Tabatha Deans

Bringing Integrity to the Written Word

Jesus on the 0 bus

I haven’t been on the 0 bus for a while…

I was listening to the wedding list songs on my iPod while I waited for the 0 bus at the Englewood Station, making my way home from work on a Friday afternoon. A man approached me and I checked him out closely. He had four or five bags he carried well, his pants were dirty but his boots were sturdy and he wore a well-worn leather jacket with a patch boasting some sort of military service.

I watched him as he unloaded all his gear onto the bench next to me. He stood up when he was done rearranging his belonging, which I was sure was everything he owned. Obviously homeless.

“Good afternoon Ma’am.” His smile was genuine and revealed the lack of front teeth. His hair was long and mostly gray, but some parts were still red–the exact red of my father’s hair.

I smiled and said “Good afternoon.”

We engaged in pleasant conversation and I learned he was an Army Ranger, and considered himself a soldier, rather than homeless, and he was on a mission. He was on his way to do his laundry then on to see his daughter and grandchildren. We boarded the bus and I sat one row back, as he filled the handicap space with his bags.

Throughout our conversation he said two unique things that touched me.

First, he said the kids are always first. He used some of his disability money to help his daughter and her children, but said he was okay because payday was only a few days away and he wouldn’t have it any other way.

Second, we talked about being teased as kids for having red hair, and he recited a taunt that is very vulgar, that I knew well because I had heard it often as a child, but had never met anyone else who had been the subject of the taunt. He never asked me for money, just seemed to enjoy my conversation.

As we neared his stop I took a little cash from my pocket and scooted over next to him so no one else would hear me.

“I don’t want to offend you, but if you would take this to get you through until payday I would feel blessed,” I said, using a word my mother told me would universally make people feel better.

He choked up when I handed him the cash.

“Are you sure?” he asked, tears welling up in his eyes.

“Yes, please.” I said.

“Well, I, Uh, here,” he said through his tears, and he reached up and clutched some sort of talisman on a string around his neck. I don’t know if it was a cross or some kind of rock, but he held it to his lips, bowed his head and began praying. For me.

“Oh, okay,” I said, when I realized what he was doing. I sat silently next to him, I’d seen stranger things on the 0 bus.

“God, please bless this lovely lady, keep her safe and don’t allow any harm to come to her. Amen.” He kissed the talisman and thanked me again as he headed off the bus.

I was touched. He had nothing to give, but he used up some of his prayer requests for me.

His name was Glenn.

It gets better. Or perhaps worse, depending on how you look at it.

A few stops after Glenn got off the bus, a young man got on. His pants were hanging off him, he was bald and had tattoos in a script I didn’t recognize above each eyebrow, as well as on his neck. He had a serious look about him as he scanned the bus for seats, and being courteous I moved my bag off the seat next to me since the bus was full.

He sat down next to me and we sat awkwardly in silence for a few minutes, then he struck up a conversation in a quiet voice. He spoke in short sentences, and his eyes were dangerously calm. I tried not to be intimidated by the tattoos, but after a few minutes of talking to him I got a bad feeling. I felt a calm evil in him, and and tried to be polite, but I got the feeling that he was, at that moment, deciding whether or not he would hurt me today.

My stop couldn’t come fast enough, and finally I excused myself and squeezed past him to get off the bus. There’s little reason to get off the bus at my stop. There’s a church, a McDonald’s and the entrance to the canal road, which I take to walk the rest of the way home.

I got off the bus and headed south on Broadway, and was horrified when he got off the bus behind me. I felt then that he had made his decision, and I discreetly pulled my knife out of my bag as I quickly headed up the street.

What happened next seemed to be in slow motion, and the distance distorted. In reality the distance from the bus bench to the light is about 50 yards, but that day it seemed to be much farther. I continued south on Broadway, walking fast and looking over my shoulder at him. I was afraid and considered just walking up to the closest house and knocking on the door. But I knew an old man lived there, and thought it would be horrible if he followed and killed us both. So I walked faster toward the light, prepared to run into traffic on Broadway if necessary to escape.

I looked back and he was just standing at the bus bench, watching me. He took a couple of steps in my direction and stopped. My thoughts were he was trying to decide his best route to me. He seemed agitated, and began pacing back and forth along the bench, like an animal in a cage trying to find a way out.

