I sat at a table in front of a Portland OTA joint. I was drinking a craft malt liquor, reading some dark and obscure writing by Mark Twain about how corrupt American society was (in 1896), and watching Saturday afternoon traffic roll past me. A young woman a few tables away drank a bloody mary and fiddled on her phone.
Something stirred across the street. I looked up toward a bus shelter. A young white man was becoming visibly unglued. I kept looking. He gesticulated, talked to himself, talked to the power pole, made bizarre facial gestures, waved, circled, took off a shoe. Then he began walking into the street, then back, then across it, then back to the bus shelter. Vehicles waited, eased around him. No one honked.
All of this went down in less than five minutes and I drank half my beer and took notes as I watched.
I thought: should I get up and try to render aid? I don’t how to render aid in a situation like this. What is aid in a situation like this?
Taking notes is not rendering aid. Neither is filming the incident, although a visual and audio record might come in useful later, as we are finding out in America.
I turned toward the woman. She was watching like I was. Our eyes met.
“Should I call it in?” she said.
“Yes, he’s going to get killed.”
“Use the 211 number.”
She placed the call. She got through but was put on hold.
We waited and watched the man for another five minutes. He was still moving in and out of the street.
“Should I go out there?” I said.
I didn’t argue with her, but I did with myself.
Was this moment I failed a human being so obviously in distress beyond his immediate control?
Someone came on the crisis line. The woman relayed all the pertinent information.
A bus pulled up in front of the shelter. The man got on the bus.
The woman told the operator and provided the relevant bus and route information. The operator said they would call the bus and take it from there, which was what in our current state of affairs.
The bus vanished down the street. The woman and I discussed the episode for 15 minutes, wondering if we’d done enough, and acknowledging to one another that we observe a similar episode at least every other day, but sometimes three in one day.
I finished my beer, gathered up my things, and left.