I reach my stop on 6th street at 9:56 AM via escalator from the skyway on day 3 of the monsoon. (You are correct…I did not make the 9:45) Through the winter months, I would often wait inside this exit-only shelter with a dozen or more others. I am guessing it is roughly 15ft x 8ft, and perhaps was an entrance as well as an exit in past decades. There is an obsolete elevator on the east end of the room, and large windows and glass exit doors facing the street. In the frigid months, it is an ideal place to stay warm while we watch for respective buses. Some sit on the dirty, ceramic tiled ledge along the back wall or the descending steps from the back entrance, but most of us stand. We become a revolving, civilized tribe for 20 minutes at a time. Typically, we mind our own business and pass the time in silence. For the most part, we focus our gaze southeast, across the street toward the Allegra Print and Imaging building on the corner of 6th and Minnesota. The large windows reflect the traffic at the intersection. We lean in when we see a bus approaching to identify it, and then exit in batches when our number comes up. I discovered this transient community on a bitter cold day in January while standing outside waiting for the bus. With each arrival, I observed one or two people coming out of a mysterious door with darkened glass. The next day I found my way across the sky bridge over 6th street to the escalators leading to this place. Perhaps 4-6 people occupied the room when I arrived. I took a leaning space against the wall adjacent to the exit. In the first few moments, a gloveless man appears out front and taps on the door with the back of his hand. I look his way, but stand ignorantly. He taps again. A young woman takes a few steps toward the door from my far left, gives me a quick nod as if to say, “watch and learn.” She pushed the door open to let the shivering man inside. Lesson learned. In the space of 10 minutes, there may be a complete turnover of residents. Two exit, one enters…four exit, two enter, and so on.
We are an orderly and peaceful tribe, but on occasion, our space is invaded by an unsociable. I am not talking about the lady who begs for bus money or the kid offering his last rumpled dollar to buy a cigarette. I am talking about the kind of person who, upon entering a room, brings chaos. The kind of person who poisons the air with every uttered word, vexes the spirit and damns the innocent with each piercing glance. In this particular case, I am remembering a large, loud, 30-something white woman who burst through the back door in the midst of a tirade. She was berating a short Hispanic man following close behind. This slouchy little hoodie-wearing kid with baggy pants and a wispy mustache was taking his tongue-lashing like a deaf man. Her voice was jarring and unpleasant. Her manner of speaking was a perverse melding of ghetto-white-trash and King James English. The little guy was holding a cigarette in his fingers as he came down the steps, and doing his best to dodge her and get out the door. She made his escape difficult by standing in the way. “What now? You gonna go out and defile yo body some more? Go ‘head, then! Defile your temple, see what I care!” He ducks and runs. Lighting up before the door closes behind him. She stands directly inside of the door, pointing and shaking her head at him, “Ignorant fool!” She looks around the room to size us up. Disappointed, she rolls her eyes in disgust. Of course, another fool gives a tap on the door. The signal all of us recognize. The request my tribe honors. Knock and you shall find shelter from the cold. The Invader does not care that we adhere to a code of conduct. “Oh no! Huh, uh. This is an exit, fool. Yer not comin’ in you Jezebel! I know your heart, it’s…” A young man interrupts her rant and slides his arm in front of the Invader, pushing the door open for a girl. The girl moves past the human obstacle, unaware of the drama she walked into. “What? No way!” The Invader gasps and shakes her head in disbelief.
I am stupid enough to try explaining our rule to the Invader. The rule that, thus far, goes without saying. “Uhh…whoever is standing nearest the door has to let people in.” She drops her jaw and fixes her eyes on me. I can feel the tribe’s eyes on the both of us. “It’s just what we do.” I shrug my shoulders. The Invader argues, “No way am I gonna open this door up for every fool who comes a knockin’!” Everyone is looking to me. I am the reluctant leader for four more minutes. Something wise…I have to say something wise and definitive. I give her an ultimatum. “If you don’t want to open the door for anyone, go stand over there.” I point to the far wall with the obsolete elevator.
To my amazement, she walks over to the wall in a huff. Some in the tribe look up from their cell phones to give me a quick smile. With her eyes, the Invader follows those passing by the window, putting random and nonsensical curses on all of the unsuspecting godless degenerates.
Today is quite uneventful by comparison. Only one occupant when I got here… the young woman with ear buds and a terrible voice. I subject myself to this for a minute, and then let some fool in as I exit. Leaning against the concrete building with eyes closed, I listen to the rhythm of the rain on my umbrella until 10 AM sharp.