I walked faster, and was almost to the light, where I planned to cross Broadway and run to McDonalds. I looked back, and he was still pacing. Perhaps he was having an internal struggle with himself as to whether or not he really wanted to hurt me. He was still agitated and pacing, but it seemed every time he tried to advance in my direction he hit an invisible wall. He stomped up and down and I could tell he was angry.

I made it to the light and we made eye contact as I pushed the button and waited for the light to change. He realized I was going to cross Broadway, and suddenly there were no cars on the street. He headed out into the street as I began to cross, I believe intending to meet me on the other side by the deserted canal road. He made it through the first lane of traffic and again stopped abruptly, as if there were an invisible wall. He threw a fit in the middle of the road, and as I looked back at him I could feel his rage. But he did not come in my direction.

I hustled across the road and as I looked back at him one last time, he returned to the sidewalk and began stomping back the direction we had come, away from me. I made it home safely, and remembered the prayer Glenn had said for me earlier.

Thank you Glenn. I hope we meet again someday.

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March 27, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Killer Instinct

Until now it has only been a fleeting shadow living in the edge of the lights cast by the Love Boat. (A term we have given our back porch, since it is lit up like the deck of a cruise ship.) We’d seen it occasionally darting in and out of the chicken shack, sneaking food and water before returning to its home, which was a burrowed out hole leading under the concrete step off the back of the garage. I’d held to the belief that it was a rabbit, and we were providing safe haven for a growing family of cute little bunnies.

The hole grew bigger, yet we were not blessed with the joy of baby bunnies running around the backyard. But we saw the shadow more often under the safe cover of darkness at night. It grew bolder and came closer to the Love Boat when we were relaxing. Then our tomatoes began to disappear, and I found half-eaten tomato carcasses at the mouth of the hole. This unwanted guest began to dominate our discussions, and unable to sustain the burden of curiosity any more, we decided on a plan of action. We would flood the hole and see what came out.

It was a rat. A very big, very wet, rat. Robert saw it in it’s entirety, I rushed to the window just in time to see it’s skinny little tail as it ran back into its flooded home. All I could think about was the cartoon version of rats—any rats. Glowing red eyes, long sharp fangs, hissing and generally looking for trouble. The rat clearly had to go. We could not cohabitate. We hatched a plan to pour a bag of concrete down into the wet hole and seal its destiny forever.

We couldn’t quite bring ourselves to do that immediately, I don’t know why. I have no problem catching mice in traps, but suddenly the thought of taking a life wasn’t so easy. We debated a new plan of action, which included setting a live trap to see if we could get it to give up peacefully. We loaded it with cheese and pepperoni, and hoped it would do the right thing.

The trap was empty the next morning as I headed out for Longmont, via public transit. I had mixed emotions about the rat as I sat waiting for my bus in Union Station. I was relieved to not have seen the rat, as the thought of it just creeps me out. But I was also disappointed, as I knew the absence of the rat’s voluntary surrender, forced the showdown closer to a deadly conclusion. I don’t know why I was suddenly worried about killing a rat. I was raised in the country and death of rodents and animals were not uncommon events, and I certainly didn’t have any feelings of affection for the rat.

Conflicted, I sat in the station and watched the people go by. I distracted myself by focusing on the sounds of the station, specifically those of footsteps. I tried to guess who was passing from behind before I saw them, based on their footfalls. There was the click click of high heels, the clomp clomp of work boots, and the occasional squeaky loafer.

I heard small footsteps approaching from behind, and guessed it must be a child, which is always a pleasure in the station because of their joy and wonder of trains and buses. I waited for the child to come into sight, and when it walked past me so I could see it, I couldn’t believe what I saw. I honestly thought for a moment I had experienced a psychotic break, or a stroke, or just lost my mind.

The owner of the small steps was a woman, about five feet tall. She wore  hard-soled boots and was taking tiny steps, almost like a shuffle. She clutched a yellow stuffed bird to her chest, and she was wearing a full, furry, one-pieced rat outfit. Yup. A rat outfit. The legs of her onesie were tucked into her boots, and there was a tail dangling from her bottom. The gray fur covered her chest and ended with a hood, topped with ears. She quickly shuffled, or scurried, across the terminal and stopped to look at a schedule. A moment later she scurried back across the terminal and checked out another schedule. She scurried her way down the terminal as I stared in disbelief.

I wanted to shake my head to get the picture out of my mind, but was afraid if I’d had a stroke shaking might make the damage worse. I just watched her. What was the universe telling me? Was this really happening? What the hell?

I guess I’ve seen stranger things in downtown Denver, but really? A rat?

