People Stories

Last week I took a quick trip to Lansing for a visit. As usual, I rode the 600 miles on the Indian Trails Bus. I like the bus because it is more environmentally friendly than just “jumping in the car,” but more than that, I get thrown cheek-by-jowl into a mix of people I rarely encounter.

The first was a couple of women at a convenience store. They were ahead of me in line, so I was able to observe the encounter from close up. They’re ages could have made them mother and daughter. The youngest didn’t do much during the transaction but giggle at the clerk. The older woman handled things. Their shopping basked contained a few items including what looked to me like a quart of whiskey. The container was clear, but I doubt it was glass, if that gives you an idea of what quality we’re talking about here. I overheard the clerk say the cost would be $10 and some change. Both the women had swipe cards, which I assume were some sort of government assistance cards. Each swiped their card on the reader, and the total cash was about $3 shy of the purchase price. “I’ll have to run out to the car to see if I can find some more money,” the older woman said. The younger one grabbed the bottle and started to walk out too. The clerk said, “That will have to stay here.” She put it down and giggled.

What struck me about this transaction was these women were probably trying to buy whiskey with their last bit of food money until the next came through. Neither woman looked sick, but neither did they look healthy. One wonders how the human body can be denied reasonable sustenance on the one hand, and be fed the poison of distilled alcohol on the other, and continue to maintain the complicated chemistry necessary to keep life going. And at what point does the system succumb to the loss of raw materials coupled with the poisoning. And at what point do reasonable people take such an unreasonable course in life?

Another neat human contact happened at the bus station in Lansing where I was waiting for the return bus home. I happened to be sitting with my back toward the windows facing the parking area where the bus parks. I heard a man walk in and address the crowd of people seated facing the parking lot, “Are there any seats available?” I happened to glance over my shoulder, and saw a slight man with sunglasses standing just inside the door. He had a white cane. He stood there for several seconds apparently waiting for some sort of response. No one answered this poor blind man. He cleared his throat and said, “Anyone?” Still no answer.

I jumped up and walked over to him and asked if he was looking for some help. He told me he just needed somewhere to sit. “There are some empty seats right next to mine; just follow my voice,” I said. I started walking toward my seat, when he stated the obvious, “keep talking,” he said. “Duh,” I thought to myself. He sat next to me and we started a conversation. It turned out he would be riding the same bus as me, so I told him I’d see to it he got on the right bus. When it arrived, I helped him find a seat right behind mine, and we had a really nice talk. He was an experienced wine maker, and I am a novice at the same sport, so we discussed the finer points of the craft.

I’ve thought a lot about the numerous people that heard this man ask for help, and did not respond. I’m thinking it may be a combination of things. We’re so used to scams that we distrust anything we don’t fully understand, especially when it is thrust in front of us suddenly. I also think it takes someone pretty safe within their own skin to stand up in front of a group of strangers and potentially make a fool of themselves by offering to help. It is kind of like being the first one to laugh at a joke… you risk looking silly if you’ve misunderstood or mistimed, so you keep safely silent until someone else laughs.

My advice? Ride the bus, and make some new friends. It saves you some money and can rekindle your belief in the human race.

Leave a Reply