Alaska: July 2

Yesterday I rode People Mover Bus #3 in Anchorage. I was trying to get to REI to get some gear for our upcoming backpacking trip and ended up taking one of the weirdest bus journeys of my life. But, as much fun as it would be to lament the journey’s absurdity, I won't. The long and short of it is this: The bus was very late; the driver nearly hit three people within the first five minutes; the riders were absolutely kooky; and a journey that should have taken 30 minutes took about 75. I suppose if I rode public transportation on a regular basis, I may discover that none of that is very odd at all.

However, there was one thing -- one couple -- that really struck me.

The couple boarded the bus somewhere around the corner of Benson and Spenard. The woman, who looked about 40 but moved like she was 80, winced with each step she took. Her legs were bones wearing jeans and seemed unable to carry even the rest of her skin-on-skeleton weight. Her eyes were sunk deep in their sockets; her skin was blotched with open sores; her teeth seemed extra large as they protruded from her tight lips. She made me think about all those horrifying ads warning against meth use.

The man who accompanied her barely paid for their tickets with nickels, dimes, and maybe a few quarters. They were headed toward the hospital. This made me feel sorry for them – for a while, at least.

They sat down in the handicapped seats just up from where I sat. The man wore chin length salt-and-pepper hair that hung in greasy strands shoved behind his ears. His mustache and goatee, however, were neatly trimmed. His dark eyes seemed to look more inward than outward. He carried a large can of Rockstar energy drink in one hand and used the other hand to make sure whatever was tucked inside his brown sports jacket stayed there. It looked like a can of bear spray, or maybe a gun.

For a while, the woman curled her frail body against his chest. She smiled like a small girl when he wrapped his arm around her back and nearly purred when he stroked his fingers through her matted hair. I found myself thinking it a tender display of love between two broken and hurting people. And perhaps it was, but I became less sure when I caught both their eyes.

The woman nearly recoiled when my glance met hers. It was one of those haunting looks that I will remember for years to come. It was both broken like a beaten puppy and menacing like a cat guarding its kill. The man’s eyes were defensive and shifty, flashing between tender protection and jealous control in one glance.

Within a couple minutes, the couple was making out like two teenagers who have just discovered that other people have bodies. Her legs wrapped around his. He rubbed her arms, her back, her chest. She smelled his neck, and he licked her ear. They kissed. She became surprisingly agile until it came time to get off the bus, and then she became 80 again.

At some point during the make out session, the man got in trouble for drinking his Rockstar and was told to throw it away. He crushed the can angrily and tossed it in the garbage. When they dismounted at the hospital, the woman barely shuffling down the aisle, he hooked her arm around a pole at the bus stop and dashed back onto the bus. There, he grabbed his can from the garbage, took a big swig in view of the driver’s mirror, and hopped off triumphantly. As we pulled away, the man wrapped the woman into his coat and crushed the can beneath his foot.

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