Riding the bus with Gary Winslow: Drunken-style

by

ILLUSTRATION BY LEE DEVITO
  • Illustration by Lee DeVito

Some people you can just see coming a mile away — if you know what to look for. I was going to take a 38 Plymouth, which is an east-west, crosstown city bus I’ll typically take on the weekends. It was a Saturday, and I was standing at the lonely bus stop on the west side of Woodward at Collingwood. I say the west side of Woodward ’cause the stop on the east side of Woodward is right by that janky-ass gas station where more than one shady incident has occurred. I figure if a fool wants something from me, they’re gonna have to cross the street to get it … and I’ll see ’em coming.

I was a little miffed because the text function on my cell wasn’t working right. The 38 Plymouth runs a little less frequently than many other buses, so whenever I take it I use the bus location text to know how long I’ll have to wait. With my text function not working, I was standing there blind; it could be a minute or an hour and I wouldn’t know until it showed up. This time, however, the wait wasn’t too long (about 20 minutes) and my angst was eased when I saw the bright headlights and destination display in the distance. The old raggedy bus (what they’ll often use for less frequently running lines) pulled up to the stop and I was on my merry way.

This particular ride is a pretty long one, so I came prepared. After I got settled in one of the many available seats (it’s never full when I get on, heading west), I took out a novel I recently purchased from this fantastic author and poet that I met recently at an open mic. I began to read. The bus proceeded with the twists and turns of the route, and I enveloped myself in my own world, not paying much attention to who got off or on, until …

We got about halfway through the ride and came to yet another stop. A number of people boarded, and with that usually comes some sort of commotion: the greetings and salutations of riders familiar to the route, the digging in purses or pockets for that last quarter for fare, the shuffling of passengers for seats. Still, I paid only minimal attention, just hoping I wouldn’t have to share my seat. Finally the last passenger got on. Remember what I said about knowing what to look for? Without even looking up, I could feel that this cat was gonna be a trip.

He got on with the old cool cat grunt, like everything he did was so epic it needed a sigh or commentary of some sort. I was almost waiting to hear some pimp theme music to follow him. After I heard him, I tore myself from the book I was reading to see who this dude was. Sure enough he had the proper garb for the personality I expected him to have; multicolored bandana that, to my memory, had red, white, and yellow markings, a red Detroit “D” ballcap shifted to the right, light brown leather jacket, unzipped and hanging just so, red and white high-top sneakers and a dark brown wooden cane that aided him in his stutter-step, too-cool-for-school gait. He pimp-strutted his way down the aisle while demonstratively grunting and sighing, or as we say in the D, he was doin’ all that “extra shit.” I knew this man was cruising for some attention and he wasn’t gonna stop till he got it. Hell, if he could, he would’ve had the bus driver announce his arrival to the whole bus … with the theme music.

By the time he paid his fare and went to find himself a seat, the bus was pretty full, so where did this cat sit? Right smack dab behind me! Now I had no hatred towards this man, but knowing he was sure to make his presence known didn’t jibe with the peace and quiet I need to fully comprehend what I was reading. (I ain’t one of those people that can read with the TV on or music in the background.) I was at a compelling part of the novel, so I tried to keep it going, but he went right to that loud sighing, like, “Whew,” or “Mmh mmh mmh,” or any number of noises he could muster to get himself right and get some attention. I started losing my place and rereading what I already read to get some comprehension, but when he started loudly sucking his teeth and clearing his throat, I knew it wouldn’t be long before it was time to put the book away, or move.

I guess he had somewhere to go and no one yet to talk to, so the next thing I knew he got on his phone and started up a conversation — loudly. “Yeah, I’m’a be there in a minute, I’m on da bus right now. Yeah, I know ya’ll celebratin’ it’s my birthday, what you thought? You just betta wait till I get there, you know I’m comin’ … Oh is she gon’ be there? What you don’t know da difference? She is country as hell, that’s how you know…” On and on he went. This fool was right in my ear and he kept getting louder and louder, spewing his business, trying to show off to any and everybody. I wasn’t mad at him, but his all-consuming volume was a bit much.