I decided then and there that our rat could stay for a few more days. We would bait the trap with tastier treats, and I vowed to find a way to get it to leave peacefully. Clearly my killer instincts were not strong, and I wasn’t prepared to take a chance on doing something I would regret. So, as of this writing, the rat lives.

P.S. Turns out there is a sexual fetish genre called “Furries,” where people dress in full animal costumes for physical gratification.Hmmm…

 

September 21, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bus Family II

Bus Family II

The O bus is always full of characters. It travels the length of Broadway, which is a major North/South road that runs from downtown to Highlands Ranch, and is full of Mom and Pop stores, bars, restaurants, antique stores and marijuana dispensaries.

I was on the last leg of my journey home, and watched as the regulars boarded the O at the Englewood station. First came the young man I call the Thug. He’s about 25 and wears baggy shorts, a funky ball cap askew on his head and walks the gangsta walk. Actually he has a legitimate reason for the walk, since he wears a knee brace that actually hinders his stride.

Next came a middle-aged man who walks with a cane. I call him Grimace, because he always has a look of pain on his face. I can’t tell if he’s genuinely in pain or just has a scowl about him. They both took a seat at the front of the bus.

Then Construction Guy got on the bus. He’s tall and about my age, and always has his orange construction vest on, shorts and dirty work boots that come just high enough up his ankles to allow room for his electronic monitoring anklet. He never smiles or acknowledges anyone when he gets on, and heads directly to the back of the bus.

We all settled into our usual seats, and politely ignored each other. A few stops down the road a young man got on, early twenties I’d say, and very, very buff. The kind of buff that not only shows muscles, but muscles on top of those muscles. He was carrying a case of water and as the bus began to move he grabbed onto the bar by the front seats, dropping his water and bumping into Grimace. He didn’t apologize, and as the bus went down the road he opted to keep standing right in front of Grimace, periodically bumping his legs. Grimace finally asked him to take a seat, and the young man bent down and got right in his face and placed one finger in front of his lips and made the “Shhhhhh…” motion to Grimace.

The thug sat up a little straighter and Grimace’s eyes squinted. I could feel the level of testosterone quickly rising. Grimace stared at Buff Guy, and the driver encouraged him to sit down. Without breaking eye contact, he took the seat across from Grimace, and again made the “shhhh..” motion. I was already sitting two rows back from the two, but at this point two other women sitting in the front got up and moved to the back, and a couple with a young child got off at the next stop. I checked both of them out to see if there was any sign of a gun, and was pretty sure they didn’t have one, so I rode it out.

The tension continued for another couple of stops, then Grimace pulled the cord signaling he needed the next stop. As soon as he pulled the cord, Buff Guy stood up as if he were also exiting the bus, and stood in front of the door waiting to get off. But when the bus stopped and Grimace got up to leave, Buff Guy just stood in front of the doorway, blocking his exit. Of course Grimace just pushed into him, trying to force him down the stairs of the bus. Buff Guy braced himself and didn’t budge. The Thug got up and threw his weight into Buff Guy as well, and a full on scuffle began. Buff Guy against the two handicapped men.

The bus driver stood up to help, and suddenly Construction Guy came running from the back of the bus to offer his assistance. He realized Buff Guy couldn’t be reached from there, so he came to the back door of the bus and got off, then went around to the front and pulled Buff Guy down the stairs and out of the bus. Of course Buff Guy tried to run back onto the bus, and as Grimace and the Thug made it off the bus, it looked as if they were going to go to blows.

But the bus driver and Construction Guy held them apart, and the driver pointed out that Buff Guy probably didn’t want to go to jail for assaulting two guys with handicaps. Buff Guy argued, but Construction Guy got in his face and reinforced the bus driver’s sentiment. “They’re handicapped for hell’s sake! He wears a cane and he has a leg brace!” That seemed to snap Buff Guy out of it a bit, and reluctantly he hung his head and got back onto the bus. The driver and Construction Guy made sure Grimace and the Thug were okay, then they got back on the bus. Construction Guy sat next to Buff Guy and made sure he minded his manners until he got off the bus a few stops down.

We all breathed a sigh of relief when he left, and the bus driver apologized to us ladies for having had to see such a spectacle. I don’t understand male ways, but it seemed to me that this group had created the best possible outcome for this situation.

So here’s the kicker. Buff Guy was wearing a T-shirt from some anti-violence youth campaign with a slogan printed on the back.

Hearts not Hands. Make good choices.”

Hmmm….

