Coming downtown on the last Tuesday in March was a mistake. Light rain was falling, and the sidewalks were slick. Still recovering from foot surgery, I was having difficulty walking.
I decided to cut the visit short and made my way back to Ninth and Vine to catch the bus back home. The sidewalks were crowded with people, and I tried to stay out of their way because I was walking very slowly.
Two young women with umbrellas impatiently walked behind me. When I sensed they were in a hurry, I went to my left and let them pass.
"I'm sorry," I told them.
Neither woman replied but I heard one tell the other, "Jesus, I felt like pushing him out of the way."
When I reached Ninth and Vine, I noticed an older man pacing up and down around the bus stop. He was wearing a Michigan State jacket and was angry.
I was putting out a cigarette as he approached me.
"You got another cigarette on ya?"
I reached into my pack and gave him one. He quickly lit it.
"I've been waiting for the 17/Mount Airy for a goddamn hour," he said. "I'm gonna miss my appointment."
"That's the bus I'm taking, too," I replied. "I hope it comes soon."
Twenty minutes later we were still waiting. As other buses approached going to other destinations, the man would become angry all over again. I lost track of how many times he told me how long he'd been waiting.
At one point in his anger, he demanded another cigarette from me. I gave him two.
When the 17 finally arrived, I stepped back from the stop to let the man go first. The bus was crowded, but there were open horizontal seats in the back. We sat down next to each other.
Across from us was a young man wearing a plaid jacket. He was bald and he was talking — to whom I'm not sure.
"More killings in Iraq today, but I don't believe it ... there are more killings here than the police let on ... I've never seen a man shot, but I know it happens in Over-the-Rhine ... we have good cops in this city ... most people deserve to be shot ... people need to accept Jesus Christ as their savior..."
The bald man never stopped. His ramblings continued on.
The old man wearing the Michigan State jacket asked me if I had a cell phone. I handed it to him. He quickly pressed in some numbers and called the place he had an appointment with, telling them he was going to be late. When he gave the phone back to me, he looked at the bald man.
"Hey, shut up," he said.
The bald man wasn't listening. He continued talking, going from one subject to another.
"Hey! I told you to shut the fuck up!"
Other passengers joined in, all irritated with the man's constant jabber.
"Stop talking! Hey bus driver, get this man off the bus! Shut up!"
The bus was crowded, and none of us could change our seats. The bald man continued talking, oblivious to the growing hostility around him.
"Everybody, please be cool," I said to anyone willing to listen. "He's not like us. We need to be patient here."
Some on the bus started to laugh. The older man next to me showed more anger.
"Be patient? That motherfucker's giving me a goddamn headache."
As the bus approached Clifton and Ludlow avenues, I pulled the chain, happy to be able to get off. I slowly walked to the middle door, waiting for the bus to stop.
Because of my surgery, I had to take it slow down the bus steps. I wasn't going fast enough for the talking bald man, who was also getting off.
He sort of shoved me, and I started to fall backwards. The old man wearing the Michigan State jacket quickly got up from his seat and caught me.
"That man's an idiot," he said. "I'd like to beat the shit out of him."
The sidewalks were still wet. I slowly walked to my apartment. When I got there, I sat down on my sofa and thought of the events that had happened over the past hour — the women who wanted to push me out the way, the angry old man late for his appointment and the bald man who couldn't stop talking.
The talker was mentally challenged. He didn't mean to shove me.
The two women had no idea who I was or why it was difficult for me to move faster.
That older man who is angry at the world he's living in still reached out to help. He kept me from falling.
Tolerance: I think at times we're all angry or crazy, but there's good in everyone. Sometimes it just takes a while to find it.
Larry Gross' book "Signed, Sealed and Delivered: Stories," is in or can be ordered from bookstores everywhere or purchased at Amazon.Com