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Pilgrim Cafe

Continuing Conversations on the Human Spirit

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Inspirations

Surprise Submittal

A diminutive hobbled creature leaning on his rustic staff can often be observed waiting to cross intersections or attempt mid street jaywalks in our city. His crinkled emotionless expression appears, patiently gazing straight ahead, depicting Grumpy of the Seven Dwarfs, awaiting a large enough break in the traffic to signal opportunity. One of our permanent homeless personalities surveying the corridors, sorting through dumpsters and quietly offering another view of life to on-rushers hurrying to their next “important” appointment. 


Driving these same streets for nine plus years I have often observed him entering downtown from across Broadway bridge hobbling slowly from some historic injury complicated by age. He is burdening a weathered backpack and clinging necessarily to a sturdy staff scavenged from some river encampment. Occasionally boarding a bus, he mostly walks, looking like the bell ringer of Notre Dame, quietly moving past upscale diners behind wrought iron fences at downtown restaurants or weaving through sidewalk minglers admiring art on the street. Moving slowly and observantly without a word. 


Not long back our friend boarded my bus, fumbled with one freehand to uncrease a dollar bill to pay fare, but to no avail. “May I help,” I asked extending an open palm. He paused, and for the first time, in our sporadic relationship, he handed me the bill. “Some of these bills are so worn that it is difficult to straighten them out. There we go.” I responded as the payment was made.


“Thanks,” muffled his response as he dropped the remaining coins in the machine. 


It was a simple connection that seemed to signal the beginning of a new chance for our relationship. Heretofore my greeting and questions had apparently landed on deaf ears, but now, ever so slightly, something new was beginning. I have learned to take these things slowly, not to blurt in as is my usually gregarious manner. I have learned to watch observant for the other’s lead. 


Our first meeting some years back was in the dead of winter. Snow packed the sidewalks and ice jammed the curb gutters. It was a miserable day for passengers and drivers alike. Our friend stood in a waiting line to board. I remembered seeing the him the previous day as I passed around him from behind coming from the Colorado National Monument. Today, however, I met him face to face. He looked down, as he shuffled slowly forward. Next up, he fingered coins in his worn jeans and plopped the correct change in the machine. My eyes dropped to his feet and caught notice of his toe-less footwear. He wore socks, but had cut the toes out of castoff old work shoes. He shuffled past. Every time I have encountered him since he has worn similarly constructed shoes. On one occasion he had secured some relatively new work boots that would have warmed his feet all the winter, the next day they were toeless.


His grumpy demeanor seams more a defensive strategy than anything else. He has been disabled and homeless as long as I have known him. Both conditions make him vulnerable to quicker stealthier operators.  Homeless persons will not betray their private information to anyone due to the fact that they have been vandalized and abused when they let their guard down. Their major personal protection is what they know that no one else does, therefore they are not forthcoming. When they are asked where they live they may say, “The shelter or the mission.” if they do. Otherwise they may say the river or, I move around, or with friends or nothing.  They have learned the hard way how vulnerable one can be if others know their hangouts. He is not perennially angry or grumpy, to the contrary, he is just meeting life as it comes and feels more comfortable behind the defense.


Passengers generally pay him little attention as long as he controls odor and alchohol. Both are a menace to sociability. Once a passenger exited complaining that he left a wet seat. Another with child in tow, asked if he was alright. Teens after school would complain about his ordor or gruff nature. Our buses, however, are for everyone not just the people you like to be around. There are limits, but drivers are not hygene police and so one may find their personal limits broadened when they board.


This week I pulled into the downtown terminal and saw him waiting on one of the metal benches. Surprisingly he was thumbing the pages of a thick paperback novel as he waited.  “Got a good book” I began. He held it up so that I could see the cover. “Wow,” I said, “it would take me forever to wade through that, though it looks interesting. You are about half through it.” His next response was so precious I just had to write about it. 


He looked up at me making rare eye contact,  “Yeah, I get into fantasy.”


I was floored. A fantasy reading, homeless, disabled, hunchbacked, hobbler. I could not believe the response. That he was reading a novel of that size in and of itself was a surprise to me, but that his reading material was more akin to some millennial student blew me away. In an very quick reality check, I had my own fantasies set straight and felt a subtle sense of hope for the world. 

