Friday afternoon on the 5 and it already smells like booze. A couple standing in the aisle across from me simultaneously argue with one another and with the receiving ends of their separate cell phone conversations. I am not certain if the girlfriend is pregnant or just chubby, and as she stretches to reach for the handrail I get a full view of her big bare tummy. They’ve just come from the hospital, and it is the boyfriend who reeks of alcohol. They move on several stops later.
I sit in front with two homeless couples who are discussing local hotels with cheap weekly rates and taking advice from a thin woman dressed in a baggy version of Flo’s polyester “Kiss my grits!” uniform. “Flo” tells us she has been clean for a while and is finally able to keep a job. It’s a good job, she says.
The Native American woman asks about my Minnetonka Moccasins.
“I got them at the State Fair last year.”
“I used to work for that them,” she smiles and compliments me again. Her husband, friendly and rugged, was handsome twenty years ago. These things you can just tell. His friend is a big black man, so tall that even seated his legs fold into the aisle and he struggles to tuck them underneath and out of the way as riders get on and off the bus.
Tall leggy guy says, “I had a pair of Moccasin boots, you know the kind with the fringe? They are nice looking but the soft soles are no good for walking on concrete. They wear out too fast.”
“Yeah, and there is no support in the arch,” I add. He nods his head.
I give my seat to a petite woman not yet 30 who holds her pretty 2 year old granddaughter. The couple looking for a decent hotel to rent start telling us about their blended family. Each has three kids, mostly teens, from prior relationships. “You are the Brady Bunch!” I exclaim.
“Or Kate plus Eight!” the woman laughs.
Later I’m on the 16, coming back to campus. A dapper man dressed in an over sized shiny suit and black derby sits next to me. He reminds me of an aging Morris Day, lost in the eighties. He has a badly pockmarked face, but honest eyes and a kind smile. “What’s your name?” he asks.
“Patrice. What’s yours?” I tell Ron that I like it when a gentleman wears a hat and he grins a bit sheepishly. We chat about church, which he is returning from, and the weekend ahead.
A man in beautiful Muslim dress walks on to the bus, then stands in the aisle and announces with a shout, “I am not a terrorist!” Clutching his cell phone, bus pass, and prayer beads he sits and proceeds to pray loudly in Arabic. He is oblivious to the bus driver using the loudspeaker and imploring him to quiet his chants, but he isn't bothering anyone. Ramadan is nearly over, and the man is completing his final hours of fasting on a noisy bus.
Ron asks if I am married and responds to my answer with, “The pretty ones always are.” A vendor worker, he is underemployed since the Twins no longer play at the Dome, and he is hoping to get hired at the new Target Stadium next season.
I ring the bell and say goodbye, and leave the bus camaraderie behind, falling into the familiar steps of campus anonymity.