He sat there, legs crossed, large yellow bag splayed open on the empty seat next to him -- last night, on the inbound 6 Parnassus, around 8:20 p.m. -- and engaged in what must be a frequent ritual for San Francisco music lovers.
The old man pulled smaller yellow paper bags out of one large plastic band and laid them out on the seat. He then picked up his new finds, his new CDs, two at a time, and held each pair up in the rotten Muni light for inspection. One said "India" on the cover. Another said "Bombay" -- I couldn't see any more. He raised each jewel box nearly to his nose and surveyed what seemed like every inch of its surface, front first, then back.
His nose combed horizontally, no more than an inch from the surface. It took in each artists' face, noted each composer's credit. He flipped the cases over, the nose devoured the reverse side. He flipped them back, returned them cautiously to their respective paper sheaths.
This continued for 20 minutes, over perhaps a total of four or six CDs. Headed from Amoeba to somewhere, he used his Muni time to revisit his recent purchases -- perhaps to further raise the anticipation of hearing them, or maybe to wonder why he bought these particular CDs.
As I watched him I couldn't help but think of all the times I've ridden Muni oblivious to the world, ensconced in the rush of a new music purchase -- eager to hear the stuff, but also taking deep pleasure in being able to adore the physicality of the CD or record, its art, its packaging, the stickers on the front, what price I paid for it -- even the yellow Amoeba bag it came in.
I also thought about how we seem to just absorb music these days, how it streams in of its own volition, through our ears, our cables, our phones, our friendships, our inboxes. And I remembered what it was like to go to a store, chose two or five or 10 records from the thousands available, and then leave, wallet lighter, wondering what they'll end up sounding like and why you ended up picking those records. I suck at large stores like Amoeba; I love it, but I get overwhelmed and lost and look up and then start wondering why I don't have more posters on my wall. Then forget what I came to buy. Sometimes I make a list, but if I do they never have what's on it.
Maybe this guy on the bus last night had a list. Maybe he just found some things he's sought for a long time, or maybe he had no idea what he'd just bought. He looked completely lost in his new CDs. He also looked perfectly content.