Wednesday, February 7, 2007

One if by car, two if by bus.

Today was a day of many vehicle trips. Down the Sunset Highway to Portland this morning, and then on the bus from No-Po into downtown. Add in that I walked a little ways between transportation methods, and you have a three-modes kind of day! So, all in all it took me 90 minutes to get to work this morning. Oh well. It's definitely worth it.

To the point: the bus was packed when I got on this morning. I ended up sitting next to a guy who appeared to be more than a little down on his luck. I was shuffling all my things and dragging out my books as the bus started, so aside from eyeballing the empty seat I appropriated as my own next to this fellow, I didn't really give him a good look. You know, feeling all groggy in the morning enhances one's desire to give everyone else a bigger bubble of personal space and privacy, in hopes that they will afford you the same privilege.

Of course, as I woke up more, I got curious. but having erected the "wall of politeness" I didn't want to blatantly turn and stare him in the face. Especially from the seat right next to him. So I gathered clues. The odor of stale woodsmoke just reeked from this guy. He had on scruffy-looking black pants and a worn black leather jacket. He was reading a paperback that had yellowed pages, and also looked as if it may have seen a read or two before. The hands holding the book were dirty and worn-looking, too. He had tattoos around his fingers--that blue-black ink that looked as if it'd been in his skin for a while. Red dirt under his fingernails. Everything about this stranger looked like he'd been out for a while and that his personal affects were well-used.

I went back to my book. Tried to read. There's always someone down on their luck on the bus, and I was quite honestly relieved to only be faced with the salty smell of old smoke rather than the urine or body odor(s) that often assault ones senses on public transportation.

When we got downtown, he looked over and started talking about his stop. Things are a little confusing now that they've re-done the Portland bus mall. Every one's customary routines are all jumbled up. I looked up to make eye contact and respond to his comment. All the clues I'd picked up about his appearance earlier in the bus ride had pointed me toward someone older, in their mid-30's or early 40's. The kind of middle-aged man that hung out on the square and would come into Starbucks for a cup of coffee or hot water. I was surpised. Instead, he was probably my age. Maybe a year or two older.

No lines on his face. No grizzled-looking countenance. Just a dude. On the bus. With down-trodden hands and a coat that had already seen a surprising proportion of the man's life.

Once he got off the bus, I found myself wondering, "Was it more surprising that he was younger than I'd anticipated or that he was so close to my own age?" Maybe he was more that "grown-up who's seen better days" that I'd pictured him as after all. And I was just a "grown up" now, too. Maybe it was still surprising that someone I'd look at as an "age peer" could show the signs of so much time spend in a hard, rough-looking life. Maybe I just mis-judged him from the start and my age-dar is really out-of-whack this morning.


1 comment:

Rebecca Keegan said...

I know what you mean about 'dars'. I no longer have an accurate 'gay', 'age', 'sex', even 'decent' dar these days! I love your writing! Miss you!