I was waiting at a light on Riverside Drive last evening, heading downtown for some Mexican takeout, when a city bus rolled past, its bright interior lights outshining the early December gloom and illuminating its occupants as if they were on a stage. The bus rolled past me, heading – like me – for the bridge across the Mississippi River and downtown. And as it did, it triggered two things in me: memories of several winters riding the bus to and from work in downtown Minneapolis and an accompanying visceral sorrow.
That visceral reaction, a burst of sadness so powerful that I had to take a few deep breaths as I waited for the green light, took me aback. But it probably shouldn’t have. Those three winters when I rode the bus to work downtown – the winters from late 1995 to the spring of 1998 – were among some of the bleakest seasons of my life.
It’s worth noting here that winters in Minnesota can be bleak no matter what else is going on in a person’s life. From November to February, anyone who works a regular shift job – say 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. – here in the northland will go to work in the dark and return home in the dark. That’s cause enough for a little gloominess to start with. Then add, for me and many others, the difficulty that’s now called Seasonal Affective Disorder (with the disarmingly appropriate acronym of SAD), in which the absence of light fuels depression.
To that bitter mix, add my own chronic depression (noted here recently), and then add the situational sadness over a life seemingly heading both nowhere and toward any imaginable disaster at the same time, and you have a potent brew. So you find me during those dark winters leaving my cats in the morning and heading to the bus stop to ride to downtown jobs – one supposedly permanent and the others temporary – that were not at all what I ever planned or expected. And you have me riding home in the dark of late afternoon, home to the cats and a dinner alone, home to an evening of table-top baseball, vapid television or sad music on the stereo.
Of course, not all of my music was truly sad then; those were the years – 1995 into 1998 – during which vinyl was my drug of choice, holding at bay an even worse depression than the one I found myself in. (Also helping to hold back that deeper depression were my cats, Aaron and Simmons.) But in the memory that rolled over me as I waited out the traffic light last evening, the music was as doleful as was almost all of my life back then.
So that’s what I felt last evening as I watched the city bus go past with its passengers safe in its haven of light. When I was one of those winter passengers in a much larger city twenty years ago, that bright light was no haven; the darkness of my life felt inescapable, and it seemed as if I’d lost nearly all that had been good about my life. Those long gone but so very familiar feelings rolled over me as I waited out the red light on Riverside Drive, and then they left, leaving a vague residue of uneasiness.
That residue faded as the light changed and I moved on, heading first for the Mexican take-out place and then back to the East Side and eventually up the driveway toward my dual havens, the warm lights of home and the love of my Texas Gal.
So instead of thinking, as I’d originally planned, about a melancholy man, let’s think about a song I no doubt heard during those dark winters on Pleasant Avenue, a track that might have provided some hope and solace to brighten the gloom. It’s the tentatively hopeful “Love Will Come To You,” a 1992 track by the Indigo Girls, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.