The Day the Bengals Played the Browns

I looked around the bus. There weren’t many people sitting next to others, but there was no one else sitting next to someone of a different race.

I woke up the day the Bengals played the Browns with a hangover worse than the previous day’s. I only had a couple hours to get to my parents’ house before the game started and I had left my car in Clifton after a long night drinking with friends. I rushed through my morning routine — shave, shower, eye drops — and headed for the bus stop in Northside.

A small group of people waited for the bus in front of the library — a young man and woman who had run into each other and another woman reading a book under a tree. The gathering meant that a bus hadn’t recently arrived and, sure enough, the Metro bus clunked to a stop in front of us within minutes.

I got on the bus last, following a young woman down the aisle and found myself with a few choices of places to sit: continue all the way to the U-shaped seats in the back where the young people sit, or seats open next to a white guy on the right side and a black lady on the left. I sat down next to the black lady, set my messenger bag down and pulled out my phone.

“You got a white boy sitting next to you,” the woman in the seat in front of us said.

I didn’t fully understand what she said at first. I took off my sunglasses and leaned forward.

“It takes balls to sit down next to a black woman,” she said. The woman to my right told me to ignore her and said something about how she had already been drinking.

I laughed. “Why would I wanna sit next to that dude?” I said, pointing across the aisle at a white guy, trying to make her laugh.

The woman in front looked away and said, “You know how people are — all ‘nigger.’ ” Her voice trailed as she turned around to face the front.

I looked around the bus. There weren’t many people sitting next to others, but there was no one else sitting next to someone of a different race.

A white lady boarded the bus pulling a wheeled suitcase, on top of which sat a Jeff Ruby Culinary Entertainment™ carry-out bag, which embarrassed me.

The black woman turned back around just as I started to get my phone out again. She said she had seen her friend Jim the night before. “He’s a white guy but he’s cool as a motherfucker.”

She said she bought him pants and a shirt and some other things. The woman to my right again told her to knock it off. A few minutes later she took a quick sip off a bottle hidden in her backpack, then looked back at me and smiled.

The bus cruised up the hill past Cincinnati State, and as we approached the Gaslight District the woman to my right told me about hanging out on 13th Street the night before. She spoke quietly, mostly looking forward, which made it difficult to hear or even read her lips as she spoke. She said there were a lot of people out and the pizza window was open. I told her I had been down on Main Street the night before, too.

She said she was glad to see Over-the-Rhine being cleaned up because it used to be rundown like Cleveland.
“Cleveland,” she repeated.

She described Washington Park as beautiful and said it was nice that all types of people come there and aren’t scared anymore.

“But I don’t like being out in the dark,” she said. “Because I’m 60.”

The bus approached the crowded Ludlow area and the woman next to me continued speaking softly. I couldn’t tell if she was talking to me or to herself. She said something about her career making paper bags for every business in town. White Castle. It was really hard to hear her.

She asked if the game was at Paul Brown Stadium. I thought for a second and said, “Yea, I think it’s here.”

“Cleveland,” she said. “Beat ’em.”

The woman in front of us said something to the man next to her about his facial hair. She had short white fuzz on her head and the man’s white and black stubble was patchy and unkempt. He handed her a Coke bottle and she took a drink.

I saw my car sitting alone at a meter on Clifton Avenue and the bus slowed down in front of it to pick up a passenger. I told the women to take care, thanked the bus driver and walked to my car.

I did a U-turn out of the space and headed back down the hill to Northside, where I saw an interracial female couple holding hands and I didn’t feel weird about noticing.

CONTACT DANNY CROSS: [email protected]

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