I’ve been on a series of job interviews for different positions in different areas, but I always try to schedule them early so that I can come home with plenty of time to spare before it gets dark. Sunlight provides a sense of security and saftey in an otherwise intimidating environment. In the city, my neighborhood is not exactly one held in high esteem. People hear where I live and cringe a little and without words question why. However, to rectify a common misconception of commuting via public transportation, especially in “bad” areas, it is not unsafe. The only part of it that makes me slightly uneasy is the waiting. Though I try not to travel after sunset, the early ending winter days make it difficult and sometimes I wait in the dark.
One afternoon, I was on my way home from an interview, an interview for a job that I was tremendously overqualified for, but applied for anyway because that’s what you do when you don’t have a job in a terrible economy. You apply for anything. It went as expected and I left simultaneously hoping they would offer me a job, and that I would never hear from them again.
Before making my way to my bus stop, I stopped in at a Walgreens because the priest, who I will write more about later, had recently moved out and had taken the can opener with him. Since I survive on canned soup, refried beans, and tuna, not having a can opener was not an option. After my purchase at about 3:30 in the afternoon, I was on my way home. I waited for my first bus for about fifteen minutes. In that time, I watched with warm heart as two men who were also waiting for the bus jumped out into the street to help a man who’s van had stalled without warning in the left turn lane. Generally, these are the kinds of people who wait for buses.
The bus came, I got on and rode it south, back into my neighborhood. I tend to zone out on the bus, find an interesting person or two to keep my eye on, or read a book, and before I know it I’m there. I got off and walked to the bus stop in front of a burger/burrito joint, not uncommon to the area, to wait for my next bus, which usually runs every fifteen minutes or so, particularly in rush hour.
As I sat down, the sun disappeared from the sky, but it was still light despite its absence. I knew that the sun’s remnants would wear off and was glad that my bus would be coming soon. I even called to double check the arrival time of the next bus, ten minutes the operator said. Ten minutes came and went, I was still waiting and darkness was settling in. Luckily, I am a tall girl with an athletic build, an unlikely target, plus I had a can opener that I could have used to defend myself should I have been forced to, so I knew I would be alright. But I would be lying if I said that the attention that I drew to myself, just by being a white woman in interview attire, waiting for the bus in the dark, in this particular neighborhood, didn’t make me uncomfortable. I stuck out like a sore thumb, and got many curious glances.
A couple of the curious glances were from police officers driving by. Police regularly patrol the area, and while waiting for the same bus in the same spot months before, a kind man had informed me that the burger/ burrito place behind me was a regular stop for cops, that if I ever had a problem, I could go in there for safety.
So I continued to wait, and another cop car passed by. I made eye contact and smiled, knowing that it couldn’t be too much longer before my bus came. Unbeknownst to me, the cop made a right at the intersection, turned into the driveway of the burger/burrito joint to curve around it and turn out the driveway to the left of me. But instead of turning out onto the street as most would do, the cop turned to drive up on the sidewalk between the buger/ burrito place and the bus stop. He stopped just behind me and rolled down his window.
“You doin’ alright?”
“Where you headed tonight?”
“I’m headed home,” seeing the disbelief on his face, I felt the need to explain. But I didn’t want to get into explaining the last two years of my life of being a full-time volunteer, to lead up to my inhabitance in a former priests’ residence, that just happens to be in this neck of the woods, so I just left it at that.
He didn’t. “You just seem a little out of place.”
Now I had to give some sort of explanation without divulging my entire life story. “It’s kind of a long story, but I live here, just down this street, I’m just waiting for my bus.” That didn’t sound sketchy, right?
“Alright, well, have a good night.” He backed up and made a right out of the driveway like a normal person.
I was left at the bus stop with even more attention drawn to me than there was to begin with. I was filled with a mix of emotions. Still slightly uncomfortable, perhaps a little more so with the extra attention. I was also initially grateful that they stopped to check on me. Simultaneously, I was angry, realizing that they probably wouldn’t have stopped for a woman of color, even if she was smaller than I was and lacked a can opener as a weapon. I was also suspicious that their intention was not to make sure I was okay, but to make sure that I wasn’t there to buy drugs. I suppose I’ll never know their intentions with certainty.
The bus arrived. As I got on and paid my fare, there was a buzz among the bus riders about why it was so late. Really bad traffic, an accident, bus broke down. Nobody really seemed to know, but everyone was tired, everyone wanted to get home, and everyone had spent some time waiting for this bus in the dark.
Though reasons were never explained, it didn’t really matter. I was content riding in the well-lit bus, listening to other people’s speculations. There is comfort in shared experiences, even if the experience itself is uncomfortable. Everyone had spent some time waiting for this bus in the dark, and I was no different.