incredible, the things that happen in split seconds.
To track the distance, backwards:
You leave Bumbershoot Festival at the end of SZA’s encore set — eyeballs freshly starry from visions of fireworks exploding in the dark night, to signal the end of the weekend’s festivities. Before she leaves the stage, SZA majestically serenades, “All the stars are closer,” in sci-fi commemoration of Black Panther; Wakanda.
You walk one mile, or likely more. Tired feet float you towards the light rail... for your phone is too dead to track bus routes, and you’re a walker, anyway.
So you take roll call, and you roll — until you’ve left every last festival straggler behind, and every new audience you intercept comes from somewhere else.
Vacationer parents with kids in tow;
Drunks, full-up ready to puke;
Restaurant workers, on the way home, until —
A guy and gal emerge from an elevator you have never noticed, and have surely never taken. Given the choice, you opt always for the stairs — but for once, convenience leads you to consider the elevator: and in slow-motion, as its doors close, you eyeball a small blue placard.
This elevator leads to both metro tunnel and monorail, it says.
Funny… you hadn’t known they were ever connected...
And even now, cannot quite fathom how
Both might meet in a tunnel beneath.
A long, dumbfounded pause...
Until you finally press the button.
The elevator takes an inordinately long time to reopen —
Just enough time for you to see, from the corner of your eye, the hesitant approach of an obviously frazzled woman. Makeup smeared. Eyes full of tears.
Her boyfriend left her at Bumbershoot, you hear her say hysterically, and he took everything with him, leaving her with no phone, no debit card, no possessions.
No nothing, like nothing makes sense.
So as elevator guy and gal pull out bus fare and use their phones to try and map the woman to where she needs to go, you eavesdrop.
At long last, the elevator door opens.
Because I have already turned around, and I am awake now, ready to contribute some money to the cause.
Elevator guy and gal's immediate reaction is that they’re "good" — and I might have bought their assurance had I not realized: this frazzled woman needs to go to a distant city, and considering the daisy-chain of disparate metro providers, they haven't given her enough fare.
I stick around. And butt in. Rip a page out of my notebook and shove it with a pen into their hands.
“Write down the bus directions,” I practically command.
After chattering and phone maps a’ scramblin, they offer to lead her to the bus terminal.
We descend the elevator into some sort of hell —
That feels neither like eternity nor brevity.
No time, here,
To think clearly.
We finally arrive.
I shove three dollars into the woman's hands while she...
Half-walks, half-trauma-pauses on the escalator.
Frigid in her black tube top dress;
Toes icy in flip-flopped feet.
Upon descent, elevator guy resumes his research of potential routes and transfers to her vague destination, some forty minutes away — but confusions of inadequate transport are all that emerge. Eventually, it is revealed that this route is not at all bussable this time of night, and besides, this woman has nothing and knows nothing. No addresses or phone numbers memorized. Not even those of her "teenage kids."
Suspicious, almost, but —
“The modern age, AM I RIGHT?!” I say, managing to crack some sort of joke —
Making certain to avoid their eyes to instead peer into the corners of the universe
Where room for such humor might be more adequate.
A shared half-chuckle,
Perhaps out of nervousness,
Then back to this sizing up of reality,
Where I am studying her and thinking:
Unless she is hiding a machete in her tube dress
Or is actress of the century…
“Is he going to be there when you get there, though?” elevator gal has the sudden brilliance to ask. “Will you be safe?”
Hmm, yes, indeed:
The modern age...
Where a guy who leaves her high and dry
WOULD be the perpetrator of abuse,
But the frazzled woman is quick and insistent:
“He doesn’t hit me.”
Our lifted eyebrows lower only minimally —
While elevator guy continues to navigate bus schedules inadequately.
I’ll just drive her, I decide, since the only route she claims to know is how to get home by freeway.
