Vagabond Signs: Destination Vancouver

Cost: $10
Location: #43 bus at 12th and John St.

Vancouver bum sign

On Friday, I hopped on my bus up the hill from downtown, and I knew right away that it was going to be an interesting ride. At first it was standing room only, and I stood near the front. In one of the bench seats behind the driver, there was an disheveled old man (let’s call him “Ed” since I don’t remember his actual name) hunched over a grande Starbucks cup and a doughnut with a single bite out of it. Every once in a long while, he’d take another nibble, or a sip of coffee. I noticed Ed was mumbling to himself and would occasionally speak loud enough for people to hear. After a couple little outbursts, I realized he was repeating phrases from other people’s conversations on the bus. A girl was on her cell phone a few rows back and said, “OK, I’ll meet you there around 7:30 or a quarter to 8.” Ed repeated, “7:30 or a quarter to 8.”

This continued up the hill, and by now a few people had gotten off the bus, so I was able to take a seat a few spots away from Ed. He would say “Hi” to people as they got on the bus, and “Goodbye” as they got off. One girl had a box in her arms as she left the bus and Ed asked, “What’s thaaat?” She replied, “It’s a food processor” and exited. At the same stop, two girls got on the bus carrying multiple ragged bags and backpacks, wearing some dirty, worn-down clothes. One girl started fumbling through some quarters in her hand to pay the fare, and said she only had $1. The bus driver said the fare was $1.50, but it was pay as your leave. The girls continued onto the bus, whispering about how they lucked out on the fare. Ed spoke up and said, “Hi, I’m Ed” and one of the girls smiled and replied, “Hi, I’m Emma.” They sat down in the seats across from me with all their bags, and a couple Vancouver-related hitch-hiking/bum signs. They looked very tired, but relieved to be on a bus across town to the University Distract.

Vancouver bum sign

I saw the cardboard signs that they were carrying and immediately thought that I’d like to buy them, which I’ve done before. Plus, how could I not add to the already-surreal bus trip? As we were approaching my stop, I stood up and approached the girls and offered $5 for their signs. Emma asked why I wanted them, and I think all I replied was, “Just because.” Emma said sure, but the other girl turned to her and said, “But we’ve made sooo many signs.” Emma said, “We can always make more.” Emma began pulling out a third paper sign that I hadn’t even seen. To ease the other girl’s hesitation (and to compensate for the unexpected third sign), I said, “I’ll make it $10. How’s that?” Emma gave a big smile, and a quick elbow to the other girl muttering something like, “C’mon, it’s $10.” From the front of the bus, I heard Ed say, “It’s ten dollarsss.” The other girl pulled the rolled-up cardboard sign from her backpack, and they handed all three to me. I gave them my $10.

The bus came to a stop a moment later and I walked toward the front to exit. From over my shoulder I heard a man say, “Puts a new twist on souvenir-buying.” I walked past Ed, and he spoke up and asked, “Can I have one of those?” I politely said no and got off the bus. I glanced back through the window and I saw the two girls smiling, and hugging each other. I couldn’t help smiling too.

When I got home and took a closer look at the signs, I was impressed with my purchases. There were some creative variations on the simple statement that they are trying to get to Vancouver. They don’t state that they want a ride, or need money, but that’s all implicit from the signs (and the fact that they’re currently in Seattle). There are some nice touches of maple leaves, a small heart, and the humorous paper sign that says, “Canada ?eh?” in the corner.

Vancouver bum sign

The first sign is on the back of a box from what I’m guessing is an Italian food supplier based in Wisconsin, “Vantaggio Wisconsin’s finest hand crafted for pizzerias and italian foods.” The second sign is made from a piece of a Pepsi box. Lastly, the paper sign is written on the flipside of a flyer for this book, complete with a very brief history of the life and death of Jedediah Strong Smith. As an added bonus, there are some journal/poetry type writings on the sheet of paper.

The front reads:

our last day sailing sunday in the bay no way! hurray what to say. we could really stay and play (hurray) but we are on our way, hope to see you before may

And the back says:

Emma and I sit, surrounded by fake mountains, the glow of 24 hour lights. Atmosph Our journey has taken us beyond what I imagined it would be. Drifting through peoples lives. Brief connections or connections that will last a life time in memory and heart.

After reading this personal note, I couldn’t help but feel as if I’d taken something precious from them. At the same time I was able to create another brief connection that they may or may not remember on their continuing journey. Having recently read, Into the Wild, which delves into many of these same ambitions, I respect their desire for freedom and adventure, although I may not entirely agree with the execution of it. To each his (or her) own. I wish the two of them safe travels, wherever their final destination may be.

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