by Flynn Washburne, January 18, 2017
There are probably settings more dismal than a Fort Bragg (northern latitude, coastal proximity) bus "shelter" on a late Sunday afternoon in mid-November during a rainstorm, but as my prevailing worldview is far too cheerful to bother considering them, trust me when I say that it's about as gloomy a place and time as could be imagined. I qualify the above term with quotes because it is only a shelter in the broadest, most liberal and forgiving sense of the word. What exactly one will be sheltered from within its pervious confines is unclear. Floating dandelion spores, perhaps, or gamma rays? I don't know. Not wind and rain, certainly. Oh, if you sit in the middle with your feet up and the rain is politely and gently falling straight down in one of those jolly springtime rainbow-generators, you'll be fine, but the precipitation in this locale is rarely so obliging. It colludes with Brother Wind to propagate its chill, fat drops as widely and thoroughly as possible, and a municipal bus shelter offers it no challenge whatsoever. Its airy design is presumably attributable to current policy regarding the homeless and thwarting any notions of nesting they may entertain when happening on some unoccupied walls-and-ceiling combination; probably that's why you never see phone booths anymore. If you haven't got the decency to provide yourself with an address, goes the prevailing wisdom, then we're not going to encourage whatever filthy business you're liable to get up to behind closed doors. Do it out in the open where we can keep an eye on you, and arrest you for it.
Speaking of phone booths, can you imagine if they still had those really luxe ones with the seat and lights and ashtray? Talk about your prime real estate. Not much in the way of square footage, but terrific amenities. So the city erects these Lexan-and-aluminum shelters that barely manage to delineate space, much less afford any real protection from the elements, and occasionally some credulous, unprepared bicyclist like myself will happen upon one when the clouds open up and say, Oh, good, I can wait it out in here, but then discover himself to be only marginally less wet than if he'd continued west and pedaled straight into the ocean. I could, conceivably, have waited out the deluge someplace warm and dry and wrapped myself around the outside of a hot cup of coffee. But as is so often the case, my aggregate liquidity at the moment was securely pledged toward the scratching of a very specific itch, and I didn't want to be the guy showing up with $47.75 when the tariff is a nice round $50. Not that the vendor wouldn't mind rounding up or tacking the shortage onto the next purchase. But for the sake of this narrative about a popular stimulant, it's best not to let a dealer know that this the sum total of your assets including all the change you've managed to scavenge from various dark and sticky places. Nor does he need to know that if he simply threatens to withhold product you would happily promise him anything within your power to provide, including vital organs and firstborn sons. Better to play it cool, whip out the half-a-yard airily and say something like, "Yeah, guess I'll take a fifty. I can always come back later if need be." Believe it or not, jobbers in the recreational pharma line are not bound by any code of ethics like medical doctors or knights arrant and will exploit any suspected weaknesses in their clientele in the service of amassing fat stacks. I don't know what happened to the kindly, altruistic dealers of old who weren't just in it for the money — maybe I made them up — but it's a dog-eat-dog world out there. I still had a fairly significant distance to travel and while I ain't ascairt of a little rain and would happily brave any punishment Ma Nature might dish out for the promise of little whiz-bang at the end, again, showing up drenched smacks of desperation and pathos. I can't stress enough the importance of playing it cool when buying drugs, as if it didn't matter one way or the other if you got them and if you didn't find his product satisfactory you'd be just as happy leaving and putting your money into donuts and exotic teas. They are quite aware that they possess the upper hand and characteristically do business with the smugness arising from possessing the world's most automatically salable goods. They are in the one retail venture which requires no marketing, advertising, premiums, coupons, strategy, or sales force. If you have some decent dope, all you need to do is tell one person and your stock will be immediately depleted. If you have something that is of marginally better quality than what's currently making the rounds, you can literally name your price.
To give you an idea of exactly how difficult it is to sell drugs, imagine yourself plummeting rapidly earthward from a very high point, say a jetliner at cruising altitude, in the company of another person. You have two parachutes; your companion has none. How much salesmanship is it going to require to persuade him to purchase your extra 'chute? Will you need to describe the quality of the silk, the tensile strength of the lines, or the infallibility of the ripcord? No. It's a must-have product and you're the only game in town. There is, of course, the illegality factor and the company of heavily armed, unstable people you are forced to keep in the business. That's not what kept me out of the retail end of the business, though; I could never bear to part with any of my product and would only wonder every time something went out the door: was that the hit that would have saved me from a case of the screaming meemies tomorrow?
