“Did I miss the bus?”
How to answer? I was standing at the bus stop clearly waiting on a bus and only one bus comes to this stop. “If you missed it, then I did, too,” I said smiling.
It was hard to say how old this guy was as he rode his bike onto the sidewalk and climbed off to ask me the question of the day. He’d definitely missed a bus, just not the 9:58 RTA at Third and Findlay Sts. There’s something about a life of drinking and smoking and stressful living that disrupts a stranger’s attempt to size up a person’s age and their story.
Resources are probably scarce for anyone riding the bus in East Dayton, but one thing’s certain, if you’re riding a bike that’s too small for your grown-man legs, things have not gone your way for a long time. He sported long, thinning, below the shoulder, graying hair that hadn’t seen a brush since maybe the night before, topped by an old stained and grungy ball cap— bill forward. He wore an old gray T-shirt, maybe a favorite band shirt, as faded as its wearer, and scruffy jeans. The skinny bike rider’s eyes were a bit wild, but he seemed to pose no threat of asking me that question about a dollar to get to Toledo. I was one of his neighbors if I was waiting on a bus, a member of the tribe.
“My best friend just died and I’ve got to get downtown. He was in jail and his daughter didn’t even bother to post it on Facebook or nothin’. I had to find out from someone else. You know the Band Box? Just down there,” he pointed east down Third St. toward the bar. “The bartender told me. I had to find out from him. That’s just not right.”
Ah, the wildness in his eyes wasn’t just street medication, but the horror of hearing that your best friend was dead. I could feel his helplessness that I know very well when you just find out. His grief was spilling out all over our trash-covered corner with the solar powered recycle bin.
“Me and him was best friends for more than 25 years. We played in a band together for most of that time. That parking lot over there where the CVS is? that used to not be there and we played at a place over there, our band,” nervous thoughts and memories spilling over instead of tears.
“Oh, that’s so hard to lose someone you have played music with for that long. That’s a special thing to share,“ I said. I wanted to cry for him. “That’s so sad to die in prison.”
“Yeah. Yeah, it’s not right to find out this way. It’s not right. I don’t understand what she’s thinking not telling anyone.”
“That’s rough.” Just then the late bus pulls to a stop. “Hang in there. I’m sure his daughter is having a hard time with this.”
As I climb aboard he says, “Yeah. Yeah. It’ll be OK. Twenty-five years we were best friends.” He drops his bike into the rack, grabs the small cooler that had been dangling from the handlebars. As he gets on the bus I hear him say to the driver, “I’ve got to get downtown. I just heard my best friend died.”