Finally there came a point where I said, “That’s it,” and put my book in the plastic sleeve I received with the purchase, tucked it away in my backpack, and got up. There weren’t as many seats to choose from as when I got on the bus, but I wasn’t about to be picky. I just needed to find a seat far enough away from homeboy to hear myself think. I found such a seat toward the back and quickly scooted up those couple stairs to snag that seat before anyone else could get to it. I settled in, all the while hearing his loud raspy voice go on and on, but at least I was at a far enough distance to where I could attempt to tune him out — the key word being, “attempt.”

I pulled my book back out again to pick up where I left off, but something told me this was about to be an act of futility. Sure enough, an outburst broke my concentration, and the chorus of laughter that followed let me know homeboy was finally getting what he wanted: attention. Here’s how it went …

After another stop or two, a young attractive lady boarded, paid her fare, and proceeded down the aisle to the seat I just left. She had no idea what she about to get into. Just as she sat down, homeboy started in … on the bus driver. “Maaan, don’t be lookin’ at that girl’s ass … I saw you.” The whole front of the bus fell out, and so began the broke-down drunken pimp show. He was just getting started, and, though everybody could hear him, the bus driver didn’t, so he took another stab at him. “I saw you, driver. You wrong as hell lookin’ at that poor young girl’s ass like dat!”

He was, of course, playing, but the bus driver took exception to this accusation, “Who me? Hell naww! I ain’t lookin’ at nothin’. I ain’t no damn pedophile! That’s like lookin’ at my own granddaughter. You crazy as hell!” I thought he was mad for real and was about to kick homeboy off, but he too took it in stride and kept his sense of humor … as did everyone else. The banter went on between the driver and broke-down pimp for a spell, “Awww, maaan, you bullshittin’. Tell da truth, maaan.”

"Naww. Hell naww, you must be talkin’ ’bout yo’self.”

“Nawww, maaan, I can’t even see it from where I’m sittin’.” The two of them went back and forth but it seemed like broke-down pimp started to realize he was going a bit too far as he kept sayin’ things like, “I betta leave dis man alone … he gon’ kick my ass off dis bus, ha ha haaaaaa!” or, “I’m’a make him maaaad … hey, don’t kick me off ’til I get to da clinic,” then look around to his new audience and say, “Yeeeaaah, I gotta go to da clinic, ha ha haaaa.” He and the bus driver went on a little bit more, keepin’ the bus entertained with their respective comebacks until …

We came to yet another stop. I don’t remember whether one or more people got on, but I do remember one lady in particular that got on board. For some reason, her orange sweatshirt and reddish wig seem to stand out in my mind as I think about what she looked like. She was a middle-aged black woman who, like many that I know, didn’t particularly look like she was up for no mess. I’m sure she got on the bus with the intention of minding her own business. Broke-down pimp had other ideas. When she passed him, he said something smart that I didn’t hear, and she had a snappy enough answer to get a big laugh from all who heard her, and if that were the end of it, it would have been all well and good … but it was not to be. The talkative man was drunk on two things: alcohol and attention. You ever come across somebody that you wanna avoid or cringe when you see them coming? Not so much someone you hate or wish bad luck on, and you might even like ’em in limited doses, but, like, every time you see them, they just don’t know when to quit? That’s the type of cat we talkin’ about today.

So he kept going, keying in on the unwitting lady who, in his mind, existed solely to receive his attention. He started talking about the kind of woman he wanted, and she joked with him, like, “Oh, you don’ want none o’ this, baby,” and he’d keep talking about what a woman should be and what she should do for him etc. Every time he said something, he went a little further, getting dangerously close to all-out disrespect, and I felt the awkwardness and tension thicken. Thus far, though, the lady stayed cool.

Some of the homies up front started to try and get him to tone it down a bit, ’cause, no matter what the media tells you, there’s still a great deal of respect and reverence for women, especially one that might be the age of your mama. “Ah, she ain’t worried ’bout me. She see I’m just fuckin’ wit’er.”