September 3, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Bus Family

One of the great benefits of riding the bus is the chance to read a book, daydream, listen to music or just generally get inside your head. The regional buses are pretty good for napping as well, which I usually do as I listen to music on the way to Longmont every Monday to see Jessica and Petra. The humming of the tires and the swaying of the bus can have a hypnotic effect, and it’s not uncommon to be so engrossed in relaxing that you miss your stop. It’s not a matter of if this will happen, but a matter of when.

There’s a physical reaction that occurs when a stop is missed, and it’s pretty easy to spot the symptoms before the rider actually speaks out, which they always do, usually in the form of some kind of curse words. It must be some kind of muscle memory, because our bodies sense that we have traveled too far, and sends a message to our brain. The first sign a rider has missed their stop is the look of confusion as they lift their head from their book or take their earphones out. They look around the bus, then they lean over to look through the windows at the surroundings passing by. They they look to the front of the bus at the bus number and the next stop that is displayed on a lighted screen. It ultimately ends with a desperate look to fellow passengers, and the question of “where are we?”

At that point, the bus comes alive with suggestions of back-up plans. Which bus to take at the next stop, whether to ride on and wait for a turnaround, or sometimes the bus driver just stops at an unauthorized spot to let the traveler off. I once had a driver on the 27 bus who knew we would be going through a detour, but none of us did. When she left the station and turned the wrong direction, all of us reacted the same way, and as she looked in her mirror at her bus full of panicked faces, she laughed and laughed.

Last week as we were nearing my stop on the L bus in Longmont, I noticed the driver was not in the left-hand turning lane, which took us the two blocks over to my stop. I figured he was taking a detour, as he had done earlier to get us through some construction. As we traveled through the light, all the passengers looked up and took notice. We looked at each other questioningly as the driver drove farther from our stop.  “Aren’t we supposed to turn here?” One asked. “I thought so, maybe we’re on a detour.” Offered another. We went another several blocks before the lady in front of me finally spoke out.

“Driver, weren’t we supposed to turn there?” Halfway through her sentence the driver let fly a cuss word. The look on his face was the same, well known look of passengers who had gotten so absorbed in their thoughts they forgot to get off the bus. He quickly pulled into the left turn lane and headed back toward our stop, apologizing all the way.

“On Hell. I’m so sorry. I totally spaced that turn.”

“No worries.” We told him. “It happens all the time. Thinking about something good?”

“Music.” He named a specific song that I was not familiar with. “I played it for my teenager the other night and he wasn’t impressed. I was trying to figure out if I played it wrong, or if I could do it better.” He apologized again as we neared our stop.

We all reassured the driver as we exited the bus that it was no big deal, it had happened to all of us, and jokingly told the remaining passengers to keep an eye on him to keep him on the right track.

Bus family, they always have your back.

 

 

 

 

 

August 27, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Real Courage

Every time I take the 66 bus I can’t help but ponder the meaning of courage. Or, more specifically, my lack of courage.

The 66 serves a route that is heavily populated by blind people. (Or visually impaired for the PC Nazis.) Nearly every stop from where I board on Broadway to the Littleton downtown light rail station involves a blind person getting on the bus. They all seem to know each other, and which stops they get on, because they greet each other and take seats in the front as they discuss their plans for the day, politics, tell jokes or even trade friendly insults with each other. When we arrive at the station, they all pile off the bus, thrust their white canes in front of them, and march across the busy street to get to the light rail. I used to be frightened for them, now I am just in awe of them.

And I can’t help but wonder if I would have the courage to wander out into the world without being able to see my surroundings. I’m pretty sure I would not. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a strong person. I can get stuff done and I can handle a lot of situations, but I really don’t think I would prosper if I ever lost my vision.

Today I boarded the 66 bus an hour later than usual, and the blind people had already been delivered to their destinations. I sat alone on the bus, wondering about their daily lives and a little sad I’d missed them. Then we pulled up to a stop on Littleton Boulevard, and I saw the tip of a white cane come through the front door of the bus. The woman who stepped up was one I’d seen before. She was pretty and usually laughing. She carefully tapped her cane along the seats before settling in the front.

Today, there was something different about her. It struck fear in my heart, while at the same time bringing a tear to my eye at the thought of her courage. She had her usual heavy backpack on, but strapped on her stomach was a baby of about 8 or 9 months old. The baby was facing toward me, and was adorable. I noticed the woman took a little more time settling in, mindful of the precious package she was carrying. The baby had a lot of dark curly hair, and large brown eyes that seemed to take in everything around her. She was seeing everything her mother could only hear.

