Without thinking I climbed aboard the bus and then noticed the driver. Hard to miss, as he was so large he barely fit behind the huge steering wheel of the bus. His stomach protruded around the wheel on both sides so far that it would take a crane to get him out, at least it seemed to me. He sat atop a large driver’s seat mounted by a single hydraulic shock absorber that was as big around as the seat was wide. Even the huge shock absorber was bottomed out under the weight of the oversized driver.
I accepted his offer and came aboard and took a seat across from him.
“Gary…Gary Goldpeople's the name.” He nodded in a friendly gesture.
Goldpeople? What the hell kind of a name is that I thought. I said nothing in reply and was beginning to feel the effects of the last drugs I had done wearing off. I began to feel uncomfortable and scared of the reality that I, once again was out of money, nearly out of drugs, completely out of friends, and as always, out of hope.
I watched the curious man behind the wheel. He wasn’t especially tall. That made him one of the rounder people I’d ever seen.
I watched the curious man behind the wheel. He wasn’t especially tall. That made him one of the rounder people I’d ever seen. He had long gray-white hair and a medium, long, gray-white beard. Very much the Santa-Claus type. Small wire-rimmed eyeglasses and rosy red cheeks shined above his full beard. A little too disheveled for a Santa on most days, no telling what he might say to the little tikes. Gary always spoke his mind and would not be likely to humor a spoiled child wanting the world or parents who cater to their illusions out of guilt for never having the time. Gary would have been fired on the first day of any Santa's gig. His looks, kindness, and good humor however did fit the part.
I noticed that the driver had dozens of buttons covering his beret-style hat and navy-blue uniform jacket that identified him as a city bus driver. The buttons had sayings like, “DON’T TAKE LIFE SO SERIOUSLY, NONE OF US ARE GETTING OUT ALIVE,” “WEAR MORE PURPLE,” and “MAKE LOVE NOT WAR.” Then other buttons said seeming contradictions like, “IF YOU DON’T LIKE MY DRIVING, STAY OFF THE CURB” and “GO SEAHAWKS.” A little of everything. I watched this oddball for lack of anything else to do. He ate his donut, and then another while slurping away on his thermos of coffee, as if I wasn’t even there.
I slipped to the back of the bus and took a seat, looking up front into the driver’s rearview mirror to watch the jolly old bus driver. I used the seat in front of me for cover. I could see he was watching me, but he couldn’t see what was taking place in my lap. I brought out my spoon, cooked up the last of the drugs I had right there on the seat, drew it up into the syringe, and began the long process of sticking around in my arm to find a long ago disappeared vein.
I was desperate to make this last shot count and couldn’t risk missing the vein but then saw the driver begin wiggling out from behind the wheel. He wasn’t saying a word, but I knew he was coming to see what was up. After a gymnastic act to remove his body from behind the wheel and get it lifted off the seat, he began coming toward me.
I was stunned. I couldn’t pull the syringe from my arm, but couldn’t push the plunger down yet either as the vein I was trying for was now gone. I made my mind up to keep trying to find the vein and get the drugs in me, which I did, but not before Mr. Gary Goldpeople was standing over me watching.
I looked up briefly, then back down at the unfinished job and the syringe hanging from my arm. I spoke to my new friend for the first time, “I’m trying to stop.” I really didn’t know where the words came from, they were the only words I could come up with. They were nowhere near the truth.
Gary stared at me for a brief moment, and then smiled, “I can see that.”
I pulled out the syringe and slumped in my seat as the warmth of the heroin rush came over me. I also began to cry, somehow sensing how my life had come to this, shooting drugs in front of a city bus driver and not really even trying to hide it. I no longer cared about anything, anything except the next fix.
I got up to get off the bus, Gary reached out his hand and held it in front of him, indicating to me to be still.
"Last time I checked, 911 wasn’t equipped to handle spiritual maladies.” He laughed at himself out loud this time, a very jolly belly laugh that I would come to treasure. He shook his head as if to recognize my plea for pity.
“Gary…Gary Goldpeople’s the name,” He said slowly and deliberately with such a soft voice that I didn’t feel immediately threatened.
I put the syringe and spoon into my pack, trying as best I could to hide them from Gary, even though I knew I had been caught. “Yes, you told me that, I promise I’ll leave now, I don’t plan on hurting anyone. Please don’t call the police.” I tried to look up and give Gary the most pitiful look I could, trying my best to play the sympathy card.
“The police?” he responded wide-eyed, “Why would I call the police? What I have here is a garden-variety human being, suffering… I’d say from a spiritual malady a bad case from the looks of things.” He paused, chuckled slightly under his breath, looked at me from over the top of his wire-rimmed glasses worn low on his nose, then added, “Last time I checked, 911 wasn’t equipped to handle spiritual maladies.” He laughed at himself out loud this time, a very jolly belly laugh that I would come to treasure. He shook his head as if to recognize my plea for pity.
“Very little to laugh about,” I cried. I tried to look as directly at him as I could, but ended up looking at his shoes. “As you can see, things aren’t exactly going great for me. I’ve no money, and those drugs I just did were it…my last. That means I’ll be sick shortly if I don’t figure some way out of this mess. I tried killing myself, and even that won’t work.” I felt as though I should run but slumped into the seat even further.
The fat man standing over me interrupted “Yes, most definitely a spiritual malady going on here. My route starts up in five minutes, but I can help you if you like.”
“Unless you have some money or drugs you’d like to give me, I doubt you can be of any real help,” I replied with all the sarcastic inflection I could muster.
…He went forward on the bus and went through a most amusing sequence of moves to force himself once again behind the large steering wheel. He turned on the interior lights of the bus and illuminated the exterior sign indicating that the bus was now in service, route number forty-three, University District to Downtown.
Several people had now gathered at the bus stop and waited to come aboard. Several had been watching through the window at the drama unfolding inside the bus¾watching our conversation. The door was opened and the first passengers of the day, six or seven in all boarded.
… “My route starts at 6:30 AM. I’m usually at the first stop, in my bus by 5:00 AM or so.” He added, “You look like the type of fellow who stays up all night, so stop by tomorrow.”
I heard him laugh out loud as I took the few steps down, off the bus, and into the street. Gary Goldpeople closed the door and pulled away. I had met a spiritual master but I wouldn’t realize this until many days had past.