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Friday, December 31, 2010

The Bus Toll

© 2010 by Tom King

Taking public transit was
Supposed to be a cheaper way
To get from here to there
And from there to home,
But for the tender-hearted
There are hidden fees.

I traveled on my card
The first time through.
An experiment with the new
Cashless economic system.
Fearful the plastic wouldn't work
And me with no backup.

Between the bus and train,
I was befriended
By a fairly well-dressed fellow
Who offered to show me the way to the station.
I was grateful not to have to walk alone
In that part of town.

Didn't sleep well on the plane, though.
My companion guide to the train
Casually having mentioned.
His homelessness.
And me with no cash had muttered
Excuses why I could not help him.

Coming home he met me at the train this time,
And walked me back to the bus station.
This time the story was different.
And my name was the same as his father's.
I didn't tell him we'd met before.
That I knew his game.

I gave him twenty anyway.
On the bus I slept, short of cash.
I'd carefully planned to make the trek
And spend as little as possible.
Keeping a reserve as a reward
For my frugality.

I'm pretty sure he bought a bottle.
He'd asked me just for three or so.
The price of just enough
To warm a belly or deaden pain.
It does not matter I am under orders,
To treat with kindness, not to judge.

I sympathize with those who pay,
The extra price that lets them
Travel where the bums do not sleep
Huddled on a loading platform
Against a warm door;
Where the skilled at homelessness talk quick cons.

Do I give the taxi man the twenty bucks,
A guy working a second job to make ends meet?
Or hand it to the helpful hobo schmoozing for a drink.
Or the big-eyed kid who ran away and brags he lives his own way,
Eating from dumpsters, but managing to fast talk a free ticket to Chicago.
Mostly a night on a warm bus to somewhere else?

Maybe every other time I'll take a cab or park my car.
Next time around I could pay the extra
To encourage the self-reliant guy with kids to feed and self-respect,
And to sleep in my seat with nothing on my mind
But where I'm going
And who I'm going to see when I arrive.

Maybe the next time after that I'll save the extra.
Pass among the bums; refresh my memory
Lest I forget how close a man can be to losing all
And more directly pay the toll for sleeping
For worrying about where I'm going
And if all will be well when I arrive.

* I decided that since my truck was broken down, I'd take buses and trains to get to the airport. I figured I'd save myself a little money and see how well the transit system worked, my having spent a year giving advice to the government on how to make it work better. I spent about what I would have to drive myself over to the DFW airport and get a friend to park my car at his house, not because the transit system wasn't economical.  It's the hidden cost of such a trip that will get you, for it is a trip through dark places. I saw a man sleeping on a bus station loading dock in sub-freezing temperatures. I was conned by a neatly dressed homeless man who apparently makes a passable income showing people how to get from the train to the bus station and back in downtown Dallas. He has quite a convincing patter and you won't have to hear the same story twice and apparently his father had a lot of names as it's always the same as yours. If you have cash when you start and you're not completely heartless, you will part with a portion of that cash before you wend your circuitous way from stop to stop and finally arrive at your destination. The taxi guy got almost the last of it. I put the rest in my son's gas tank. I apparently, am not supposed to have any cash on me. 

Jesus said, "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."

Precisely, why I gave the guy the twenty bucks. I figure I helped solve his worries for that one day. It's all we're asked to do.


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