I immediately had mixed feelings. How safe was it to take a baby out into the world when you couldn’t see? What if they got lost? What if she stepped out in traffic? How could she possibly keep that baby safe? What if?… Well, obviously my prejudice was showing, and I reasoned with myself pretty quickly that like any other mother she was capable of taking care of her child. Perhaps she was even more aware of the goings on around them, due to a heightened sense of hearing and smell. Perhaps she was even a superior parent because she could sense dangers long before we ever would. She nuzzled her nose in her baby’s hair, and the baby smiled and cooed. Obviously they loved each other. I wondered if the mother knew she and her daughter didn’t share the same color of skin.

When we exited the bus at the station, I was worried about them crossing the street. I hung back and followed them off the bus. This time, instead of the woman sticking her cane out into the street and heading boldly into traffic, I followed her as she walked down the sidewalk to the crosswalk. She stopped, unaware that I was stalking her. Where I would look both ways for cars, she did the same, only with her ears. She tilted her head slightly toward the left, then toward the right, listening for the sound of cars. I sensed her hesitancy, and jumped at my chance to help.

“Are you crossing here?” I asked. She seemed relieved.

“Yes. Funny how the cars never seem to stop.”

“Yeah, but we’re good to go now,” I said and she followed the sound of my voice into the street. “Your baby is adorable. She’s made my day,” I said.

“Thank you,” She said as we hit the other side of the street. She was beaming like any proud mother, and I was suddenly just a little bit jealous of the adventure they would be having for the day while I reported to the office for mundane labor.

July 27, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Holy Hail!

It was another scorching day in Denver. Thankfully I spent the day inside the air-conditioned donation center, and reluctantly left the cool comfort to begin my journey home for the day. The temperatures had come down a little as the clouds rolled in, and I was enjoying the change as I stood on Monaco waiting for the 65 bus. Clad in shorts and a tank top, I began to worry a little as the clouds got darker and the bus officially became late. Summer storms can roll in quickly, and I cursed myself for having switched bags and not putting my rain jacket in the bag I was now carrying. As the first rain drop fell it became a race against time. If the bus showed up immediately, I would still have time to make it to the Hampden light rail station, where there was a tunnel and shelter from the rain. A young girl with big hair joined me under the tree as we waited for the bus, and just as the rain began to really fall we saw the bus pulling up to the light.

Less than a quarter mile down the road the rain turned to hail, and within a half mile the hail was the size of my thumb. The pounding on the top of the bus sounded like the ice balls would come right through, and outside the scene was a white out, but with hail so thick we couldn’t see. The hail grew bigger and bigger, and the bus driver began pulling over to pick people up who were not waiting at the bus stop, but were just trying to get out of the brutal hail. One woman was dressed only in a small sun dress, and when we stopped for her she was crying and nearly hysterical. We stopped to pick up two women, one older and one with special needs. They had several suitcases and a rolling cart. As soon as the driver opened the doors two male passengers jumped off the bus and rushed out into the storm to help the women with their luggage.

The sound was unlike anything I had ever heard before, and as a collective people we were all stunned and unsure of what to do as we pulled into the station. Other travelers boarded with looks of fear and dismay, and one gentleman was rubbing his shoulder where the hail had hit him. We all had a hard decision to make. Should we get off the bus? Or just stay on it and keep riding around until it stopped. Myself and another young man decided to make a run for it. We had a few yards of open space, then down two flights of stairs, and at the bottom was a tunnel where we could take refuge to wait for the train. He looked at me and I looked at him and together we ran off the bus.

And Holy Hail! The first few seconds were not that bad, but then I felt the chunks of ice hit my shoulders and the back of my legs. It was a searing hot pain where they hit, and some of them were jagged so I was sure they were tearing through my flesh. Halfway down the stairs I regretted my decision. As I hit the bottom of the stairs and the entryway to the tunnel, it was like a scene out of a horror show. Dozens of people were standing just inside the tunnel, ankle deep in water and hail. They encouraged us as we ran toward them, and the masses parted to let the newest refugees into the space of safety. Some of them had looks of sympathy for us on their faces, while others clearly thought we were fools. An older man offered me his handkerchief to dry off with, and as I wiped down my arms I noticed huge red welts where I had been hit. Others gathered around to tend to our wounds, or more accurately to see the damage.

