Friday, August 20, 2010


80X is the route number for the county connector in the lexicon of SKAT, which is the odd acronym for the public transit system where i live in skagit county.  this bus travels about 35 miles each way between here and there- there being whatcom county north of us.  it's a pleasant ride and costs $3 a trip which is a lot less expensive that driving our 1986 Ford F150 there and back.  so that was the plan for today.

the 80X departs at 8:45, so i hustle the kids out of the house by a bit after 8 which takes a good bit of "encouraging" because during the summer, just like the sun, we stay up very late.  seren pleaded to sleep in despite the greatness of our destination.  i did at one point bribe him with the promise of a co-op muffin- knowing he would pick the one that is little better than cake.  he did.  we made it to the station by 8:30.

we waited for the doors on the bus to open along with the small crowd of north-bound characters- and to me this is the highlight of riding the bus.  reducing carbon emissions, saving money, enjoying the smooth ride- it's all secondary to observing the odd beast we humans are  and wondering what is going on in their lives, going on in their heads.

as we waited a man emerged from the transit center.  he stood out immediately in the white-washed downtown area because of his race:  african-american.  he was in his forties, i would guess.  he had on white and black basketball shoes, a large athletic coat, black sweats and had in ear buds under this head band and baseball cap that perched on his head at slight angle.  he was also carrying a very large box which added to his uniqueness.  the box was held together, barely, with packing tape strips.  he plunked this down on the curb and retreated.  he came out again with another similar box.  he did this again.  the boxes slid off of each other.  one landed in the curb.  no one moved to right it.

the bus driver opened the doors so we could file in.  i watched out the window as he returned to the bus with two large pieces of luggage: an enormous gym bag and a black garbage bag knotted at the top.  as he walked, his wallet fell out of his pocket and landed on the sidewalk.   i got up to tell him, but he noticed it after he crossed the road and jogged back to pick it up.  i sat back down.  the bus driver convinced him to use the lift to load his belongings.  as he did, she felt compelled to tell him that "riders are only usually allowed three parcels."  she wanted him to know she was doing him a favor- something you do for people you like usually, but her tone was condescending, as if he should have known better.   as he heaved around his awkward and heavy bundles he explained to her, "i just got out of PCN."

anytime someone uses acronyms it spikes interest.  i saw ears perk up.  i know what PCN stands for, and i was surprised that he would so willingly share this info with a snotty bus driver and the surrounding strangers.  sure enough, as soon as the man got settled into the gray bucket seat, another gentleman, quite chatty and just riding the bus to have something to do-  that's what he announced to the driver as he boarded- asked him what PCN was, to which he was given the correct answer "pioneer center north."  which obviously says nothing about what it is. 

"you got a lot of stuff with you" replied the curious guy rather than following up with the next obvious question.  maybe he also knew that PCN is rehab- a drug and alcohol treatment center in sedro woolley.

"yeah," explains the man as he shifts in his seat, "i had all my stuff with me when i got arrested.  i was living out of my car.  this is just about a quarter of it.  i lost the rest of it."  i got the impression that lost didn't mean he misplaced it somewhere, but i still wondered where it all was.

no one said, "oh really, what'd ya get hauled in for?"   rehab, homeless, arrest: that's a conversation killer. the bus rolled through traffic.  no one talked to him after that except when the bus driver asked him to move closer to his stuff in case it tumbled off the seats.

after we crossed the skagit river i saw a deer grazing on the side of the freeway not far from costco.  i've never seen a deer out there before.  there's just not enough habitat.  i deeply appreciate deers but it made me sad to see it.  i wanted someone to save it before it needed to be saved.  i get that feeling sometimes.

i was several rows behind the man and his looming, lurching luggage.   i wanted to offer some kind of encouragement to him, give him some small bit of acknowledgment that would help him with his re-entry into his life.  maybe rehab did change him, but most likely it didn't change his best friend or his partner or his bed at the  shelter.  could i somehow help this man's reality by simply being nice?  like when someone hands him a beer or a pipe or a needle he's going say, "well,  i don't need that.  that white girl said to take care and she smiled at me.  so i'll pass."   it sounds naive, i know, but i do believe that on some level.  i think polite conversation can help fight off the fear, guilt and shame that drives many people to use and abuse.  it may not slay anyone's demons but it certainly helps sharpen the sword.

at the same time i was hesitant to talk with him- not because of the addiction, homelessness and arrest.  the arrest was likely due to the homelessness.  in many places it is illegal to sleep in your car.  (it is in bellingham where all sorts of atrocious laws exist like "no sitting on the sidewalk.")  the homelessness was probably related to the addiction.  maybe he drank away his paycheck and couldn't afford the rent.  or maybe he got a UA at work and was fired and then couldn't pay the rent.  maybe his wife threw him out.  perhaps he was a veteran suffering from the war long after the battle had been fought.  in any case, i've known lots of addicts. i've loved a few- so i know that they are humans looking to ease some hurt. 

my hesitation was more due to the fact that he so readily shared all of this information with a bus load of strangers.  deeply personal information.  i pondered my reaction to his divulging nature.  i wouldn't say that i am a guarded person- i share my pain and embarrassment with people.  i just have always been made uncomfortable by over sharing.  i am hesitant to enter into a conversation with someone who i am afraid will tell me more information than i need to know.  i never know what kind of visuals i could get stuck in my head or what type of emotional rescue i might get sucked into because on some level i will feel compelled to try to make it better.  this could be just my nature or back lash from being a human resource manager.  maybe a combo of the two.

i wanted to tell this man that his confession was not going to win any sympathy with this crowd even though i don't know if he wanted it.  i thought that some folks would use this scenario only to reinforce their own prejudice against his race. i didn't tell him anything though, and maybe he already knew all those things.  my husband is not white and sometimes he breaks social norms just to shake things up; as a way of saying, very bluntly, that he doesn't play by the rules because the rules suck.  more often than not, the rules do suck if you are a minority or experiencing homelessness or getting out of rehab and needing to take the 80X back home with more than three pieces of luggage.  when we got to bellingham we went our way as he struggled with his baggage.   

even now, i keep thinking about him.  the sun is going down and it's been a long day.  his world has possibilities in it that it did not have in it last night.  i am seeing him walking outside in the fresh night air and he is breathing in the crispness of a summer night.  every green leaf he sees shows him that growth is a part of life.  every ripe black berry sings of nature's sweetness.  each step his body takes fuels him toward his destination and tells of his strength.  i see him in a good space, and i hope that the stuff he lost was the stuff that was just weighing him down.

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