Backpack Bo - a Tales from the TRE short story
I commuted to Dallas via the TRE/Dart rail for a full five years. If you have never ridden public transportation on a regular basis, you will be amazed and the things one sees and hears on the train/rail. Some of these stories are just too good not to share. I hope you enjoy “Tales from the TRE” as much as I have enjoyed being a part of the commute to work by train (TRE) and rail (Dallas DART) experience.
In the spring of 2008, I accepted a position in Dallas, Texas with Baylor Health Care System as a Financial Analyst. I live in Hurst, Texas which is approximately 35 miles from Dallas. As part of my compensation package, BHCS generously provided an annual Trinity Rail Express/Dart Rail commuter pass. Since Dallas traffic is a virtual nightmare - especially to a Virginia/North Carolina-trained driver who tends to flip on her signal blinker and patiently wait for some kind soul to “allow me” to merge into traffic - I quickly decided to become a commuter. Had I not made this decision, I would probably still be on the 635 loop waiting for someone to “allow me” to merge into an exit lane.
On the first day of commuting, I boarded the TRE and became immediately engrossed in one of my favorite pastimes – people watching. At the first stop, a lot of business professional types boarded onto and debarked from the train. There was no one of particular notice, interest or concern. But at the next stop, a man who totally captured my attention for days, weeks, months and yes, even years to come boarded the same TRE car in which I was riding. He stood some twenty feet away from me at the other end of the rail car.
That man, who later would become known to me simply as “Backpack Bo” was in his late forties/early fifties. He donned past shoulder length brown-blonde hair tied back in a ponytail and he sported an even longer beard which was generously sprinkled with graying whiskers. He was dressed in jean shorts, a t-shirt, and hiking boots. But the most noticeable thing about Backpack Bo was the presence of a huge backpack – extending some two feet above his head and appearing to be quite heavy – that was covered with an extra large, black plastic garbage bag, assumedly for rain protection.
My first glance suggested homelessness, possible substance abuse and perhaps despair but it was the second glance that forever lodged this man into my memory banks because it was in the second glance that Backpack Bo - from the other end of the car - flashed me one of the largest, cheerful and most charismatic smiles that I have ever received. And there I sat, clearly and unabashedly caught staring at a complete stranger of dubious character as a result of my penchant for people watching!
As the train ride continued on toward Dallas, I had an opportunity to further observe some of the finer visual details of this man with the towering backpack. (It is always in the details that people watching becomes so fascinating.) Because this man’s finer details did not match my initial observations, I was even further intrigued. For example, he looked very physically fit and healthy – no pallor, no skin disorders, and clear blue eyes that sparkled with his radiant smile. Secondly, he was quiet and calm in demeanor – no talking to himself, no aggressive behavior towards the other riders, apparently in complete command of his mental faculties. And lastly, he took no exception and nodded yes, when I motioned to my camera phone and inquired if I could take a photograph of him. To this day, I do not know why I did that and I still cannot believe the gall that I possessed in doing so on that first day of my commuting life. And to this day, I do not know why the man with the backpack, now known as Bo to me, allowed me – a complete stranger of possible dubious character – to photograph him.
It takes approximately thirty-eight minutes for me to get from Hurst Bell Station to Dallas Union Station on the Trinity Railway Express. Once I arrive at Union Station in downtown Dallas, I cross the tracks and board the DART (Dallas Area Rapid Transit) rail line for a short 8-minute ride up to my office located at St. Paul Station. Often there is a lay-over in between connections as was the case on this day – my first day of commuting. As it turns out, the backpack man was more prepared for the fickle Texas weather than I. As I debarked the train, the wind kicked up and it began to sprinkle. I wasn’t totally unprepared - I had an umbrella, but I didn’t have a downtown Dallas, Texas umbrella. In seconds, the wind whipped my umbrella inside out bending the rods that hold the material taught into a mangled mess. As I struggled with the misshapen contraption, other commuters looked on with sympathy but no one offered assistance. It was at that point in time, that the backpack man approached me. I will never forget our first spoken communication. Offering me his own umbrella, he asked, “Would you like to trade? I believe that you need a good umbrella more than I do – my backpack keeps most of the rain off of me anyway.”
At first I declined, but as the rain began to pick up, I humbly accepted his generous offer. It has been over three years since I first met “Backpack Bo” and in that time I have come to know him a little better. His smile is always dazzlingly bright. He is kind and generous of heart. And yes, he is a little off center mark in some areas of his life. But I can tell you this about Bo – he can far more accurately quote Bible scripture and verse than I (and I have actually checked this out - verifying the accuracy of scriptures that he has conveyed to me in passing – dubious character that I am and all!). And I would bet my last dime that if someone needed the shirt off of his back, he would offer it just as he offered me his umbrella on that - my first day of commuting to work. If there is a lesson to be learned here, it is this: Do not judge/avoid people who differ greatly from you in any manner because in doing so you may just miss a blessing that God is trying to throw your way. Thank you, God and bless you, Bo! Oh, and by the way, the attached picture is the one that I actually took of Bo while riding on the Trinity Railway Express to Dallas on my first day of commuting.