We huddled in the tunnel as the carnage continued above us, the sound was so loud we couldn’t hear each other speak. Body language was all we had to communicate. I saw young men helping the elderly people, and business men huddling with the families and little children. Two people had taken up post at the top of the stairs, and hollered down to us below whenever a train came along. As soon as they announced the E line to Lincoln was pulling up, myself and dozens of others ran up the stairs to board the train. Once again safe and moving in the direction of home, we laughed and shared our horror stories with those on the train. Despite the welts and one small scrape on my leg, it was a great experience to see my fellow humans come together, especially after all the violence that has occurred in the world lately. There was no race, sex or age in that tunnel. There were only people. People being beaten and held hostage by hail.

Amazingly, as is common in Colorado, when I hopped off the train at the Arapahoe station to wait for Robert, the sun was shining and the only reminder of my harrowing ordeal was the sweet smell of wet earth and warm summer sun.

July 16, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Shame on Me

It is a common occurrence when venturing to downtown Denver to be repeatedly asked for money by panhandlers. When I lived downtown the first person who asked me usually ended up with the little change I had in my pocket. I used to write profiles of homeless people who were vendors for the Denver Voice newspaper, so I have come to not judge anyone, since many of their circumstances were tragic and unavoidable. There are of course always a few youngsters who are clearly on the streets because they can’t be bothered to get a job, or are living “free” like America promised them.

This day was no different. I was headed to Longmont to spend the day with Jess and Petra, and boarded the free mall shuttle to take me to Union Station, where I would catch the L bus. The shuttle has a row of seats that run along the back, allowing riders to look toward the front of the shuttle. I took a seat near the back, but along the side, and made myself comfortable. Shortly into the ride, an older man who was sitting in the back seat, looked directly at me and I prepared myself for my defensive response.

“Do you have anything to eat?” He asked quietly.

“I’m sorry, I don’t,” I responded automatically. He gave the tiniest nod and looked away.

The problem was I DID have something to eat. I had a whole lunch bag full of homemade pizza with chicken and artichoke toppings. I had an entire baggy full of fresh grapes, and I had a couple of cookies and a yogurt. I had plenty of food, and it certainly wasn’t the only food I would have access to that day.

I felt horrible. I watched as he lowered his head to his chest and appeared to fall asleep. He hadn’t asked me for cash. He had only asked me for the most basic of human needs–food. I tried to remember the last time I was hungry. It was a few weeks ago, and I was certain I would faint doing the most mundane tasks around the house if I went another moment without food. I wondered if sleeping abated the pains of an empty stomach, as I watched him and fought back tears. His clothes were mostly clean, as well as his gray hair and face. He didn’t appear to be homeless, perhaps he was just hungry.

Even after these thoughts, I am ashamed to admit that I still debated at all whether or not to give him some food. I thought about what I was willing to part with. The pizza was not that great, but was homemade and looked impressive. The grapes are natural fruit, so that seemed like the best idea. The yogurt and cookies I intended to share with Petra so I ruled them out.

I continued to watch him until we were two stops away from Union Station. Sad and ashamed, I moved into the seat next to him, and pulled the pizza out of my lunch bag. I touched his hand lightly and he lifted his head, opened his eyes and looked at me. They were the watery, cloudy eyes of an old man, like those of my grandfather. I fought back tears and tried not to think about what circumstances had brought this man to the point of asking for food from strangers.

“I have some homemade pizza,” I handed him the bag. “I’m not the best cook, but it’s fresh.”

He took the bag eagerly, and carefully opened the ziploc.

“Thank you, it looks really good.” He took a bite and looked at me with those watery eyes, and praised me as if I had just served him some filet mignon. I was a fine cook, he said, in between bites, which he truly savored–I like to think it was really delicious, and not just his extreme hunger that fueled his compliments.

We chatted as he ate a piece of pizza, then it was time to get off the shuttle. He thanked me again and disappeared into the crowd.

 

 

April 21, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

May the Bird of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose

May the bird of paradise fly up your nose, may an elephant caress you with his toes…” Those were the lyrics of a song by Little Jimmy Dickens that my parents used to listen to when I was growing up. I’ve always remembered the words to this song, and as an adult I realized this song was all about Karma. And if ever there was a time to call upon Karma, this morning was it.

I hiked to the bus stop on Broadway to catch the 0 bus to work, and as I approached the bus shelter I saw a man I have come to refer to as our local Camper. He’s older, and sleeps along the canal road in a small shelter he made for himself out of branches and logs. He’s always been respectful when our paths cross. He’s never asked for money, and is always up early to break his camp and get on the road. Usually I see him tramping up Broadway with his backpack, I suspect heading nowhere in particular.