I was making various minute tactical shifts around the narrow confines of the shelter, trying to minimize the storm's inroads into my ensemble, when I heard a merry, rhythmic jingling. I looked up the sidewalk and saw a very large, very wet dog approaching, followed by a poncho'd homeless (I assumed) gent. Homeless he may have been, but he had the wit and foresight to outfit himself in weather-appropriate gear. Great, I thought. No way are they not coming in here, and all this place is missing is stink and muddy paws and stupid conversation. And naturally the first thing that dog is going to do is—well, shit, there he goes.
The dog shook himself violently, showering me and the walls with water and mud. "Are you actually serious right now, dog?" I said. In response, he barked happily and jumped up on me, paws the size of pancakes muddying up my wool Stussy jacket. Worthless in the rain, but quite stylish.
His owner followed shortly after, peeling back the ponch hood to reveal a broad, friendly, bearded face. "Bear! Down!" he barked. "Man, I'm sorry about that. Gimme a second, I got something in here to fix you up." "Don't worry about it," I said, brushing ineffectually at my torso as he began digging into his backpack. "Nah, hell, what kind of hitchhiker would I be if I didn't know where my towel is? Though I don't do much hitchhiking with the Bear here, plus nobody trusts anybody anymore, you know — here we go." He excavated from the pack what appeared to be a clean white towel and handed it to me. I smelled it — rude, perhaps, but you never know — and deemed it acceptable.
"It's clean," he said. "Well, thanks." I cleaned and dried myself as best I could and handed back a seriously besmirched towel. "Appreciate it," I said. "No problem. They call me E-brake," he said, stretching out a hand. I shook it and said, "Interesting handle. How'd you come by it?" "Oh, I been known to bring 'er to a stop," he said. I wondered what exactly, but refrained from asking. "Hate to be the bearer of bad news, but they ain't no bus comin'. It's Sunday," E-brake informed me. "I'm aware. Just waiting out the weather." "Again, sorry to say but it's supposed to continue all afternoon. How far you got to ride?"
"Couple miles up Pudding Creek," I said. "Dope? Pussy?" "Maybe one of those," I said with an edge of suspicion. "Hang on one minute, I may be able to help you out," he said. E-brake dug back down into his pack and pulled out a clear plastic envelope containing a brand-new poncho. "Here ya go," he said. "This oughtta get you up there more or less dry." "What, are you serious? You don't have to do that, man," I said. "Nah, don't worry about it. If you see me again, give it back, and if not, just call it a blessing."
"Wow. This is just—wow. Thank you. Seriously." "No problem. Happy trails, my brother." I put the poncho on, said my goodbyes to E-brake and Bear, and straddled the old Stumpjumper. This was more like it. Being outfitted against the weather spoke to foresight and preparedness, if also a tacit admission of carelessness. Off I rode into the rain, touched beyond all proportion at the kindness of this random stranger. You just never know, I thought. You start thinking the world is populated exclusively with greedy and uncaring people and something like this happens. Almost enough to restore your faith in humanity. I hissed and sluiced my way up to Dexter the Dealer's pad up Pudding Creek Road and when I arrived, I parked my bike and draped the poncho over it. When Dexter came to the door he said, "Hey, c'mon in. You rode your bike all the way here in this shit? You shoulda just called, man, I'd'a brought it to you." D'oh!
"Ah, it's cool, I had some errands to run anyway in a storm, on a bike, on a Sunday. Next time." The lesson, of course, involved not making assumptions about either the worthlessness of street people or the avarice of drug dealers. People will surprise you, if you give them half a chance. I got to know Dexter better, found him to be quite a decent guy, and we became real friends. I never saw E-brake again, but I gave the poncho to a soaked and bedraggled chap outside the Safeway a week later, completing the circle. And when I become mayor, the bus shelters will be snug, heated affairs with piped-in music and comfortable seating.