Along For The Ride
As I approached I could see a man in his late forties, built like the cab of a Mac truck, shouting into the pay phone located in the parking lot next to the bus stop. I stood listening, not quite making out what he was shouting, shooting a picture of the sunrise through the fog behind the trees beyond the intersection, mentally making the usual photographer's calculations as the man finally hung up the phone, walked in one direction, then another, then approached.
“Did you listen to Christian radio this morning?” he asked loudly.
“No”, I replied. “I was listening to NPR.”
“What's that?”, his voice still bullhorn loud but, I calculated, not meant to be threatening. Mentioning NPR, for example, did not seem in any way upsetting. He was loud, but he was loud like a radio with the volume stuck.
“National Public Radio,” I said.
”Oh,” he said, without apparent interest. “You should listen to Christian radio. It's the best.“
I had a choice at this point. I am not adverse to talking with crazies, they sometimes, um, give you an interesting perspective, make you think, but when the bus arrived I sat in an open seat beside another passenger and avoided choosing an empty seat where he could sit beside me and I'd be stuck in a one sided conversation for the rest of the trip.
The bus started and “Did you listen to Christian radio this morning?” boomed behind me from the back of the bus. The faces around me stared straight ahead without a blink, all of them making the same calculations I'd made while I was waiting for the bus.
“Which Christian radio station?” a listener asked.
I hadn't had the nerve to ask that question when I'd been asked. Whomever he'd sat down beside had evidently decided the guy was harmless, a decision it had taken me longer to make.
”Any Christian radio station. They're all good.“
The conversation continued. One analogy he made between working in an office building and going to jail every day struck a sympathetic chord. A friend at the office later compared our cubicle farm to a block of dairy cow stalls (“they spend just what they must and no more to keep milk production up.”) after I'd related my story. I thought it particularly apt.
“Did you take your meds this morning,” the listener on the bus asked?
“Yes,” said the Christian radio man. “I took my meds.”
Maybe the listener sitting behind me on the bus knew our man, maybe he didn't, but I'm not sure I'd have had the grass to ask about meds, not sure I'd have had the wit. Not everybody likes questions about their meds. Maybe I'm not as good a listener in unusual surroundings as I imagine. I am the Sole Proprietor, after all, not the Soul Proprietor, the man who feels your pain from afar. Maybe the guy behind me was a Soul man, capable of perceiving the human inside no matter how disguised. Then again, maybe it was a Tuesday, a work day in Oakland, and I was just one of those background faces along for the ride.