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Strong Paul
An Authentic Magic Negro Sighting: 12:16 P.M., 11/24/17
© 2017 James LaFond
I was waiting to cross Harford Road, headed west, a block above the Valentine Crew's Corner, a corner where bus patrons no longer wait at night, a place where I was attacked early this year at 5:30 A.M., where my roommate was almost killed by two bull dindus 7 years gone, where a guy Big Ron knew was taken out with a hammer, where Little Dave has continually faced hoodrat aggression, a place right next to a Baltimore City Firehouse, where the only safe slice of terrain is within the Sikh-owned liquor store, where the firemen do not sit outside during the day, but stay within their brick fortress.
For those who transfer from the #33 and #36 lines to the #54 southbound, this is a tough spot, as a single very long block, a couple hundred yards long, separates the east-west transfer point from the next southbound stop. it is the place wher4 the 54 line separates into two branches. To get off east or west and wait north or west of the stop, is to miss half the branching busses, with buses from both branches stopping at the southbound stop. This fact causes people to get caught trying to make that distant southbound stop.
I saw a young paleface man of perhaps 25, running to catch the bus as it passed him, trying to cover 150 yards in the time one passenger boarded. In days gone by, drivers would never stop and wait for this man, but these days they generally will, if they know of his predicament...
In the mid-90's I was on the #22 at Highland and Lombard with a bunch of black guys coming home from work, when we spotted a tall, thin brother yell for the bus from two streets up. The driver ignored him and did not slow to the stop, which was thankfully at a light. The black guys on the bus cheered him on as I smiled and secretly hoped he would beat the system, overcome the callous driver, but he was doomed. Even though he hurdled a fence, a trash can and a small car, he could not catch the bus, but the traffic light did and he was hailed a hero when he boarded the bus, gaining a round of applause.
Although I was no match for Earl Stackhouse, former captain of a Baltimore City High School track team, I was the fastest 13-year-old in Washington County Pennsylvania and maintained my good foot speed until age 44. At 147 pounds, I spotted the #1 pass the stop I should have been at 150 yards to my front. I sprinted down the side street and made a hard left, knowing that the bus would have passengers at every stop. When I hit Fort Avenue the bus had a 200 yard lead.
Timing when to cross at rush hour in the morning was crucial, as this was a motorists neighborhood, with few folks taking the bus up town. I stayed on the south sidewalk and gained on the bus, and gained, and lost and gained and lost for five blocks.
The gruff, older black driver saw me and scowled, and, as all drivers at that time, about 1999, would not dream of waiting a few seconds for a bus patron to catch up unless she looked like Miss America.
The white passengers looked upon me aghast, seemingly humiliated that one of their race was "doing the nigger run" for the bus. This leant wings to my steps and I caught the bus right before it picked up speed going downhill from Riverside to Light. My chest was heaving and my hands shaking as I put my change in the meter. My flannel shirt, which I habitually wrapped around my waist to hide my blade hilt, was loose in my hand.
The whites onboard, mostly women with office jobs, looked at me like I had just urinated in the holy water basin in church.
But Haynes, sitting in the back of the bus, flashed me a big ebony and ivory grin and slapped my hand as I made my backdoor seat.
In such straights, black folk are so much more human, so much less degraded and domesticated by the puritanical system that dines upon our fading souls, than are whites, that I for decades, found it difficult to identify with the members of the sissy race I was born to.
And so, late at night in September of 2016, I made my last run for a bus and popped something in my left hip that has forever hobbled me, and now, just after noon, stood watching with primeval interest as a man who might once have been me, ran for a bus which he could not outrun, doomed to stand on a drug-infested corner for another hour....
But Strong Paul saw.
Strong Paul has the classic dark skin and muscular frame of a middleweight contender from West Africa—could play Emille Griffith or John Mugabi in a movie. His bald head is almost perfectly shaped, with a minimal brow ridge, yet with his sharp eyes housed under jab scars from his boxing days, a wide, professionally stitched scar prominent over his right eye. Being a 5' 8" middleweight is tough business, eating the jabs of six-footers as you pursue them around the ring.
Paul, about 35-years-old, was walking north on the west side of the southbound lane and saw that this white fella was running for the bus, took off his black leather jacket, stepped into the street, in the parking lane and yelled as he flagged the bus with his jacket with one hand and pointed to the running passenger with the other.
The bus came to a rest at the stop and waited after the single standing passenger boarded, Paul high-fiving the runner, a fit lightweight, as he passed, yelling, "Good stride, brother!"
I walked across and gained the curb right in front of Strong Paul, limping up from the gutter and looking at him, to which he inquired, "Are you okay, Sir?"
"As okay as decay gets. I wanted to thank you. That never happened for us back in the day. People only flagged for women and the buses never stopped no how."
He smiled Haynes' wide smile and then went over to check on Chew, an old wino who lounges along the west side of Harford road and lives back up in the neighborhood. Strong Paul has, like a handful of physically imposing black men newly come up out of the darker parts of the City, assigned himself the duty of protecting and otherwise looking after vulnerable white folks in this dying neighborhood. It is a dying art, guarding a dying race in decay's craggy face, with no social sanction, contrary to the values of our legalistically atomized society, yet some men still practice it.
I smiled.
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