Essays: On The Road And A Little Off


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Guest Writer Brian Curry

Seattle, Washington

Dear Panama:

The workday was over for most people who start their
day in the early hours. I was still at my desk making
phone calls, contacting people, writing checks,
requesting police reports and rubbing my temples with
fingertips to massage the weariness and headache away.
Slowly I began to realize that I was not gaining any
ground nor moving my pile of work forward.

After writing the same denial letter three times
misspelling the addressee I decided it was time to head
home. Thirteen hours in the same chair made me dull.
Ending my day at the office with my signature
declaration, "Done enough damage for one day", I shut
down the computer, turned off the desk light, put on my
jacket and headed down the elevator.

If I could walk fast enough, I would be able to catch
the 6:38 route 28 articulated cattle-car bus home.
Biomechanically speaking, running would have been easier
than the fast-paced striding walk I took to the Broad
Street underpass and up the stairs on the other end. I glanced
at my watch. Six thirty-three.

I made it to my bus stop with five minutes to spare. I
was covered in sweat and now that I wasn't walking
anymore the wind was chilling me. It was also blowing
sand and dirt and debris from the highway into my face
and eyes. Passing cars and trucks lifted the grit off
the road and the wind caught the grit and carried it,
buffeting me as I stood on the sidewalk searching for a
bus with the number 28 on it.

A female stranger and I were the only commuters waiting
at the stop. I gave her some distance, some space, as a
gentlemanly gesture; I didn't want her to feel
threatened by my presence. She stood very near the bus
stop sign and I stood eight feet back. I spotted the 28
approaching. I stepped forward to the very edge of the

The bus flashed its right signal to change lanes to the
curb lane, slowing down; I could hear the diesel engine
compression popping as the driver backed off the
accelerator. Puppa-puppa-puppa-puppa. Then to my chagrin
the left turn signal started flashing as the bus changed
lanes to the left and sped away leaving me gape-mouthed
watching the tail lights disappear up the grade toward
the Aurora Bridge.

Disheartened, I walked up to the woman and asked:
"didn't it look like the bus was going to stop? What
happened?" She turned and looked at me and said, "Oh,
did you want that bus? I waved it on. I'm sorry".

The next route 28 bus would not come by for another
hour. It was dark now, and cold. I wanted to strangle the woman
who had waved my bus on. I feared if I stood near her
for any length of time my blood might reach a slow boil
and I would do something regretable. There was a charge
of animosity between us. I decided to walk to another
bus stop and take an alternate route home.

I readjusted my backpack and walked back down the stairs
to Broad Street. At the bottom of the stairs, tight up
against the corner stood a man in a camouflage surplus
army jacket and wool watch cap urinating against the
concrete. I continued heading west, walking slowly
toward the Puget Sound where the air smelled of salt and
rotting seaweed. I recalled the used condoms we laughed
at when we were school kids on field trips that we
spotted floated in Elliott Bay when the tide came in.

On First Avenue and Denny Way I caught the first route
15 bus. I didn't have to wait more than three minutes
for it. When the bus opened its doors for me I stepped
up into the back door and it shut on me wrenching my
already aching shoulder. I have been meaning to see my
doctor about my shoulder for at least the last seven
months. I have self-diagnosed my problem as rotator cuff
tear, bursitis, and frozen shoulder syndrome. But I have
not sought any professional help and it hurts like the
devil to put a shirt on or take a coat off. I can't
raise my left arm overhead and now the dull throb that I
have learned to ignore was a shooting pain.

I don't know whether the bus driver didn't see me get in
the back door or what. I wasn't sure if maybe I was in
the wrong for climbing in the back door. I had an
awareness that bus rules do change after dark. Instead
of confronting the driver I sat down and kept my mouth
shut. I wondered why my day was winding down with such

As the bus made its trip north and crossed the ship
canal over the Ballard Bridge I saw the inviting neon
lights of Mike's Chili Parlor and Beer Emporium. I
should have stayed on the bus until I was safely home.
Instead, when the bus stopped at Leary Way to let a
white-bearded fellow with tobacco stains down his chin
off, I decided a pint of Rainier Beer might be just the
elixir I needed and followed the old fellow down the
steps of the bus and onto the hard cement sidewalk.

All was well and fuzzy and peaceful draining glasses of
beer and telling tall tales over the top of each other
so that everybody was talking and few were listening. We
all have important information to share at the table of
wisdom. Once in a while a compatriot will actually hold
the floor and all ears will be open to the speaker, but
it can take a declaration of "listen-up" to get the
desired respect and attention of the table. Talk ranges
from submarine warship worship to paragliding and
furnace installation. Each grown man has a story to tell
or an old good joke to share. All is not well with the
world outside of the table of wisdom, but it could be,
if only the outside world could hear the answers to
mankind's problems that are solved at the table.

This night would develop differently from the normal
night at Mikes when a biker gang rolled up out front and
leaned their bikes against the building. Mikes is the
kind of place where you can keep your coat on when you
are inside. In fact it's a good idea to keep your coat
on at Mikes. They don 't waste money on heating oil at
Mikes. The floor is 1960's linoleum. The bar wood is
1920's tight grain red Douglas fir beneath a thick wavy
layer of 1970 's fiberglass resin coating the soft wood
and bringing out the grain like clear Karo syrup. Draft
beer is wet and cold, and cheap. The way I like beer. I
rarely see my best friends anymore. My new best friends
are the friends I drink beer with at Mikes.

The tattooed bikers and their women and pet crows came
in and altered the ambience. I detected an electric
charge. This is what it must have been like when the
boisterous Vikings invaded Ireland. It was getting late.
I had to get home and get some shut eye or suffer the
consequences of dry throat, throbbing head and confusion
at work tomorrow. But how could I leave just when things
were starting to get interesting?

I overstayed, drank more beer and must have made a
nuisance of myself, though nobody has brought it up yet.
I could no longer selectively hear one person; the
conversations were all a jumble of incoherent babbling.
I might hear a sentence to the left of me or part of one
to the right or maybe just laughter and hiccups:
".And then she threw me out of the house".
".You do and you will clean it up"
"if I told you once I told you a thousand times don't
never exaggerate ".

None of the words filtering down to my brain seemed
connected to any other words. I drained my glass and
realized I was truly happy. My shoulder no longer
bothered me. I felt no stress, only the comfort of a
beer buzz in the cocoon of my favorite hangout. The hell
with tomorrow.


I awoke wet. I was cold. My ear was full of damp sand.
The night was surrendering slowly to the new morning. It
was still pretty much dark. I could see a train
headlight on the railroad tracks up above the beach I
lay on and below the treed bluff where the crows must
hide during the day. Crows were eyeing me now. I wasn't
sure if the crows were adopting me into their murder or
if they were only waiting for my soul to escape the
restraints of flesh and bone so they could have first
dibs on the fleshy parts.

I didn't really care if they pecked my bones clean. I
wasn't about to get up and go home and shower and shave
and dress and head back to work to make enough money to
spend on enough beer to help me forget the misery of
earning a living.

I dropped my head back down onto the sand as the train
rumbled past and shook the ground and I dreamed of big
red wagons, and bicycles and the circus coming to town.

Brian Curry

(Editor's Note: Mr Curry's email address is