Urban Farming

People of Midnight

It is 11:27 p.m. on a Thursday. I board the 43 with my dance shoes and flash the bus driver my transfer. A light-skinned African-American man smiles as I pass.

His face is unlined and open. He doesn’t smell of alcohol, cigarettes, or pot. Possibly he is a church person or community college student. He sits up front, catty corner from the driver, where the good and virtuous sit.

His curiosity appeals. His solicitation of friendship appeals. I’ll call him Davon.
I imagine the circumstances of his life. He works at a restaurant evenings; attends school during the day.

Davon travels light. No gym bag or yoga mat. No back pack or groceries.

I revise his profile. He works at a law office. His job pays well enough he needn’t bring his lunch. But a job like that, he might have papers to bring home, read over. Ahh. Problem solved. He is a Millennial. He edits on screen.

I decide he is a storyteller. He told at the Fresh Ground Story event at Roy Coffee House earlier tonight. No. He sings. He’s fresh from the Hop Vine’s open mike.

He is without the usual articles of amusement one expects of his generation. He is not thumbing at a screen. No headphones clamped to his ears. No nose in Kindle. No clacking knitting needles, so not a crafter.

He is calm. No toe tapping, no nail chewing, no restless limb.

When I didn’t return his smile, he didn’t push it. He let it go. No obscenities flew from his mouth. He didn’t glare.

So far he hasn’t mentioned Jesus. That is another good sign. If he’s not a God peddler, it will be much easier to be his friend.

I wonder who he plans to vote for in November. I wonder what his thoughts are on the police shooting of the African American man in Shoreline on Sunday. I wonder what his strategies are for living in a country whose policies and laws so often work against him. I wonder how often he feels trapped in his skin. I wonder how many times people dismiss him because of what he looks like. But a guy such as he, surely people must be touched by his warmth and goodness.

I am sleepy tired. The bus is pleasingly quiet. I and the other bussteaders have divvied up the 2-seater and bench sections in equitable fashion. Each of us husbands the odd interval of bus real estate. We are loose-knit, but a community nonetheless. I am sure that if one steader were in need of a cough drop or tissue, another of us would provide it. If a beloved water bottle or commuter mug were to roll beneath a seat and we had difficulty reaching it, a more agile steader would save the day and fetch it.

We move at the pace of a fast bicyclist or slow automobile. We are in the space between destinations: work and home, school and work, restaurant or dancehall and home.

At University Hospital, our bussteader roles shift. Several new riders board. We must accommodate. We welcome them to our Naugahyde fiefdoms. A weary young woman in blue scrubs and messy ponytail, an older Eritrean or Ethiopian woman, a trio of white, first-year medical men. The MDs compare housing arrangements and speak fondly of football. Seahawks viewing is the linchpin to a satisfying weekend. Their knowledge of neighborhoods, bus routes, local politics and history is shaky. They know about as much of the city as anyone who has taken a Duck tour.

One of the triumvirate scored big on housing. 900 square feet, $1300 a month, Wallingford.

“That’s almost as big as a house,” the one living with his wife in Ballard ($900 a month, 750 square feet) says.

Doctor Ballard grew up unfootballed. His family didn’t watch. He rues that he wasn’t taught football’s catechism. He likes the game, but his shallow knowledge frustrates him and impedes his enjoyment.

Ballard speaks as though light rail will be coming to Ballard any day now. He probably also thinks monorail from Ballard to Downtown via Magnolia and Seattle Center with an extension to West Seattle will happen. Hmm. I wonder if he’s been tracking the Bertha story.

We rumble up Fifteenth Avenue N.E. Wedgewood needs to transfer to the 72.

Davon interjects. He suggests Wedgewood get off here and walk a block over to U Way.

“That’s alright, man,” Wallingford says. “We got this.”

A stop or two later, Davon disembarks.

The MDs chuckle.

“Oh, yeah,” Wedgewood says. “Like he’s the expert. Then I wind up in some other part of town.”

Ballard and Wallingford laugh knowingly, then they go back to comparing apt. square footage.

I wonder if they would have followed Davon’s suggestion if he’d been a white guy. I wonder what else the young doctors didn’t learn in medical school.

Wedgewood, then Wallingford, then Ballard disembark. The bus driver pulls to a halt at a red light on Market Street. “Anyone want this stop?” he calls out.

“Yes, please!” I raise my hand and hurry to the front.

“No one rang the bell,” the driver says.

“Thank you, thank you.” I step off the bus and wait for the 40. I haven’t my glasses. With the assistance of the street and storefront lights, I make out the hands on my watch and the bus times posted on the metal pole. The 40 should be coming soon.

Behind me, a gray beard gives his rag heap the once over. He surveys the doorway fronting his open-air boudoir. One last decision before laying out his bedding. Should he sleep with his head pointed east or west?

Down Ballard Avenue, beneath the soft glow of the Sunset Tavern sign, a half dozen persons clap out a syncopated rhythm.

One begins to sing, a chant-like, rap. His words slot into the clappers’ beats. His voice has been scarred by cigarettes, whiskey, and cold, but he carries the tune. He’s sung the rhyme many times.

I wonder if any of the music makers will bed down later in the rust and moss-bedecked RVs near the Ballard Bridge. I wonder if Mushroom Man is among them. Mushroom lives nearby in a van with a broken-down, tarped up door. Mushroom is an enthusiastic singer, guitarist, and not bad on the piano keys. Perhaps it is his voice I hear over the clapping.

The 44 rumbles back down Market and stops opposite me. The driver thrusts my shoe bag out his window.

I run over. “Thank you, thank you, thank you, Mr. Bus Driver. Thank you so much.”

He waves me back to the bus stop, bemused by my forgetfulness. He hasn’t time to chat. He has people with places to go, even at this late hour.

Next week I will repeat my midnight ride. I will look for Davon. I will bring the bus driver chocolate or raspberry jam. I will look for the Ballard Avenue syncopators.

The 40 comes. I board and show my transfer. I am a happy, grateful bussteader.

I hope the doorway dweller sleeps well.


4 thoughts on “People of Midnight

  1. pmcmullen4888 says:

    I enjoyed this little slice of life served up with compassion and open eye’s. How easy it is to dismiss the gifts all around us if our eyes are clouded.
    Makes me want to stay up late just to see what is going on after hours in my neighborhood.

    For better or worse we are all connected and deserving of a restful sleep.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ashleigh B. says:

    Whoa, what an amazing story.

    I think if “Davon” had been white they may have not taken his advice, but they would have considered it. Most likely he’s been dismissed by people before, so doesn’t take it to heart.

    I do wonder if you, the author, would’ve given the medical students advice, would they have listened, or dismissed you because you’re a woman?

    Medical school can’t help their issues. There’s so much they don’t know they don’t know.

    I really enjoyed this piece, especially the open eyed feeling of wonder in it. The world is new, I know nothing, but I’m learning.


    One thing: Wedgewood wasn’t introduced earlier with Ballard and Wallingford, so I was confused when he came up later.



    • Hi Ashleigh,
      Thanks for the feedback. You hit on all the points I was trying to make with P of M. Thanks for being an awake reader. I still need to get that box of chocolates for that wonderful bus driver. Maybe I’ll luck out and meet Devon again. If not, I can only try to pay it forward by emulating the kindness of so many. Kindnesses that are especially noteworthy when they aren’t reciprocated in kind. At least not immediately.


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