Having spent the past 15 years in South Dakota, where buses stop at 7pm and the only trains hauled freight of the non-human variety, getting the mass transit experience in Portland has been, well, awesome. Anyone who writes knows that spending time in observation of people we don’t know is a near-sacred pastime.
I’ve been situated between a tiny black woman devouring Shakespeare (REAL paper) and a young Hispanic man playing “Candy Crush,” on his phone, face crunched in concentration with the slightest, “Doh!” whenever he made a boner move. Watching a young man doing pull-ups, wondering if he was trying to impress a fellow passenger, or if he was actually using the time to fit in a workout. Young women sharing ear buds while they gazed at each other in a way either best friends or first dates do. The man with neatly photocopied and cut sudoko puzzles he carefully filled in with tiny golf pencils. A little boy having a meltdown after being tormented by his older brother, the one who made his mom raise her voice in frustration, the one who’s evil little glare made me wonder if he would be killing stray cats in a few years.
And a hundred more, little stories within stories waiting to be told.
But sometimes, especially for those with a partial extroverted streak and a penchant for odd human interactions, the MAX is gold.
I hopped on the blue line last night downtown, near Target, so I would have in excess of a half hour to get home. There was a book in my purse, a book I am enjoying and very interested in finishing, but as I sat down, this appeared to be a chance to spin gold.
To my left, a non-descript (baseball cap, hoodie, standard uniform) young-looking white dude who was playing solitaire on his phone. Across the isle, a young black man who was late for his Bone Thugs and Harmony audition. Down the row from Bone, a woman needlepointed leaves into a large white piece of cloth.
Let’s just take a moment to talk about needlepoint. Who still does that? She was packing an embroidery hoop. All business, that one.
We were talking about needles, which leads me to the next to in our cast of characters. Two heavily-tattooed fellas sat on my right. The younger man was quiet and focused on photos on his phone. The older guy decided it was time to go Facebook Live. It was apparent he’d had a couple beers.
“Ivan, you’re live,” I heard him say, which led into a commentary on being starving artists on the MAX. The “incredible” MAX.
As the older fella was maneuvering to get full shots of the train, he accidentally elbowed me. He apologized immediately, but the Mother of Bitches who loves those odd interactions saw an in.
“Do it again and I’ll hit you back.”
He laughed and has he turned the phone to capture the other side of the car, I waived and asked if I was gonna get famous out of this.
“It’s out of control sometimes,” he said.
“I don’t think we could be more out of control than we are right now,” I deadpanned.
Thankfully, these boys grasped sarcasm.
Bone thought that was funny, too.
And since once you’ve shared sarcasm with someone, a handshake is appropriate, this is how I met Mark.
People were starting to interact with the video at this point and remembering that not all superheroes wear capes, I started reading the comments with sober eyes.
Someone named Jason made a comment which led to another comment about a watch at which point Mark laughed at a joke I didn’t understand and then explained that Jason had a watch tattoo and somehow along the way Mark mentioned he was a tattoo artist.
Ears perked. I have been wondering where I would find my new artist out here.
Mark grabs a card and one of the people out in Facebook land comments on the quality of Mark’s work.
“Oh, an endorsement,” I said. “Let me show you what I’ve got going on here.”
“We’re gonna do a consultation on the MAX,” Mark shared as I took off my jacket to show him my sleeve. “Julie is incredible, already, I can tell,” goes the commentary, and he especially liked my snake. (Shout to Jeff Mann at Vishnu Bunny in Sioux Falls, SD.)
The Live feed ended at that point, but the randomness didn’t.
Mark went back to an earlier round of question about what I’d been up to that evening, if I was just getting off work, whatever.
The plain truth was that I’d met up with a guy for a drink. Kool-Aid for this one because places here aren’t locked in on the NA beer. And I’d had a really fabulous evening, which must have been apparent when I said, “I had a date,” and smiled. And then I might have giggled a little bit. (I am still ALL about embracing my inner Cartman here—I do what I want.)
Bone had me all figured out and grinned like a cat eating shit.
That made me giggle a little more.
And with the attention span that a drunk person often has, Mark shifted into showing me pics of his work and his baby. Good work and a cute baby, sir.
As we pulled up to my stop, I had to thank Mark and company for making the ride so entertaining, which was reciprocated.
What I didn’t notice was that non-descript white dude also got off at the same stop. He was smoking a cigarette and seemed to be waiting for someone. I made some comment about Mark saying, “I get chatty after one beer” and that the beer must have been seven feet tall if it were just one. Ha, ha, right? I was batting 1000 on talking to strangers tonight.
Except he kept talking, which was fine at first, but at the point where I’ve made a couple references to needed to get home, but not really wanting said stranger to know which building I was walking to started to make me slightly uncomfortable. And the weird thing that every woman gets programmed into her, about safety and choices and who you talk to and who might try to hurt you, well, the weird thing started to ping.
So the ping said stay under the streetlight until someone else comes by if I get spooked. And the ping reminded me I would be faster if I ditched the particular shoes I was wearing.
And although the ping said it was probably an okay situation, he started his next comment with, “I don’t mean to sound like a creep, but I was listening to your conversation and…”
Guys, when you start a sentence like that, you sound like a creep. You just do.
“… and you said you were on a date?”
“Yes,” I said slowly.
“And you look really cute.”
Ping… awkward laughter, um, why is there not another human around here?
Then he doubled-down.
“And I don’t mean to sound like a total creep, but do you want to make-out a little?”
And then I laughed out loud. Really hard.
And then instantly felt like sort of a bitch.
And then remembered my inner Cartman.
And I certainly didn’t wanna do that.
“So that’s a no?” he asked.
All I could think was this must have worked at least once, but the pings were gone. Dude had too many drinks and said something stupid.
“That’s a no,” I said and laughed. “You’ve got moxie, kid. You never get what you don’t ask for. Have a good night.”
I sure did.