A good plan, presumably, though the more I jump through the logistical hoops — of needing to first ride to a different metro stop, then do a bit of walking to get to my car, then entering my house to charge my dead phone — the more the plan unfurls from great into not-so-great. I find myself asking elevator guy and gal to exchange their numbers with me “just in case…” paying only minimal heed, as I look sidelong at the woman's crying face, that discussing the necessity of “just in case” right next to her essentially means I think she MIGHT have a machete hiding under that dress. As I speak, my mind simultaneously runs through potential doomsday scenarios:
Of dropping her off in Kent, only to be met by a gun-toting nut job who runs up on my car in the dark, because I’ve decided to be a polite date and wait for her to reach the front door.
Or of the front door opening, only for an argument to ensue between her and said imaginary gun-toting nut job, leaving me in a lurch.
Or of arriving at my front door, only to debate whether I should leave her outside or invite her inside.
But again, unless she is hiding a machete under that dress —
Elevator gal suggests that maybe we should just call the cops.
I say frazzled woman says the cops insisted they’d return but never did.
Elevator gal raises that eyebrow again.
Frazzled woman says the cops said they’d return but never did.
No cops. I’ll just drive her.
Elevator guy and gal clearly don’t LOVE the plan, and the look on their faces denotes that they, too, are calculating whether or not the woman has a machete tucked away under her tube dress... but at this late hour, we’re all psychically exhausted enough to think that this idea — which is likely a good idea but has the 0.01% chance of being a very, very bad idea — has fine enough odds for me to proceed.
“Here, take your money back,” says the frazzled woman, shoving the dollar bills back into elevator guy and gal's hands — including my three dollars, godammit, I later realize — “and she’ll just drive me.”
And by she, she means me, so elevator guy and gal leave, insisting that I text them the next day.
The next day!? I think.
WHERE IS YOUR COMMITMENT TO MY SAFETY!!! I wonder internally.
But I nod.
When they depart, out of my mouth comes some line of questioning towards the frazzled woman about her boyfriend, in an attempt to have her relive the moment of his disappearance from the music festival. A lot of tearful what’s it’s and clearly just very basic confusions of a woman confused emerge; she tells tales of her many laps around the stage and bathroom area, as well as her mobilization of festival security personnel towards a manhunt.
She adds, “I know he’s looking for me; I just don’t know how.”
And it hits me like lightning:
The most obvious possible thing.
“Can we call your phone?” I ask.
The woman's initial reaction is to deny.
Her phone was almost dead, she says.
But I insist — and tearfully, she nods.
Two young guys.
One texting furiously;
One looking around.
I ask the one looking around if we can use his phone to call someone. He doesn’t have one, or some other mumbly boy-kid answer, so I look towards the furious texter, who is wearing a nametag from Penny Arcade Expo, covered with enamel pins of Pokemon and other videogames, and I call him by name, to inappropriately amuse myself again.
Maybe a full minute before he finishes texting and looks up to take the woman's number, so she can call herself.
It seems just crazy enough to work ———————
The phone hardly even rings, when she begins to yell-scream:
Like discovering gold for the first time.
“That was quick,” the boy-kids whisper, eyeballing each other.
The woman's boyfriend must have been sitting by the phone.
Clutching it desperately, waiting for her to call.
After he, too, had mobilized the entire security force.
Somewhat sorry to cut their celebration short, I interrupt for him state his number aloud, just in case —
Then furious scribbles.
On furious scraps:
A furious attempt to crystallize into action, since up until that moment, nearly everyone had sleepwalked through a collective haze of scrambled inaction and half-brains.
I tear and am torn from my notebook.
Then we ride the light rail together.
With the woman's tearful eyes now transformed into a distant girlish smile, we begin to talk real talk: of her anxieties and experiences working long hours in an emergency room, and of her deep, deep introversion, which made it challenging for her to engage with strangers outside of the clinic, though others there might assume her personality to be otherwise. In these hours just prior, she had waltzed through an extended state of fear paralysis, hesitant to vocalize her predicament until she had wandered miles from the venue...
Until luckily, at last, she finally motivated herself to speak up, and coincidentally managed, just right, to find the ideal constellation of people to assist her that night.
“All the stars are closer,” SZA had repeatedly sung into the night.
And in this moment, sitting side-by-side with this previously frazzled woman, I find myself convinced that they're always getting closer.