Drinking and driving, one of the dumbest, no, THE dumbest thing that I have ever done in my life. Yeah, my wife left me, so I got hammered. Hell, I could've hurt or even killed someone. It was my first offense but I took out a few cars parked in Society Hill. If I did it in my own neighborhood I would have gotten off lightly…but still…no excuse.
I did lose my job… and my license. You can't be a roving reporter without being able to drive. I was lucky to find any job at my age, so I took a job downtown at a warehouse until I could get my license back. I hadn't worked evening shift since I was a kid loading trucks for UPS. I hadn't taken the bus since I was in high school.
I remember taking the bus to Catholic High every morning. Everyone was dressed up in business attire. The pretty young girls who worked in the offices downtown were dressed to attract the attention of a potential "Catch" while serious looking businessmen hid behind their morning newspapers. "Sheesh!", I was thinking, "people used to read the newspapers back then."
Things have really changed since then. Most people riding the bus have their heads buried in their cell phones texting or gaming. Some of the passengers just stare into space or sleep. Most just keep to themselves, but there were a few characters that I used to see on a daily basis that interested me.
There were two musicians, eccentric musicians, who always shared the ride downtown. One looked like a fatter older version of Elvis, (he played piano in a lounge) and a guitarist with slicked back hair and a pencil mustache, whom everyone on the bus referred to as Rudy. I guess he looked like Rudolph Valentino to them. An old woman informed me that he was an incredible flamenco guitarist…and a little nutty!
One of the people I came to know and like was a middle aged ex-boxer that everyone knew by the name of "Socks". He was tall and muscular for a man his age; friendly, soft spoken, and a little bit "slow".
"Socks" was the pride of his Polish neighborhood sporting a pair of red and white socks like the Polish Flag. He could have been a real heavyweight contender if his greedy manager didn't move him up so quickly to make the fast buck.
Socks wasn't ready for that fight. Sure, he was talented and fast, but not mean enough to take on an ex-con who could sneak a head butt, low blow or some other dirty trick he picked up on the streets. It didn't matter that Socks wasn't ready…all that his manager needed was a "white boy".
The fight was bloody, and Socks took a beating but refused to quit. His manager realizing that his fighter was getting killed was ready to throw in the towel. Socks let pride get in the way of reason and was too proud to stay in his corner. It was the head butt that wobbled him, but it was a vicious left hook that knocked him onto the canvas.
No one thought that he would make it. Socks was in a coma for what seemed to be an eternity. His poor widowed mother spoke little English, but her eyes revealed the anguish that she endured. Socks recovered, but he was never the same.
The Knockout Game
It was quiet on the way home each night. The regulars were sitting in a small cluster in the front of the bus quietly nodding off. Elvis was the most talkative of our little group.
"He knows everything there is to know about Dinosaurs. Right Socks?"
"Not everything Elvis, but someday I want to be one of those dinosaur scientists", he replied.
"Rudy" added: " They call 'em Palytologists."
"Paleontologists…thank you…very much", "Elvis" corrected him.
"Yep, someday I'm going out to the desert and find a Tyrannosaurus skeleton and quit my job…you can get a lot of money for one of them." Socks stuck his head back into his comic book. He was reading about…what else?...dinosaurs.
Shirley, our bus driver watched over us like a mother hen. She gave us advice that was often disregarded even if it was appreciated. One night she warned us to be careful.
"Listen up", she said with a stern stare in the rear view mirror, "Thars some little thugs goin' roun' punching people for no reason. Cops can't catch 'em because they sneaky and evil. I want all you folks to keep an eye out fo' them. They walk up and jus' knock you out with a punch. They think they bein' funny callin' it a "knockout" game."
Rudy made the mistake of talking too soon after the warning.
"Didya here what I said?", she barked.
"Yes ma'am!" he laughed.
Shirley gave a self satisfied grin and announced: "Okay now, you've been warned!" She turned the bus onto the expressway leaving the city for the way home. The warning was quickly forgotten and the conversations turned once again to more pleasant subjects.
It didn't make it on the news, but it was big news to us when Rudy stepped onto the bus one night after work sporting an ugly black eye.
"What the hell happened to you?" Elvis bellowed.
"Mmm Mmm… I told you so Rudy" Shirley chimed in. "You can't trust nobody no more these days."
Rudy was embarrassed and angry. "I didn't even see anyone. Somebody grabbed my quitar. I held onto it and somebody punched me from behind. Thank God that somebody seen it and yelled. I think they might have killed me for my guitar!"
"Honey, they kill you fo' a nickel these days", Shirley responded as she turned the bus around the corner.
"I'm getting a gun!" someone shouted. "Shoot one of 'em and the others scatter like rats!", shouted another rider. The conversations buzzed about how to prepare against these vicious attackers. Socks quietly read his comic book about dinosaur hunters.
Socks is on the News!
"Anyone seen Socks lately?" Annie the waitress asked.
"Honey, he's been all over the News. Doncha' watch TV?" Shirley yelled back.
Rudy's "incident" never made the news, but Socks had a bit of notoriety in Philly and the Press was quick to pounce on the story.
Socks was coming home one night after cleaning and closing up the nightclub where he worked. There are a couple of dimly lit streets that he had to pass on his way to the bus stop.
The thugs were out late that night…Hell…who am I kidding? They are out late every night. They don't go to school or work in the morning.
Rudy was quick to tell Annie what happened that night: " Socks was comin' home from work when he got surrounded by a buncha' punks like the ones that got me. You know Socks. He was probably not payin' attention and readin' his dinosaur books. Well, one of them tried to knock out Ol' Socks with a punch but only glanced him. Well, you all saw those big hams that Socks has for hands. He turned 'round real quick like a good boxer and punched that kid. He hit him so hard that he flew up in the air a bit and then came down and smashed his head on the pavement…killed him…yep, the other punks scattered like rats!"
"His momma never knew where her baby was…but now she know", Shirley moralized. "She know where he is now…she can visit him at the cemetery!"
There was a muffled cheering on the bus. This time the good guy won, but I could only think about Socks. There were no charges brought against Socks. We never saw him again. Somebody told me that Socks started to drink. It seems that the "incident" affected him so much that he lost his job. I hope he doesn't drink… and drive.