As an addendum to the first American leg of the journey, I’d like to include a sampling of what riding the infamous East Colfax bus – 15 or 15L – yields on late nights. During the… show I rummaged in my bag for my journal to jot some notes and the quiet young man made as if to get up to let me off. I told him what I was up to, saying, “This stuff… it’s pure gold. Put a writer on this bus every night and what a book they could write.” I still hold to that. Anyone game?
Three stops in and a shifty looking man shuffles aboard. The bus driver watches patient while the man fumbles bills slow wrinkled wrong ended into the machine. His eyes dart about – quick and alert despite an inebriation that robs his arms and legs of coordination as he flops into the seat nearest the door. Head all his, under his control, eyes and ears and mouth and neck, even, but separate from a collapsed body, twirling hands conducting an unseen drunk orchestra, legs in a mini-Elvis seizure. For two stops he observes everyone. A glint of cool appraisal lit with a spark of insanity.
Two men walk straight past the driver without paying, but the driver calls out, “You, yes YOU, get back here. No no no no no… Come. Come. Two dollars. Two dollars. Uh uh. Riiight. Suuure. Two. Dollars. And you sir. Sir!” And they pay, and the riders grumble loudly about “That’s what’s wrong with this country is that everyone wants a free ride.” or “What’s the big deal it’s late and cold and we just want to get home. That bus driver…” But never do they argue, somehow they agree and the young black women in the back make sassy abuses of driver and riders alike. Our shifty eyed gentleslob revels in the lively chaos. His shoulders lift, slowly, marshalling the slow slow process of sending a signal to his mouth.
He’s a loud voice. Sharp tenor with the rumblies of a low bass only possible after copious smoking and beers. Sort of that rough poor-white-guy-with-tattoos-from Boston (Denver) who could could be on the Jets from West Side Story or a yes man on the Beat It video. The scruff around on his chin and cheeks and upper neck from however many days or hours – for I have never shaved and have no guage – has the character of a porcupine as he bellows:
“Does anyone on this bus want to make seventy five THOUSAND dollars?” Slurred and ponderous “thousand” each word tumbling into the next, falling elephant into elephant. “Does anyone want to make seventy five THOUSAND dollars? I’m talking seventy five THOUSAND dollars. That’s a lot of money. That’s a lot of motherFUCKING money.”
The chatter dims to the crash of surf.
“All you have to do is call this number and work really FUCKING hard. I mean, really FUCKING hard. FUCKING hard. I mean… I’m not talking Wal-Mart. I’m not talking being a waiter or Best Buy. I’m not even talking no FUCKING truck driving. I’m talking… you need to work really FUCKING hard. Just call this number.”
And the digits come even slower as his eyes twist in on themselves trying to read off a phone his hands keep bringing closer and further away. “Seven Oh One. Six… Five Six Six. Six Seven… Oh Four. THAT’s SEVEN oh ONE. FIVE SIX SIX. SIX SEVEN OH four. All you have to do is Call this number. Work really fucking hard.”
Perhaps he’d have quieted on his own. The gaggle of black girls jeered and laughed, “What’s that? I didn’t get it?” And he repeated, louder, slower, sharper, unaware. “I didn’t hear you. Say what? Seven Oh WHAT?” Desperate giggles, catty “Oh no he didn’t”s, keening “Ahhhh sheet this is too much”s.
A bald fat man behind me holds his phone high as he begins to dial along to the fourth incantation. His companion wonders, “Are you crazy, man?”
“No,” Amiably, “I’m just curious where it goes.”
“Good luck with that.” Smiling back.
A thin, ragged woman with the coal black staring eyes, destroyed wispy hair and pallid, dead skin one reads in books about the undead, “What’s this number for, man?”
“Oil drilling!” He’d just begun to quiet, arms starting to still from their angry profanity emphases, “If you can throw a hammer wrench as FUCKING” and it’s back, “hard as I can you can make Seventy Five THOUSAND dollars.”
From the back, “I can’t believe it. He’s advertising on a bus. For serious?” And something about a chinchilla.
“Oh, it’s a job.” The middle left side, an old lady smiling bemusedly.
“That’s a SHIT TON of money! Motherfucking seventy five Thousand dollars! Yes you gotta work. And you gotta work really FUCKING hard… Hey, half this bus is flack folks and you guys is Strong, man, not like us white folks…”
“Oh no he didn’t.”
And it continues ten more stops down East Colfax while our driver radios for security who remove him from the bus, still screaming the number, the profanity thicker, louder, less intelligible, the eyes duller, limbs completely unpowered by the adled brain, dragged into the bracing cold by Monaco Street onto the soft snow covered cement shoulder above a gutter drain, limp and confused suddenly as his feet quit the bus, held up by the shoulders like a puppet as we accelerated slowly away. The flourescents within the bus shone bright as ever, the girls laughed and whooped and discussed chinchillas and the bus driver allowed myself the shadow of a smile.
Song of the Day: Mad World – Tears for Fears