Tag Archives: commute

Watch For It

He stopped at the curb to press the crosswalk button, casually swinging his briefcase as he checked both ways for traffic. Any second now he’d set the briefcase down to tie a shoe or adjust his jacket. Wait… wait… and there it was. Today he tied a shoe. The light turned green and I drove through the intersection glancing at him one last time as he stood to pick up his briefcase. He nodded slightly as I passed. I raised one hand from the steering wheel.

I leave for work very early in the morning. Almost every weekday for a of couple years now I’ve seen this same lone man at the same empty intersection at the same early time of day. We each wake up to carry out our daily routines unconcerned, and mostly unaware, that the other exists except for that thirty seconds or so each morning at the intersection. He generally approaches the corner about the time I come to a stop at the light.

That early in the morning he’s the only pedestrian and I’m the only car. I forgot who began to wave first, but after months of early morning crossings it just seemed silly not to. He’d become as much a part of the landscape for me as the row of trees by the school, the yellow house with the picket fence, or the bridge over the creek. Their constant presence is an odd reassurance that all is right and routine. On rare days when he wasn’t at the intersection, I wondered where the man might be. He’d reappear the next day and all would be normal again. I laugh at myself for noticing such things but I suppose others do too. It’s not just me?

And it isn’t only the man with the briefcase. A rusty white van pulls out in front of me at the next corner. Further along, two black labs do their early morning romping behind a fence. A man in a red hat hoses off the sidewalk in front of an office building. Over time I began to notice these things and soon actually watched for them.

Each evening going home I walk past a woman smoking a cigarette under a tree out back. The security guard at the parking garage sings loudly to himself. Back in the car and I pass the same food truck along the same stretch of road every day. Closer to home and those two black labs are either lying in the shade or barking at squirrels. Those routine sights in my personal landscape satisfy something, I’m just not sure what. It’s not just me?

A while back, returning to work after a few days of vacation followed by a long weekend, I eagerly checked off my daily landscape markers. The briefcase, the dogs, the sidewalk washer, all there as usual even though I’d been gone a while. That evening on the way home I saw the woman light her cigarette and head towards the tree out back. I laughed again at myself for even noticing, but she was, after all, a part of my daily landscape.

As I neared the tree on my way to the parking garage I wondered if the security guard would still be singing after all of my days away from work. That’s when I heard the woman’s voice.

“Hey.” she said as took a puff of her cigarette. “Haven’t seen you in a while.”

It’s not just me.

Stuart M. Perkins

146 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

A Simple Hello

The evening commute home was a scramble as people rushed and crushed onto the train fighting for a place to sit or stand.  A last-minute couple pushed through the door dropping tourist maps in their haste. Forced by the crowd to split up, the man went one way and the woman another.

The woman sat down in the last vacant seat next to where I stood and began to refold maps. Beside her sat a well-dressed business woman who appeared to read something work-related even after a day at the office. The two glanced briefly at each other, said nothing, and went back to their tasks of reading and map folding.

Things calmed as the train doors shut and people settled into seats or places to stand. As we waited for the train to depart, only the rustling of newspapers or the occasional ring of a cell phone could be heard. The two women beside me were silent.

Finished with her reading, the business woman put papers back into a briefcase. The tourist woman fumbled with one last map and slipped it into a tote bag. Each woman stared straight ahead.

The train slowly moved.

Ms. Tourist turned towards Ms. Business.

“Hello.” Ms. Tourist said. That simple sound caught me off guard.

For the most part people say little or nothing on these commutes. Less a function of being unfriendly and more a symptom of preoccupied minds, people say nothing. Me included, but I’ve often wondered how funny, smart, or maybe obnoxious the person next to me might be during any given commute if we only chatted. Still, silence is the norm.

Not even a simple hello.

That’s why Ms. Tourist’s simple “hello” caught Ms. Business off guard as well. She whirled to face Ms. Tourist, stared at her for a second, and gave a “hello” in return. Each smiled slightly then stared straight ahead once again.

Perhaps shocked by the simple approach, seconds later Ms. Business returned the favor. “I saw your maps. Are you here on vacation?” she asked.

