I slipped out of my home and blended into the urban landscape. Nothing to notice here. Just another lost soul looking miserable and drifting along with the tides of refuse dotted across the city. For good measure I even added a limp which wasn’t that much of a stretch since my ankle was still smarting from being smashed on a rock during our last whitewater rafting trip. (A story that has yet to be told.)
No fedora, tattoos, Nike footwear, North Face jacket or 1890’s neckbeards for me. I was projecting identity that screamed, “Leave me the fuck alone.” It helps a lot to be ugly and look as grim as possible.
And so it was I moved silently through the city. Which is rather odd for me since I seldom leave the house. We’re the quintessential Portland family. We have less automobiles than residents in our home. My wife was gone so that meant I had to make other arrangements.
Arriving at the bus stop I leaned against the sign. I must have just missed it since it took many spawns to arrive. I climbed aboard and asked the driver, “Is it okay if I don’t have exact change?” He said it was so I stuck in three one dollar bills for the $2.50 fare. My transfer printed and I couldn’t help but notice no change was offered. So that’s how that shit works. I paused for a reflective moment of gratitude that I hadn’t tried a one hundred dollar bill.
I made my way to the grocery store where I shopped for ingredients for tonight’s dinner. My homemade marinara that simmers for 3-4 hours. I was looking forward to it.
The store was a bit peculiar with all the checkers standing out in front of their aisles like hawkers at a circus midway. Step right this way, folks, they seemed to be saying. I approached one of them, a man about my age who was making eye contact.
“Are you ready?” he asked.
“I am if you are,” I replied.
As I loaded my little basket of items on his mover, we engaged in idle chit chat. Then, conspiratorially, he leaned in close. “It’s lucky you got here when you did,” he said, his voice strangely lower.
My eyebrow shot up in curiosity. What was afoot?
“You see,” he went on, “in about five minutes this place is going to be wall-to-wall high school kids. Total mayhem.” I checked my watch. That would be about 11:30. “They get out for lunch and then hit this place like a ton of bricks.”
I nodded in sincere appreciation. “Damn, dude. That’s quality information. That’s really good to know. Thank you very, very much.”
Look at that. I just made a new friend.
“Yeah, they come in here and load up on junk. Apparently they don’t like their choices at the school.”
“Who knows?” I shot back. “When I was a kid you could get all the soda and candy you ever dreamed of without having to leave the campus.”
“Yeah, those were the good old days.”
We parted and said fond farewells and I vowed to never forget the valuable advice I had been given. I slung my now-laden bag over my shoulder and trudged back to the bus stop. Damn, that bag was heavier than I had calculated.
I grabbed a bench and set down my load. Looking left I kept my eyes peeled for the bus. Then, like clockwork, a massive swarm of young people crowded in. There were tons of them. They approached from the north, doing their little aimless shuffle, then traveled in batches through the crosswalk and on to the grocery store. About half of them seemed to ignore the walk signals. But, and this almost induced myocardial infarction, about half actually waited. Luckily I survived that attempt on my life.
Might as well conduct a science experiment, I thought. I decided to watch and see what I could learn.
Soon a rhythm was established. Additional packs would arrive, mass near the border, then make their two-pronged attack to the other side. In an amazingly short period of time the swarm reserved and, for a while, a state of equilibrium was reached. Then the process slowly wound its course.
What a crazy scene. I was grateful I hadn’t been in there when the punk tsunami hit. Then I realized I’d been doing too damn much thinking. Where the hell was that bus?