Christian Living San Diego Living

Helping Dan feel human

Can you help me with my bike? My wrist is broken!

I barely heard the question. But speaking over This American Life was the voice of a man on the platform struggling to get his bicycle up the stairs and onto the trolley.

With my bike pinning me against the retractable wheelchair lift on the ancient, yet retrofitted ADA accessible trolley car, it took me a few long seconds to get to the door. With the door trying to close and an annoyed trolley driver belching over the loud speaker, “Please board the trolley immediately, we have a schedule to keep,” I arrived to press the button and fling the door open in the nick of time.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.” The man said as he pushed from behind when I grabbed the front handlebars. As I yanked the front handlebars, decorated with tennis balls and aluminum foil, it’s weight revealed that this wasn’t just a bike– it was this mans worldly possessions.

Lifting (more like heaving) the bike it seemed stuck between the edge of the platform and a bar that divided the doors. With pressure to speed up and a dose of adrenaline, I gave it a bigger yank and the bike let out a loud yelp!

Just a second, let me untangle Wile, he’s chained to the seat post.

As I looked to the right of the bike, sure enough, there was a collie-mix tethered by the collar to the mans seat post.

OK, here we go. I’ve got it now.” I said, giving it one final tug as the now-free rear of the bike lumbered up the steps.

By this time the whole car full of riders glared back at me. In the process of helping with the bike and dog– my bike had fallen down and made a horrible noise. So, as I was guiding the bike, rear-loaded with about 50 pounds of stuff in a box wired to a makeshift rear-carrier, his dog, and it’s owner having a long conversation with himself about needing to buy dog food– I also picked up my own bike and wedged myself back into my safe corner.

It was clear that the people were not glaring at the man. They barely noticed him. But their ugly gaze was at me. They think I should have left the old man on the platform.

I quickly popped my headphones back in just in time to hear Ira Glass introduce the next segment of the show.

The trolley doors finally close. The driver instantly kicks it into high gear, as if to say… “I’ll show them!” The bike and the dog were secured, but the man had just made it to the top step and hadn’t quite measured his balance when the car leapt forward. His arm reached out and grabbed mine as he winced. Given the impossible choice of falling backwards or gaining his balance with a broken wrist, he chose to grab firm onto my forearm.

Thanks for the help. I couldn’t have made it without you. What’s your stop? I’m going to Old Town.” He said, now settling into a comfortable place to stand at the rear of the trolley with his whole life at his feat.

I get off at the college. So when we get close, you’ll have you slide forward so I can get by.

And then he started talking to himself about some sort of gibberish I couldn’t make out. And then about 10 seconds of silence.

In that silence I had to decide. Am I just going to tune this man out and go back to listening to the latest episode of my favorite podcast? Or am I going to take my headphones off and see where this conversation goes?

The Holy Spirit was screaming at me. “Talk to this guy.”

Sliding my headphones into my pocket– the man told his dog to lay down as he twitched and pulled and talked to himself.

So, what’s the dogs name?” I said, startling him with my question and breaking the newfound silence between us.

Wile E. Coyote. He’s part coyote. He’s the best dog in the world.”

Oh, I see that. He’s a great dog. How long have you had him?

He stared off into the horizon as the trolley slowed towards the next stop seemingly thinking about the question for a minute and came back with, “You know, these trolley cars weren’t built for bicycles. I asked a transit cop one day why we get these cars on the green line instead of the newer ones which let you roll your bike right on. He said it was because of the graffiti on the other lines.

I just rolled with it and for the next few minutes listened and talked to the man about whatever he talked at me with. The Chargers. The canyon he calls home. How he broke his wrist. Florida. The weather. A fishing trip. It was like our conversation was the random setting on my iPhone, you never know where it’d land next.

At first, I wasn’t certain he knew I was a real person as he had a tendency to look through me more than at me. He’d also stop in mid-sentence and start a different thought. I kept wondering if he thought I was a figment of his imagination. But over the next few stops it seemed like the blurriness of his life started to narrow a bit and things became slightly more in focus. As I kept chatting with him his eyes gradually drew more into the trolley car, even noticing me a couple of  times for his pupils to focus on me, or my bike, my backpack. His ticks and pulls dramatically slowed down. About 10 minutes into the conversation I think he realized I was real. The longer we made small talk the more relaxed he became.

And the more relaxed I became in talking to him, too.

To him, I think I became less a random object that helped him get on the trolley and more a person. And to me, he became less a homeless man with a dog and an impossibly heavy bicycle making me late and more a man who probably just needs someone to regularly talk to.

In that moment we were just two normal men engaging each other in small talk on the trolley.

It was the most healthy thing either of us had done all day.