Ms. Tourist shook her head yes.

The train sped up.

Where are you from? Ms. Tourist asked.

Philadelphia originally.

Oh really? My son lives there now!

And you? Where are you visiting from?

Atlanta.

How funny! My daughter lives there now!

The train reached full speed.

And so did conversation between Ms. Tourist and Ms. Business. Questions flew, answers flew, and in the process the women discovered they each had family living within miles of the other, had probably crossed paths at several restaurants, and both had grandfathers from North Carolina.

The train was still going full speed when their conversation became louder. The women agreed on movies they loved, books they hated, what humidity did to their hair, and how they wished their husbands didn’t snore so much. They covered politics, parenting, and pantyhose for the remainder of the trip.

As the train slowed to approach the station, Ms. Business plugged Ms. Tourist’s number into her iPhone. When the train came to a stop the women stood, actually hugged goodbye, and Ms. Business hurried through the door to catch her bus.

As the thick crowd exited the train Ms. Tourist rejoined her husband. I followed them onto the escalator and listened as Ms. Tourist excitedly recounted to her husband all she’d learned from the woman beside her, how nice she was, all they had in common, and how they’d probably meet up in Atlanta the next time the woman came to visit her daughter.

As we stepped from the escalator Mr. Tourist stopped and turned to his wife. He looked sincerely puzzled.

“How did you learn all of that? What’s your secret?” he asked laughing. As I walked past them towards my bus I saw Ms. Tourist shrug her shoulders as she explained her secret.

“I said hello.”

Stuart M. Perkins

236 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Free Show

Several of us waiting for the bus this morning watched a starling glide in and land on the pipe suspended high above our heads. The bird fluttered in the wind as it fought to balance itself on the slick rounded surface of the pipe which is attached to a pole across the street, stretches over two lanes, and its uncapped end opens directly above the bus stop and right over our heads.

The starling gained its balance, hopped sideways to the end of the pipe, and cocked its head to peek into the open hole. It then sat upright, hesitated a second, and flew across the street and into the woods.

I remembered last spring when I noticed a starling fly in and out of the open end of this same pipe. For days it carried grass and such as it built a nest, then later made trip after trip into the pipe carrying insects to the nestlings. I was encouraged this morning by the bird’s brief visit.

“Maybe it’s a sign of spring.” I said to the others. I related how I’d watched a starling last spring as it went through the nesting process in the pipe overhead. It was fun to see that “free show” every morning.

“What made you notice a bird in a pipe?” one puzzled woman asked. She takes a later bus but arrives at the stop to wait as early as the rest of us.

“Not sure,” I began, “but there are lots of those free shows out there.”

The woman adjusted her scarf and pulled her hat down tighter against the wind. “Like what? What other free shows?”

I gave more bird examples. Birds are everywhere, relaxing to see in flight, or comical when squabbling over randomly tossed French fries. Clouds are pretty fun too and I asked the woman if when driving she’d ever missed a green light while preoccupied watching particularly cool cloud formations.

She stared at me as if ready to sign a restraining order. “No. No I haven’t.”

I assumed our conversation was over since her facial expression indicated she thought me a nut. She readjusted her scarf, which was flailing in the wind, and slowly stepped closer to me.

“Those sound nice but with my luck the birds would peck and the clouds would form a thunderstorm!” she halfway laughed as she offered her negative spin.

“What about trees?” I asked.

“What about them?” she countered as she slipped on her gloves.

“Well, this time of year with no leaves you notice their form. Spring comes and you watch buds light up the woods with green. In summer they’re lush and everyone loves leaves in the fall.”

“I pick up sticks and rake leaves in my yard. I can’t say I’m a fan.” she responded negatively.

I often say we should look for “sprinkles” in our days, little moments of fun, more of those free shows. It’s sappy and silly, but so what, it’s nice. With less and less nice in the world these days we have to hunt harder for sprinkles when we need them. I suggested this notion to the woman.

“Free shows like that bird are sprinkles in the day. They’re out there if you watch for them.” I said as I saw my bus approach the stop.

