It’s late afternoon on a Wednesday, hump day for me. I’m walking up Werk Road to get to Queen City Avenue to catch a No. 33 bus to take me downtown.
Wednesdays are just about the only day I take off. I’m lucky that I don’t have a regular office to go to, but that doesn’t mean I’m not busy.
I fill my schedule with a variety of activities: freelance writing, a book of essays coming out late in the spring, teaching a creative writing class one day a week and copy editing for a non-profit in Mount Auburn. Hump day is something I look forward to.
Walking up to Queen City Avenue, John is on my mind. He’s a server at a fancy downtown restaurant. Those fancy places are suffering now, and John lost his job.
He called me mid-morning. He found out about his job loss earlier this morning and within two hours he’d already filled out applications at four other restaurants.
That’s what I like about John: He’s a go-getter.
When I reach Queen City Avenue, I reach into my back pocket for my wallet to find money for the bus. A guy approaches me with a smile on his face.
He has no money but needs to catch a bus and asks me if I can help him out with the fare. He seems honest and nice enough, so I give him the money. He thanks me over and over.
We start talking. He says he’s not familiar with the area and needs to get to Western Hills Plaza.
I tell him the bus stop where he’s standing will take him downtown and that he needs to get across the street to find a bus to take him to Western Hills. He quickly crosses the road.
As my bus approaches, I notice him approach a woman waiting for the bus. He needs help with the fare.
I guess asking for bus fare over and over again is this con man’s game, but at least he’s friendly enough.
When my bus reaches Seventh and Vine downtown, I pull the chain and get off. I cross the street and head toward Buddakhan, my regular watering hole. I need cigarettes, so I decide to stop into the Garfield Market right next door.
When I buy my pack of cigarettes, I notice a man standing in the store. He’s tall and muscular with an angry look on his face. He follows me out.
It doesn’t take him long to ask for something. He wants cigarettes, but not any from the pack I’ve just purchased. He wants — demands in fact — me to give him $5 so he can buy his own.
His approach and his looks clearly are supposed to intimidate me, but that doesn’t happen to me easily. Besides, it’s hump day. I didn’t feel like letting someone mess with my mood.
I give the guy two cigarettes and tell him that’s all he’s getting from me.
I enter Buddakhan, say hello to bartender Amber, order my vodka and tonic and shake hands with Dan, the owner. To my surprise Anna, a regular customer, is waiting on tables.
Anna still works her regular office job, but she says that because of the tight economy she’s not going to be getting a raise this year. She decided to wait tables a couple nights a week to make some extra money.
Just like John, Anna is a go-getter.
So is Amber, who is still bartending at Buddakhan but also now has an office job downtown during the day. Amber is trying to save money so she can finally get health insurance.
I order another drink from her, then step outside to smoke a cigarette. A young woman wearing a dirty T-shirt and blue jeans passes by and says she needs $3 to buy her babies some milk. I hand her the cash.
As she continues to walk down the sidewalk, I watch her approach other people and say the same thing. This doesn’t surprise me, but I find myself wondering if she even has kids.
Back inside, my cell phone rings. It’s John, excited that he’s already found another job. No, it’s not what he wanted — he’ll serve at a fancy hamburger joint across the river — but it’ll do until he can find something better.
I finish my second drink, have a third and then ask for my check. I give Amber a decent tip and wish I could do the same for Anna, who’s waiting on tables. Both work hard for their money.
Walking to the bus stop, I think of John, Amber and Anna. I also think of that man who wanted bus fare at the bus stop, the guy who tried to bully me for cigarette money and the woman who wanted to buy milk for her babies.
Trying to put myself in all of their shoes, trying to understand why some people can find jobs even in bad times while others have to ask or beg for money and live off the streets, I’m having a difficult time wrapping my head around it all.
I don’t know why some can pull themselves up by their bootstraps while others can’t. Or won’t. I simply don’t know.
As I wait at the bus stop, I realize my hump day will soon be over. Tomorrow I’ll have a column to get ready.
Not knowing what I’ll write about, I think of this afternoon’s events. As the bus approaches, thoughts, ideas and words start foaming in my head.
I think there’s a column here.
CONTACT LARRY GROSS: [email protected]