Riding the bus with Gary Winslow: 'The unlikely hero'

Jul 10, 2015 at 7:00 am
click to enlarge Riding the bus with Gary Winslow: 'The unlikely hero'
Illustration by Lee DeVito

“Can I help you den? Shiiit, you da one starin’,” said the irritated androgynous individual with too much make-up and an unkempt wig that sporadically peeked from under his or her skullcap and down the side of his or her face. My guess is that this particular individual probably identified as female, so out of respect I’ll refer to her as such. Anyway, you could see the look of anger and pain in her face as she clearly felt disrespected by the young man standing in front of her, who at the moment was trying his best to ignore her. He put on his headphones and looked the other way, but there was no calming her down until …

Let’s step back a minute. This was by far one of the coldest nights of the year — too cold to be waiting for a 53 Woodward. In fact, it was so damn cold and the bus was taking so damn long, I swore that if I saw a taxi I would go ahead and pay that steep fare to get my cold ass home. I stood for a while under the bus shelter and stomped my feet, hoping to generate some natural heat till, alas, the tired soreness of my legs from a long busy day told me, “Sit yo’ ass down.” I obeyed the pain and copped a squat on the butt-freezing bench, relieving one discomfort for another.

As I tried to muster up some form of movement to create body heat and put my mind elsewhere, I noticed an older, raggedly dressed man stumbling into the shelter, too drunk to mind where he was stepping as he shuffled his way to the seat farthest from where I was sitting. I felt like a brick, and public drunkeness on the bus line isn’t exactly a rare occurrence, so I didn’t pay much attention to him — till he made his presence known. While everyone trying to hang in there for the bus was quiet, his slurred speech pierced through the silence. “Tha’s righ … peaths n luvff ta allya,” he said as he slouched in his seat. At that moment I was glad he was sittin’ far away from me.

I’d say about a minute or so went by as he continued speaking, and I began to decipher some of what he was talkin’ about, so I listened closer. “I luh Deshtroit … shiii, bon n rais … we ain takin it …” I stayed tuned: “Peoples gotshitasay … but, shiiia we Deshtroitas … we do whuh we do.” Though the man was talkin’ to himself, he was talkin’ to all of us, and his message was a concious one. “Shiiia, Bing don give afuccck ‘bout Deshtroit … we don need dat shitty counsa neitha … we goshta do wuh we do fuh us … shiiia … nothin’ buh luuv … needta stop all dat shootin’ n shit … shiiia …” On and on he went and I found myself believing that these were some of the best words I heard in a while … and from a sloshmouth drunk no less.

The scene of all of us passengers shivering and frustrated, waiting for the bus, coupled with his encouraging words, actually began to give me a sense of solidarity with my fellow Detroiters, and the “Detroit condition” at large. He continued almost nonstop and I listened until I saw that bus comin’ — and not a moment too soon. Everyone shuffled to find their place in line, and apparently I shuffled well ’cause I remember being the first one on the bus (too cold for all that gentleman business). I got on, thankful to get out of the cold, found my seat and frantically began rubbing my hands across my thighs to generate some damn heat while the bus filled up with folks.

The dude who sat in the next seat in front of me looked at me and said, “This fool went to McDonald’s … the same damn bus we saw b’fo.” Again, solidarity for bus riders in the “D,” ’cause some bus drivers are known to do shit like that. I agreed, but since I was still trying to warm up I didn’t care much about this small injustice doled out by the driver. Hell, he gotta eat too. I took a lighter approach to this situation: one, because I was thankful the bus did make it and two, the drunken man’s words put me in a more forgiving mood.

Finally, ye olde drunkard boarded and sloppily made his way to sit next to another passenger and I could tell by the way she looked at him that she wasn’t at all pleased. As the bus began to go toward its downtown destination, he got out of his seat and stumbled his way next to an older white lady who was in front and plopped his drunk ass right next to her. I couldn’t hear but could see him attempt to strike up a slurred conversation with her, perhaps, in his mind, to welcome her to Detroit. This, however, was no suburban, green white lady, and she wasn’t havin’ it. With environmentally appropriate attitude and an upturned nose of utter repulsion, she shot up out of her seat and headed toward another and left the poor guy sitting by himself, talking to himself. She actually sat just in front of me and I watched her as she shook her head with a “hell, naw” look on her face. It was clear that nobody, including myself, wanted anything to do with this guy.

The bus moved along quite quickly, probably due to the bus driver making up for his extended break, so I just relaxed and put on my headphones, anticipating a speedy ride home. Of course, this was a bus ride in the “D,” so it wasn’t long before the now-packed bus buzzed with activity. In fact, this is about the time the disgruntled person I spoke about in the beginning of this episode made it real interesting.

