“Hey buddy, got a cigarette?”
I look up and see a middle-aged coal miner, apparently from the mid-twentieth century. He’s wearing worn miner’s coveralls, and is covered with what appears to be coal dust. Not just ground into his clothing, but into his face, except for a couple of clean ovals over his eyes where goggles apparently were. The miner’s lamp on his head fits right in.
The last time I checked, though, Portland has no coal mines. Must be a bum. A colorful one.
I give him a cigarette, then remember that I’d just purchased a whole carton. I fish a fresh pack out of my bag and give that to him as well. We chat and smoke for a while. The miner turns out to be a smart, interesting, and curious person.
A police cruiser crawls slowly past us, and the cop yells out “Hey chief, is this guy bothering you?”
I open my mouth to tell the officer that everything’s fine, when the miner hollers back “No, he’s a friend of mine.”
The cop nods and drives off, leaving me with my presumptuous shame.
I’m waiting at the same bus stop where I met the miner last week. That incident made quite an impression on me, and I’ve been wondering if I’ll see him again. I stop wondering as I watch him amble toward me. Still a miner, probably the very same clothes he was wearing last week.
“Hey, buddy!” he hollers.
I have a cigarette ready for him, and hand it toward him as I smile. “Hello, chief!”
“No, I don’t need a smoke,” he says, “I have something for you.”
He hands me a new carton of cigarettes. “Thanks for the loan.”
“Thanks, but I don’t need that. Besides, I only gave you one pack.”
“Keep it anyway. It’s not my brand.”
I’m at my grandmother’s house, telling the story of the miner to her and my mother.
“Oh, the Chief!” grandma says with a look of recognition, “What a coincidence. He’s a very old friend of our family, you know.”
“Yes,” mom adds, “he’s a little nutty, but he has his reasons. He’s a very wealthy man, but chooses to live on the streets. Just got tired of society, I guess.”
Not tired, I think, just too busy building his own.