Thursday, July 10, 2008

Citizens of 4F, July 10, 2008

When I take the 6:47 am bus into downtown, I often find myself watching Frank, who almost always sits slightly ahead of me and on the right side of the bus.

Maybe the reason I think about Frank is because in some ways he's similar to me, in that he doesn't neatly fit into one of the stereotypical passenger categories. On most of the early morning buses, there are three of four general passenger types, none of which fit myself, or Frank.

For example, there are the Target Drones. These are the young adults, ages 25 t0 30 or so, who all can be identified by the neatly clipped Target Corporation key-swipe cards they all attach to their belts or lapels. The young men employed by Target invariably wear short-sleeved dress shirts and ties, and they remind you quite a lot of the old Xerox maintenance specialists, who used to travel about in business dress to crack open your photocopy machines in order to repair them.

My son for a time was considering applying to Target, but after seeing the lemming-like demeanor of the young people who work for the downtown Target corporate headquarters, I'm cautioning him not to worry too much about seeking a traditional career.

Other passenger stereotypes: office clerical workers (folks with neat but non-descript office attire, quite often wearing athletic shoes for the commute, which they will exchange for dress shoes once they hit the office); the service workers (largely hispanic, dressed in the blue custodial gear or neat, starched dresses of hotel housekeeping staff).

I don't really fit into one of the bus stereotypes, since my usual garb this time of year is a tropical print or camp shirt, comfortable linen slacks, mid-ankle hiking shoes. I rarely even carry a briefcase or portfolio, and the only indication I might be of the business executive class is the fact that I'm constantly checking E-mails on an I-phone.

And Frank doesn't neatly fit into any category, either. An African American gentleman in his early 70s, his dress and demeanor might hint that he's a baseball fan headed into downtown to catch an afternoon game. In reality, he has an early morning shift at Rudolph's Barbecue, a popular restaurant on the south edge of downtown. Perhaps he's a chef, though it's pretty early in the morning for the cooking staff to hit the restaurant. Or maybe his job is restocking the kitchen supplies for the day.

Frank has the lean grace of a former athlete. A large metal watch floats loosely on his left wrist, and I've noticed that he carries one of those large snap-close wallets attached to his belt with a fine chain--like the wallet the Schwan Ice Cream salesman used to carry when he delivered ice cream to the neighborhood.

Frank wears a simple khaki-colored ballcap on most days, and his front shirt pocket holds his smokes—Kool Menthol. Some days he gets off the bus a block before the restaurant, and treats himself to a slow walk while he enjoys a single cigarette. Even at 70, his gait could most accurately described as a saunter, with just a hint of strut. John Travolta could take lessons from Frank.

One morning, a white woman took the empty seat next to Frank, and I saw him grow momentarily uncomfortable. Frank is of an age where he certainly remembers the trouble that black men often invited if they so much as smiled at white women, and this makes me think that Frank probably grew up somewhere in the south. For all its flaws, Minnesota has never really had that insane sexual fear of the black man.

When Frank stands to leave the bus, his back is slightly hunched over, but for a man of his age he is surprisingly graceful. He moves with that kind of slow-motion elegance that I've noticed in world-class athletes, who often seem to move with exceeding slowness in real life, but are capable of explosive quickness at the flip of a switch. Frank is about 6 ft. tall, and looks like he might once have been a baseball shortstop, or perhaps a basketball point guard.

Or maybe it's a bit racist for me to think he is a former athlete. After all, don't all white people imagine that African Americans are athletes? Still, I can't get over observing the grace with which Frank moves, and it gives me pleasure to imagine him as a young man moving fluidly on the emerald green of an outdoor baseball diamond.

I'm now closer in age to Frank than I am to the Target Drones, after all. I don't think its so much a racist eye that views Frank, as an envious one. I'd give anything to wake up in 20 years to have the grace that Frank shows.

Glancing down, I see that I've once again spilled coffee on my shirt.

Physical grace, it seems, has long since passed me by. I really doubt that I'm going to develop it in time for my twilight years.


Anonymous said...

"in time for my twilight years."

Does this mean you think twilight is still ahead?

You ARE an optimist after all.

Love this peeks at the bus folks.

Kiyotoe said...

Well my friend, I wouldn't say it was racist to associate Frank's grace with being a former athlete but it does hint of the same kind of behavior that we all suffer from no matter how hard we try to avoid it.

At first glance we all make assumptions, right or wrong about people and that, I think, is just a product of a society we live in that perpetuates so many stereotypes.

Just the other day I had a meeting with a new client and when she walked into the room, because of her age, demeanor, race (white) and appearance, I mentally classified her as one of the older white women that would cross the street when she saw me walking toward her on the street.

Later I found out that she was raised by a black family and married to a black man and needless to say.... I felt ridiculous.