Stories and observations from the LA Metro

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A young man carrying a keyboard case boards the bus and wedges himself into a seat next to a large woman with voluminous hair and bold makeup. She sits with a trash bag between her legs that in her presence seems transformed to a fine leather bag. She turns towards the young man and asks “You a musician?” The young man smiles and eagerly reports to her that he is. The words spill out of him like a handful of marbles a child has brought for show and tell. He begins talking big money, recording contracts, and that he works for Beyoncé. He pulls out his phone and shows her a picture “Here is one of my guitars, it’s a Yamaha but I’m going to get an endorsement deal so I’ll have to give it up.” The woman nods her head like a queen might acknowledge her subject. “I too am a musician.” She says in a voice that conveys a confidence and composure in league with Aretha Franklin. “I am Aphrodite.” She gives the man a ripped slip of paper with a handwritten url and says “You can find me on YouTube.” An old man slumped across from the pair wakes to see the young man with the instrument case “Hey, what instrument you play? You play the keys?” The young man reports with great pride that he plays many instruments. The old man asks the young musician several more questions and tells the boy he should be proud of himself. The old man then shares that he too is a musician. “Oh yeah? What is your instrument?” The older man smiles as he reaches carefully into the plastic bag he has been guarding on his lap. “Here is my instrument.” The man says as he pulls out a long piece of paper and carefully unfolds it to reveal a sequence of black and white rectangles. The young man looks out of the window and expresses alarm that his stop is next. He runs to the door and apologizes for his hurry to the man. The man smiles and wishes the young musician luck. The old man drapes the paper keyboard over his lap with the gravitas of a concert pianist. He begins to play a silent but impassioned rhapsody.

Man on bus with a face covered in tattoos asks the woman in bright red lipstick behind me how to find the red line station. The woman shrinks down and says she does not know. I turn back to the scared woman and the lost man and say that the station will be coming up in a few minutes. The man gets up and sits next to me. His eyes twinkle over the tattooed tear drops that fall down his cheek. “I just got out of prison today. Everything looks different. I don’t know what I am going to do, I think I’m going to make my way to Burbank, but I gotta get a beer to celebrate, it’s been hard to find a beer this morning.” I ask him how long it’s been since he was incarcerated. “15 years, I got 35 to life but they let me go today, a week earlier than they said. I don’t know what I’m going to do, I guess I’ll see my daughter and my lady. You know, I have seen them, but it’s different now, now it’s without goodbyes. I guess I’ll be a stay at home dad for a while. I just wanna see my lady and my daughter, I wanna get a beer first though. Maybe I’ll get lost for a while on my way there.” The man asks me to tell him about the streets we are on and the businesses. He keeps saying “Things have changed, it’s so different, this is weird.” His forehead wrinkles, taking the gothic type inscribed on his skin with it to create a new type face. I try to reassure the man. “Seems like you’ve been on a journey, now you’ve got a chance to go on another one and the transition is part of that. Maybe you can take some time and choose what to do next?” The man says “Yeah it’s been a journey, got to get home, figure it out. But first I think I owe myself a beer.” We arrive to his stop and I wish him well. As he reaches the the exit door he looks back to me. His face conveys the expression of an anxious child on the first day of school. As he crosses the threshold it seems like some sort of invisible space suit has materialized around his body that makes his movements stiffer and heavier. He disembarks the bus as if he is crossing into an unforgiving alien planet. As he walks away I see a red bandana that hangs from his back jeans pocket like a gash in his protective suit.

Homeless man on bus sleeps soundly next to trash bags full of recyclables. A woman with her own bag of cans takes a seat behind the man. The sound of clanking aluminum wakes the man and he springs to action and grabs the bag behind him. The woman clutches her collection with strong hands and says softly “is mine sir”. The man pulls with fear and confusion, “This is my bag, you stole my bag. I collected these, this is my pay, this is my food, give me back the bag.” The woman responds with determined eyes and a whisper. “Is mine”. “You CANT steal from me!” The man’s voice is loud and deep. The woman repeats “is mine” in a warbling breath. She points to the bags next to him and says “those yours” The woman slowly takes a smaller bag out of her larger bag with about 10 cans and tentatively offers then to the man. “I give one bag, but is mine.” The man turns around to find his cargo safe on the seat next to him. He shakes his head after this second awakening. “I am so deeply sorry Miss, so, so sorry, I thought you had my cans, but I made a mistake, please forgive me, I want to give you a dollar. I want you to know how sorry I am”. The woman softly says “is okay” and holds the bag of cans up for him to take. The man reaches toward the bag but continues in this trajectory until he encloses the woman’s small hands in his weathered ones. He looks her in the eyes and says “Sorry” once again with heart breaking earnesty. The man repeats this several times and then goes on to apologize to everyone on the bus for taking up an extra seat while he moves his bags to make way for another passenger. He takes a tattered dollar bill out of his pocket and addresses the woman “I’ll give you a dollar, I’m so sorry for my mistake.” The woman shakes her head and smiles uncomfortably. The man yells to the bus driver to open the back door and turns back to woman to say “Happy Thanksgiving, I really wish you the best, all of you.”