“Ha!” the woman laughed as she stepped back to wait for her bus. “Sprinkles? I’ve never been sprinkled. With my luck I’d be splattered!”

You can’t win them all I thought as I stepped onto the bus and took a seat. Through the window I saw the starling glide in and land on the pipe again. The waiting woman looked up at the bird as it fought to gain its balance. I thought how cool, she noticed the bird and she’ll recognize it for what it is. She’ll finally get sprinkled.

My bus pulled away slowly and I watched the woman watching the bird. I glanced up once more at the pole to see the starling back itself towards the end of the pipe. It raised its wings a bit, stretched its body out a little, and proceeded to poop…the wind caught it and hurled it in several directions.

The woman stepped backwards quickly. I couldn’t hear her through the glass but her lips mouthed words I knew I’d not be able to type here. The starling flew across the street and into the woods. The woman rapidly wiped her arm and scarf, her mouth in constant motion.

Oh well, she was right. She didn’t get sprinkled, she got splattered.

And I got another free show.

Stuart M. Perkins

214 Comments

Filed under everyday, karma, old fashioned, positive

Birds Of A Feather

My bus arrived on time in spite of the foul weather. I shook my umbrella, climbed the steps, and headed straight for the empty seat beside Marble Lady. I call her that now because last week she cleaned her purse during our morning commute and we discussed the small green marble she discovered in its zippered pocket. She’d found the marble in her yard, dropped it into her purse thinking it may have once belonged to her now adult son, and thought no more about it until she came across it that day on the bus. After we talked, she realized her sentimental feelings attached to it and instead of getting rid of the marble, she kept it.

This morning she faced the window when I boarded the bus. As I sat down she turned to give a “good morning” nod to whoever it was beside her. Seeing me, she broke into a smile. There was a question I’d been waiting to ask her but didn’t know my chance would come so soon.

“Have you lost your marbles?” I knew she’d remember last week’s conversation.

“No,” she laughed, “but I gave one away!”

Our bus stopped with traffic ahead of us, poor weather making it a slow commute. While we waited, she explained that she’d told her son about the small green marble. He agreed it was likely his because he remembered his set of marbles as a little boy. She’d told her son about our conversation and how a rush of sentimentality made her want the marble she initially disregarded. She had been affected by memories the marble sparked.

“I’ll never look at a marble the same way!” she insisted.

Marble Lady continued by saying she and her son had enjoyed a conversation of their own about sentimentality. They had laughed and remembered some good times but agreed that neither of them were usually prone to those feelings.

“Still, I’ll never look at a marble the same way.” she repeated. “Most things just don’t affect me like that.”

“Not me.” I confessed. “Not sure whether a blessing or a curse, but almost anything can make me sentimental.”

“Almost anything?” her tone begged me to seek professional help.

“Almost anything.” I confirmed with resignation.

The bus crawled forward and stopped again. While we waited, Marble Lady casually wiped moisture from the window to reveal a small bare tree by the street. A single blackbird flew onto a branch. In a moment it was joined by another, then three more, one more, two more, then many more, until suddenly the tree was peppered with blackbirds. They mingled, flapped wings, traded places, and made a ruckus we heard from inside the bus. I stared at the bustling blackbirds as the bus crawled forward a few more feet.

Marble Lady remarked how interesting it is that blackbirds spend most of their lives alone or with one or two more but at certain times of the year they gather from near and far to be together, say whatever it is they say to each other, then part ways knowing they’ll do it again next year. She stopped talking when she noticed me staring at the flock.

“Oh no.” she grinned, remembering how almost anything can make me sentimental. She leaned closer to get my attention. “Don’t tell me that flock of birds makes you feel sentimental?”

“Noooo. Not at all.” I answered. “It makes me feel nostalgic!”

Good manners prevented her eyes rolling.

I attempted an explanation. “I was just thinking how that flock of birds compares to my family.”

Her eyes still didn’t roll but she stifled a laugh. “It makes you feel nostalgic? Tell me how!”

This was a pop quiz, I thought. I could never pass a pop quiz when I was in school. Now here was another, just like the one I had in Chemistry decades ago when I’d only studied for History. My stomach lurched like our bus in the traffic as I pondered just how to articulate my nostalgia.