I’m no psychiatrist. So I don’t know if this is true or not. But in my experience I think anyone who is a little mentally ill probably gets increasingly worse when they become isolated from people who aren’t ill.

And zooming by on the freeway at 70 mph or driving everywhere in my car isn’t going to put me in contact with the Dan & Wile’s of the world.

Sure, I ride the trolley for my own reasons. But one reason I think God has me ride the trolley is to slow down and take notice of people the rest of the world largely ignores.

San Diego Living

Rules for Public Transportation

We are a one car household. Fortunately for us, we live in a city where you can get away with having just one car because we have a decent public transportation system.

Our transportation system, San Diego Metropolitan Transit System, also has a policy that permits bikes. This allows me the daily privilege of riding my bike to the trolley station, than taking my bike on the trolley with me, than riding the rest of the way to work.

But riding public transportation definitely has some rules. Social norms that make the experience much more pleasant.

  1. Always wear headphones. Even if your headphones don’t connect to anything but your pocket, always wear headphones.
  2. Don’t stare. Look at your phone, look out the window, or stare at the floor. Just don’t look at anyone unless you want to talk. Making eye contact is an invitation to conversation.
  3. Don’t eat. It may seem like an efficient thing to do. But you never know when you’ll see something gross, smell something really gross, or have the awkward opportunity to eat in front of someone who clearly hasn’t eaten recently. Just don’t eat.
  4. Help people who are obviously lost. This is the joy of living in a tourist town. I never mind helping someone who is genuinely lost. They all have “the lost look.” example: My home station is San Diego State University. The funny part about helping people from there is that they have to really listen to understand why I am telling them to go a certain way. If they are going downtown it might make sense to go two stops further away downtown and transfer to a different trolley line. When you look on the map it looks further and the wrong direction. (It is) But it is actually significantly faster because the other line goes directly where they want to go with fewer transfers. Riding the trolley isn’t like driving. You want the fastest route, not the shortest.
  5. Be aware of what is going on. I’ve taken public transportation both in San Diego and Chicago frequently enough to know that there are sometimes dangers to be avoided. The general rule of thumb is, “If it feels bad, it probably is bad.” The good news in San Diego is that they have closed circuit cameras everywhere. If something did happen (I’ve never seen anything truly bad happen) there is a good chance it got caught on camera.
  6. Discretely take pictures or video to giggle at later. Oh, I know this is probably a social faux pax to mention. But I have seen it all on the trolley and sometimes people don’t believe me.
  7. If you ride regularly get to know your riding partners. The funny thing about this is that you “know” people but you might not know their names. But you know that one person gets on at this stop and reads a book every day. And another gets on and always sits near you. Or one lady is always in a hurry but is claustrophobic so won’t ride the first elevator because it is too full. You may not “know” these people, but regular riding partners will make you feel more secure.
  8. Know your schedule. If you ride for a while you get a sixth sense about when your bus or trolley runs. I know if I leave my house at 7:58 I have a good chance of catching an earlier trolley. Or if I don’t leave right at 5:00 PM from work, I might as well hang out another 10 minutes.
  9. Keep smiling. Sometimes the trolley drives me nuts. But any time I’m a little delayed or stressed out by a minor inconvenience (like a person dying on the trolley and delaying it 2 hours) I just remember that I don’t have the expense of a second car and I’m not sitting in traffic thinking about my next oil change. Taking public transportation has limited stress in my life– and for that, it’s awesome!
hmm... thoughts

Nine Things I Love on 09.09.09


I’m not into numerology, at all. But I’m smart enough to know that this is the only time in my lifetime the calendar will read straight nines.  With nine being the operative number of the day here are nine things I’m in love with.

1. Simple routines. Every day, every week basically looks the same.

2. Mega-family time. This has been a big change in our lives. At least once a week we all do something together. It’s not always big, but it’s a big deal and I’m pumped about it.

3. The job lottery. More than a year into my time at YS and I still get fired up and think… I work there? For real?

4. Church peeps. You can’t sell this short. We dig our church peeps. I love feeling like I need to step it up to keep up with their faithfulness.

5. Riding the trolley. (relates to #1) That simple discipline has taken so much stress out of our lives. Big ups to SDMTS.

6. Vietnamese food. This is the next craze to sweep across the nation.  I’m a big fan of the noodle soup, pho. (pronounced “fu.” Yes, like half of the f-word.) Best food on the planet.

7. iPhone. I know something will replace it as the coolest device in my world. But it is an amazing tool for me. I can now go on vacation laptop free.

8. Nikon D60. I never thought I’d really love photography. I am no artist, but thanks to this little camera I can now take pictures that don’t suck.

9. My baby’s mama. Seriously, Kristen is a rock star. 12+ years of marriage and she’s still my best friend. She still laughs (politely) at my jokes and likes my crazy dreams.