As I was hauling groceries to my car, I passed a small, over-bent woman pushing a vertical cart—inches at a time—away from the store into the vastness of the lot. She hesitated, poised as if ready to dive from a great height. I turned back, asking if she needed help. “Sure,” she said, pointing to a traffic crossing about a hundred yards away. When I started to take over the cart, she tightened: “I need to hang on. I’m eighty-seven years old.” The eyes were a shocking blue, the color of the jacket she was wearing. “I limp a little ’cause I broke my leg: broke it the day Princess Di died. I was out in the yard all night that night, couldn’t get up. How old are you?”

I was forty-five at the time. “I’m eighty-seven years old.”

picture of a trolleyIn front of the bus shelter a man about my age bounded up. “Why that’s my bus driver, Ruby! She used to drive me up and down this street when I was a little kid.”

“Yep. I drove streetcars for ten years, then buses for another twenty-seven. Then when I retired I took the Amtrak to Seattle, and they let me drive that. That was fun.”

I told her they were only now tearing up the old streetcar tracks buried for fifty years under Selby Avenue. “Yep. There are tracks under all these streets still.” Did she like the idea of light-rail coming to the Twin Cities? “Yep.”

It took us two lights to cross Snelling Avenue. How had she done this on her own? I asked how often she shopped. “Oh, about a month ago last time. Did I tell you I’m eighty-seven years old? I can take it from here.”

This happened thirteen years ago. Light rail is here. I haven’t owned a car since 2005. Ruby would be 100 now….

Listen to the Tin Pan Alley-song “On the Trolley” and browse the Novelties.