When you’re on public transit as much as I am, you hear things. Things that bend the imagination a little. Things that you can’t quite believe, as much as you want to. And then, one day, if you’re lucky, you might find out that some of those things are true.
I saw him as the Blue Line was crossing I-205, easing into the Gateway Transit Center. I had uncoiled myself from my seat as we pulled out of 82nd, getting my land legs back and making my way to the exit. I wasn’t paying attention to anything but the captivating floor-to-ceiling view as we rolled across the overpass – the river of cars at my feet, the verdant foothills beyond. Above me were a pair of jet contrails, two bright parallel slashes illuminated from beneath by the diminishing pale yellow light of the sun. As if on cue, a flock of geese appeared from the corner of the frame and worked their way across the sky, their path a diagonal counterpoint to the jet exhaust. And then the Eternal Rider brushed past me.
I’ve heard him whispered about, this rider, in that gap between songs on my music player, seen his name between the lines on the “Respect the Ride” bus placards, known somewhere in the back of my mind that he exists. As long as there have been ways to move from one place to another, he’s been there. For all I know, he crossed the freshly-parted Red Sea, lost somewhere in the masses, picking his way through the wriggling deep-sea creatures. He was absolutely on the Nina, or the Pinta, or the Santa Maria. He was there, head down, silent in the crowd as the Golden Spike was driven.
And now he’s on my train.
Words are cheap. Writers far more accomplished than I would fail any attempt to describe that electric moment when my arm touched his, that millisecond of contact. After it happened, I tried to see him more clearly, to put a face on what just happened to me. All I really saw was his backpack, maybe a sleeve and a pants leg, as he disappeared onto a westbound line 24 bus and pulled away. In that moment of touch, though… I knew. I knew the sum of what he is. I felt the dry air of the Sahara and the smooth warmth of the saddle beneath me. I knew the hard planks and peeling paint of the Conestoga wagon, the scent of the ocean and sounds of flapping sail and straining line.
I wonder if he has a plan. I wonder if at some point he consulted the ultimate Trip Planner on the ultimate transit site, and if he’s got somewhere to be. I really hope not. For all of us who furtively check Transit Tracker on our phones, who gripe about being squeezed into a seat, who despair when the rains come and we’ve forgotten to dress for it, I hope that the Eternal Rider is just traveling for the sake of the trip. And that when we finally exceed our grasp and climb to other worlds, he’ll be along for the ride.