Hey, Bus Driver!

Voting patterns in the last presidential election notwithstanding, there are many American white males for whom acceptance or the accordance of some measure of credibility by his African American counterparts is about as meaningful an experience as they are likely to have. For whatever reason – one’s childhood idolization of Michael Jordan, white guilt, whatever – many black men seem to carry, effortlessly, an authenticity many white men can only envy. So it was with some surprise that I found myself instilled with a sense of fulfillment I’d never before even dared to imagine.

I was driving south on Ranier Avenue, behind schedule as usual, and stopped just past Martin Luther King Way to let a number of people off. The last gentleman to disembark was about my age (mid 40s), maybe a little older. When he came to the front – at which point he is supposed to deposit his fare, or show a pass or a transfer – he held out both hands, palms up. In other words, empty.

“Say, driver, ain’t got change today. Let it go this time?”

“Yeah, fine”, I said, waving him on with a motion meant to signify ‘No Big Deal’ and ‘Just Get Off The Bus’ at the same time.

What’s worth adding at this point is the Official Metro Policy, which is to simply state the price of the fare to the passenger when said passenger doesn’t pay the fare. In other words, What I should have said (instead of “Yeah, fine”, with the ambiguous wave) was something along the lines of “the Fare is $1.75, sir”. Which I sometimes actually do. Anyway, the man stood there hesitating, despite the wave. Then he leaned back a little in order to make eye contact.

“Hey, driver … the thing is, I got to get back up to the city in a couple hours …” he added, looking at the transfers I keep by the farebox.

I liked the guy. I think it was the eye contact, and maybe also the fact that he actually asked if he could have a free ride. Not that there’s much I can do about it if they just walk off the bus without paying. Which is what the teenagers do. Or maybe I just wanted get moving again. I actually forget what I thought at this point, especially in light of what followed.

“Sure thing,” I said, tearing off a transfer, which gives him about two more hours to ride a bus without paying a fare. Obviously, these transfers are only supposed to be given out when a fare has been paid.

The man took the transfer and looked at it with a big smile. Then he turned towards me with the same big smile.

“You know you’re my favorite nigger – Don’t come no bigger!”

The look on my face must have been … something. Whatever it was.

“That’s what we used to say, back in the day. God bless you, man. Have a good day.”

I did.


  1. Henri Young says

    Hey, that guy owes me money.

Speak Your Mind