Carlos and I have talked before. He is tall and thin, with one of those faces that crease easily into a smile. Somewhere in his fifties, with dark almond eyes and a strong loud voice that suggests his Latino origins while speaking fluent English.
He had recently fallen into some incredibly good fortune; after struggling to survive for some time, Carlos was able to land a construction job through an acquaintance, and proved himself through hard work. The gig required skill sets in all areas, which he possessed- siding, plumbing, roofing, installation. Years of odd jobs were paying off now, and he was finally getting an outstanding hourly wage- higher than my own at the time. I was thrilled to hear it, though I couldn't help but silently wonder how long this would last.
Didn't opportunities this good always have a catch? Would he be able to keep up with the demands of the job? Would the bosses be fair? Would the work continue? Carlos marveled at his good fortune, and neither of us could believe how great it all sounded. But as the weeks and months progressed, he was still there.
Sometimes there is no catch.
That big smile on his face, exhausted but exceedingly happy at the day's end. It's all in your attitude. When life has thrown certain obstacles your way in the past, being thankful becomes a hard-earned habit. His laugh lines were more soul-stirring to me than any number of perfectly made up faces.
Some months later, I recall riding a driver friend's bus one afternoon. Riding your friends' buses may not sound fun, but it is. At what other job can you visit your friend and gab with them for an hour or two- or more? I'd chat with Brian, one of the great titans, talking film and philosophy on Beacon Avenue. When things were busy I'd watch and learn from his style of working, or wander a few seats back to answer phone calls. It was a comfortable environment.
Personalities come and go in this city. In the wee hours you'll look up at the ceiling, wondering whatever happened to that lonely soul who used to show up every morning on your route. I hadn't seen Carlos in a while, when- there he was, just now, walking past me on Brian's 36, going to the back to chat with an acquaintance. I followed him back there, curious to hear how he was doing.
"Same as ever," he belted out ebulliently, proudly showing me pictures on his phone of what he was working on. I saw plumbing fixtures, scaffolding, empty rooms. I saw his crow's feet laughing out. The work wasnt lagging at all- his boss was starting in on nine apartment buildings, tearing them all down and rebuilding them. Carlos' wages had stayed the same, the working conditions were fair, the shift bosses were excellent, and his supervisor had even promised him an apartment in one of the completed buildings, if he so chose. "Wow," I said. Internally I was once again skeptical. But, so far, so good.
Months after that meeting, and it's now me driving the 36, putting to use what I observed in Brian and other stellar operators, while throwing in my own spin on things. It's 6:02, approaching Jackson and 12th-
"Well, look who it is!"
Is everything still going great? Yes. Carlos exuded a bursting positive energy, bringing up everyone around him without even trying. All at once polite, present, and street. I asked him how things are going. His answer was no different than in the months previous. He's thrilled to be here. "That's so great," I said, silently thinking: with an outlook like yours, Carlos, I'm not surprised!
"That's so fantastic," I continued, speaking partly to him and the rest to myself.
"I don't understand it, to be honest. Sometimes this shit just happens," he said loudly, looking out at the pre-dawn sky, unable to hide a smile.