The woman from Woodstock

After another marvelous breakfast at Mrs Rigby's Diner, I was waiting to cross the street, when a lady came up behind me on a power-wheelchair. "I like your tie-dye jacket," she said to me.

That's the only thing about me that ever gets a compliment, and I gave her my standard reply: "I was too young to be a hippie, but I'm a hippie at heart."

Most people hate hippies. Even people who like tie-dye hate hippies, so that's usually that's the end of the conversation.

This lady had more to say, though. "I was on my mother's shoulders at Woodstock when I was four years old, and my four-year-old granddaughter was on my shoulders at Woodstock '99."

"Wow," I said. "You're authentic."

The light said DON'T WALK, but I wanted to, because she'd reached into her wheelchair's side-pouch, and she was rooting around, looking for something. "Where is it?" she mumbled to herself, and continued digging, and we both knew she was about to pull out a picture of herself from one of the Woodstocks, maybe both.

After that I'd be expected to say something, and she'd say something else, and we'd be having a conversation. Eventually she'd tell me her name and ask mine, and after that we'd exchange email addresses, and we'd be friends, unless I walked away now.

The light still said DON'T WALK, but I desperately wanted to cross the street. No Polaroids, please. No extended conversations about hippiedom or anything else.

I haven't made a new friend in the real world since meeting my wife in the mid-1990s, and it is from lack of trying. At breakfast I'd asked a guy down the counter to pass the ketchup, and that was exhausting. I live alone, go to breakfast alone, do everything alone, I'm used to it and like it, and have no openings for a friend.

"Did you do your own tie-dye?" she asked, as she continued digging through her side-pouch, but then a robotic voice interrupted and announced, "The walk sign is 'on' to cross Fauntleroy Avenue."

Without looking back, I peeled shoe-rubber crossing Fauntleroy. That lady's power-wheelchair rolled faster than I walk, though, and she'd passed me by the double-yellow down the middle of the street. At the sidewalk she turned left, sped ahead of me, and she was gone.

A conversation had been cancelled, and I was relieved. Unchecked, it might have lasted five or ten minutes, with such ghastly ramifications as maybe shaking hands, exchanging phone numbers.

Most people love that crap, but I'm not most people, and I don't want to spend even a few minutes talking with someone who's destined to disappoint me by believing in astrology or Jesus or Donald Trump. I don't hate people until I get to know them, so I'd rather not get to know them.

I was still congratulating myself on getting away from that woman, when half a block ahead she stopped her wheelchair at the bus stop, and angled it to see oncoming traffic. Ah, crap. She was waiting for the same bus I'd be riding.

As I got to the bus stop she asked again, "Did you do your own tie-dye?"

I smiled because smiling is what you're supposed to do, and said, "No, doing it myself would take talent. I bought it."

"I've tie-dyed," she said, and she also said something else, and I spoke too, but I know not what I said. We were talking and it was hellish, but at least she wasn't digging through her side-pouch any more.

At the crosswalk she'd been sorta beside, sorta behind me, but at the bus stop she was in front of me, so this was my first real look at her. If she was four years old at Woodstock then she's younger than me, but she looked like an old white lady, and then I remembered, oh yeah, I'm old too. Also, she was attractive, but I'm not looking for a relationship even more than I'm not looking for friendship.

Wheelchairs and disabilities freak some people out, but my wife was in a wheelchair for the last seven years of her life, so those phobias are long gone from me. Her wheelchair is only pertinent because a dozen bumper stickers were all over it, mostly leftist sloganeering, and a pirate's flag was flying from her rigging.

'Science is not a liberal conspiracy.' 'Abortion is a human right.' 'Stop the war on the poor.' Maybe this lady and I could be friends, I very briefly thought. Heck, I agreed with everything her wheelchair espoused, except I'm neutral on pirates.

One of her stickers was 'Eat the rich', and I used to have the t-shirt, so I had another standard line at the ready. I pointed at the sticker and said, "With some fava beans and a nice Chianti."

"I am opposed to cannibalism," she said, "but for Elon Musk I could make an exception."

I laughed, but had no clever retort to that. Nothing left to say at all. We'd been talking for, what, two minutes? Three? It needed to end, soon, now. She might start looking for that photo again. She might ask my name.

"Well, here we go," she said, and pointed south to show me that our bus was coming. "I'd thank Saint Christopher, patron saint of bus passengers, but he was a Catholic and I'm sure not." The bus hissed as it stopped, and to me and the other two people waiting at the stop the lady said, "You all go first." She waved us through the door, onto the bus.

That was a kindness, since getting a wheelchair on board and secured can take a few minutes. I said thanks, and with the other two strangers I stepped up and into the bus, flashed my fare, and faced the Rebecca Black dilemma: Which seat should I take?

The bus wasn't crowded, and I could've sat near the front, within easy talking distance of that lady who maybe wanted to be my friend. I didn't, of course. I took a seat over the rear wheel, near the back of the bus, where wheelchairs physically can't go.

Beep-beep-beep the ramp unfolded itself, and that woman from Woodstock rolled on and was lifted up. The driver secured her wheelchair with hooks and carabiners, a safety protocol that prevents the chair from toppling if he hits the brakes extra hard.

As we left the bus stop, maybe she looked around, hoping to spot me and continue our conversation. If she did, I didn't see it. My eyes were out the window. When I glanced forward a few blocks later, she was talking to some people up front. I couldn't make out any words over the roar and rumble of the bus, but they were laughing.

She got off the bus at Lincoln Park, and said goodbye to the people she'd been laughing with. I sat alone — that's my safety protocol. On the sidewalk, that lady looked up at the bus, saw me through the window, and I waved at her, and she waved back, and pretty soon I dinged the bell, got off the bus, and walked home, alone.


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  1. I knew you called yourself a hermit but maybe I didn't know you're so adament about it. I'm going to ask a personal question because you get quite personal here, were you always like this or did you get "damaged" early on?

    1. Whatever happened to me must've been early on, and some things did happen, but I never think of myself as damaged. I'm just me.

  2. Usually you write about other people being assholes. This time it was you. nobody gets past your barriers.

    No offense intended. This is very good writing.

    1. No disagreement. I'm a walking illustration of 'asshole', usually without malice.

      'No offense intended' is never necessary. If I'm supposed to be offended, I'll know it.

      Glad you're still out there.


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