Public Transportation (orig. published Jan. 13, 2011)

Just before Christmas, I was taking the bus back to my house.  The only seat on the bus was next to a woman who had put a shopping bag next to her, but I asked if I could sit down, and she said sure.

Turns out that me sitting next to her was a big deal, at least for her.  To clarify: she was thin (painfully so), and hollow-eyed, and drooling (not all over.  But her spit was definitely not all in her mouth).  Turns out she has HIV, and she’s actively using crack, but more than either of those things it seems she’s bothered by the fact that she’s a social pariah and she knows it.  Nobody wants to sit next to her on the bus, nobody wants to talk to her.  I guess I’ve ridden the bus enough that I have a pretty high bar for weirdness, and as long as you don’t smell bad and you’re not hostile, I don’t mind sitting next to you, and I don’t mind talking to you.  She was on her way home from Boston Market (the shopping bag she had was actually her dinner, which she was going to share with her boyfriend [I had a little jealousy moment, wondering how an HIV-positive crack addict had managed to find a boyfriend and I hadn’t]), and I’m thinking that the cheap mashed potatoes, cornbread, and chicken breast were more food than she was used to eating.  And she was excited to be getting on the bus in the morning to visit her sister in Ohio, who she hadn’t seen for years (because she was busy scoring crack and getting HIV).  I didn’t ask how she was going to keep from going into withdrawal during the 18 hour bus ride.  I didn’t ask if she’d told her sister how sick she was.  I took a moment to congratulate her on finding a group therapy program where she felt safe and where she said she might try getting off that crack stuff.  It’s interesting, talking to invisible people.  It’s hardly ever a bad thing.

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