Saturday, July 31, 2010

Stories from the Road -- Silver Spring, MD

Having lived in Silver Spring for a year, I have many stories from this place. A common theme of these stories is that I loved living here. My first year of true work, and my first year of starting out completely on my own. This was the year I grew up -- finally.

One of my favorite memories of Silver Spring is the bus ride. I've discussed using the Metro before -- one of the best, smoothest, most convenient public transportation systems in the country. Of course, I did not live next to a Metro station. Driving to it was possible, but why do it in an urban area full of terrible drivers when a bus conveniently stops at your apartment complex? Every morning before work, I waited at the bus stop next to my apartment wondering what new experience was to come on the 20-minute ride to work.

One thing you can expect in Silver Spring is an encounter with a drunk person. Public intoxication is not a crime -- it's a rite of passage here. Walking after dark in Silver Spring is an invitation for a bottle of vodka and a story from a stranger. And, like the sober companions needing a lift to far-away destinations, drunk people need public transportation, too.

On one bus ride from work to home, a very drunk man entered the bus and immediately began talking -- to me. I was an obvious target, as I was sitting near the front of the bus and happened to be alone. The man sat across from me and began spouting genuine nonsense as soon as the bus started.

At first, I didn't even know he was talking to me. He wasn't looking directly at me, and the gibberish was not exactly informing me that I was his intended listening target. Quickly, his voice rose in volume, and he began to glare at me rather menacingly. Soon, he started to shout. Mind you, absolutely nothing was coherent. The only meaningful material to be understood was whether he was asking a question or not.

The questions were dreadful, as I had no idea what he was saying and he apparently expected me to answer them. Responding "What?" over and over again became increasingly frustrating for the man, and his tone became quite hostile. He began asking questions without waiting for answers (not that I would be able to anyway). Slowly, conversations from other passengers ceased, and the only one talking in the bus was the inebriated man. He talked to no one else.

My willingness to respond to anything he said was wearing off fast, which was problematic, as the angry tone of the individual was becoming rather alarming. It was at this point that I had noticed we had not moved from the latest bus stop in quite some time. Other passengers were beginning to whisper to each other, and I was staring straight at the man. Although he was too intoxicated and too focused on trying to get me to say -- who knows what -- to notice the lengthy stop, I took no chances and kept him from looking around.

This was somewhat risky, as my complete befuddlement at his dialogue was obviously bothering him. However, I suspected that if he noticed the lengthy stop, that would irritate him more. As such, it was a race against time. The other passengers were squirming. The bus driver was not so quiet in responding to a dispatcher. And I stared straight at the sloshed man.

Ten minutes later ---

A policeman entered the bus. He said nothing, as the distilled-enough individual was, by this point, yelling venomously. He grabbed the man very forcefully, almost humorously so. The man didn't seem to notice, but changed his listening target to the officer. They both left the bus, and the man was yelling very loudly on the sidewalk. The bus then departed, with the bus driver saying nothing. The other passengers applauded. And I? Well, I sighed a little, and looked outside. A couple of passengers told me "Good job" and such. All I could muster was a weak nod. For some reason, talking didn't interest me much at that point.

As we approached my stop, I pulled the cord. I got up to leave, and I told the bus driver "Thank you". He told me it was the second time that happened this week. I nodded, gave him a nice tip, and left the bus. I looked over at the bench and knew that the wait the next morning would be a particularly long one...