Stranger Log – Fresno Confidential

Current mood: Sumptuous
Have a friendly conversation with a random stranger every day. It’s an apple a day for the city.

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A bum on the N train:
He spoke frenetically and kept shifting his weight from foot to foot and leg to leg. He spoke of nothing but technical matters of the train.
“All right! Switching to tunnel mode now! Okay!”
He checked his watch and touched his hands and shifted his weight. He tapped on the standing bars.
“These trains can get up to 90 miles per hour. Next stop, Van Ness station!”
He spoke until he got off at civic center.

I’m on the N train headed downtown. I notice a tiny leak, probably from condensation on the A/C. Residual water is collecting into a drop on the ceiling. The drop gets heavy and falls onto the baseball cap of the man next to me. He’s a frumpy pear-shaped man wearing jeans and a khaki windbreaker. Another drop splashes on his cap.
“Excuse me,” I said “there’s water dripping from the ceiling. It’s hitting your hat . . . in case you want to move.”
“It’s better than Fresno.”
Now THAT’S funny. Having no response, I smile. He turns toward me. The next drop falls on his shoulder. “In Fresno, on a Sunday, you have to wait an hour for the bus to come by.”
“Yeah . . . my sister was in Fresno for one of her rotations some time back. She was a medical student at UCSF.”
He is just on his way home from UCSF, it turns out. He’s heading home to Fresno tonight. We complain about and marvel at the transit adventure between Fresno and San Francisco. A train to Richmond, then BART into the city, then a transfer to the N, and a ride to the front door of the UCSF medical center. A long trip.
“My wife is at UCSF,” he tells me.
“That’s excellent . . . oh wait – student or patient?”
“Patient. She had her leg amputated above the knee.”
I was dumbstruck. He continued.
“There is a problem with an infection so we came to UCSF.”
“Wow . . . well, she’s in good hands.”
He reaches into his jacket. He’s rummaging through an inside pocket.
“Do you know how much a room at the Marriott downtown costs?”
This makes me laugh. “I don’t think I want to know!”
He finally pulls a folded piece of paper out of his khaki windbreaker and enunciates with suspense: “Two hundred and forty nine dollars.” He let the number hang in the air. “But I got a room for seventy-nine. Have you heard of hotelsanywhere.com?”
“Wow . . . no.”
And just like that, racing through the downtown tunnel at speeds approaching 90 miles per hour, I trip into a commercial. The man from Fresno tells me about a discount hotel website that consistently saves him a pretty penny. I listen attentively. Water drips onto his hat and shoulder. He pays it no mind. He is candid as a summer afternoon.

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About Suhail Rafidi

Suhail Rafidi is a novelist and educator whose works explore the destiny of human values in a technological landscape. You can find him on Twitter, too, @shelldive.
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