An orange hued, hazy sunrise presides over another summery, muggy day in the bustling metropolis of Upland… bakes the pavement and skyscrapers… slow simmers the pungent blend of vehicular exhaust and fast food fumes.
There’s the general hubbub of humanity… the multitudes milling about… the engines, horns, sirens and jackhammers are all in play. Each component acts as an individual instrument in the soundtrack of city life.
The rat race begins, anew, as two men, in walking run mode, approach from opposite directions… a near photo finish as they bookend themselves onto the weatherworn bus stop bench and set down their Styrofoam coffee cups.
Paper napkins serve as makeshift mops to sop up perspiration from their brows. Upon catching their breath, they exchange perfunctory, good morning pleasantries. Their rush had been needless for, once more, the poorly funded, public transit system is punctually running late.
“Looks like another scorcher brewing… almost too hot to be drinking coffee. But I’m not about to give up my caffeine buzz,” sighs the disheveled looking man seated on the left. Dressed in white polo shirt and faded blue jeans, his thirtyish, in need of a shave face is topped off with the bedhead look.
“By the way… the name is Cosmo.”
“Pleased to meet you, Cosmo. I’m Theodoros… but just call me Theo”, says the fiftyish looking, greying, bearded man, off to the right. He then adds, “And, I wouldn’t give up my daily java jolt, either… no matter how hot the day, or, for that matter, the coffee may be.”
They first lean in sideways to shake hands and next drink their espresso.
“Couldn’t help but notice the Roman collar, Theo. Where’s your parish?”
“Resurrection Church… over on the east side.”
“So what brings you over to this side of our fair city?”
“I’m to be a guidance counselor and instructor… temporarily assigned to Andrew’s Youth Center… every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. In essence, I’ll be a surrogate parent to latchkey kids… keep ‘em intellectually engaged and out of mindless mischief. It’s really tough when moms and dads each work two or more jobs to pay their bills. The resultant dwindling quality time is doing immeasurable harm to the family unit. But there I go again… rambling on and on. I’ll bet you’re sorry you asked.”
“No, not at all. What you’re doing is admirable. By intervening and interacting you’re working towards the betterment of society.”
“Thanks for saying so. Since I’m mostly paid in compliments, your kind words have made me a wealthy man.” Taking another sip from his cup he thinks aloud, “I do hope I’ve figured out the correct bus routes and schedule… wouldn’t want to be late on my first day.”
“Hmm… Andrew’s Youth Center, you say… that’s affiliated with the church over on Monroe Blvd… is it not?”
“One in the same… the Center is right in the church basement. You know so much about us, my son, are you by any chance Catholic?”
“Once upon a time… as a young boy. The word that now best describes me is ‘lapsed’.”
“If you don’t mind my asking… why did you leave the church?”
“Well, it’s a long story, Father, but not to worry… if memory serves… all you need know now is the Route 33 bus will take you to your destination.”
All too familiar with how folks handily dodge the ‘why did you stray’ question, Theo stifles his knowing smile…
“Good to know I’m heading in the right direction. So… where, pray tell, are you heading this a.m.?”
“Well… it looks like we’re both in the biz of educating young minds. The community organizers who run Kids’ Corner have me on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday schedule, too.
“I’m familiar with that fine organization. So, what’ll you be teaching?”
“I’m on sabbatical from U of C Berkeley, where I teach astrophysics. Since I’ve now got plenty of free time, by day, I’ll be a volunteer teaching astronomy for beginners, by nights I’ll be scoping out the heavens at the San Gorgonio Mountain observatory. Regrettably, with light pollution and smog problems, heavenly matters aren’t what they used to be.”
“So true. I’m facing down problems with my own brand of heavenly matters, too. These days, people seem to deem God as unimportant.”
“Well, I don’t believe folks have actually stopped believing, Father. While I cannot speak for everyone, I think regular folks are finding the church’s overall image off-putting and irrelevant to their needs. You know… stained glass, palatial churches that could rival St. Peter’s Basilica… past popes who’d look right at home lodged in Trump Towers.
“But our new pontiff, Francis, is trying to change all that…” Theo starts to remind…
“Well, I did say past popes…” Cosmo interjects. A police cruiser whizzing by with flashing reds and blues and wailing siren nearly drowning him out.