Occasionally he was at the bus shelter before I arrived, and was always courteous as I approached. If he was smoking a cigarette, he would step around the back of the shelter so I wouldn’t have to smell it. If not, he would stand up and move out of the shelter, insisting I take the seat to wait for the bus. He never spoke, but I got an occasional grunt and nod in response to my greeting.

Today he was standing next to the shelter, and two young men were sitting on the bench inside the shelter. I greeted the camper as I approached, and he nodded silently. He seemed out of sorts, at least as out of sorts as a stranger can be. I noticed immediately that the two young men also appeared to be homeless—their several layers of clothes were filthy, as were their hands and the white plastic bags that held their belongings. They sat on the bench inside the shelter, smoking cigarettes and talking. Their conversation was laced with expletives, and they acted as if they hadn’t noticed my arrival. I wondered how, and why the Camper came to be hanging out with these two. Clearly they were not of the same caliber of people he was.

The Camper seemed frustrated and a little embarrassed at the behavior of his two friends, and avoided making any eye contact with me. I stood to the other side of the shelter, trying to avoid the cigarette smoke, vulgar conversation and general stink of these two youngsters. When the bus arrived, however, the Camper stood up and took the front of the line, they motioned for me to get on first. I thanked him, paid my fare and took a seat near the front.

The stinky young men flashed their transfers and headed to the back of the bus, where they continued their awful interaction. I was glad they hurried to the back and hopefully, after putting on my headphones, I wouldn’t have to listen to them anymore. After fishing my headphones out of my bag, I looked up to see the driver and the Camper in a discussion. The Camper’s eyes narrowed, and he hollered at the two men in the back of the bus.

Hey man, I need that transfer you promised.” That explained a lot. He was hanging with them because they promised him a free bus ride, probably downtown to a food bank or shelter where he could get something to eat. I suspect he traded cigarettes for the promise. Downtown was a good five or six mile walk. I couldn’t fault him for that exchange.

Dude, sorry. We only have one for two of us.” The two laughed at having fooled the old man. The Camper’s eyes glowed with rage, and I could tell he would love to get them alone in a dark alley. And I kind of hoped he would someday. He couldn’t mask the shame he must have felt, as everyone on the bus looked at him, knowing he would be put off the bus because of lack of fare. The pride on his face at that moment reminded me of my father. A man who was proud of who he was, regardless of circumstance.

I pulled out my book of transit passes and walked up to the driver.

I’ll pay this fare.” I said. The Camper looked me directly in the eyes and gave me a slight nod. I don’t know which was harder for him to accept—being duped by a couple of stinky bums, or having to accept my help. I smiled at him and hoped he would go directly to the back of the bus and confront the little snots, as their laughing had died down when they realized he would be riding the bus with them after all.

But he didn’t. He took the first seat at the front of the bus, placed his backpack at his feet, and silently faced the front.

I, however, invoked the power of Karma. “May the bird of paradise fly up your snotty, stinky, horrible little noses.

January 13, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A MAN AND HIS BIRD

A MAN AND HIS BIRD…

               I watched the man as I waited patiently for the L bus to bring me home from an overnight visit with Jessica in Longmont. Being a conscientious commuter, I sat on the bench in front of the designated loading spot for the bus. The man was large, looked to be about 30 or so, and paced back and forth behind the bus stop shelter. I watched him out of the corner of my eye, waiting for him to swoop in when the bus pulled up and butt in line. I really am a stickler for bus protocol, and it really angers me when people just strut all around the bus stop, then jump in front of those who patiently waited in line.

               The man eventually tired of pacing and came to sit on the bench across from me. He was holding something very carefully in his hands. I looked closer and saw that he was cradling a small sculpture. About six inches around, it was a piece of driftwood with a tiny yellow and green ceramic bird perched on it, and was decorated with flowers and greenery. He held it as if it were made of gold, and I felt compelled to compliment him on his trinket.

               “That’s pretty,” I said. He smiled really big and stammered a bit when he responded.

               “Thank you. It was an expensive bird,” he said, stroking the fake bird from head to tail. “It cost me fifteen dollars.”

               “Well, it makes me happy to look at so I guess it was worth it.” He smiled again and I realized he was perhaps not the sharpest tool in the shed. His clothes were clean, and he chose his words carefully, and I couldn’t help by smile myself as he told me the story of his bird.

