It was after work and, as usual, I had fallen asleep on the Max. It's an art in which some part of the brain remains aware of the stops and I wake up just as the train pulls into the Hollywood Transit Center.
But I woke a stop early, at the Lloyd Center. I didn't want to, and tried to go back down. A guy had just sat down to my right, on the bench seat, and had muttered something I didn't comprehend. Another guy, sitting directly across from me, was smiling in a fixed way.
He said, "I don't give a fuck where you from," the smile still fixed. He was gazing at the guy on my right.
Now I was wide awake.
The guy on my right said, "I'm not from Portland," in a "what's the matter with you?" tone.
The guy across the aisle said again, "I don't give a fuck where you from." He kept smiling, the smile maybe bigger or maybe just closer to me, and leaned forward. He was solid, athletic, a forearm across his leg noticeably enlarged by weightlifting. He seemed calm.
I, however, was alarmed. I said "Don't do it, man."
The guy turned the smile on me, blinked once or twice, and then turned back to the other guy.
"Please," I said politely, "don't duke it out here."
I looked around. No one else was paying attention.
The guy to my right began to slowly, deliberately, remove a watch from his right wrist.
A woman immediately to his right said, "Aw, look. He's taking off his watch. Damn."
She turned to a woman who looked like her -- maybe a sister -- and said "Get my baby out of here." The sister got up and pushed a stroller that was in the aisle further down to the right.
The first woman stood up and got right in between the two men. She was tall and queenly. She had a neck tattoo. The only emotion I could discern was the amused sternness of an authority figure who has done this a hundred times. She looked down at the guy to my right and said, "You don't know what you're getting into here." The guy looked unconcerned, almost bored. He said nothing.
She put her face close to the guy across the aisle and spoke quietly to him. I heard her say, "We're getting off at the next stop. Let's go." He flicked his eyes at her and the smile diminished.
"Let's go." He got up, putting the mad dog stare back on my neighbor, along with the smile.
The woman laid a hand gently on her partner's or brother's or good friend's arm and urged him down the aisle after her sister and the baby. She kept herself deliberately between the men until they were well away from the guy next to me. Her guy kept his eyes and smile fixed on a spot to the right of my shoulder.
That guy to my right slowly put his watch back on his right wrist.