Wherein the author tells you a few things. (Yeah, I know… for a change!)
By Mike Smith
I saw a blind man running today.
I’ve mentioned that I see amazing things while driving my bus; if I was keeping track, which I’m not, because I’m not very good at keeping track of things, I would have to say that of all the places around the Seattle area that I travel, the International District has the most entertainment value.
It probably doesn’t hurt that it has so many cultures represented. It probably also doesn’t hurt that it has, by my estimation, over a dozen cheap bars.
By cheap I mean a couple of things: One, there are bars in the ID—that’s Metro speak for International District—that serve drinks for less than $5.00. Two, there are bars that serve drinks with more alcohol than you might expect. They are “enhanced.” These are the bars that cater to the fall-down-drunks. They sort of stumble out the door early and they are out of the way early in the evening making way for the full-timers.
There is one of these Type Twos right across the street from the bus zone. Many riotous things happen here.
I have always found it odd that a cheap bar that has as colorful a clientele as the ID offers is on one of the busiest corners in Seattle. The sidewalks are crumbling, the streets don’t drain, and they are packed with Metro (wired and diesel driven), Greyhound (Bolt busses), the local free APS, bikes that dodge and parry their way through anything that looks like a break in the traffic–and any cars that have figured out the HOV lanes from I-9–all spill through Fifth and S. Jackson all day, every day. Mix in the crowds for Sounders, Mariners, and Seahawks games days and you have a powder keg of human combustible material. Made more so by the introduction of cheap and abundant alcohol. I hope I have made it sound interesting. I’m working on my descriptive narratives.
You see, there is another component to add to the moving parts of the International District. Tourists!! I’ve noticed that many people make the ID an important destination in their vacation plans. Imagine driving a sixty-foot-long bus through all of the above mentioned humanity with the added non-variable of someone standing in the street taking a picture of this:
China Town, as it is also called (according to their web site, and who doesn’t have one?), the dependably hyphenated, “International District-China town.” There may be some political posturing going on in the soft underbelly of the ID because this site: http://cidbia.org/ Refers to itself as the Chinatown-International District. Both middle named hyphen of course. But top billing appears to be at stake. Others (City of Seattle) refer to the area as simply the International District, no hyphen. Locals and long term residents like me have always known it as “China Town.” One thing about Seattle, local constituencies get equal billing, everyone gets a nod.
China Town remains as active and largely entertaining as any group of people who are not feeling self-conscious. Lots of human activity for watchers of human activity. It is the perfect place to set up shop as a photographer. It would be easy to get candid shots of people who are oblivious to being filmed. Most of the time the introduction of a camera changes things. There is no longer a candid setting. Everyone is posing. But not here. All are too drunk or, to use a common parlance, they are doing what they do.
There is some major gentrification happening, though. Two major building projects are taking place on 5th between Jefferson St. and King Streets. It looks like an old hotel is being refurbished or repurposed. And some residential units are going in. Don’t be afraid of gentrification. It has become an evil sounding word. But in this case, two landmarks are being rebuilt to avoid their falling on someone.
All in all, a high capacity for interesting observation.
So one day I’m in my bus and I’m speeding through at my normal 10 miles per hour or less. Just as I reach the corner of King street and 5th, a very old Chinese lady, the size of a loaf of bread, decides it’s time to cross. She is very old. She moves very slowly. So slow that I think they were planning to celebrate another birthday for her before she got to the other side. Ahead of her were two young Chinese guys who were talking and enjoying each other’s’ company. As they arrive at the other side of the street, they look at my bus, our sweet old woman still just a few feet from her starting point, then each other. As one, they turn back and run across the street. Each grabs one arm of the elderly lady and as though she were a feather, they pick her up and walk her across the street. Her feet of course were suspended about 3 inches above the ground. They gently set her down on the west side of the street and continued on their way. One of the cutest things I’ve ever seen.
But today I saw a blind man run. Same location and I was scanning for runners who might need my bus. Out of the corner of my eye I catch a rapid movement. Thinking to see a rider in a hurry I see what looks at first glance a homeless guy. Full beard, dirty jeans and tennis shoes two sizes too large. But of course he is blind and fashion is not his top priority—his appointment is, apparently—because he is running at full speed.
On prolonged gaze I notice he has a long stick like blind people use. Confusingly called a “blind stick.” His is unusually long. It was nice to see a man who could not see running as though he could. I decide to wait in case he needs me. But just before he gets to the bus, he takes a turn with full confidence and dashes for parts unknown. I thought him quite brave. I guess you can get used to anything. His longer-than-normal stick was no doubt his “running” stick. The normal blind stick is too short to do much good while moving at a rapid rate. You need the extra length for the increased reaction time. I couldn’t find a picture of the extra-long blind stick, so I am posting this composite picture: blind stick-man.
Not quite the same, but a running blind man? You don’t expect to see that either!
If your life is dull, try driving a bus for a living. Metro is hiring!