And you drunk, gotcho damn shot bottle all out in da open so e’erbody can see it, ha haaa.” She got him with that one. Just like she said, this fool had his single shot of brown liquor that I’m guessing was that Paul or Henny in his hand, with his forearm draped over the back of the seat in front of him … talk about advertising. Everybody fell out.

“Daaamn that’s messed up, girl, you snitchin’ … you gon’ make the bus driva kick me off fo’ real. Daaahaham. Hey bus driva, don’t kick me off till we get to da clinic! Haaahaaa.”

“Shiiiit, ain’t nobody gotta snitch … you da one advertisin’. You just as drunk …”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m drunk, fuckit. Least I ain’t …” and that’s about when shit changed. I don’t know what he said exactly but I do know what he called her after that, loud and clear. “Least I ain’t … BITCH!” Ohhh, helll nawww: He went there. At first he was throwing makeshift pickup lines, then he just got downright insulting, “Shiiia I don’ want no damn … bitch!” Again I didn’t hear the specific insult but basically I gathered he was calling the woman unattractive and throwing in the ultimate insult ta boot … shit was ‘bout to get thick.

“Heyheyhey, cut that out!” hollered the bus driver.

“Maaan, fuck dat. I say what I feel. I wanna say ‘bitch,’ I’m’a say ‘bitch.’ Shhiiia.”

“OK, she gon’ go upside yo head den,” the driver warned. I could see in his rear view mirror that he was shaking his head back and forth, exasperated by this hard-headed drunken jackass, and when he saw that homeboy wasn’t gonna listen regardless to what he said, he just left it to the lady. In a word, he was done with this fool.

At first she brushed off the disrespect like it wasn’t shit and bantered with him with statements like, “Shiiit, and a good bitch at that,” or, “Oh, yeah, say what ya feel wit’ yo’ drunk ass,” or, “Oh, I’m thicker-skinned than dat,” when others tried to warn him of the dangerous waters he was treading. Eventually however, her resistance to his shit talking began to wear down and she had to set him straight … or so she thought, “Look, if you make me mad I’m’a crawl on yo’ head. I’m for real now, don’t keep playin’ wit’ me!”

Don’t you know this fool said “bitch” again? At that point, it was on! She sprang out of her seat with unbridled anger and closed fists, and with a downward hammer-like motion she proceeded to pound atop his cranium … in other words, she started whoopin’ his ass. Broke-down pimp wasn’t actin’ like no pimp ’cause if he was he’d put the “bitchslap” down on this woman. Instead he took the blows and tried to block the ones coming, all the while looking like a child in trouble with his mama. Several men jumped into action, trying to hold her back and separate the two, but mama was no slouch: All that adrenaline and anger made her hard to handle. It took quite an effort from some grown-ass men to try to stop her from “crawlin’ on his head” as she promised. After a few seconds of arms flailing and the audible pops of her fists boppin’ his head I jumped out of my seat to help quell the melee, but as soon as I got to the scene (only a step or two away) I realized that my presence would only confuse the situation. I could see that two or three gentlemen in such a tight space trying to break it up was enough, so I just went back to my seat and sat my ass back down. Besides, even though she was a tough cookie, she wasn’t really hurting him, and, for me, that’s when it went from a serious altercation to downright comical.

For a drunk-ass, this dude was pretty good at blocking and dodging the onslaught of punches coming at him. Another thing I thought was a trip was the fact that he kept his sense of humor throughout the entire onslaught of punches he was blocking, and yes, receiving. He was taunting and laughing it off, and, to his credit, didn’t swing back — not even once. I guess that’s one of the few good things I can say about this cat. I guess it was all a joke to him, even in the midst of getting his head mama-bopped. I shook my head and chuckled at the fact that, once again, I witnessed a fight on a Detroit bus.

But I ain’t laugh too loud though: I didn’t want no part of momma’s wrath on my head. Ha-haaa!

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