At that moment, a twentyish looking woman, wearing blue denim jeans, unbuttoned work shirt, tee and heavy steel toed boots approaches the bus stop… clutching a Styrofoam coffee cup in one hand… a cell phone in the other. She immediately goes into a circular pacing mode… impatiently… holding her cell phone skyward… frantically waving it about while muttering, almost inaudibly, her “c’mon, c’mon, c’mon” pep talk directed at that unresponsive, barely functional device.
“Looks like we’re not the only ones with upward connection problems,” Cosmo quips. Quickly checking his own cell, he speaks up, “Excuse me… I’m getting a strong signal… four out of four bars. You may borrow my phone.”
“You’re a life saver,” she says while approaching the bench. As she sits down and keys in the number she mutters, “That damned bus is going to make me late for work again… and it’s only my second week on the job. By now, Manuel… that’s my boss… is probably thinking that I’ve flaked on him again. He’ll likely fire my ass.”
Now speaking fluent Spanish into the phone, only Theo can understand her side of the conversation. Of course it’s easy to fill the gist of the rest. That’s in the form of her crisis averted, call’s end sigh of relief. Handing the phone back to Cosmo… she’s once again profuse with her thanks.
“Well… since it looks like we’re stuck here for awhile… I’m Cleo.” The round of handshakes ensue as she continues, “I’m a carpenter working over at the Devonshire construction site.”
Theo and Cosmo’s facial expressions “out” their lingering provincialism.
“Hey guys, welcome to the 21st century… don’t look so shocked. These days, women carpenters can and actually do cut it.”
“And I’ll bet you have plenty of power saws to back up your statement, too, “ jokes Cosmo. As the chuckles subside he adds, “I’m Cosmo… I teach astrophysics over at Berkley. As for my newfound friend…”
While conspicuously adjusting his collar and, clearing his throat, the other man interrupts, “I’m Theo…”
“Well ain’t that a hoot!” Cleo chimes in, “You’re Theo the theologian and he’s Cosmo the cosmologist.”
The group laughter gets drowned out as three 18-wheelers rumble by.
“Devonshire… wow… that’s really upscale,” Cosmo says while competing with the street noise.
“Yeah, tell me about it… the site’s billboard out front boasts, ‘Outstanding new homes starting in the five millions’… blah, blah, blah. Hell, I couldn’t eke out the mortgage payments on a birdhouse in that soon to be snooty, gated community.”
“Affordable housing? Does that even exist anymore?” laments Cosmo.
Theo frowns his silent, horizontally nodded answer to those Qs as Cleo asks, “Just where are everyday, average folks supposed to live, any way?”
“For sure, that’s a problem that that insensitive unholy, Trump, could never begin to fathom… let alone fix,” adds Theo.
“Amen to that!” she sighs and then looks down at her cell’s chronometer. “Guys, we’ve only known each other for ten minutes and… if you’ll excuse the construction worker parlance… I’d say we’re already building some great rapport.”
“In this one instance, I don’t even mind the buses running late,” Theo agrees.
“I’ll ditto that… but better late than never,” Cosmo says while gesturing leftward.
A three-bus convoy is now barreling down upon them.
“Any chance we’ll see one another again?” Cleo queries.
“Well, as for us guys, we’ll both be here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning,” says Theo.
“Thru late September, if not longer,” adds Cosmo, “How about you, Cleo?
“Well, since the only day my carpool can’t get me to work is on Fridays, it looks like we’ll all be meeting back at this bench a week from now.”
“Here’s to next Friday,” says Theo as all three raise and carefully tap their coffee cups… make a toast to their newfound friendship.
“You two like bagels?” she asks. Since both men nod vertically, she adds, “OK, that’ll be my treat for next week.”
Just then the busses all come to a squeaky, air-braked halt. The doors fling open to admit Cleo, Theo and Cosmo. Waving their till we meet again farewells, each climbs aboard to complete the final leg of their Friday morning commute.
A note to my readers: My game plan is to post these Cleo, Theo & Cosmo Bus Stop Chats on most, but not all, Fridays. These three fictitious characters will engage in political / social commentary… sometimes in agreement… other times not. But either way, the important thing, here, is that no matter how heated a discussion may get, they’ll remain civil towards each other… which, btw, is the way it should be… but usually is not… in our real world.
My apologies for this first installment running a bit long… that was mainly due to character development requirements. Future chats will focus more on (what else?) the actual chats… and consequently, be of shorter duration.