He's in the first set of forward-facing seats- a favorite spot of mine- and he's bobbing his head against his chest, drifting off to sleep.
"Alright, there's 100th next, Oak Tree on the left; that's the movie theatre comin' up." He had told me earlier he'd wanted this stop. He was mildly interested in the new Vin Diesel picture, Riddick.
"That one supposed to be all right?"
"I dunno," he said, in unintentional agreement with the lukewarm reaction toward the film from the critical community at large (actually, 'lukewarm' is a generous label; with a paltry Metascore of 48 and a soft $19M opening, the film looks to be pulling a fast fade; there are much better works in theatres now- Villeneuve's Prisoners, and upcoming films by Cauron and Greengrass).
"I hope it's good," I say, "'cause movie tickets cost money nowadays."
"Yeah they do." I listen to the texture of his voice as he laments further. "But lemme tell you, the minute the previews end, and them seats is so comfortable, nice dark theatre, next thing you know I'm wakin' up and it's the end credits is playin'!"
"Oh no," I say aloud. I watch him looking out the window as he speaks and wonder what sights, dreams, and experiences he's seen. He's wearing an interesting conflation of African, Caribbean, and good old-fashioned American clothing. Colorful. There's a friendly rasp to his aging voice. He'd gotten on at Deseret Industries, with hands full of paint buckets, handles, and cloth; a cleaner perhaps, or a painter.
After our brief chat he dozes off. Fifty blocks later a runner gets on, agitated.
"You're the guy I had to run last time and missed your bus, make me late for my coffee!"
He's around fifty as well, with glasses and an unidentifiable Eastern European accent.
"Shoot, I'm glad you made it today!" I say.
"Yeah, last time you leave without me I become late for dinner!"
"Yeah? I must not've seen you. I can't wait for people if I can't see 'em. Where do you like to have dinner?"
"I have a home," he says. He explains how lonely he feels inside, and how he goes out to eat in Fremont to counter his loneliness. He explains how he drinks two cups of coffee, so he doesn't get tired. "I don't think I'd sleep either if I had two cups of coffee," I say. I don't drink coffee.
We drift on for a while, and it's at this point that I make the above announcement, arriving at 100th Street. When our moviegoer doesn't deboard, I turn around and ask him if he wanted this stop. He wakes from his slumber and says, no, let's go down to 85th.
Eighty-fifth sounds good, I reply.
After he gets off there, our European diner says to those around him in a voice of extreme anguish, "why doesn't he drink coffee? If he drank coffee, then he won't be so tired. Did you see him, falling asleep like that? Did you see the way he looked, sleeping? He almost miss his stop! Eighty-fifth! He almost missed his stop!" Frothing at the mouth. "All he need to do is drink coffee! That's why I drink coffee is so I don't become tired it's easy all you have to do is buy coff-"
Across from him is a young mixed-race teenager with big headphones around his neck and an oversized sweatshirt Taft could've fit in.
"Why you trippin, dogg," he asks the Diner, firmly but politely.
Diner: "What are you doing?"
"Just tryin' t'get home, playa."
"If only that guy had some coffee, he wouldn't be so-"
"Yeah yeah. But why you so worked up about it? You're gonna hurtchurself bein' like that."
The kid's voice is made of common sense. He might be a teenager, but there is a confidence and genuine concern that is undeniable, and fresh. Silence now, as Diner reflects.
"Why you let that shit affect you, bro? Let it go."
I would have chosen different words, but I may not have been as succinct. He just encapsulated what reams of self-help books get lost trying to express. You find greatness in the most unexpected of places. I look at him in the mirror- he doesn't see me- and I smile deeply. There are still great things in store for this world.
"Smart man," I say aloud, more to myself than anyone else.