It’s one of those “days after.” The stock market has misbehaved badly and the Dow is down a gazillion points.
I am at Five Points Station and from not far away approaches a man who would otherwise be anonymous except that he is covered from head to foot in the blood red clay-turned-to-dust of the Georgia drought. He wears no hat and no boots, but from the look and smell of him, he’s been working hard at something.
He asks if I can spot him a dollar? He volunteers he needs it “…to ride the train.”
“Red,” as I have now dubbed him in my mind’s eye, is not at all pushy about the thing; so I search my pockets, find a dollar coin and grant his wish.
Despite the fact that this is one of those “days after” — a bad one– I have little to no interest in the stock market. Some years ago, my own 401-K became a 201-K and then very quickly a NO-OH-ONE K. But for me this has been a decent week — better than most of late — and a dollar is a bargain basement price for the privilege of playing the role of ‘genie in a bottle’ — even if the master’s only wish is bus fare.
It’s also but a small down payment on my own pledge to pay something forward whenever I could.
Maybe it’s coincidence. Maybe not. Who can really know? But as things work out, a few minutes later, Red filters out of the “Now Boarding” throng and ends up standing next to me inside the transit rail car identified as Number 128.
“Hi, it’s me again,” he grins.
It takes a minute, maybe two, for the rest of the crowd to pack in and for the train to get on its way up the line. Today’s rush hour mob is uncharacteristically silent and perhaps being uncomfortable with the silence — or maybe his landing spot — Red breaks the quiet:
“It looks like Warren Buffer took a real beating yesterday,” Red says. “I heard it all on one of them stock market shows.”
“Uh, it’s Buffett, Warren Buf-FETT,” I pronounce.
“Thas what I said…’Warren Buffer.’ I hope that he didn’t get hurt too bad. I seen him on TV and he seems like a nice guy. I sho hope he don’t go through what I went through. Los my job, my family, my house … ever’ thing. I always worked hard too.”
“I’m sorry” I say. And maybe feeling a little guilty, I attempt to assuage Red’s concern: “…but I don’t think that you have to worry about Ol’ Warren though. I think he will be …”
“Maybe Warren Buffer ought do one of those legger-ridged buy ups. I sho wish he’d buy MARTA.”
“It’s Buf-FETT and you mean leveraged buyouts, don’t you?” I say in a quiet chuckle to myself. I don’t mean to be disrespectful.
“Yeah, thas what I said… maybe he needs to do one of them legger-ridged buy ups.”
“Well,” I laugh all soft and polite-like, “Don’t worry too much about him. Warren will be okay. ”
“…jes don’t like to see anybody lose that much money… and in a single day too…just like that, in the flash of an eye. I know I wouldn’t. Times are tight,” he smiles wanly. “These days, I’m broke all the time.”
At the next stop, Red turns toward me, spreads all five fingers of his right hand in a shallow wave and says “Thanks again. Have a blessed night, my friend.” He then manages his own egress from the crowded train and disappears into the Avondale twilight.
As Car Number 128 hurtles through what is now night and on up the line, I ponder about Red and what seemed like his sincere concern for Warren “Buffer”. I also wonder whether or not the moneyed class spends as much time thinking about the welfare of the working class as the working class, at least some of them, spend thinking about the welfare of the higher ups.
I haven’t seen Red since. I suspect I never will. Who knows about such things? But there is some sort of lesson in my encounter with Red, something for me to learn. I am sure of it.
And the lesson had only cost a dollar.