An American Taxi pulled up to the bus stop and asked if anyone needed a ride. Cab drivers know when people will pay their rate rather than the buses’ cheaper rate, and one of those times was when it was raining. The man with the red buggy shoved his bottle of beer in one of his shopping bags and said, “Yeah, I need a ride.” He pushed the red shopping buggy toward the minivan cab.
But a young black woman with three small kids around her was there, too. She wanted the ride. They debated with the taxi driver for a minute, then the man said, “Well, hell, we can ride together, can’t we?” The young black woman laughed and said she didn’t care. The cab driver didn’t like the idea—he was thinking about missing out on two different cab fares. He asked them where they were going. Since they were both going towards the same part of town, he grudgingly agreed. The young woman helped the man with his bags and they all crawled in. The body of the car squashed down over the wheels a little and they were laughing over the close quarters when the driver slammed the sliding door shut, hopped in the driver’s seat, then headed back out down Brainerd’s wet streets.
I looked down the road for the bus. After the cab fare I’d paid that morning and after I paid the bus fare, I’d have about 10 bucks left. I was trying to decide whether to go across the street and get a hamburger or save the money for booze and smokes. But just then the bus pulled up to a red light down the road and made the decision for me. It’d be wheat and barley for supper.
The old woman who picked at her eyes was riding the same bus as me. She stood up with her bags and I let her shuffle on then stepped up behind her. Dropped my dollar-fifty in the pay slot and sat down in a corner back seat.
There weren’t many other people riding, three or four other people scattered here and there. The old woman sat a few seats ahead of me. I leaned my head against the glass window and tried to watch Brainerd slide by but this black guy around 30 was sitting in the front seat behind the bus driver talking to her really loud. She apparently knew his mother and asked about her.
“She doing good,” he said. “Real good. She don’t drink no more. Just a little bit of Grey Goose now and then. That’s all.”
That was funny and I sat up to listen to him. He wore dirty old blue jean shorts and his hair was nappy. He had a real bright and shiny pair of Nikes on his feet, though, with black socks pulled up over his calves. He shifted all over his seat and couldn’t keep still. He acted out the things he said from his seat, shifting and bouncing around everywhere. He rattled on and on and kept the bus driver laughing.
“Now you know what a real black mama is. ‘Come here, boy!’ That’s what my mama used to say. You know that’s a real black mama. You know what she’d say? ‘Matter of fact, get out my face.’ That’s what she said. ‘Get outside. Don’t come back ‘til 8 o’clock.’”
He started telling the bus driver about his kids, his baby’s mama and some other girlfriend he kept who offered him parenting advice the other day.
The woman who picked at her eyes pulled a black-and-white striped shirt out of her bags. She put the tag in the collar close to her face and read it. She wiped her face with it, then looked back at me, to see if I’d seen her do it, then turned back around real fast. She bowed her head and picked at her eyes again. I leaned my head against the window watching the rain drizzle on Brainerd.