I explained that my immediate family is large and my extended family is absolutely sprawling. Between aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, spouses and children of all, we’re a lot like those blackbirds. We spend most of our lives alone or with one or two others, but once a year or so we flock together. Just like those birds, there are certain times of the year when we gather from near and far to be together, say whatever it is we say to each other, then part ways knowing we’ll do it all again next year.

I’m sure Marble Lady wanted to tell me it wasn’t she who might have lost her marbles. She stared blankly at me for a second then looked back at the flock of raucous birds. As if on cue their muffled chatter ceased and they emptied the tree in unison to disperse in various directions. Marble Lady turned to look at me again.

“Well, now I will never look at a bird the same way.” she said.

The bus moved on at regular speed, Marble Lady became a birdwatcher, and I wondered whether I’d lost marbles of my own or finally passed a pop quiz.

Stuart M. Perkins

123 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Small Green Marble

A massive purse sat propped open in her lap as I approached. From the seat beside her she moved a small pack of tissues, two pens, and a broken pencil to make room for me. I took my seat and gasped as something jabbed me in the left buttock.

“I think you forgot this.” I said, handing her the bristled end of a broken hair brush.

“Sorry!” she shook her head apologetically. “I wanted to clean out this old purse on the ride to work and I have thrown things everywhere.”

The bus continued its route while she continued her cleaning. She shuffled through hand-written notes, balled up scraps of paper, and checked and rechecked zippered compartments in the giant purse.

“Well look at this.” she said as she held up a small green marble. “I found it in the yard one day when I left the house and forgot I’d put it in here. My son is grown but he had a set of green marbles he played with all the time. I’m sure it was one of his.”

“You should hold on to it then.” I said. She stared at the marble she held in the air.

“I’m too sentimental as it is.” she said and handed me the marble. “Here, if someone says you’ve lost your marbles, now you have proof you haven’t!” We both laughed and I took the small green marble she pressed into my hand.

“It’s crazy to hold on to it just because it reminds me that my son was a tiny boy.” she stared through the bus window.

“Not really.” I said. “I have boxes of things like that marble”.

She turned around and tossed the last few items back into her purse that had been scattered in her seat as we’d talked. She looked at me expecting, I assumed, to hear what I had in the boxes I’d mentioned.

“You wouldn’t keep something as silly as a marble, would you?” she asked.

“Ohhh yes.” I said as I thought of my sentimental trinkets. “From the time I was a kid I’ve kept a puppy tooth our collie lost, a feather from a quail I hatched in an incubator, and a heart-shaped rock I found in the pasture.”

“I just might keep those too.” she smiled out of courtesy.

On a roll, I continued. “I have the cracker tin my grandmother used in her kitchen, a tiny basket my son carved from a peach pit, and a pocket knife my uncle gave me for helping him one day.”

“I just might keep those too!” she smiled again and seemed to give thought to the relevance of everyday trinkets.

I told her more about various items I have in boxes and drawers, any one of which could look like meaningless trash to others. To me, each has a story.

Who could know the number of times my grandmother’s caring hands opened the cracker tin? The sharp little puppy tooth is a reminder of my collie’s first year as my best friend. The peach pit basket was carved by my son with the help of my father who passed away just over a year ago.

Every tiny silly trinket I keep is accompanied by a wonderful story. All I need to do is pick one up to go back in time for a minute or two. Good reminders of great times. At the mention of each of my keepsakes the woman beside me agreed she just might keep that one too.

I felt I’d bored her with too much nostalgia when I saw her turn away and stare straight ahead. She had a slight smile on her face, though, when she turned to me and pointed at my coat.

One step ahead of her, I had already reached for the small green marble in my pocket. I pressed it into her hand.

“I just might keep that.” she said.

Stuart M. Perkins

130 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Just A Spritz

I had forgotten about the bottle of cologne I noticed on my dresser. It was pushed towards the back behind small piles of random clutter. I don’t usually wear cologne but when given this bottle as a gift I thought why not, I’ll use it. I promptly forgot about it until a few weeks ago when the bottle caught my eye. The box it came in said it was a fragrance full of alluring notes of bergamot, juniper, with a hint of cedar.

