Thursday, August 14, 2008
On the Bus
In San Diego county people I don't know frequently tell me details about their personal lives within a minute or two of meeting me. This tends to happen in coffee shops, at bus stops and train stations, and on buses and trains. Probably if I hung out in bars alone it would happen to me there.
It's always been true that marginal people talk to me, especially if I'm traveling alone. In high school and college, there would always be a vaguely lecherous and lonely middle-aged man who would offer to buy me a soda while waiting for the bus/train and want to sit next to me. Now it's usually disenfranchised middle-aged men who want to tell me their problems. Occasionally some twenty or thirty-some guy will come on to me, but the moment I tell them I'm a teacher, they usually become intimidated. It's true I'm pretty and blonde and generally seem younger than I am. But this is California, and the world is full of pretty young women, many with blond hair. It has to be more than my physical appearance that causes these men to talk to me about their personal lives. I know that I don't appear threatening to anyone.
And it isn't just men, it's women, too. Usually, these women are also middle-aged, but they are more likely to be homeless or transient. The young men I meet are not yet homeless, and the middle-aged men usually have some kind of job (often a post-rehab transitional job). Both the men and the women are often on some kind of psychiatric medication (or at least claim to be). But I was talking about the women: the women are usually fighting with their husbands, boyfriends, sons, or all of the above. Often their husbands, boyfriends, and sons are the same young men or older post-rehab men that talk to me.
(Aside: the marginal women who talked to me in DC tended to be a lot more aggressive and hostile. I don't have an analysis of that difference yet, really.)
Both the men and the women frequently look like they've been beat up. Even the ones that look healthy look fragile. In fact, anyone on the sidewalk in North County looks fragile--pedestrians here always look like they're about to fall off the sidewalk and into the street.
For the past two days there's been a guy at the bus stop and on the bus named Bob (or Robert or Bobby) who has been telling me all about his DUI case and how he lost his license and his quest to find a lawyer. Bob grew up in San Clemente in the 70s and moved to Carlsbad about four or five months ago. He says he has family who work in law and lives in down town Carlsbad. That may be true, but if it's true, it doesn't make sense that he's taking the bus to see a lawyer or hanging out at the court house to talk to a public defender. Maybe he's lying. Or maybe his family give him some money to live off of and are happy that he's not homeless. He's got the clean cut 70s look of a man just out of rehab even though I don't think he's just out of rehab: new jordache jeans, new sneakers, and a new aloha-print short sleeve button-down shirt. He carries a rather beat-up legal pad and no pen.
This morning on the bus he asked if he could borrow my pen. The only one I had was my favorite purple one, but I lent it to him but said, "I'll need that back before I get off the bus." After I pulled the cord for my stop, he asked if he could borrow it for the day and I said no, but very nicely. The woman sitting next to him and across from me gave him her pen. She'd been trying to catch my eye the whole bus ride, so this was her opportunity to enter the conversation. She said that it was a good pen, but that the ink was permanent and would mark up a car or a shirt forever. "I broke up with my boyfriend over that pen," she said, and then went on to tell a story about accidentally marking up the leather seats of her boyfriend's car, and how he got angry, and how she didn't want to be with someone who got angry over little things, so she'd broken up with him, that morning, and that the pen was good luck.
Robert was looking for some good luck, so this seemed to make him happy.