Due to the fact I had my headphones on, I don’t really know exactly how it started, but there was a ruckus right in front of me and it was to the point that not even my headphones could drown out the noise. Shouts and hollers went back and forth, but mainly came from the aggravated androgynous one. The young man being hollered at, who seemed a little green to me, was for the most part trying to avoid the verbal onslaught. She had this hurt, angry expression on her face and, when I tuned in, told everybody what the problem was, “Why you lookin’ at me so tough? Can I help you with somethin’? Maybe I can help you since you starin’!” The young man who obviously offended her looked confused, trying to make sense of this ordeal, and just replied, “I don’t want nothin’ from you. It’s not like that.”

“Not like what?” she fired back. “I see you starin’, so you must want somethin’.” The young man argued briefly but, as they went back and forth, he tried again to just put his headphones back on and ignore her but she wasn’t ‘bout to let it go.

She had the hurt look on her face of being singled out and that, coupled with the fact that she had the look of someone who’s been around the block and abused on the way made me feel kinda bad for her. I’m sure our experiences aren’t the same, but I do know the feeling of being looked at like I’m a freak. It usually doesn’t feel good.

The young man moved away from her with his earphones on, hoping to quell the situation but she kept on fussing. Suddenly, out of the blue, I heard in the background, “Ya’ll shtop all dat … we Deschtroit,” but the hurt one vented her anger and pain on the young man till he could ignore her no more. “Look I don’t want shit ta do wichyou … don’t touch me, don’t talk to me … I don’t wanna deal wichyou!” Again I heard that other voice a little louder this time, “This Deschtroit ya’ll, its luuv … shtop all dat!”

I figured these two individuals just bumped into each other and perhaps the young man did a double take of the “girl,” and made it a bit too obvious. In seeing that the hurt one was gonna keep going and that her posture was of someone ready for whatever, I tucked away my phone and headphones, preparing for the worst. Unbelievably, though, by the time I looked up, the drunken man had made his way to the mix, all the way from his solitary seat in the front of the bus!

Suddenly this man who could barely walk and talk was standing next to the pissed-off bus rider and repeating his positive spiel, “Come on ya’ll, we don’ need ta do dis … we D-troit … Detroit is luv baby … luv all ova.” He finally got her attention but with her continued anger she pleaded her case.

“He just keep on starin’ like he want somethin’,” she said. The young man, now completely out of patience yelled, “Don’t nobody want shit from you! Just leave me the hell alone!” The old drunkard, who by now seemed much more sober, spoke in a calm, encouraging voice when he said, “See baby, he don’t want nothin’. It’s just a little misunderstandin’.” She rebutted like a stuck record, “But what he lookin’ at me fo’? He act like he want somethin’.” Holding on to the overhead balance bar to steady himself he replied, “Aw, forget about dat, baby … it’s alright …”

His peacekeeping brilliance was further displayed as he stood in front of her, strategically in between the disgruntled parties, and did it so smooth it took me a second to realize that that’s what he was doing. He spoke further, “It’s alright, its OK … we Detroit n we don’ need ta do all dat.” With his compassion and unwavering positive resolve, he single-handedly quashed what was about to be a serious beef.

I guess he said “Detroit” and “love” enough times for it to sink in, and, as a result, her posture loosened, her anger subsided, and her attention was now exclusively on the kind and unlikely hero. The inebriated wise man continued his conversation with her like a skilled sage, guiding her in the direction of peace and calm, and, as a result, she seemed to forget about the hapless dude that offended her. Problem solved.

I guess if there’s a moral to this story, it would be to never underestimate the people you meet in your travels. In the beginning, our dear peacekeeper could barely talk or even stand for that matter, but, by the end, he saved us all! If our hero didn’t intervene, there was almost sure to be a fight, and with a bus that crowded, it could have turned into pandemonium in the blink of an eye. Since I was in the vicinity of the would-be melee, I guess I owe my dear drunken Detroiter a debt of gratitude for his intervention, and I hope everyone who was there felt the same way. Let’s all who pray send up a prayer for our torch-carrying hero and hope he receives the blessings he needs to better himself.

I watch news TV on a semi-regular basis, and, though the news is filled with horror, pain, and injustice, I do see a sort of trend toward the appreciation and celebration of everyday heroes. I’ve even seen award shows based on this very theme and couldn’t be more for it. Now I doubt our local hero will receive any accolades, rewards, or trophies for his efforts, but he has my respect for helping all of us dodge the proverbial bullet that day. Too often in the “D” that bullet ain’t no metaphor, and, without him, who knows …