After lunch downtown last Tuesday, I took the 1-California bus home. A man across the aisle, seemingly in his mid-thirties muttered, “How was your Veteran’s Day?” I thought he was talking to me, and he looked like a straight-up guy, so I answered, “The usual.”

“Sorry,” he said. “I was talking to myself, I guess. I do that a lot. At least, since I came back.” Picking up on the cue, I asked if he was a veteran. He was. Two tours in Iraq. A platoon leader then a staff officer in an engineering battalion. “Thanks for your service,” I said. “Really. It means a lot.” He smiled.

“Where are you headed?” I asked. “Home,” he said. “I had to work this morning.” He’d formerly been an IT manager at a major bank. Now he was working as a consultant. “Too much hierarchy,” he said. “The Army then the bank.” He liked being his own boss and was doing okay, but all his clients were in the private sector. “Government offices close on Veteran’s Day. Corporations don’t.” I nodded. “I’ve been there.”

I wondered if he was finished for the day. “Not hardly,” he said. His wife worked at a law firm downtown and had to be in the office. “Schools are closed,” he said, “so my daughter… she’s eight… stayed with a friend and her mother.” The friend and her mother had to go to the East Bay that afternoon. “I’ll work at home and look after my daughter there.”

“Could be worse,” I said. “I worked from home for a number of years.” I shook my head as if I’d forgotten something important. “Then again, eight-year-olds do demand attention.” She was a good kid, he said, but she’d have to keep herself busy finishing homework and reading. Maybe thirty minutes of video games but not more. “I have a videoconference,” he said. “Crash project coming up.”

“Sounds like you’re getting a lot done,” I said. He shrugged. “Some things.” Unfortunately, a client was still setting up automatic payment, and he was expecting an important check in the mail. The post office was closed. He had a matter to discuss with his bank but was told in an online chat that he’d have to speak with the manager personally. He shook his head. “Of course, the bank is closed.”

Being an attentive dad, he planned to take his daughter to the playground while there was still light, but he’d have to hit the books after dinner. He was taking a graduate course at San Francisco State. “I’m doing fine, but I do better in class when the instructor lectures. It’s a learning style thing.” I nodded. “No class tonight,” he said. “The campus is closed.”

We chatted about this and that until he pulled the cord for his stop. I wished him well and commented that the nation’s regard for its veterans shouldn’t be measured by Veteran’s Day, which often means little more than shopping for bargains. “Tell me about it,” he said. “One of my clients is a major retailer.”

The bus slowed. He stood. “They say freedom isn’t free,” he said. “You know who pays.”

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  1. Tracy on November 14, 2014 at 8:54 pm

    Not to diminish the efforts of any of our veterans (myself included), I have to take exception with the “freedom isn’t free” meme. Of course it isn’t, and of course the disproportionate share of the burden falls on young men. Usually, minority young men. While the meme is true, it subsumes into it the idea that anytime, anywhere US troops are involved they are “fighting for freedom.”

    As Ira Gershwin would put it — it ain’t necessarily so.

  2. Carolyn Perlstein on November 14, 2014 at 9:48 pm

    Proud of you for honoring our veterans who bear the burden of this country’s safety & security.

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