me both!"
"Same time same place!"
There is meaning, dancing underneath the surface talk. The exchange ends coasting on the wave of something shared, a communal welcoming of hard work; it's been a long day, and tomorrow will be long too, but we're not complaining. These are the facts of life, and we can smile about it. Parallel lines.