I never wanted to smell like a tree.

Still, I took off the top and sprayed a little in the air to sample the alluring notes. Once my coughing fit subsided, I recapped the bottle and decided it smelled nice after all. I would wear a little to work the next day.

Before leaving to catch the bus, I gave myself just a spritz of tree essence. It wasn’t bad. I boarded the bus and took my usual seat. With the bus nearly full by the time it gets to my stop, I’m normally left with the one empty seat beside a very old man. I assume he parks cars for work because he only wears uniforms with the logo of a well-known nearby parking garage. Every morning he reads the paper and although he usually looks up to give me a “good morning” nod, he never actually speaks.

He spoke the day I wore cologne.

I sat down and reveled in the hint of cedar wafting about. That’s when the old man looked up from his paper and began sniffing the air much the way a dog would if bacon were frying in the kitchen. Actually, much the way I would if bacon were frying in the kitchen. The old man turned to look at me.

“Nice.” he said as he looked back down at his paper. I noticed he had an accent of some sort which I detected through his deep gravelly voice.

He said it was nice. Well there you go. Trees do smell good then. I continued to revel in the hint of cedar all the way to work.

I spritzed each morning for about a week. Every day the old man would sniff the air and in his accented voice give me a “Nice.” or “Good.” By the end of the week he even said, “I like it.” The cologne was nice but after a few more days I tired of the daily blast of bergamot and decided to see if the old man might like to have the remainder of the bottle. I didn’t want to offend him by offering but since the extent of our communication after three years had only been head nods and cologne compliments, I was pretty sure he would take my offer at face value.

The next morning I boarded the bus with the bottle of cologne in a clear plastic bag. I sat down beside the old man and debated whether I should ask him if he’d like to have it. I saw him glance towards me and sniff the air, searching. I hadn’t spritzed. I had simply packed the cologne in the bag. As he continued his occasional searching sniffs, I pulled the cologne out of my coat pocket.

“Would you like this?” I asked, waiting for either no response or an immediate cursing from an insulted old man.

He looked down at the cologne and in that deep gravelly voice said “Yes” with an accent I still could not figure out. He took the cologne, put it in his coat pocket, and continued reading his paper.

Well at least he didn’t curse me, I thought as I looked through the windows to see how close we might be to the next bus stop. That’s when I heard his voice again.

“How much?” he asked.

“Oh, I don’t want money. You can have it if you want it.” I said, embarrassed that old man must have thought I was trying to sell him a used bottle of tree sap.

“No. How much I use?” he clarified.

“Oh. Just a spritz.” I said as I automatically raised my hand to demonstrate in the air. I pumped one finger up and down and absent-mindedly “air spritzed” pretty much all over myself. That may have been the mistake. Or perhaps the word “spritz” is not easily translated into the language he normally spoke.

As I waited for the bus the very next morning I was anxious to see if the old man had used the cologne. It would be my turn to sniff the air. As the bus pulled up and stopped to let me board, I wondered if the heat inside was on too high because I saw two open windows and several people fanning the air. In fact, one woman near the seat I normally take was actually covering her face with a handkerchief.

The bus door opened and something hit me. A wall of bergamot, juniper, and much more than a mere hint of cedar punched me in the face. My eyes watered instantly as I walked down the aisle to my usual seat beside the old man. I noticed several empty seats around him. There would be no need to sniff the air to search for the fragrance. It had met me at the door and walked me to my seat.

I sat down beside the old man and stared straight ahead. I didn’t know what to say.

He looked up from his paper. “I used it.” he said as he looked directly at me.

“Oh, you did?” I asked politely. I could now actually taste juniper.

He rustled around in his coat pocket and handed me something. “You need this back?” he asked in the accented gravelly voice.

Through watering eyes I looked down to see the now empty cologne bottle in his hand.

“You used all of that?” I asked just before the bergamot began to make my throat close.

“Yes.” he responded as he raised his hand to demonstrate. He did the finger pumping motion all around his body.

How much?” I asked as a hint of cedar slapped me twice across the face.