               “I liked this bird because he sings.” He pushed a button and the bird’s beak began moving and his tail flitting about as a chirping sound came from the trinket. “And look, he comes off the log, so if I don’t want to take him out with this, I can just take him off and put him in my pocket.” He plucked the tiny bird off the perch to demonstrate how easily he could remove it. He stroked it lovingly before putting it back on the perch.

               “Well that’s definitely work it then,” I said.

               “Yeah, there used to be a bigger bird on this stick, but I don’t like him as much so I leave him at home usually.” I raved about his bird and how pretty the set up was, and he was obviously proud of his plastic pet. After a few minutes his voice got serious.

               “I worry about this little bird though.”

               “Oh, how so?” I asked.

               “I worry that he’ll get picked on. I’m worried he’ll get bullied by people.” His concern showed in his eyes.

               “Why would anybody pick on him?” I asked.

               “Because he’s MY friend. Sometimes people are not nice to me, and I worry they will be mean to him too.”

               Luckily the short bus showed up and the big man jumped up with his bird to catch his ride. I sat at the bus stop, crying behind my sunglasses, and hoping that nobody would be mean to the little bird today…

August 21, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

I will turn this train around…

I WILL TURN THIS TRAIN AROUND

     Unbeknownst to me, today would be the beginning of a string of unusual events, nothing serious in retrospect, but just a few days of hilarious insanity. It began with the books locking me out of the room. Here I must attempt to describe, in a bit of a technical manner, the layout of the donation center. It was originally a tanning salon, built as the lifelong dream of a man whom I choose to believe was a wonderful man. He ultimately suffered a heart attack in the center and lay dead for quite some time before anyone discovered his body. Anyway, the office has a large receiving area, then a long hallway with small rooms on each side where tanning beds were located. The walls separating each room don’t reach all the way to the ceiling. With about a four foot gap over each wall, one can easily climb over and between the rooms.

     I had received about a dozen boxes of books, which I stacked mostly securely in one of the rooms. Not securely as I thought, apparently, because as I was working in the front I heard the familiar sound of boxes shifting. I figured it was a small box of decorations I had thrown to the top of the pile, and was frighteningly surprised when I heard the roar of many boxes falling, followed by the slamming of a door. I rushed back to see what was the matter, only to find the door closed and unmoving when I pushed on it. The boxes of books had toppled and spilled against the inside of the door, and no matter how hard I pushed it wouldn’t budge.

     I stood perplexed for a few minutes, angry at first, but after realizing the absurdity of being locked out of a room by inanimate objects, I couldn’t help but laugh. I got the big ladder from the storage room and peeked over the wall, and sure enough there were dozens of books scattered along the floor and against the door. I lowered myself into the room, feeling very much like a cat burglar, and cleared the doorway. I stacked the books in much shorter piles this time.

    The day continued to be busy, but I avoided any further fiasco. I headed downtown to my apartment. The train was full of an odd mix of riders for a weekday. Of course school is out for some students, so there were quite a few young people. There must have been a play or convention as well, because middle aged and older riders took up the rest of the seats. We traveled one stop down the line, and realized the doors were not closing as quickly as they usually do after picking up passengers. A courteous voice sounded over the intercom.

     “If you are standing in a doorway, please step further into the train to allow the doors to close.”

     The doors are automated, so if you hold them open or hold the button down, the doors on all the cars remain open and the train can’t move. It’s not uncommon for someone to hold the door open while the rest of their party buys tickets or runs to catch the train.

     Still the doors remained open. The next voice from above was not a polite automated voice. It was that of a live, frustrated conductor.

     “Move away from the doors so I can close them!” Still no movement. “You are holding up every person on this train! It is not their fault you weren’t prepared! Get away from the doors!”

    We all looked around for the offending party. They were not on our car, all the doors were clear. The train finally began moving, but the conductor was not to be so easily appeased.

     “You just made some of these people miss their connecting buses. Because you were inconsiderate and not prepared. They are mad at you.”

     The couple next to me started laughing, and looks of question and giggles ran rampant throughout the train.

     “Is this for real?” One young man asked, looking around the car. “Are we being punked?”

     The voice came over the intercom one last time, and I was glad I was not on the car with the door offender.

     “You should all be making them give you cab fare for holding up the train and being rude and selfish!”

     I think we were all pretty relieved to reach California Street and get off the train

June 5, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | 1 Comment