On the 7:00 pm southbound 4F bus the other night, three young black men, strong and tall, boarded at Hennepin and 5th St. in downtown Minneapolis just as night was falling. At the end of rush hour, the buses are no longer densely packed, and this one had a few empty seats and no one was standing.
A number of white passengers tensed noticeably when the young men boarded. Time was that Minneapolis was just a large small town, but no more. The town has its share of racial tension these days, and for many white citizens, young black men traveling together is reason for nervousness.
White women sitting near the front of the bus drew their knees together and clutched bags closer. Some of the white men frowned, their lips pressed in tight lines. The three young men were clearly Warriors, and this unsettled the middle-class white folks headed for the southern residential neighborhoods and the inner tier suburb to the south.
Much as I wanted not to, I also felt a bit of unease when two of the young men sat close to me on either side of my center-facing seat, and the third sat directly across from me. They literally towered over me.
Like virtually all fear, though, its reason for being evaporated almost immediately upon clear seeing. These young men were indeed Warriors, but it was because their black stocking hats proclaimed it. Their "gang" was the DeLasalle high school basketball team, and it appeared that the three had simply been having a bit of fun downtown after school before going home. They talked quietly among themselves, joking about their coach and basketball practice. Their eyes were dark and beautiful, and each young man had that faint haze on the upper lip, common to all boys who aren't quite old enough to shave.
"Your coach, is he a real hardass, or is it just his coaching act?" I said to the boy sitting next to me. There was a moment of dead silence; they were, I think, surprised to hear me talk to them. Then they laughed warmly and told me some stories about their basketball coach. They seemed genuinely tickled that this middle-aged white guy would eavesdrop on their conversation and talk to them. It doesn't happen all that often, I imagine.
They began to talk about their physics class then, and I respectfully left the conversation, since I had no desire to be obviously stupid in front of 17-year old boys.
The young man across from me was carrying a small shopping bag from the Hallmark store, and I wondered if under the flowering white tissue paper there was a gift for some sweetheart, or perhaps a sister or his mother. A sheet of paper peeked up out of the bag, and I saw that it was a job application. In addition to being an athlete- scholar, the young man was looking for a part-time job.
The three young black men left the bus on 46th St., and I heard several of the passengers sigh and give reflexive laughs of relief.
It's a pity they hadn't really seen these young men.