Social Skills

It was a nice weekday morning in Northeast. Three middle-aged men boarded the 75 bus together — all around 40 years old. One using a cane, old before his time, sat across the aisle from me. His friend took the seat behind him — he was a rangy guy, all knees and elbows and a mane of gray-streaked red hair topped by a ragged ball cap. A quiet one, whom I barely glimpsed, ended up right behind me. The tall boy played with a flip phone and streamed comments to the guy in front of him.

“Look at that. I got a new account. Is that cool or what? Check it out…,” thrusting the phone forward so his partner could glance at it.

“Uh-huh. What is it?”

“That’s a Boss Mustang. A 429, the big one, not the little one. . . and look at that cop car. That’s a nice one. That’d make you want to go to work, wouldn’t it?”

“Huh. Hey, in the shadow there you can see the guy he stopped. . .”

They shared a giggle.

“You’d just be hoping for a high-speed chase in that baby.”

“Here’s an XKE. Robin’s-egg blue. XKEs are really rare.”

He showed it to the quiet guy, who stayed quiet.

Middle-class drone that I am, running my life in a rut, I often wonder what other people are doing for money. You never know if you don’t ask, of course, but these guys appeared to be unemployed. That would be very much like 10 or 15 percent of the local working population. And they were dressed for hanging out.

Meanwhile, a few seats back, a young man and woman were getting to know each other. They’d caught my eye when they came past.

I’ve been noticing the steady dive of one segment of the PDX fashion trendsetters, past grungy into a deep dumpster full of the baggiest, most faded, most unkempt and stained rags. Naturally, this garb leads to a heavy reliance on tats and face jewelry. What’s next? Rolling in mud and shaping scabs into bunnies?

These two were were only dipping their painted toes into that demographic. She had boarded first, legs sheathed in black, ripped tights and black knee-high leather boots; up top a holey black t-shirt under a brown, fringed leather vest, and above that, black- and henna-dyed hair ratted out in alarm. God, the freedom! To be young and freewheeling!

The young man-boy had Charlie Brown’s face, round and simple, and instead of dots for eyes, marbles. In his hoodie and permanent neck art, he gave off the air of a street operator.

She and he sat together, talking in outside voices about their travels. He’d been to Cabo and Hawaii. She’d grown up in New York. Both loved New York City.

He asked, “Do you want to hang out later?”

“Yeah, sure.”

© Nick O’Connor: If you had been commuting an hour each way every weekday between Northeast Portland and the Sunset Transit Center at the border of Portland and Beaverton for two years and occasionally woke up, dislodged an earbud, or spoke to a fellow rider, you would have a few stories to tell, too. Nick blogs at Sardines Are Only Packed Once (where this story originally appeared).

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