Photograph by Elaine Cho.
This isn't bragging. I'm not bragging. Please understand. I'm just thankful. When you know the face of hard tragedy, you can get lost and bitter… or find yourself wildly thankful for the smallest of things. I'm trying to explain a little bit of why I'm so happy so often. There's several hundred stories here about my working days; I want to share with you now a recent Thursday afternoon off.
I walk out the door and get on the bus. I'm going to class. Who's driving? David's driving. "Hey, stranger," he says affably. We talk about how they're changing the shifts at North Base next pick, how they're cutting down on bonus time and overtime. Neither one of us likes this one bit, but we both know we'll live. David's shift tonight is one of the rare short ones. Inwardly I marvel at how he, a fairly senior operator, has sustained such good cheer for so long.
I get off by the Asian market. Rain sprinkles from the sky like we're all plants in Priapus' mythic garden. What a silly idea, I reflect as I walk, when you really think about it. Water falling from the sky? Who came up with that one? I don't use drugs, but thoughts like this are why my friends think I'm high all the time.
I'm eating as I walk. I'm eating leftover curry chicken with rice and roasted veggies. It's downright delectable. Oh, my. It's a gift from a darling passenger last night; she got a little extra somethin' for me on her PCC run. Thank you, world. Walking in the wind with a plastic fork, hair going crazy, black nylon wool jacket flapping in the wind, ironed gray dress shirt rippling underneath. Dressing inappropriately for the weather while at work is something I've basically co-opted in the last few years, but I still yield to reason in my off hours. (I haven't worn a coat to work in three years. The Nathan Bus Outfit has slowly set itself in stone, and it doesn't include jackets, sweatshirts, overcoats, or cardigans: all that would make too much sense! Find me in: navy blue slacks and an ironed, tucked-in long-sleeved oxford, with the sleeves rolled up, as in: "let's get down to business." Yeah, baby. The mild anachronism of wearing borderline formal dress to do service work on the city's worst bus routes excites me!).
I'm done with the food, striding through the market now, calling out hellooo to the Hawaiian restaurant lady. I don't know why we started doing that, or when. At some point in our daily crossings I think it dawned on both of us that we're the sort to do such things. I buy gimbap and mochi for my Korean teacher and classmates. On the 5 up to my class I chat with the driver. He doesn't realize who I am. He's new.
Sitting on my own at the University, classmate JP sees me and we amiably go over the homework. We talk about suffix particles and when to apply them. Why do some sentences contain the 에 location marker while some others don't? Why indeed. I haven't been in school since graduating UW almost nine years ago. It's humbling and demanding and wonderful.
After class I consider catching the bus home. I know who the driver will be, and last week had a lovely conversation onboard with a new transplant from the east coast. What was her name? Was it Charlotte? On impulse I change course. It's not quite time to go home.
My friend Jaesun's having an art opening, and I realize I'll be disappointed if I don't go. Friends support other friends and their art. What's the most valuable gift I can give, after all, besides time? I'm happy to devote part of this precious night off to being there. I walk over to the 8. Who's driving? Wendosun is driving. I sheepishly have to ask his name after he so easily remembers mine. How does he remember a conversation we had two weeks ago? He "wakes up" upon seeing me, his regular workaday shift enlivened, made new by a friend stopping in. Wendosun. Sharp, fresh, quick to smile, not afraid to think. My kind of guy.
He asks about my class, and I ask about his route. Earlier today there were huge accidents and blockages, but Wendosun ("call me Wen") is in great spirits. The attitude we're building at the front of the 8 is bubbly, optimistic. I congratulate him on how he only has one more trip tonight. Sitting toward the back for part of the ride, I look at the people around me, reflecting on a thought Paul Margolis once shared: most every young person thinks they're unattractive, but is in fact beautiful. It's about more than surfaces. Look at these vibrant lovelies around me. I hope you all know you're worth it. I step off Wen's bus in a spirit of happy inclusion, traipsing through Cal Anderson park, headed now to Vermillion Gallery & Cafe. I nod at somebody in the park. He looks confused and avoids eye contact. That's okay.
On 11th Avenue, I walk in the roadway instead of on the sidewalk. I used to wonder why people did that, until I went to east Asia and discovered it's the norm on side streets there. The sidewalks are narrower and usually blocked with items. I do it tonight in honor of the Seoul sidewalk. I realize this makes no sense.
For a long time I was terrified of going to events alone. Especially hobnobbing events. I had a tradition of not even attending my own art openings. Oh, hobnobbing. Isn't it the worst? It is if you go in thinking that. Trust in it to be good. Don't try to "network." Just say hello to a friendly face. There's good people everywhere, and half of them are as diffident as you. Put on your best clothes and walk in like you own the place, nodding and smiling as if these people are actually supposed to know you.
Click here for Part 2, or here for Part 3.