There is a certain happiness sighted when your bus comes along. It is of course a small specialized form of happiness and will never be a great thing.

-Richard Brautigan, The Old Bus

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Those people on the bus

I'm trying. Really, I'm trying hard. It's not like I don't want to see the problem. I just don't see it.

Today, two high-school boys, both black, were sparring, their pugilistic choreography swirling about in a cloud of flailing limbs. A half-dozen high school kids -- one girl, the rest boys; all black -- formed an elastic ring that floated around the fighters.

The blur of activity quickly attracted the attention of the other people waiting for the next light rail train at the 65th Street station.

I looked up from my book, but before I could decide whether something needed to be done, the "fighters" were transformed into a couple of kids just joking around. They embraced and then shook hands, all smiles. The crowd of high school kids milled around next to the light rail tracks. I went back to my reading.

"There are some pretty scary folk on board," goes the complaint. "Gang member looking people."

Maybe it is because I have a kid in high school. I've become inured to the overwhelming air of defiance that hovers around teenagers. But I just seem to lack the talent to turn every black or Asian or Hispanic male into a gang member.

I can't even manage to find enough "smelly street people. Intoxicated/drugged up people" to comment on the problem.

Last week, on the day I saw the crazy guy, I rode to work on light rail with a homeless guy. I assume he was homeless. He was dirty. He appeared to have soiled his pants at one time. The man was standing in the back of the train with his bike. I was in the middle. I couldn't tell if he smelled. But as passengers got on and off, he courteously made room. Beyond the dirt, he was just another of the 50 or so riders in the car.

I've been looking for some more homeless. One reason I was particularly enthusiastic about the trip downtown to the IMAX Theater on Saturday was the opportunity it presented. With all the suburban commuters at home, the remaining bus and light rail riders should have been "those people" who scare off people who could be choice-riders, my neighbors who could catch a convenient bus, but choose instead to stick with their personal autos.

According to the Sacramento County Department of Human Assistance, 5,257 transit passes are handed out on average each month with the General Assistance grants to the homeless. The county has been handing out the free passes since the early 1990s. One would expect the homeless to be an unavoidable presence, especially on the weekend. But all I saw on my ride downtown last Saturday were just people -- men, women, families -- none of whom appeared to have slept on the street the night before.

On my way home Saturday, I was waiting on J Street for the No. 30 bus to Sacramento State. I had been reading a copy of "Homeward," the newspaper that proclaims itself to be "A voice for the Sacramento Area homeless community since 1997." I had purchased the newspaper near the IMAX theater from a man wearing a badge that indicated he was an authorized distributor.

I suppose the guy was homeless, although his appearance was neat and clean and his manner quite friendly. He wasn't pushy at all as he asked if I would like to buy a newspaper.

While I was standing at the J Street bus stop, a man walked up to me. He was casually dressed, clean. He took a drag from his cigarette and exhaled. He looked around, and then asked me: "Hey, you want to buy a bus pass for the rest of the month? Say six bucks?"

I smiled and showed the guy my bus pass. "No thanks," I said.

My bus arrived before I could decide whether this was a homeless guy who was selling his free pass to raise money for food, or a dissatisfied Sacramento Regional Transit monthly pass holder.


Hahn at Home said...

Re: your last paragraph...perhaps he was both

John said...

Or maybe he rolled a homeless guy and was cashing in his take. You never know.