Buses are democratic.
Have the fare and anyone can ride.
Friday I took an early No 7 so the usual crowd of familiar faces was gone. A heavily tattooed woman (not unusual here) about my age sat in front of me not having a good day. Looked like she had her world’s belongings in her lone plastic bag.
Also not uncommon.
Across from me sat a large black man with very big shades and low-riding shorts rocking his head to his music.
Neither of them looked like the type you’d run into in the office I’d just left.
Passing through the university area riders got younger, hipper, sportier and nerdier depending on their tribe. A sport nut, fit and tan, got on with her workout clothes still on, headband, pony tail and… a five dollar bill.
No change on a bus.
Drivers can’t access the money box, and would only slow things down if they could.
Sport girl tried in vain to get change from the driver. She even tried to just use the five and not worry about the change. Driver starts getting impatient, his schedule slipping away. Girl is frozen in doorway.
Ms Tattoo says, you need money honey? You don’t have the fare? Come here sweetie, I’ve got four quarters.
Girl turns and looks.
Its okay driver, I got it, she said, digging in her worn bag. Driver pulls away from the curb.
Large black man pulls out his buds: what you need? Change for a five? I got that. He starts pulling out ones.
Soon the driver has the fare, sport girl is sitting next to Tattoo woman and just in front of large man. She’s thanking him for his change as she lets Tattoo woman use her cell phone. Turns out Tattoo woman is just trying to find the inter-regional bus station: she’s from out of town just trying to get home.
I lean over and tell her which stop to look for: this bus goes close to the station.
The President started a conversation the other day. A conversation we all need to have and keep having. A conversation first begun long ago when Martin Luther King Jr said he longed for the day when people would be judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin.
A conversation that included the vignette I just described. Where four people with little obviously in common on the surface worked together to solve something.
No, getting a fare paid is not a big thing. But those four quarters mattered to that woman. That man could have easily stayed behind his shades and his buds and let the young girl fend for herself. The girl didn’t have to lend anyone her cell. And I didn’t have to give directions.
All weekend long I’ve been thinking about that. The fact the people who didn’t have to come together did. And people who looked like they might have a right not to care about anyone else didn’t give into cynicism.
We need that conversation. We need to get past the stereotypes of age and race and gender and let our character define who we are.
We need to listen to each other, look out for each other and act.
We need each other.
And we’re stronger because of it and in light of it.