She wears "professional for me" clothes. I heard her say this yesterday, when telling someone on the phone that a 23 year old had hit on her. Black skirt, leopard print jacket, ankle boots, and a few rhinestones glued to her cheek. Today she wore all black, with a red rose/black feather ornament the size of a tiny cocktail hat in her short, platinum blond hair. Bright red lipstick. She looks fabulous. From listening, I know that she's forty, that she has two kids, that she has a ten block walk home from the bus stop. I know that she processes loan applications for a living, and that her boss thinks she's weird. Maybe she is. But she's also kind, and friendly, helping newbies get to the right stop, comforting a stressed out young mother, giving encouragement to a teenager trying to get her life back on track. She's so vibrant, so fearlessly herself. At least she seems so. I look forward to seeing her, even though we haven't spoken.
Her fashion sense stands out on the Colfax bus. The norm is uber casual: jeans, tee shirts, baggy sweats, hoodies, cheap hookerwear, pajamas, pants hanging down so far that the wearer looks like a toddler with a loaded diaper. Mixed in with this are Muslim women in headscarves and long dresses, punks in black leather, creative hairdos, tattoos and piercings, Indian women in colorful saris, old men in suits and hats, ladies in their Sunday best. And there's the big genial crazy man who rocks the pimpwear: broadbrimmed leather hat covered in bling, a massive fur coat and a walking stick.
It was one of the pierced and tattooed crowd who took a woman loudly to task for refusing to make room for a man in a wheelchair. It's some of the roughest looking folks who help a stranger carry a stroller or a shopping cart onto the the bus. Scary looking teenagers give up their seats to elderly passengers.
People trade or give transfers, help someone out with busfare. They give advice on where to get help with food and shelter. They give directions. They share their life stories with complete strangers.
Yes, there are drunks, and loonies and obnoxious people on the bus too. But the longer I ride the bus, the more I see that they aren't the norm. They might stand out more. Yet most people are decent, no matter what their appearance.
Today I met James, who summed it up very well.
"Courtesy is making a comeback, and I'm glad. It's as if we as a society are realizing that we lost something precious over the last few decades. And I'm happy to see that young people seem to be driving it. Oh, by the way, I'm James." I introduced myself and we shook hands. He continued. "I make it a point to introduce myself. Because even though we may never meet again, we're here in this moment, as human beings, and we need to acknowledge that."
We got to our stop. James exited first, then turned back to extend his hand to help me down. I didn't need his help, but I accepted it. We said goodbye, and wished each other a pleasant day, then went our separate ways.
Riding the bus is getting me out of my little bubble. And I'm glad.