December 9th, 2013
I'm riding the bus home around 11, after a battery of final exams on the final day of the semester and some time at the gym. A classmate of mine came into the testing center to discover there was no test waiting for him, however. If he does not take this test, he will fail. For the next half-hour, he and the proctor, both young, broad-shouldered men, are on the verge of coming to blows through the glass partition.
Later, on the tram downtown, I sit behind a couple of men, sweet-smelling and slightly inebriated tourists, who are explaining to their young female companion the use of models to predict the freezing points of a certain isotope. At the gym I only row a trifling 500 meters, but at a personal best of 164 watts. I'm motivated to do well by the fact that at night the light spills out the glass walls on either side of me. The people waiting in their cars at the red light 10 feet away are no doubt watching me and I mustn't embarrass myself in front of an audience. I do not lean back quite enough on the finish, but I'm not writhing frantically like I was towards the end of the trigonometry exam, at which point I had resorted to plugging each answer into the calculator to squeeze one last drop from that stone.
On my way home I have in mind this helplessness, this propensity to solve things by force, when a woman (henceforth known as "Scooter") boards the bus in a large motorized wheelchair, her basket replete with groceries. Scooter has oriented herself the wrong way, and spends several minutes inching back and forth to pivot this bionic extension of her body in between the stroller rack and the third row of seats. The bus is packed at this hour; it is one of the last buses of the night and already it's taken a minute just to fold the seats and deploy the ramp. Scooter came on the bus with another man, who quickly positions himself at the rear exit and watches with no more interest than anyone else. Between the two of them they have brought inside our crowded vehicle the warm smell of alcohol that descends on this neighborhood at night.
The man in the seat across from her gets up so the bus driver can fold his bench as well and allow Scooter extra room to pivot. He's missed his other bus and recounted a brief life story when he approached me near a construction site close to the depot. (Do you have change for a five? -No, I don't, sorry.) The man's mind is confused, but he holds up well for the rest of the ride; earlier he had trouble pinning a date on his mother's death from cancer, perhaps it was four years ago, maybe it was last year. He wanted to know if the situation has improved for the homeless these past one or four years. No, they haven't, the plans for a tent city were opposed. It's likely he won't go anywhere hospitable tonight.
The night is wearing on, and everyone knows that wheelchair-bound passengers can delay the bus about 10 minutes. This could be the span of time that could make or break a connection with the last bus of the night. Finally, an enormous man in a SECURITY t-shirt and an out-of-place GUATEMALA lanyard makes his way to the front, seizes Scooter's wheelchair by the rear axle and sets her in place, and the bus driver steps in to secure Scooter's chair with four red bands that retract at the push of a button that prevent her from shifting in place during the ride. I don't think she has said a word this whole time.
SECURITY goes back to his seat and continues to whisper things into a woman's ear that he occasionally licks while she tries to overcome the first page of a Danielle Steel novel. Afterwards, he recognizes a man who boards the bus as an employee of his predilect supermarket chain and engages him in a loud and belaboured conversation about the shifting number of Winn-Dixies and Sweetbays in the Bay Area. With his feat of strength he has earned the privilege of doing all this and more.