I have a very unlikely casual friendship that's been blooming for over a year now. Clarence is an old man who takes the same bus as me every weekday morning. I wish I had a photo of him to put here but it's weird to take pictures of people you don't know very well. So I don't. Instead here's a statue with veiny hands, because that's not insulting at all to old people.
Clarence and I started talking last summer because he whistled at a dog that was being walked past the bus stop and it looked at him with a comically tilted head. We both had a laugh and he told me he likes to play tricks on dog owners, because the dogs will always come over to him when he whistles, and he thinks it's funny when the owners don't know what's happening.
Anyway Clarence is very old and walks very slowly with a cane, so he actually has to take a bus to get to our shared stop to go downtown. I walk past him as he sits on the bench waiting for the first bus, and we meet up at approximately the same time at the other end. And nearly every time I see him he pretends to trip me with his cane which I actually think is hilarious.
The other day I was running a bit late and he waved me down as I tried to rush past. I stopped, took out my earbuds and said hello.
"My bus is coming." He said, gesturing behind me.
"Oh yeah." I replied. I am terrible at small talk by the way. I looked up at the clock tower on top of the fire station. I was really late and it is much faster to get a ride. "I'm going to take it today too."
"You better, you're late!"
The bus pulled up. He told me to go on first and find a good seat, and that he'd catch up. The ride was quick. We got off near the other stop.
"Have a good day today!" He said to the driver. I was fully expecting to walk slowly with him the half block to the next stop. I hate to admit I usually feel awkward and uncomfortable around older people, but for some reason I always want to chat with Clarence about the weather or whatever.
Anyway he told me to go on ahead, if he misses his bus another one will come along shortly. And I did because, like I already said, I was late.
He ended up catching up to me before the bus came, so we stood together and shot the breeze. Clarence told me he walks so slowly because he's ninety four years old. Which I could not believe.
I actually said "No you are not ninety four."
"Yes I am."
"No you're not."
Finally he convinced me. I don't know if this is super ageist of me but I'm shocked at how coherent and spry he is. I honestly don't even know anybody else over the age of seventy*, so I suppose I'm just making sweeping generalizations about older people's health based on ... what? Television?
We did have a fairly unhealthy looking overweight man in his seventies come in a few times to get tattooed at the shop. Um...haven't seen him in a while. Although he was a bit of a creep and called me "the girl".
A lady walked past us and Clarence chatted her up. She must have been somewhere around his age as well. I checked instagram. (Thanks, free downtown wifi!) After she left he told me he's known her for eight years at this bus stop and she's very good at getting out and exercising.
From a previous conversation I knew that he takes the bus to the same stop I get off, and he goes to the McDonald's for a coffee. So, as I am terrible with small talk I latched onto this tidbit of information and asked him if he goes to meet his friends there.
C: Sometimes. (looking off into the distance)
me: Oh yeah.
C: You know, about two years ago there were ten or fifteen of us there every day. They were all about my age. Now I'm the only one left. So I just go and have a nice coffee every morning.
FUCK WHY DID I ASK HIM ABOUT HIS FRIENDS? That's the saddest thing I've ever heard.
C: Hm, I get stiff when I stand too long. I have to move about. (starts DANCING around!)
C: You've got a nice smile.
me: Oh, thank you.
C: I like to make people laugh. You only live once you know. (That's right, he YOLO'd me haha)
C: I like to keep smiling and have fun and I think you do too.
me: I try!
C: You know, I look forward to seeing you every day.
me: Me too! (laughs as he mimes pretending to trip me) That's my favorite.
C: Some people call me grandpa and I quite like that. They will introduce me as grandpa and people will say 'but you're not related'. You should call me grandpa too.
me: Okay, I will!
C: Next time you see me you say "Good morning, grandpa!"
me: I will.
The bus pulled up.
C: You go on and find the best seat. (HE'S SUCH A GRANDPA AWWW)
me: I like sitting upstairs because there are no screaming babies.
C: Alright then, I will see you later.
I sat up there and thought about the reality of being a ninety four year old man in relatively good health, and watching literally all of your friends die within a two year span. After a while it would just start to feel like old news. You'd really have to be okay with your own mortality after being confronted with so much reality.
He still gets out, I'm assuming five days a week, doing the exact same thing every day. What's his family like? His kids must be in their 70s, his grandkids are maybe in their 50s. He looks forward to saying "hello" to me from his bus stop. The least I can do is call him grandpa the next time I see him.
I should keep in better touch with my grandparents.
* I just remembered my grandma had her 70th birthday a couple years ago so yes I actually do know another person over 70.