Tuesday, June 24, 2008

A chat on the bus

I met a a fellow named Robert on the bus yesterday. He settled into the seat in front of me and, ten minutes into our conversation, mentioned that he is a bartender. That didn’t surprise me; he had an easy way of talking to a stranger, a nice smile and an opinion on almost everything. Most of them I could live with and some of them I liked.

Had I read the recent newspaper stories about how more people are riding the bus? I have.

“It’s not news to me,” Robert said. “I go everywhere by bus, and since I hit sixty-five, it only costs me five dollars and fifty cents a month. It might as well be free.”

He tapped the seat-back between us for emphasis.

“I’ve lived in Seattle since 1990 and I sold my car right after I moved here, I figure between monthly payments, insurance, gasoline and repairs, I save seven hundred, eight hundred dollars a month, and if I need a car, I rent one for a day or two. If everybody did that, gas prices wouldn't scare us so much.”

Had I been following the trial results in the City of Seattle’s suit against the Professional Basketball Club, a group of Oklahoma City businessmen who bought the Sonics basketball team last year and want to move them to Oklahoma? I have.

Robert rolled his eyes and chuckled.

“It’s been a real circus,” he said. “All the finger-pointing and the name-calling, on both sides. I don’t believe the way some of these rich guys act. I guess my Uncle Cecil was right. No amount of money will buy class or style.”

I told him Uncle Cecil and my grandfather would have gotten along. Both sides in the dispute have been offering into evidence reams of damaging memos and e-mails written by the other side. Grandpa always told me never to write down anything I wouldn’t want everyone to read.

Robert nodded and wanted to know if I agreed that it is a shame the way older Americans are shuttled aside, as if we are no longer of use. I do.

“It’s not just for folks like you and me,” Robert said. “How many men do we have now who have been president and just sitting around, twiddling their thumbs?”

Three,” he said, answering his own question. He ticked them off on his fingers. “Clinton, Bush Senior and Jimmy Carter.”

“Why don’t we have a council of past presidents?” Robert asked. “Like a brain trust; they could meet with the current president three, maybe four times a year. With everything they know, all they’ve been through, it would be a chance to pick their brains.”

The bus slowed and pulled over to a stop; Robert stood.

“This is where I get off,” he said. “It’s been fun.”

I agreed and told him I really liked his idea for the ex-presidents’ council; he nodded.

“Yeah,” he said, as he headed for the exit. “Even if they only got together a couple times of year for a cook-out at Camp David, it couldn’t hurt.”