“Next station stop, Canton Ohio”
As the bus pulled up, a young man, barely out of high school, shouldered his backpack and stepped forward. The air brakes of the slowing bus momentarily drowned out the announcements of arrivals and departures. He waited for several passengers to exit, then stepped through the door and scanned the rows for an empty seat.
Near the back, and to his right, was a spot next to a mature, well dressed and obviously successful African-American male, who seemed preoccupied with the mornings sports page. The kid took the empty seat and gave the man a half-smile as he sat.
After several long minutes the bus eventually filled up and started on the next leg of its journey. It didn’t take long before the passengers settled into the monotonous hum of its engine and the occasional soft thump of the tires on bumpy pavement.
The stranger’s voice broke the silence, momentarily surprising the young man. “So, where are you headed”?
“I don’t know” the youth replied sullenly. “Wherever the road takes me”.
The older man lay his paper in his lap and half-turned with an amused grin on his face. “Well now, that doesn’t sound like much of a plan. What are you going to do when you get there”?
The youth stared down at his hands which were clutching his backpack. Obviously irritated, he murmured, “I’ll get by”.
The well dressed man chuckled. “Getting by isn’t good enough, son. Believe me I know.” The kid looked over at the older man, dressed in obviously expensive clothes, and wearing a large opulent ring on one hand. He shook his head and looked away again.
“What could you possibly know? You don’t know my life.”
The older man settled back into his seat, looked at his watch and smiled. “Let me tell you a story, I think we have the time”.
As the bus continued on its journey, the man told his fellow passenger about his life, focusing on the hardships he had endured and how he had overcome them. He told about growing up on the streets of Detroit, poor and undisciplined . He talked of getting caught up in the gang culture and how he had used sports to escape that road leading to nowhere. He spoke of leaving Detroit for the rolling landscape of South Bend, Indiana. Though he struggled with grades he used the time there to hone his skills and prepare for a career. He detailed a time in his life when he landed a job only to be told that they didn’t want him there anymore and how he had made the most of an immediate transfer to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It was there, he said, that he found long-term employment.
The kid listened intently to every word but still seemed skeptical. “Sounds to me like you caught a lot of breaks”.
“No, son…I created opportunities by never giving up. I kept putting one foot in front of the other regardless of who or what pushed back. I became one of the best in my field. I surrounded myself with good people…strong people..dedicated people who had the same goals I had, and we pushed each other to greatness. I gained a reputation of sorts. People knew they could rely on me at crunch time. I’m proud of that”.
They talked for a long time, one giving advise while the other received it. . They talked of special moments and special people. They talked of how the man had decided to give back to underprivileged communities through his time, money, and non-profit organizations.
They talked until the older gentleman thought some of his experience and wisdom may have actually gotten through to the kid.
The boy looked straight ahead for a while, staring at nothing. “Can I ask you a question?” he inquired after some time.
“Since you were such a success in Pittsburgh, did you ever want to go back to Detroit”?
The older man took a deep breath and glanced back over to the boy. His eyes obviously full of memories “Oh yea…I sure did. I made it back all right”.
The two sat in silence for a few minutes and the young man looked up. “Thank you, I think I needed to hear what you had to say. Can I ask you your name”?
They exchanged names and shook hands just as the bus began to obviously slow down. As one, the passengers all looked up to see the lights of the town just up ahead.
The bus driver picked up his microphone and announced “Next station stop, Canton Ohio”.
Picking up a briefcase that had been tucked under his seat, the man started to rise. He stepped into the aisle, turned back to the young man and said “Well, son, this is my destination”.
He started to hobble down the aisle as the young man looked out the window. “Mr Bettis, I didn’t know that we even were supposed to go through this town.
Jerome turned around winked at the kid…”This year it does…….This year the Bus stops here”.