Somehow though, it's enough to get the rapt attention of a teenage youngster sitting a few seats back, absolutely beaming at my all-encompassing warmth toward the folks. He leapt up to the front, sliding in on some sort of astral propulsion. One second he was somewhere back there, and now he's right next to me, with a cheeky adolescent grin stretching out for days. I couldn't help but smile back. He's Caucasian, American, buzz cut angled forward at the front, lanky and limber all at once.
He proclaimed I must be the youngest, the best, and the coolest bus driver he's ever seen in all his born days, and I downplayed it, deflected this lofty praise, and we chatted about how long I'd been doing it, what I like about it, all the rest. Peppered alongside were colorful passengers wandering in and out, exchanging pleasantries with both he and I. I believe this was new for him. He was headed to friends on Mercer Island, and hadn't been on the 7 before. He felt the electric buzz of engagement, of acceptance.
Great first up-close interactions with other class and race demographics can be pretty formative, and I was excited to be present. A moment with Melody, a First-Nation woman from Montana, seemed particularly good. He beamed. Wouldn't you, upon realizing the number of people you can feel comfortable talking to has just expanded by a factor of thousands? New doors and ideas were opening as he watched me work the crowd. In the moments between our conversation grew as well.
"Where'd you go to school," he was asking. Wes was his name. I think he meant high school.
"Up here at UW. Yeah, I'd drive bus in the morning, then go to class, then go home do homework, then wake up and do it all over again. It was a lot."
"Wow. That's pretty impressive, working and paying for school all at once. 'Cause I think most people just have their parents pay for it!"
"Well, I think it's good to not have to work when you're goin' to school, so you can get the whole experience, you know, and plus it's a lot, you get so busy, and then there's the social experience of it. Of course it's good to get the experience of actually paying for your own stuff, but just the you know the time,"
"True, but when you're busier, you're also more productive."
"Oh, that's kind of amazing. I've never thought of that."
He leaned forward. "'Cause I run track and a lotta cross country, and during my off season, I'm so much less productive. My grades just drop!"
"I don't get hardly anything done. People say well, you don't get to be social when you're busy, but I say when you're busy you value your friends–"
"So much more,"
"–more, when you only get to see them some of the time."
"That's gotta be true," I said, "because I totally treasure my friends, and it's probably because well, I don't get to see any of them every single day."
Pause. I forget what happened here. I think Melody asked us about the Easter Bunny. I was preoccupied with the wisdom of our young friend. The two of them chatted for a moment while I reflected. Time management is something I discuss with friends often, and his ideas were new to me.
"How about you," I asked him finally, "what are you interested in?"
"A lotta tech stuff, I'm a tech guy. And social too."
"You do both! That's cool. Not everyone does!"
"Yeah, people get surprised when they find out that I'm into video games,"
Which triggered a thought of my own, and one I find important to share with young people: "Well you know, it's about being confident. I feel like it doesn't even really matter what kinda person you are, what you're into. As long as you're confident about it,"
He listened with a pause, thinking. "Confidence, yeah,"
"Yeah, comfortable with who you are, people are impressed by that. You don't need to be a certain personality type or be into specific stuff for people to like you. It's just confidence. 'Cause then they see you and they're like wow, this person must know something about how life works, they're so confident, so relaxed with who they are, I wanna hang around 'em figure out what their secret is! And all it is is, it's just, confidence. Friendly confidence."
"Dude, I could talk to you all night!"
It wasn't until after he left I realized my headache was completely gone. Thank you, Wes. You have no idea how helpful your enthusiasm was– the best kind of contagion, sparking the slumbering ebullience we all possess, energy we didn't know we had. Our smiles towards others can work wonders we'll never know.