Friday, January 12, 2007

Little Things

I've ridden buses regularly since I was in high school (My school had loose-leaf binders for the history books, so we could add the latest reports from Gen. Sherman, en route to the sea), and I've come to the conclusion that there are some real advantages to public transportation. I'm not talking about the obvious environmental bennies. It's more of an intellectual treat. Let me clarify...

I've had some fascinating conversations, met interesting people, while riding the bus. If the rest of the crowd is uninteresting or untalkative [a rare occurrence], there's always people watching while listening to my CD player [no, I'm not iPod ready. If I were to put a "wish list" on this site, it would be there, after "world peace" but before "my own monkey". Just so you know...].

With buses come bus stations. It's a natural, symbiotic relationship. If the bus station serves an inter-city line or two [as the one in Buffalo does], the potential for good conversation, and the occasional moment of enlightenment. Yesterday morning, for instance, I had a moment of both while waiting for the bus home.

As I was walking through the station's main corridor, I heard well-played guitar music to my left. My first thought was that someone was [illegally] listening to a boom box without headphones. Then I looked over, to see a man playing one of the smallest guitars I'd ever seen. The neck was maybe 18 inches in length, but the body was not much larger that that of a ukulele! As a result the sound was not loud, but it was authentically guitar-like.

I walked over to get a better look. The guitarist was a man about my age, but thin, composed, at ease. I said, 'I've never seen a guitar like that." He stopped playing, and said, "I bought one like it a few years ago, when I was in Columbus, Ohio. My main instrument is piano. This is sort of a hobby for me." It turned out that he was an Israeli national, a pianist by profession, visiting family in the Buffalo area. He was awaiting a bus that would take him to a plane.

We talked for a few minutes. He told me that he had sold that first small guitar on eBay, then bought the one he was currently using when he revisited Columbus. When I remarked that the guitar didn't play loudly, because of its size, he noted that it could be played with a pick-up and amplifier, to make it louder.

While we were talking, I noticed the man sitting next to him. He was also from the Middle East. But his features were Arabic. My erstwhile guitarist said, "My friend here will introduce himself, I'm sure. He's very well-educated. He was a doctor in his home of Egypt. We've been sitting here talking, while we wait for our buses." The Arab gentleman [who never did introduce himself, as it turned out] said, "Yes, we've had a marvelous talk." He dipped his head, and added what I had been thinking, "Isn't it amazing that we two would find common ground?"

Amazing? Well, maybe. The two were certainly old enough to remember, as I did, the Six Days' War that found Egypt and Israel in deadly combat. Indeed, they, or their fathers, may well have faced each other across a battle-line. Although their nations had made peace, there were certainly those on either side who would resume the battle in a heart beat, those for whom there could never be peace with such a foe.

Then again, there they were. They had found that common ground along the bridge of a small guitar.


-Mike Riley