The sky was still overcast. No job was forthcoming. The tenant upstairs had walked back and forth heavy-footed from 3 a.m. until 4:30, followed by the trash collectors in their noisy trucks. I was on the verge of hating Los Angeles. But this is the City of Angels, and they do still abide here.
In most cities you can take a bus without explaining why. In Los Angeles, you only take a bus if you don't have a car. Mine was stolen. I took to using a bicycle, then a car came out of a driveway and hit me. So, now, with the explanation clearly understood, the story can begin. One would not wish to be mistaken for a bus rider. Yet, on this particular day there is no other place I would rather have been.
I left the San Fernando Valley on the 212 line and changed buses at La Brea and Melrose avenues to go west. I needed to stop at a bookstore, pick up some vitamins and see my printer. There was plenty of room on the bus and I got a seat across from the driver.
At the second stop, a crowd was waiting. The driver, a large, wholesome-looking man a reassuring voice, intercepted the first young guy in the crowd to explain that he needed to pay his fare or give up the top of his transfer. It was immediately apparent that the fellow didn't speak English and he seemed also not to understand the driver's few words of Spanish.
Then the angel appeared.
She pushed forward into the bus to explain the transfer business. She introduced herself to the driver and told him these were visiting French students she was showing around. She had a round-cheeked, smiling face and a cap of playful curls. She took the transfer and held it aloft so the others waiting to board the bus could see it. She spoke in broken French and, not knowing the French word for top, she did as most Americans tend to do: She repeated the word in English several times, louder each time. It was instant entertainment. It was instantly charming. The driver, whose name was Herman, driver No. 427, played right into the wonderful madness as the crowd of young Frenchmen clambered on board. Each allowed the angel, whose name was Crystal, to remove the transfer's top and give it to Herman. There was much chattering in French and Crystal, in English, lamented her limited French.
Herman asked her why she was chaperoning all these French students if she didn't speak much French. With a twirling little gesture, she indicated that someone had to do it and herded her charges into seats on the bus. Herman, taken by the challenge, began announcing sights along the way. The young men knew it was for them. They had no clue as to what he was saying yet they chimed together, "OHHHH." Herman laughed and said "Oui" over the microphone. Then he said, "Crystal, get up here and announce for them." She scrambled to the front of the bus, took the driver's microphone and in her fractured Franglish, pointed out Fairfax High. Now something happened that only two people in the world witnessed. One was Herman, No. 427, and the other was me. As the bus crossed Fairfax, one person at the bus stop suddenly leaned out onto the street and bent down. It seemed certain he would be decapitated. Herman skillfully avoided the tragedy and did so without upsetting the equilibrium of his passengers.
"What in the world?" I asked, to which Herman replied, "He was picking up a cigarette butt."
Only because of Herman did he survive to enjoy it at a later time. He dropped it into a pocket and climbed on board. He took the seat just inside the door, sparing the other passengers the abrasive odor of his presence.
Crystal took up her duties at the microphone and her charges uttered more unison "OOOHHs" at appropriate moments. It was like July 4, when the audience "OOOHHs" as one for the fireworks. And then something happened that I think only I noticed. Crystal struggled with her explanations of passing sites and was clearly searching for words. Finally she said, "I wish I knew how to say, 'I'm proud to show you my city.' " The derelict leaned forward and supplied her with the words she needed in French. I don't know if she knew where the words came from. The students cheered her again. Herman guided the bus to the curb at La Cienega and Crystal told the garcons it was their stop. They surged forward, thanking everyone for a fine ride.
And so Crystal, from Van Nuys, led her students out into the city and Herman, No. 427, took his bus west on the last leg of its journey. At the closing moments of a miraculous afternoon, my thoughts returned to the derelict, his narrow escape, and all of the offhanded generosity of which angels are made.