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The Blue Line

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The Blue Line



This wasn’t part of the tour. This side of San Diego wasn’t featured in any of the scenic brochures, and the concierge at the Marriot forgot to mention it. Traveling the Blue Line trolley at night must be San Diego’s secret mode of transportation, available to only the most elite tourists. Or, perhaps the Department of Tourism just wants to keep its visitors alive during their stay here. The term “trolley” actually seems a very generous description for the ride we are on. I am reminded much more of New York subways than I am of San Francisco hillsides. One thing’s for sure, the Old Town Trolley tour we took earlier made San Diego look like something out of Mr. Rogers. It might have been a beautiful day in the neighborhood, but I’m not too sure if anyone here feels much like a neighbor.
My wife, Molly, is standing in back with Corey’s wife, Miranda. They just met a few hours ago but the ease and comfort of their conversation looks effortless to me. Why is it women seem to have such a gift of connection and communication, even when they hardly know one another? For me, as a man, this is something of a mystery. Corey is sitting in front of me, in the same row of seats as Lisa and Jeff. Lisa and Jeff I’ve known for a couple of years. Corey I just met today.
In the background I can hear the light, fluid conversation between Molly and Miranda, and the sound of their words seems almost like a lyrical and musical bridge over the heavy silence all around us. I look away from my wife and I realize that Corey is not looking at his wife, and Lisa and Jeff are not looking at each other. Everyone is looking in the same direction. Everyone is looking at the man in the gray jacket. The man with the Colorado Rockies baseball hat. The man who just said he’s going to kill himself tonight.
The trolley rushes on, heedless of anything but the cold steel of the track underneath. We have a schedule to keep. We stop at all the necessary stations and there is a shuffle back and forth as new empty faces arrive and old empty faces leave. I can hardly hear Molly and Miranda now. The music is over. I look at the man in the dirty jacket and for a moment I hear a gunshot, but it’s muffled, distant, twenty-two years away. It sounds like Seattle, not San Diego. He stares at me as he looks right through me, and I know his face immediately. I recognize that hopelessness. I remember that despair.
By the time I sit down Corey has already spent some time talking with the guy. Now the guy seems talked out. He slouches back in his seat and continues to stare blankly through all of us. There seems nothing more to say. I could tell him about my mom, about what happened in Seattle, about how there’s hope in the midst of trials and tragedies. I could say a whole bunch of things at that moment to someone who says he wants to kill himself. Corey tells me later he said many things.
The silence rushes on as I sit and pray for the stranger sitting across from me. I wonder if he’s ever watched a Colorado Rockies game. I wonder if he’s ever loved or ever been loved. I wonder if he’s ever traveled somewhere far away or ever been so filled with joy that he thought he might die. I wonder.
When we arrive at our station we stand slowly, almost hesitantly, as if we are escaping at last from a long and fitful sleep. We shuffle off with empty faces, and as I look behind me I realize the man is gone. He has stepped off the trolley and stepped back into the dirty gray night. We search all around for him but he is nowhere to be seen. He has vanished into the anonymous blur of the city streets. He is free.
We walk in silence for a while. We hear the trolley pull away as it presses on, station to station, in its ceaseless, careless efficiency. We walk on as we find our way back to the Marriot, back to the Gas Lamp Quarter, back home for the night. We are safe. The ice cream shop across the street is still open. We shuffle in, tired strangers off the street, as the sound of the trolley fades further and further away. Soon, without even realizing it, I can’t hear the Blue Line at all.
















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