“Many, many spritz.” he said, as he turned back to read his paper.

Stuart M. Perkins

60 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Kindred Connection

“I dread the holidays.” The woman seated beside me on the bus today said. She flipped through pages of a sales flyer that reminded her to buy early and save.

“The shopping?” I asked.

“No, the family!” she responded. “I’ll have to spend time around all of my father’s siblings and I’ve never felt connected to them. Did you spend much time around your aunts or uncles while growing up?”

“Oh yeah…”, I began as the memories started flowing.

She interrupted me. “His siblings lived nearby but didn’t interact with me very much. How about yours?”

“Oh yeah…” I said as I stared upwards about to relate a funny family story.

Again she cut me short. “I just didn’t enjoy being around them.” she added.

Instead of being cut off, I only nodded my head in understanding.

However, I didn’t really understand at all. I was lucky to come into this world literally surrounded by a large extended family. My father’s siblings were also my neighbors because my grandparents had a small farm and had given each of their five children an adjoining piece of property on which to build homes and raise families. Because they lived beside me, across the field, or just past the walnut tree, my aunts and uncles were as much a part of everyday life as my parents.

There are countless recollections I associate with my father’s sisters and brothers, but some specific memories come to mind whenever I think of each individual.

My aunt Noody encouraged me in whatever I had set my mind to. When I was a kid she spoke to me as though I were an adult and she made me feel relevant. We often took neighborhood walks together and talked about anything that crossed our minds. I trimmed her crepe myrtles and in return she made for me the best potato soup I ever had.  When our extended family gathered at the bay, Noody not only laughed at us kids playing in the water, she joined in. In swimming cap festooned with pink plastic flowers she patiently taught me to float on my back. She went roller skating with us kids too. One particular night I rested on the sidelines and she said “Don’t sit there like an old man. Come skate!”

My aunt Jenny once brushed a spider off of me once. When the giant hairy thing crawled up my pants leg she instantly brushed it away with her bare hand. She was my hero for doing that. Jenny laughed loudly and liked to hear others do the same. Once, while several of us kids were in a swimming pool, Jenny suddenly came down the sliding board wearing a huge floppy hat and holding an open umbrella above her head. She laughed as hard as we did when she plunged into the pool. Every Halloween for several years she drove my sister and me around town to visit people. Too old for trick-or-treating, we still dressed up as old women and no one laughed at us any harder than Jenny.

Interrupting my thoughts, the woman on the bus said, “And when I was a kid they never did anything fun with me. Did yours?”

“Oh yeah…” I began again, smiling at the funny anecdote I was about to tell.

She cut me off again. “My family is just not fun.” she said.

Assuming she was finished, I started thinking again.

My uncle Tuck, for decades now, has made sure that our extended family has been able to use the cottage on the bay. Tuck insists we use the cottage whenever we can and is kind enough to update us on where in the shed the fishing poles are located, not to forget to use the crab pots if we want, and to please try to go down more than we did last year. With each trip down he reminds us to help ourselves to anything we find in the refrigerator and to just have fun. There were also many times when Tuck’s calm and logical advice helped me figure out solutions to quite a few problems.

My uncle Jiggs was at our house on my first birthday. Mama said he came in, squatted down, and called me. The first steps I ever took were from Mama to Jiggs there in the kitchen. Jiggs lived across the field but also had a farm where I spent many summer weekends. When up against what to me were impossible mechanical issues with maybe a tractor or truck, Jiggs would  calmly suggest we just “think about this thing for a minute”. By the end of a cup of coffee Jiggs had thought it through and miraculously, to me anyway, solved the problem. During that process Jiggs never got upset. He would make a joke out of it, think about it, then fix it.

Fortunately, as a kid, I had an almost daily connection with my father’s siblings and their spouses who influenced me just as much. I can’t imagine growing up without their presence, guidance, and comedy! I was thinking about them all when the woman on the bus elbowed me to get my attention.

“And they’ll ask me questions over and over but when I begin to answer they’ll just cut me off. Ever known anyone like that? she asked.

“Oh yeah.” I said.

Stuart M. Perkins

46 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized