Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The woman at the bus stop, and other people you don’t know



When you ride the bus, and see many of the same people everyday, you get to “know” them over time, or at least you imagine you do.  You see the same faces at the same stops and you begin to form an idea of what type of person these people are.  That man will fold and refold his newspaper to get the crease just right, look at his watch at regular intervals and frown out the window.  I bet his life is a very orderly one.  You’ll see that young man waiting at the next stop, wearing earphones and bobbing his head up and down, and you know he’ll be patting himself down for his bus card only after he climbs aboard, he’s not worried.

But it’s the same people, wearing the same faces and doing the same thing everyday.  The angry or tired faces are always angry or tired.  That tall, skinny nurse will glance about nervously during the trip downtown just as much tomorrow as today.  There’s the talkers, the sleepers, the readers, the watchers. 

I catch the bus in the morning in front of Lincoln Bakery.  We proceed up Main Street and pick up 3-4 more passengers across from PNC Bank, maybe one or two in front of the laundromat, and then there’s CVS.  It’s at that third stop where the largest number of riders are waiting, and one of them is a short, round young woman.  I’d say 30, 31 tops.  She has straight ash-blonde hair, and (depending on the weather) wears a coat or light jacket that is too short or too tight.  Maybe that’s the fashion, I don’t know.  She wears a troubled face too, she’s one tough looking customer.  

Lincoln-Bakery-BellevueLincoln Bakery, you’ll find me here every morning—waiting for the bus

She wasn’t always tough, though. When she began riding my bus, she always got on with a young man around her age, not much taller than her, a beard & glasses.  He always had a scowl on his face, but this didn’t put her off.  She’d make every effort to sit in a seat near him, and if by chance she got one beside him, she’d lean in during the trip downtown and whisper on occasion, while he stared straight ahead with his poker face and furrowed brow.  They’d ride in silence then, together but not together. 

Our bus would arrive downtown, stop at the Highmark Building, then proceed up Fifth Avenue, stopping again at the corner of Fifth & Wood, then Macy’s, then Mellon Plaza.  The young man exited the bus as quickly as he could and she would be careful to exit behind.  I would still be on the bus (as I get off at the next stop, at US Steel) and I’d watch them as we pulled away.  Sometimes I’d see her make a cautious attempt to approach him on the sidewalk, but he would have none of it.  He wasted no time marching up those steps leading into Mellon Center and hurrying inside, and she would stand there for a moment, as if deciding what to do next before walking alone down Grant Avenue.  I watched this scenario play out over & over again, hoping just once he’d turn and talk to her or just wave bye or something.   

Then a year ago, she began riding the bus alone.  She got on the bus in the morning, scowling, as she made her way to the back.  I noticed she no longer got off at Mellon, but continued riding with the few of us remaining to US Steel, the last stop.  She’d exit the bus and be half a block down the street while I was just standing up.

I see this girl in the evening too.  Our bus stop home is in a different location, up the street from US Steel, beneath an overpass right across from the old Allegheny Jail.  You can get there faster by going beneath the Steel Building, a quick jaunt thru the subway station and up a steep escalator to the street.  It’s a noisy place to wait beneath that overpass, but you’re at the bus’ first pickup (a guaranteed seat) and you’re protected from the elements. There’s usually only one or two people that wait there with us, but I often stand there alone with her, watching the evening crush of cars and people.

We’ve never spoken to one another.  When our bus arrives, I automatically take a step or two back, allowing her to get on first.  She doesn’t look in my direction or say thank you, and I don’t expect her to.

And so today, I told my coworkers I had to leave a couple minutes early, I needed to stop at one of the PAT machines in the subway terminal to add some money to my Riders Card.  I got down there and approached one of the machines, waving my card at the screen (which should produce a bonging sound and a prompt asking how much do I want to add) but nothing happened.  I waved the card at the screen again, again.  Nothing.  Now what?  I stood there for a moment, waiting to see if someone else would try (and if theirs failed too, then it wasn’t me).  And then from around the corner, the girl at the bus stop appeared, hurriedly fishing her PAT card from her purse and went to the machine, waving it at the screen and also getting nothing in return. 

She shook her head in disgust.  I said “Er… it’s not working for me either”.  She looked at me then quietly said “I only have one ride left on mine.”  I said “Me too.”   She said “So what are you going to do?”  I said “I don’t know… mug someone I guess.”  She laughed, and in an instant, I mean in the blink of an eye her face seemed to change.  And I thought holy smoke, she’s beautiful.  I said “Hey I think I know where there’s another one of these machines, but we’ll have to hurry” and she said okay and followed me thru the terminal (and I said a quick prayer that my memory wasn’t on the fritz.) 

We found it quick enough and I told her to go ahead.  She waved her card and we heard the bong; she turned to me and we smiled at one another.  She added some mileage to her card and waited as I did the same.  We walked thru the terminal at a slower pace now, back towards the escalator that takes us up to outside.  Along the way she said “Yesterday there were fifteen people lined up at that other machine, and this one guy kept saying ‘it’s not working…’ and this guy WAYYY in the back said ‘you numbskull, you don’t know what your’re doing!  Let me up there and I’ll show you how its done!’   Someone said ‘wait your turn!’  but then the next person tried it and it didn’t work for him either, and the ones in line went right on waiting!”  I laughed out loud, and she did too, and I suddenly ached to be 15 years younger. 

Her soft voice and laugh had transformed her, and I suddenly stopped feeling sorry for her, and felt sorry for myself instead.   This girl’s a real catch. 

young woman


  1. What a beautiful post! Friends don't have a time stamp, sir! Even if you think she is too young for a relationship, she may become a treasured friend, investigate that option. Your old schoolmate, D ;-)

  2. Is that your sketch? Beautiful.

  3. Thanks so much for the nice words here, D! And no, that's not my sketch but it sure did remind me of her :)

  4. That would make a real nice short story, I mean as a published piece.

  5. Hi Iikka, that sure was nice of you! Thanks my friend :)

  6. I was thinking the same thing as Iikka - submit this to a short story contest, Doug! It's a bit sad but I loved it.

  7. Thanks very much Pam, you (and Iikka) are very generous. I still see this young woman regularly, but i sure dont see her now the way I used to. I sure hope her personal life's a happy one.

  8. I hope so, too...this shows how much a simple friendly gesture can mean to a person. The grumpy guy she seemed to have a crush on really peeved me off!

  9. Haha--thanks Pam, he ticked me off too! (Well, he's been MIA for about a year now...)


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