It's cold outside, snow is falling and Bus 33 pumps up the heat as it rolls down Market Street towards Love Park. The bus stops at the Courthouse and picks up an old man waving his cane. He is slow. There is shaking from the change in temperature and from the fact he is old. It takes him three minutes to ascend the stairs and slide gently into the first seat. As he flashes his senior citizen pass, the unusually patient driver finally jerks away from the curb.
I watch him from my side of the bus. His eyes are watering from the cold, his chest is pounding from the exertion of his climb. He can barely see me through the folds around his eyes, but he manages to look vacantly across the bus at where I'm sitting. His hands, covering the cane are covered with age spots, bulging veins and cartilage build up.
When the bus driver pulls right onto 20th street, another aged man rises up in the back of the bus. He bumbles towards the front and taps the driver on the shoulder.
"We missed my stop."
"Oh man. You gotta move fast mistah. I can't wait around all day for you to make your way to the front of the bus."
She steps on the breaks and opens the door. We aren't anywhere near the curb when the old man carefully steps down the stairs of the bus and onto the fresh snow. He takes a step, and he falls.
"Aw man. Damn. He fell, " she says to those of us remaining in the bus. I try to avoid eye contact with the old man with the cane.
She opens the door of the bus.
"Can you get up?"
The bus leans West as everyone peers out their windows to see the man lying in the snow. He's flat on his back, as if he is about to make a snow angel. He's flapping his arms but not making any progress. I start to get up towards the door to help the man up, but someone beats me. A middle aged man wearing a puffy jacket that is unzipped to reveal a Philly's sweatshirt, reaches an un-gloved hand down to help the old man up. He takes the aging hand in his, and then he slips and comes to lie next to the old man. There they lie, like two frozen gingerbread men waiting to go into the oven.
Again, I rise. But someone else has already stepped out of the bus and he's helping both men to their feet.
"Take the old guy to the curb," yells the bus driver.
"Damn" The bus driver looks over her shoulder to a woman wearing a ski hat sitting next to me.
"What are these people doing out on a day like this?"
The two helpers get back on the bus, laughing and patting each other on the back. The bus driver closes the door and continues her chat with the woman on my left.
"I mean, don't they have someone to take care of them? Really, they shouldn't let these people out alone. Look at him just out there alone."
"Well, I guess they gotta get out. They gotta get groceries."
And the woman and the driver share a laugh.
I wonder if the driver can see that behind her sits "one of them". I close my eyes from embarrassment and hope that the old man with the cane can't hear the chatter. But when I open them, I see that he has. He stares at me, with soft eyes that seem to be pleading for me to understand him.
The bus pulls to a stop in front of my work. I stand up to leave.
"Thanks so much. Have a good day. Happy Valentines Day."
And I step down out of the bus. The doors shut, and the bus moves on, up the hill, towards the next stop.