I've developed a habit of talking to people on the street. I call them "street people." I meet them on the street or on the bus. Sometimes they're homeless, sometimes they're in a store, sometimes they work for Target corporate, sometimes they're just bored. So, "street people" is the current term to encompass them all--to imply, but not to limit.
I do not wish to limit, but there comes a time to define.
What's the point of experimenting anyway .. unless I organize my data?
What is the difference between an encounter in the Skyway vs a conversation on the street actual? A person of color vs a person who is perceived to be white? Where are people nice? Who is the most fun? With whom do I grow uncomfortable--why?
I don't have much data gathered on that last one. What I do have is enough for another conversation, so let's stay on track.
This hobby bloomed in the period between my time with the Occupy protests, and moving downtown last year. I've been taking public transportation for at least a few years now. I was overwhelmed by the system when I moved here seven years ago, but I cut my street teeth through daily commuting from southeast Minneapolis, by light rail to the Mall of America, via downtown.
The conveniences and delays provided through reliance on others has assumed a second nature.
As has my joy and contentment with being transported in enclosed spaces with unknown local humans.
Frequently, these people are men I find south and downtown, though gender, as a factor, takes a backseat to location.
RecentIy, I moved to northeast. I can walk to work. Many members of my social group live north of me. It requires an active effort to go downtown or south. I am starting to pick up on the differences in encounters, and I can tell, for all the benefits to moving, I'm going to miss living downtown.
Observation: people on the street in northeast are not street people. They seem to be uninterested in having an encounter; their street status implies they are already having a time of it and do not wish for more. (Make a note. Street people sub-group: northeast bar patrons spilling into street.)
And, much to my chagrin, if the northeast person on the street has entertained engagement, it has ground my teeth. Raised high my hackles.
In most of my street people stories, I talk about people who are forward in their speech and actions--assumptive, we'll call it.
I do not clientele with bitches who come at me with aggression. Or, I have been lucky to attract only a few.
So, it would be inaccurate to say I am excited or interested to find out more about these circumstances, but there is curiosity to see:
(a) in which direction it progresses
(b) indicators other than "white men" in "an urban residential area where the transition into suburban and rural lands beyond is almost undetectable and at an easy pace; the city diffuses from its center (Nicollet Mall and 7th, I'd wager); out, like blood needs to move away from the heart; like the natural decay of a concrete and tempered glass echo that gives way to corn fields, American Legions and VFWs, tall grasses, and the Boundary Waters."
Without barrier; unchallenged.
xo - xo - xo - xo
Last night I was downtown, turned around. All these stops are unfamiliar now that Nicollet's revitalizing project has rerouted most of my major bus lines.
There are palm trees at 3rd and 7th. Who knew?
Palm trees and John, the center of today's story.
He'd been drinking. Who knows for how long, as habit. I don't think his drinking was done for the evening... he was level, coherent, but still restless. I asked where he was going, he said he'd been trying to get a room. I said I had some quarters, he didn't care about that. He wanted to to talk about my beauty and that he liked my sociable nature, or whatever.
He's not much taller than me, 5'8" maybe. I'm not good with stats. He is thin-framed and wore his shirt tucked snugly so his clothes hung full in the way they do on a man who is sick or hungry but carrying himself. He started the conversation at a close proximity, but he moved slow, easy and somehow fluid, with grace or femininity or something like that. We got to talking.
"Can I call you?"
"We have this time to talk now and you're going to waste it by trying to talk to me later?"
"Oh, I like you."
"Haha, sorry. I do this a lot... you wanna hear a joke?"
"Why do fish live in saltwater?"
"Because... it's salty."
"Because pepper makes them sneeze!"
"I'm gonna tell you a joke now."
"Okay. Get it."
He leaned close to give me a decently-paced set-up about a crow and a pigeon flying home from the army. Somewhere in the long flight, the crow dips down to see what's going on down on land below, and finds a field filled with corn, as far as the eye can see. He flies back up to tell the pigeon. It was unclear whether the pigeon or the crow flew down to verify. His tone rose toward punchline.
"We better quiet down or the farmer will hear us!"
"There you go," I said.
Talking birds are funny, maybe.
"Do you have any kisses for me?"
"Oh, no. Sorry. All out."
In telling this story, it was pointed out to me that I didn't step back when, in the conversation that followed, he leaned toward me. It's interesting to me because I tend to shuffle about when I am talking with street people. Slow, predictable movement, like swaying or pacing.
So, he leans into my space with his face, and his arms at his side. I leaned back in equal measure, like a dance. He leaned in another measure.
"Nope, not for you," I said, and leaned back again further.
He leaned in a third time, and, I mean, I'm only so balanced, and jokes work in threes. I could've put my hand on his face like a claw machine, to make a point. Or on his sternum, just to brace him, which seems the likely choice.
In the moment, the least resistance to meet his momentum put my hand at his neck. Like I'd grabbed a child by the ear, I set him aright.
There was more bristling in the 8-10 people also on the corner than there was in him. If I'd done something aggressive he didn't seem to notice.
I mean, he acknowledged the boundary. I got a sassy look, he made a comment, he didn't cross in again. The conversation continued the few minutes until the bus came, without grudge on either end.
"There's my bus."
"It was nice to meet you. Have a good night!"
I lined up at the door. I noticed my posture, the steady drum of adrenaline in my shoulders, and realized that I had just very casually grabbed a black man by the throat, in front of an audience.
You can imagine the complex set of thoughts that has followed.
So far, it makes me feel a little better about something that's been nagging me about my behavior--that there exists a naïveté or affinity for risk that will be perceived with contempt.
Personally, I think "affinity for risk" is a little obvious; "naïveté," a minor slight. Often, these words, in this negative form, are said to me by people who, in the next breath, explain to me the lack of agency in my choices during the follies of my actual youth.
Listen, if you think I'm on the street because I don't know how/when to cross it, you are part of my problem.
I greet my neighbors with the openness of a child, and you assume my choice to allow a measure of vulnerability with strangers means I think I am invincible.
Son of a bitch. I'm not the fool here. I'm out there for you, too. I feel bad for you. Where has your great awe and wonder run dry? Have you managed to figure out all humans so early? You must be the smartest among us to have so much knowledge stored between your present mind and the tabula rasa of your impressionable young mind. Before anyone hurt you or taught you bad ideas.
Before you decided that it was better to always cross the street than stand your ground.
To end this digressive tirade on an obnoxious tease: I learned a lot during my impromptu train date with a gentleman named Larry Love, on January's famous Day of Three Dates.
But that's for another time.
To tell the end of this story, and finally get some regular sleep at the end of another busy weekend, John let me say goodbye to him. I got on the bus, my face flushed with exuberance, confusion, and embarrassment at what had just happened.
John got on behind me and went to a seat in the back. I assume that was his natural inclination, but still I had my bag on the seat next to me as the universal sign for "I'm done with this conversation. I've got places to be, shit to do, things to figure out--and they're not about you."
I do hope he found some good sleep though.
xo - xo - xo - xo