Bus Stop Angels

By Neva Knott

Monday, while walking my dog, Josh, in the rain at the little park by my house, the one next to Rose City Golf Course, I heard from under the boughs of a large tree, “Hello.” I looked up to find a man taking shelter from the rain. He was wearing a head turban and had an Islamic prayer book in his hand. He said, while gesturing at the weather, “You know when it is like this we say,” and then read me a very long prayer from his book, in Arabic. He explained that the rain is a blessing. Then he began to read again. He pointed to a word, and said, “This is goddess; do you know what is goddess?” I replied that I thought I did, but asked that he tell me what it meant to him. He enunciated and the word was gorgeous, not goddess. He began to read again in Arabic, turning little prayer book page after little prayer book page. Then he stopped and said, “You are gorgeous in the eyes of God.”

He told me that he liked to talk to people, but that some people don’t like to stop their day to talk. I replied that I like it, too. We parted ways.

Bus stop angel.

I had this room-mate in college, and that was her name for this type of encounter. She explained it as those people who we come upon while doing our daily doings (such as waiting at the bus stop) and they then impart something wise or special to us.

How nice to begin my day, regardless of my personal belief system, with the reminder that I am gorgeous in the eyes of God. This man was not crazy, he was not threatening or creepy, nor was he trying to hit on me. He was connecting with me through humanity, in the rain, from under a tree.

Hopefully, I gave him something in return.

II.

Last Thursday, Jimbo came in to the tavern I work at to drink whiskey and play pool, as he often does. He’s a Northwest neighborhood denizen–he’s been around for years. He’s the guy who takes your ticket at Cinema 21 and gives you the peace sign or a prayer bow as you walk in. He’s the guy who used to come into the Blue Moon, another tavern I worked at, and bus tables as an act of kindness. He’s the guy who lived across the hall and down one floor from me on Johnson Street when I moved back from Evergreen in 1990. He had one rocking chair and a rug in his living room, which I could see through his open door from the hallway. He’s the guy who, when I was a new teacher, walked through Powell’s with me, helping me select American literature titles. When I returned to the city a few months ago and started at the tavern, I had to remind him of why I was familiar.

Jimbo has always been part of my NW reality, but until last Thursday, I didn’t really know him.

Come to find out, we went to the same college, Evergreen State. He was of the first graduating class, he told me–eyes shining. He’s a Zoologist and he taught Biology at Portland State University for 20 years. In between serving my other customers and bringing him fresh whiskey, I heard of his time as a carpenter on Lake Chelan, and that he writes letters to Gary Snyder. What he didn’t tell me is the story of his brain injury that altered his life. In the end, he said, “People do what they do. I don’t need to be some big PhD. I just do my thing.”

III.

Last night, a girlfriend and I met at The Hutch for a drink. Neighborhood bar–I like that. Blue collar Portland–I like that.

When I walked in, there was a man of about 50 playing guitar and singing Eagles songs. I was drawn in to his rendition of the one that begins, I like the way your sparkling earrings lay… Kinda my attitude toward love lately. He had a nice voice, well-matched for his song choices and he was capable with the guitar. I thought about what it must be like to be his age, to have lived life down the path he’s gone, and wondered if he had a 70s teen-aged dream of making music. I’m sure he didn’t, at the age of 17, plan on playing cover songs at Tuesday night open mic in a low-brow corner bar.

At a break in our conversation, I noticed a girl walk in, crying and trying to hide it. I turned back to my friend, but pretty soon I realized this girl was really distraught. She was now standing at the bar with the phone book, talking on her cell phone, explaining to whomever on the other end that she didn’t have enough money to get home and was scared to spend the night in Portland. She needed 17 dollars.

My friend had stepped away to get another drink and came back to find me counting the money in my wallet. I pointed her attention to the girl at the bar and asked her what she thought. We discussed the risk that she was putting it on, and we discussed the reality that she might be in danger. Then I went up to the girl and gently asked her if she needed help. She told me she was stranded, lived in Eugene, was short for a bus ticket, she’d asked Greyhound if she could pay at the home end and was told no, had asked some police officers in the pizza joint next door where she’d been sitting for a long while for some help and they told her to sleep in the bus station, and she didn’t know what to do. I gave her the money.

I don’t know why. It just felt right. The girl took my address and told me she’d send the money back. I told her that was great, but if she didn’t that was fine, too. I said to her, “Get home safe; I’ve had people help me in all kinds of ways, too.”

Back at our table, I enumerated for Emily how many other ways I could indulgently waste the same amount, even referencing that the price of the drinks in front of us.

Walking home, I debated with myself: Why did I have to question giving this woman money? Why was my first thought that the man under the tree might be harmful? What the fuck is wrong with us in our world today?

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