Take 5

It's better than HBO! Riding the mean streets of Minneapolis on Metro Transit's busiest bus route.

I ask if he has no place to live.

"Why? You gonna take me home?" he says suggestively. "I ride until they kick me off. This one might do it," he continues, nodding toward the driver, "because he's an asshole. He's cute, though. You pretty cute too. Is that a spot on your pants?" he says, leaning over and trying to run his hand up my thigh. I grab his wrist.

"See, you are a fucking cop!" he yells. When I ask his name, he says, "My name is Dildo! My name is Suck Me! Leave me alone, you damn cop!"

Craig Lassig

All the while, I've been aware of a mellifluous but barely audible chant-song emanating from a large man three seats away. After Dildo leaves I ask him what he's singing. He looks at me with a start. "My language," he says cautiously, then nods toward my tape recorder. "What's that? Don't talk to me! My father was a fool, but I am not a fool. There are plenty of white people on the bus--why aren't you talking to them? Go talk to them! I'll watch you."

After the man gets off the bus, the driver tells me he's a regular. "Usually he's very nice and pleasant, but every now and then he gets a little funny," he says. "Sometimes he'll complain that I don't have the heater on. I point out that it's going full blast, but he still doesn't believe me."

As one of Metro Transit's longest-tenured drivers--27 years and counting--Nancy Geer has her pick of hours and routes. A large, squat woman who seems at one with her seat, Geer has chosen the owl shift, from about 1:00 to 9:00 a.m., on the No. 5. "Never a dull moment," Geer declares. "It's better than HBO and it's all free. It's fun to watch the dichotomy of the personalities. You go through places that are geographically and economically depressed, and places that are much better off. You got people with attaché cases sitting next to blue-collar people and street people. One guy has gotten up five minutes late for work and wants you to fix his life. Another guy has fallen asleep on the bus and wakes up to find himself in the real world."

As her homeless passengers snore, Geer's No. 5 makes its way along Fremont Avenue in north Minneapolis. One early rider who climbs onboard wants to get in some exercise at a downtown health club before he goes to work. Another is heading for work at the airport; she'll transfer downtown. A trio of rough-hewn characters who come aboard at Broadway are bound for day labor.

By 4:30 all the seats are filled. Beside me is a 53-year-old man named Les, dressed in the blue uniform of a Pinkerton guard. About a year ago, he tells me, he was hired to patrol near Abbott-Northwestern Hospital. Unfortunately, he had just signed a lease on an apartment in St. Paul. For the next ten months, Les left his house five days a week at 3:00 a.m. and walked two miles to catch the No. 21 bus to work.

"One bus got me to work a half-hour early, at 5:30, but the next one would get me there 15 minutes late, which wasn't acceptable," he recalls, peering through thick lenses that make it obvious driving a car wasn't an option. "I'll tell you, it got pretty cold taking that walk in the wintertime."

Last month, Les says, he found an apartment along the No. 5 line. "My stop is three houses down across the street. I made sure," he notes with evident satisfaction. "It saves me about two and a half hours a day.

"Oops!" he interrupts himself, glancing outside. "Time to go to work!" He pulls the cord.

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