He rolled up to the bus stop at Ocean Beach in a fedora and worn suit jacket with nothing underneath, pushing a cart of sundry provisions.
“It is only one bus at this stop?” he said in accented English.
“Yes, the 5 bus,” I replied.
My friend and I had walked the length of Golden Gate Park on a perfect sunny, San Francisco day. After spending some time gazing at the ocean, we were hungry and looking for a quick ride back into The Haight.
As we walked up to the bus stop, he had asked my friend for a cigarette, and I had begun to make that mental calculation of whether to engage.
As we sat waiting for the 5 bus, he continued to talk about the cigarette.
“I only want a cigarette when I’m at the beach, something about the water, it makes me want to smoke … and when I’m with my lady, of course,” he said. “Don’t judge.”
We nodded in silent agreement. He was coherent and polite, a bit eccentric, perhaps homeless, but harmless.
A few minutes later, the articulated bus rolled up, and my friend and I took a seat in the back section, while he sat near the front. While I fumbled for my backup bus pass, he proceeded to knock back three cans of orange Fanta in quick succession, and that’s when things got weird.
A younger man sitting in front of us began to get agitated.
“Are you going to clean that up?” he asked the older man, who continued to drink his Fanta, dropping cans that rolled around the bus floor, spilling their sticky remnants as other passengers hopped on and off the bus.
“Bus driver,” the young man yelled. “This man is deliberately creating a hazard here for other passengers.”
The bus rolled on.
“Bus driver, you need to call the police and report this man. If you don’t, I’m taking down your bus number and having your license revoked,” the young man threatened.
The older man muttered something about being on the way to the hospital. Standing up to shift to another seat, his worn pants sagged down, exposing his bare backside.
“Bus driver!!” the young man shouted. “This man is exposing himself to the entire back row of the bus and creating a deliberate hazard with his Fanta. I need you to call the FBI.
“Call the FBI,” the older man scoffed. “It’s none of your business who I expose myself to.”
“Bus driver, are you going to call the police? I don’t think this man is going to the hospital after drinking three orange Fanta.”
The exchange escalated a bit until the older man finally made his way to the front exit, showing even more of his bare behind in the process.
As the doors opened, someone kicked an empty can of Fanta to the curb as the older man made his exit, leaving one can of Fanta on the seat he had occupied.
“Do you see this, bus driver?” the young man said, determined to have the last word. “He left this empty can of Fanta on the seat deliberately so that it would spill.”
From the curb, the older man shouted something in his native tongue and raised three fingers in the air.
As the bus rolled on, the Fanta can stood defiantly upright, resisting the bumps and jostling along the way. Nearing our stop, I decided to do something about this “hazard,” and reached for the can on our way out the door. It was empty.
Reflecting later on the whole episode, I thought about how much different the old man had seemed at the bus stop and I wondered, again, whether what we put out into the universe is what we get in return.