BOB NASH

“I study up on countries that I plan to visit,” responds a boarding passenger. Toting a stack of books. He appears slightly out of his element. He sits quietly in the seat directly behind me. I’ve come go know him as Bob, we remain on first name basis. He daily boards for a brief trip to the library, then home. The Pubic Library is the computer source for many of my riders, seeing Bob board with books under his arm is a relatively rare occurrence sight, since most simply surf the internet or check their email.

Bob, a gentleman of distinguished older age, usually sits quietly half way back as to not invite conversation from the driver. Having, at one time, also been a bus driver, he knows how distracting a simple conversation can be along a busy route. Mine is one of the busiest. Today, however, the bus relatively empty, and the traffic less complex, Bob decides to talk. He re-positions himself within earshot.

Usually wearing a baseball cap, gentleman’s khaki shorts and calf length athletic socks, Bob appears to be more sophiticated than most. I see him daily boarding from the library or the university travelling to a stop that serves small appartments and prebuilt homes.

“In the fall you would call this ‘Indian Summer’,” he offers.

“Certainly unseasonably warm,” I affirm. “Not like February.”

“Nope.”

“What country you researching now?” getting back to his books in hand.

“France. Going to Paris in April … spend a month.”

“Wow,” short response being best. I do have to drive.

“Been to Rome, Vietnam, Thailand, and India.”

“You researched each?”

“Yes, gives me a project and makes the experience richer. Vietnam was the country I have liked best so far … spectacular country, everything is so green … lush.”

I have been Bob’s driver for two years, and have learned that he has been a baseball scout in the minor league, and in more recent years a tour bus driver before settling in Grand Junction. He is an avid reader (over 100 plus books a year, if you can believe it), has completed two novels but not attempted publication. Bob is single and lives alone, does not own a car, does not dine out. He has no local family and draws a meager retirement income which he saves to invest in travel.

Don’t expect to see Bob on your expensive group tour to Paris. He will travel frugally, baseball cap and Bermuda shorts, investing only in those things that will create the experience he desires. He will be finding an apartment off the beaten path in the center of the historic city. He will be the tourist you meet standing quitely in museums for hours actually reading the exhibits and displays. Should you be fortunate enough to encounter him, a simply smile and a cheerful “hello” may illicit a thoughtful round of questions that will happily embellish your appreciation of what you experience. He will then turn and vanish into the crowd having contributed a few moments of delight in your busy itinerary.

Do I sound enamoured with Bob’s approach to life, well maybe a little. His focus on simplicity has enabled him to experience moments deeply. I would more accurately say, I resonate with Bob in many ways, but my interest is really a celebration of the array of passengers that people my life daily. I don’t have time to sit at length with a cappuccino or linger over a latte, but I appreciate the repeated brief encounters and how they enrich the lingering moments of each day.

Epilogue

One day in early September Bob boarded late in the day. The bus was empty and he sat close behind me. “They have found Pancreatic Cancer,” he announced. “I’m considering the options for treatment,” he continued in sober direct tone.
“What are they offering,” I asked.
“The usual,” he replied,

“Radiation or Chemo.”
“What are your chances for full recovery?”
“It may extend my life a few months, but they will make me sick and miserable for much of it.”
“Huh”
“Yeah”
“Lot to think about, huh.”
********

Not long after, Bob boarded a busy bus. He ran his pass and confided, “Not going to take the treatment. Checked myself in to Hospice Palliative Care. I’ll live until I die!”
“Big decision Bob.” I replied.
” good with it,” he went to his seat.
*****
Fall months flowed slowly. Bob would board now and again. Some days he would be waiting for another bus and would cast a knowing glance my direction. Others, he would wave me on waiting for the next bus. As the weather changed he seemed more susceptible to cold and wet. I found him shivering on a bench waiting for another on more than one occasion. His face gradually began to betray weight loss gradually growing more gaunt with each passing day. He, however continued living life much as he had. Ever the sports enthusiast, he would join into conversations about the Mavericks, or the Broncos. Well versed in professional sports, since his years as a baseball scout, others listened to his well studied opinions. Boarding with a hand load of books or his familiar folded Daily Sentinel tucked under his arm, he never flagged in interest of national and world events.
One day, however, in late November, he boarded asking where my bus went. He seemed confused and disoriented. Since that moment his acuity ebbed and flowed. Then, like a great oak falling deep in the forest unnoticed by most hurrying to workday appointments, he no longer came to board.

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