Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Stories on the Bus: Robert the Dancing Man

He carefully opened the pages of his pocket calendar to the following week, and twisted the base of the pen slowly, writing the bus and walking directions I read from my phone, to help him navigate his way to the nearest Goodwill. I sat next to him on the bus bench to show him the map, and he balanced a plastic bag on his lap, the outline of what looked like a record showing, explaining that he would go to the Goodwill another day, there was no time today.

We both waved the local bus by, agreeing it was better to wait for the rapid. Less stops, he said. Telling him my name, he introduced himself as Robert. He was dressed with care, bow tie, slacks, his hat tipped just so. He was in his 70s, perhaps, it was hard to tell. We boarded the bus together, and he sat across the aisle from me. As the bus rumbled into motion, he asked me where I lived in the city. Robert lived downtown, and loved it there, how it has changed, how diverse it is. And he dances, he said. He’s always dancing, but especially in the summer, he dances at shows, live music in the parks, wherever.

Our conversation paused as everyone was interrupted by a loud, angry voice, our attention drawn to the front of the bus where a man in his late 50s began spouting racist, hateful vitriol about someone who had just boarded. I went silent, unsure how to confront an older, bigger man, but the bus driver quickly took care of the situation. He pulled the bus over, told him that it was unacceptable to say such things, and he would need to leave if he were to continue to speak that way. Incensed, the man spat racist, hateful words at the driver, and stepped off the bus.

Robert and I exchanged looks – disgraceful, Robert said. Robert the dancing man asked me to come to one of his performances, and gave me his phone number to call during the summer, when he would be dancing outdoors more often. I thanked the bus driver as I left, telling him I had been fearful, and hadn’t known what to do, and was grateful for him stepping in, and up. The dancing man nodded to me as I stepped off the bus and watched it lumber away, carrying so many stories, stopping to drop each person into their chapter as we all danced around each other, sometimes with anger, other times with curiosity, and often with grace.

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