By Wesley Kerrick–
I saw it on the bus. A white man volunteered his seat to a young African American woman. Elsewhere on the TARC, white people and black people were sitting side by side. We’ve come a long way since 1955, when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat in Montgomery. Even so, society is far from fixed. We’re not living in a Utopian world of total social equality, in which everybody is everybody’s friend. We’ve still got our classes and groups who don’t see much need to mesh. I see that, too, on the bus.
To get to my apartment, I ride a bus from the Belknap campus to downtown, and then another bus out to Prospect.
In the afternoon, I’m waiting on 4th Street by Triangle Park. At last TARC #4 emerges from under the trestle and stops to let me on. It’s about two-thirds full, and most everyone is black. Since I’m white, I feel a little out of place, but that’s OK. Everybody looks tired— worn out from work, from life. They’re hunched over lunchboxes, leaning against the sides of the bus; some are talking on their phones, some staring out the window. There’s an unkempt lady with some battered duffle bags. A weary grandma with her rambunctious granddaughter. A lady with three bulging sacks from Kroger. A couple of guys in hoodies and baggy jeans. There’s a whiff of cigarette smoke in the air. I feel the urge to encourage, but it’s so somber, so muffled on this bus. I don’t want to make a scene.
Fifteen minutes later, I’m getting off on 5th Street at Jefferson. This is downtown, where the down-and-out rub shoulders with the well-to-do, but never look each other in the eye. There’s a weathered woman sitting in the shelter of the bus stop, puffing on a cigarette. She says nothing, but as I lean against the shelter on the other side, I can almost feel her weariness. To her, waiting for the TARC is boring. Louisville is boring. The streets are drab and somber; the office buildings loom in condemnation.
At 5 p.m., people in sleek business suits emerge from the office buildings like someone opened a ubiquitous gate. They stride across the streets deliberately. Soon they line the face of the building behind me, bundled in their peacoats and scarves. They stand in groups of two or three, looking at each other, looking occasionally down the street, watching casually, confidently, for their respective busses. Two of these people are waiting for the same bus I am, but they don’t talk to me; they pretend not to notice I’m there.
At 5:13, I’m on TARC #68, Prospect-bound. The two business people have boarded as well and settled into their regular seats. At the next stop, a serious-faced lady gets on and, sitting next to me, pulls a book from her purse and proceeds to lock her stare into the book. We stop again, and more people get on. They all know each other.
“Oh hi, how was your day?” They say it with gusto, as if they were saying, “Good morning.” Their clothes are still clean; their shoes still shine.
“Come sit back here! Tell me about this project you’re working on.” The lively banter keeps on rolling. Their voices are clear. Their pronunciation perfect.
At the last stop before the interstate, we pick up a couple doctors. Soon I’m surrounded by conversations about vacation plans, business proposals and medical research. The bus is about three-fourths full, and almost all of us are white. There’s a trace of cologne. I want to join the conversation, but they’re so proper, so educated. I don’t want to upset the ambiance.
When we arrive in Prospect, I get off the bus. And I wonder.
Photo courtesy of louisvillecan.org