If you come from a place in life where all your needs are met and all your major problems are existential in nature, then riding public transportation can be a little depressing.

I live in Tampa, right on the #2 route, the busiest in the county. It's a very convenient route, shooting north-south from downtown to the University area, almost European service, right down to the basers and blue-collar unemployed. Most of the time, it's pretty uneventful. But there are times when it's like walking into a Tom Waits song. You see, the people on the bus are of a very worn-down sort. The bus is for people who can't afford to take any other means of getting from Point A to Point B, and the circumstances of socio-economic oppression take their toll over the years. It shows on their faces. People age prematurely, flowers stunted by poor soil, careless gardners and neglected watering.

But if you look past the torn clothing and unwashed flesh, you can eventually come to see the blazing plasma confinement chambers of life pounding away madly underneath. This, dear readers, is America the beautiful, with nicotine-stained teeth and scuffed shoes. Get to know them; you can learn a lot more from the guy on the receiving end of a social services program, than any of the administrators and staff.

Here are a couple of the people I've seen and met on the #2:

  • The Heroin Angel --- coming home one night, I sat behind a deathly-thin man in his early thirties. He was covered in tattoos and his arms were cratered with the scars of a thousand dirty needles, but when he turned around right before my stop, he had features I could only describe as angelic. I felt the closest thing I've ever felt to entertaining an angel unawares. I never saw him again, but I keep looking for him whenever I ride the bus.
  • Noah --- I had some great conversations with this guy. Buddhist Navajo man, recovering alcoholic, wore shirts he made himself, covered in writings about veganism and non-violence. I held signs with him down Bayshore one morning for a climate rally. I run into him once in a while, and every time, it's mind-blowing. I want to go to the temple with him one day, when I get a free morning.
  • John and Verne --- John was from 'Lost', which is about one exit and a couple of winding roads past 'the Woods' (as he put it). His family wound up there two generations ago, fresh off the boat from Ireland. Jules was another Navajo, from Arizona, and he wandered around the country over the years until he wound up in Tampa. I met them at the transit center up near the University, and John struck up a conversation with me, sparked by the keffiyeh I was wearing. Over the course of a half-hour, we three talked about the war in Afghanistan ("Where empires go to die," I said), the economy, Tampa death metal, the Constitution and world history.