The One California pulled away to cross Presidio towards the Embarcadero as we settled into our seats and took the measure of our neighbors. I was in the last row beside the window, a vacant seat away from a younger, smaller man. A vacant seat past him sat a middle-aged woman. Asian riders dominated.
Across the aisle a woman with severe bangs faced backwards. Age spots belied the bangs and her timid cheerful smile. On this side sat a girl with long black hair. Between us in one of two forward-facing seats a young man wore a gray watch cap and white ear buds.
Conversations buzzed but did not attract particular attention. Passing sights beneath the overcast sky measured our progress. An old man boarded wearing a brown jacket and white cap with corporate logo. Eyes within his jowly face conveyed energetic curiosity. He sat beside Watch Cap.
More riders boarded, the last having to stand, including a blonde in blue hospital scrubs and sneakers. Her employee pass read “Parby, G.” Old Man caught her eye then rose into a crouch, twisting back as if to move to my row. He stopped and looked to Parby who turned away.
When the gallant stood anyway and she took his seat the middle-aged woman let loose a volley of Chinese. Monosyllables rolled through the bus, twisting, turning accusations that ended in English: “Molest me.” Her rant did not dislodge anyone. Smiling Woman retained her smile. Girl tried not to look. Watch Cap took out a bud and said, “You should have these.” Parby nodded.
Old Man confirmed himself the target, directing a torrent of Chinese back at Angry Woman, his words a toothless bark with English of his own: “Sexual harassment.” I did not comprehend. Her rant was continuous. He let off then began again: “You don’t know. I have a million dollars in the bank.” Heads turned.
“Why don’t you take a taxi then!”
Old Man, standing near the middle exit, produced a wallet and extracted ten and twenty. He waved them. “You don’t know.”
They traded words as the One snaked across the hills: climbing to Lafayette Park, turning onto Clay, descending to Van Ness, climbing Russian Hill then dipping down to Chinatown.
Old Man kept his distance as Angry Woman got off at Stockton, still spewing heated words, at which point the younger, smaller man extended his middle finger and stabbed in Parby’s direction. The gesture attracted eyes. She noticed and leapt up to stand by the middle exit. Then at Grant, the rest got off: Old Man, Smiling Woman, the Girl, Watch Cap and Gesturing Man. Parby took a seat in peace, while I was like the audience in a theatre where the curtain had dropped. I got off the end of the line.