brooklyn-signThis really happened: I was on the B61 bus, on the last leg of my commute home. Halfway down Bedford Avenue, a mocha skinned girl got on. She was fifteen, maybe sixteen, and her crowd of friends made varying cries of protest from the bus stop for her not to go. I looked up at the commotion to see her climbing up the stairs, giggling, with two plastic tiaras stacked one atop another in her hair. She was a pretty girl, not in the dead behind the eyes fashion model sort of way, but with an honest beauty. Her whimsical grin that she shyly covered with her hand added to the effect.

Following the hissing release of the bus’s air breaks and the high-toned hum of its engine, there was a drumbeat of a single pair of sneakers against the sidewalk. I glanced up from my book to see a teenage boy’s face just outside and bobbing slightly above the window’s bottom frame. He was running hard alongside the bus, his backpack twisting and jiggling. “I love you Michelle!” He yelled as he ran. The girl (who I assumed to be Michelle) laughingly tried to bury her face in her hands. The other passengers chuckled and smiled at one another. The boy continued to proclaim his love (“I love you! Hey, Michelle! I love you!”) until the bus out ran him.

A few blocks later, after the kinetic excitement at witnessing such a brazen act began to wear away, the B61 abruptly stopped to let people off—it is after all the nature of buses. And as the doors were closing, I could make out the slapping of rubber sneaker soles. The boy had caught up with us. “Hey Michelle! Michelle! I still love you!” He yelled, keeping with the bus for only a second before it sped off. Eyes rolled and people stared. I think Michelle even muttered an “Oh, my God.”

We cruised along for a while before a red light at the corner of Bedford and Broadway held us up. Sure enough, the kid appeared just outside the windows. He looked out-of-breath, exhausted even, but somehow was able to jump up and down, waving his arms.
“Michelle!” He screamed. “I just wanted to tell you one more time that I love you!” And then the boy ran off in a sprint. I don’t know what impressed me more: the young man’s persistence or his overall physical stamina.

For some reason, I don’t think the love he shouted was the same sort of “I love you” that so many teenage boys whisper into teenage girls ears. It struck me that maybe it was real. And as we turned on Broadway, passing Peter Luger’s, with the Williamsburg bridge stretching out over the East River in front of us, I remembered that just under the cement, with sewer pipes running through it, lies the ground that the used to be the fields and meadows of Walt Whitman’s Brooklyn.