I'm done for the day. I'm standing at 5th and Jackson, outbound, and I recognize some street people and drivers milling about; I walk over and chat with them for a few minutes before going downstairs to get a bus home in the Tunnel. I notice another 7 driving eastbound on Jackson; It’s Fikre. Fikre is awesome- short, youngish (30s) Ethiopian ball of energy, with a terrific sense of humor. He tells me that he’s quiet when he drives, that he doesn’t talk to the passengers, but I don’t believe it- when was Fikre ever silent? He can't stop talking when I’m around. Love the guy. Today, for some reason or another, he blows his poles on one of the deadspots crossing Fifth.
Without thinking I walk over, twirl on my reflective vest, and get behind the bus to put the poles back up. Trolley drivers look
out for each other. While I’m doing that I hear-
“GET OUT OF MY FUCKING WAY, YOU BITCH!”
I smile. It’s coming from a man, a passenger in a taxi, stuck behind us. Leaning out the window, frothing at the mouth; rabid, slapping the outside of the car. Definitely not from around here. He continues-
“GET THE FUCK OU-” I smile because I think it’s a funny thing to say. The taxi is so small, and it’s as if the passenger inside it feels that maybe if he shouts loudly enough, that will somehow help in moving the gigantic, monolithic- and completely immobile- bus in front of him. Like an ant screaming in a tinny voice at an immovable boulder in its path.
“YOU FUCKING BITCH,” he notes, as I walk over to him. I hear street guys on the corner defending me, talking back to him in normal tones- “He’s fixin’ the bus, fool,” “He gotta put the poles up.”
I’m thankful for them, but I have a different strategy. I’m laughing as I yell, “How’s it goin?”
“Good, man,” he says more by reflex than anything else. He’s mid-40s, mixed-race white with black hair, in a nice leather jacket. Totally nonplussed by my response, he looks at me with baffled wonder, as a child looks at a geodesic dome or duck-billed platypus- is that thing real? Can it talk? You see his face working, trying to hide this response and keep up with me.
I say, “right on, dude. Listen, I’m gonna fix this bus for ya, that way we can both get outta here.”
“Yeah, that’s fine. Take your time, it’s all good.”
“Far out, man.” Sometimes the LA side of me voices itself in my word choice, involuntarily.
"Yeah, get that fuckin' bus outta here." Smiling.
"Sure, since you asked. Probably a good idea."
As I get back to the poles, he yells out in mock anger, “HEY, BITCH!”
I turn back to him, laughing, and we both get it now- it’s all a big joke. He howls at the rising moon, “GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY FUCKING WAY!”
"You got places to go, don't you?"
"Fuckin' better believe it!"
I pretend to go slowly, throwing my hand down mockingly toward him. He laughs. Think I can see a smile on the exasperated taxi driver’s face; he was tense before, but amusement is allowed now. Upon fixing Fikre's poles- who steps out to thank me, hopping back in his bus to drive off- I turn back to Angry Leather Jacket man to good-naturedly trade a few more sarcastic remarks (You like bein' stuck behind me, don't you!" "Sure you don't wanna spend all day here?"), and I tell him to have a good night. He returns the goodwill.
The thing about this is, I don't think he was joking at the outset. He appeared to be genuinely angry. It was only when I did the totally absurd thing of asking how his day was- some people tell me I'm as crazy as the passengers, and they're probably right- that he realized he had miscalculated, and needed to shift gears quickly. It was a good shift. I nod at the boys in the street.