I was on my favorite bus ride to downtown Chicago on the Saturday before the Gay Pride parade. Two young men got on. One of them asked the bus driver how to pay their fares while holding up a twenty-dollar bill. I shouted, “No, no. Do not use the twenty-dollar bill. You will not get change.” A woman seated a couple of rows behind me chimed in with: “Don’t y’all put that twenty in the box. It ain’t gonna give you no change.” I pulled out my extra Ventra card and yelled to the young men while waving the card toward them, “Here, use this.” The man with the twenty came over to me and took the card while I told him a couple of times to be sure to return the card to me after using it. The man returned to the front of the bus, and the driver gave the man very loud instructions on how to use the card. Both of the men spoke with an accent, and one of them wore clothing from another country. The driver seemed to think the men could only understand him if he spoke very loudly to them.
After paying their fare, the men asked the driver for directions to Navy Pier. The driver told them several times and very loudly that they should get off at Illinois Street and that they needed to pull the cord for the stop. The woman in back of me yelled, “It’s gonna be a while before reachin’ Illinois.”
The man brought my card back to me, and the two men sat down across from me. I observed them drinking from the same bottle of coke and made a knee-jerk analysis that they were either relatives or a couple. The two men and I chatted back and forth with the woman behind me inserting her “Um hums” into the conversation. The men said they had driven to Chicago but decided not to drive to Navy Pier because they feared getting lost as well as the expense of parking. “I know that’s right,” the woman said, “Y’all make sure you get change for your trip back, too. It cost $2.50 each.”
To satisfy my nosiness, I asked them where they had driven from (I know, a dangling preposition). “Iowa,” was their reply. I mentioned that I had lived in Iowa a long time ago and then asked them how long they were visiting Chicago. “Just for the weekend.” They then asked if they could take a selfie with me. “Sure,” I answered. So they came across the aisle and took a selfie. Three musketeers were we.
When we were almost to Illinois Street, I pulled the cord, reached across the aisle and touched the nearest man to let them know that we were close to their Illinois stop. “Did you pull the rope,” they asked. “Yes, I did.” They thanked me, said goodbye and went to the front of the bus. At the Illinois stop, the driver loudly pointed out the To-Navy-Pier sign on the arch over the stairs that go down to the Navy Pier route. They thanked the driver, shook his hand and got off. The woman said, “Ain’t that something, shaking the driver’s hand.”
Later that night I learned via television that Navy Pier was having Gay Pride events. So…maybe my knee-jerk analysis about them possibly being a couple was right Like it really mattered. The men’s presence had fostered a communal bus ride.