When taking public transportation in the Bay Area I make sure I have three essential things: my Clipper card, a fat sack of patience and a sturdy pair of headphones. The last item is mandatory. Those headphones allow me to opt out of catcalls ("Lalala, I can't hear you over Robyn!"), drown out the poor lady in the seat beside me conversing with the people who exist only in her head and otherwise ignore the swamp of humanity that is taking the same route I am.
I boarded the 12-Folsom outside my office yesterday after a quick sprint. The driver pulled far, far ahead of the actual stop so that everyone waiting had to break into a run in order to avoid being left to wait another 25 minutes for a bus. Climbing aboard I saw all seats full except for one beside a little girl who was splayed across her seat and the one empty next to her. I opted to stand. That is, until the bus became so full that it was better for all involved if I took the empty seat. So, I did.
That's when the little girl looked up at me and let out a huge smile. "Hi," she said.
I said hello back. I smiled down at her but planned to keep listening to the music on my headphones. That's when she offered me her hot dog.
This sweet girl, all bangs and grins, hot dog bun stuck between each of her tiny teeth, wanted to share her food with me.
I politely declined, but pulled my headphones down around my neck.
"I'm four," she told me.
"I would have guessed five," I said, remembering how I always wanted to be older when I was a kid.
"I don't want to be five!," she insisted.
"Oh! Well. You are four now. So, live it up." She grinned her white bread grin.
"How old are you?," she wanted to know. I told her I am 35 and her eyes went wide.
"You are old!," she said in shock, and her mother shushed her then sheepishly apologized to me with her face.
Didn't matter. I was enraptured by this child.
"Where did you get that hot dog?," I asked her.
"Chinatown," she told me. When I was four I'd never been on a public bus, nor did I know what a Chinatown was.
We counted for a while. She knew what was after nine, even, getting all the way up into the double digits without a struggle.
"I take the N-Judah," this little girl said. She knew which train took her home, out by the beach, into the Sunset.
"Do you have a donkey?," she asked me, or at least I thought. She actually said doggie.
"No, but I have two cats."
"What are their names?"
"One is named Goat and one is named Gracie."
"Gracie!," she squealed, as if that was the funnier of the two names.
"Is Gracie a girl?"
"She is. Just like you, but a little hairier." This made her laugh with her whole body.
Then it was time for me to get off the bus. I waved goodbye to her and put my headphones back on.
Just a moment or two later I saw her deboard with her mom and brother in tow. The sweet little girl, still clutching half a hot dog, pointed at me, grinning wildly, and said something to her mom. I couldn't hear her over the music.