Wednesday, November 30, 2011

"Healthy Respect"


Bill, he's always had a healthy respect for those who suffer in silence, which might help explain his agitated mood at the moment. His bus ride, you see, was a jostled trek, more so than what one normally expects on public transit.

"Those damned hippies," the elderly lady had uttered, clutching her assemblage of shopping bags closer to her legs like a mother hen gathering her chicks.

Always a stickler for accuracy, Bill sat and thought about her oath, the origins of the term 'hippie', and how different this generation of anti-establishment youth were from those of their grandparent's generation, which would include Bill's. Outside the window, the city passed in a jumble and blur of light.

Now, this was at about the place in Bill's commute when he started getting agitated. You see, he had been sitting just behind the hump of the rear wheel-well, minding his own business while simultaneously being aware, very aware, omnisciently aware (okay, perhaps a slight exaggeration) of the goings-on around him -- as is the nature of a documentarian -- when this group of five youths got aboard at the stop adjacent to the 4th Street Soup Kitchen, that part of town, like most every other town's, where the city founders zoned the homeless shelters into purposeful obscurity.

Two of the five youths, Bill noted, haggled with the driver regarding the fare, then were finally let aboard only after one of their compatriots -- the one dressed in the faux urban grunge style popular at the moment -- provided the proper coinage. Obviously, the progeny of a more wealthy lineage.

Most every group of Socialists, Bill thought, required the support of some Capitalist patron for their support, as if the two ostensibly opposing belief systems in fact actually required a symbiotic cross-relationship. Bill mused on this, thinking about jotting that one down for later.

The group clustered together in open aisle seats adjacent to Bill's, and proceeded to exchange childish giggles and comments under their breath while poking and swiping at their phones.

Bill sat in fascinated amusement, noting their penchant for Capitalist-produced consumer goods like cell phones, studying the group as a sociologist would a long-lost Amazonian tribe. In his youth, he wasn't what you'd call a hippie, though he kept close contact with others who obviously were. In fact, he'd lost his virginity to a tie-dyed and henna-tattooed flower girl while on a weekend getaway invite to Camp Parasite, a term coined by his more straight-laced friends for the wanna-be hippie commune frequented by the campus stoners. But that was decades ago, a different generation for sure.

How he got invited in the first place is a story best left for another time, so it will have to suffice that, ever since, Bill has had a soft spot for those of the more liberally inclined persuasion.

What broke Bill's reverie (after all, even the best social documentarians are besought with that ever-present weakness to daydream) was when one of the group of youthful vagabonds -- the tall, skinny one with dreds poking out from underneath his knit-cap -- proceeded to skateboard down the aisle while the vehicle was in motion.

It seemed to happen as if in slow motion, as if inevitable, as if he could do nothing to prevent the unpreventable. So this is how predestination works, Bill thought. Just slow everything else down sufficiently and no one, no matter how observant, can prevent the inevitable from happening.

It started, you see, with the most innocent of intentions, as these things are want to do. A young, female driver in a beat-up-then-spray-painted-various-shades-of-gray Toyota sedan crept out into traffic just far enough so as to signal her intention to merge, which caused an approaching car to hastily decelerate, etcetera, in chain-reaction, until Transit Route 6B Commuter Line bus 635 was also forced to rapidly decelerate.

Newton's Second Law being inviolable, Mr. Skateboard Dude proceeded to demonstrate to the remainder of his fellow patrons the Full Face-Plant Into The Coin Box Stunt, shortly after his ball-bearing-wheeled steed's rapid forward momentum was suddenly halted by that most common of city bus aisle-way obstructions, a misplaced foot.

Mr. Skateboard Dude's band of youthful merrymakers were so much less impressed by what they perceived as the bus driver's purposeful intent of putting a halt to the happy proceedings that they arose as one and hastily made their way down to the front of the vehicle, where their young companion was found crumpled in a heap in the stairwell by the front door.

The driver, he was a veteran of this sort of urban warfare, hence the reason why he remained calm -- a rock in a storm, or so witnesses would later state -- throughout the remainder of the incident.

Bill, you see, hadn't just sat there passively, a merely surprised bump on a rather large log. No, sir. Bill's camera, in fact, (the heavy, mid-20th century Kodak Retina rangefinder) was already out and several exposures of dubious focus had already been made when the group, having collected their errant member and were sauntering back down the aisle to their seats, were overwhelmed by the vehicle's sudden and rapid acceleration.

A veteran bus rider, Bill had seen the occasional empty bus barrelling down some darkened street at a high rate of speed, the "Out of Service" sign prominently lit, signaling the end of another tired driver's shift; but he had never been personal witness to what one of these behemoths could do when sufficiently motivated. The driver's right foot, he figured, must by now be protruding completely through the front grill.

Like 1960's astronauts splashing down after their return to earth (and which Bill can clearly recall having watched on T.V. as a kid), the band of merry trouble-makers were hurled down the aisle, feet frantically forward-pedaling to keep pace with their sudden rearward momentum, directly toward Bill, whose rangefinder camera-handling skills were being taxed to the limit as he turned the lens's focus tab rapidly to the left, felt the detent at the ten foot distance, then waited, microseconds perhaps, for his prey, now virtually airborne, to intersect his pre-chosen zone of focus, as he recorded but one exposure (and what a great picture that would be, years later, when he can once again spin the yarn about the bus ride and the errant skateboarder and the determined-to-get-his-revenge veteran urban guerilla warfare bus driver), mere seconds before they came crashing down upon him and the elderly lady and her flock of shopping bags.

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It's a few days later, and Bill sports only a yellowed bruise on his right shoulder, just sore enough to remind him of the incident on the bus, but also enough to embolden him in his urban explorations, like some yellowing and fallow badge of courage. Not everyone, he reminds himself, get the full Medal of Honor treatment; more often than not, it's the dead ones who are most heavily decorated. He'll take his bruise any day, thank you very much.

The day is clear and cold, enough of a breeze to send dried leaves scratching across the sidewalk, and he's down by the University to document the local version of Occupy Wall Street. There are no Capitalist Bankers in the vicinity, only minimum-wage workers in service jobs at the nearby shops, but the protestors chant and march through the park with equal zeal.

Occupy the Park, as Bill calls it, is an obvious venue from which to collect more street photos. He's nearing the end of the roll of film, ready to rewind and reload, when he notices them approaching from across the park. Four dudes, with a fifth in tow whose face is partially obscured in a large bandage, holding a skateboard.

Bill, he raises the old camera to his eye, frames the group in the rangefinder, and can feel the newly-formed dent in the top right corner of the camera body, a dent that's only a few days old.

The dude with the skateboard and bandaged face stops, spies Bill from across the way, then abruptly signals for the group to abandon their original heading and instead veer off across the street in a new course to who-knows-where.

Bill, he's on the 36th frame, but is certain that he's captured a good image. Time for coffee at Loser's Blend.

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(Posted via Lamy Safari in composition book; image via Lumix G1)

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~Joe

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