"Understood," I replied with equal seriousness. "I'm on it." I didn't recognize the origin of the statement. It was 5am on the 358. I tried not to think about how I wouldn't be done with work for the day for another 13 hours.
I, like many other operators both part and full-time, work a split shift. A part-time split is unpaid and ranges from 5-8 hours. What do drivers do on their split? It all depends. Often you have to sleep. Bus driving is not a job that can be done while nodding off. Or you can go to the dentist. You can play pool at the base. You go have lunch with somebody. You live as much life as you can while that daytime clock ticks. A split is almost always simultaneously too much time and not quite enough. Some drivers go catch a matinee. I knew of one who would run out to UW and sit in on classes.
As for myself, I try to nap every other day. I live and die by these naps. I go all the way home to partake in them, because I rarely fall asleep in the designated Quiet Rooms, where other drivers are sleeping- I don't know how to fall asleep when someone is snoring. It's a skill I wish I possessed.
On my non-nap days, I feel compelled to do something. On occasion I would take the advice of driver Rich- "Grab a 56 to Alki, and go lay in the sun for a few hours. Just do it." This was back when there was a bus from downtown to Alki. I'd bus out there and read and walk and bask in the sunshine. "Sleep when you're dead, dude," he would say. "It's beautiful out."
Today it's cloudy. There are no shows for me to hang, no film shoots to prep or screenplays to work on. I'm free. After pulling into Central Base, I spend some time catching up with drivers I haven't seen in a while. Then I run out to catch the 41 only to miss it by a hair- by a fraction of a second- as he drives past the stop. He had to have seen me. Many's the bus rider who knows what that feels like. Because of this I decide I must not be meant to ride the 41 home, and instead go into town on the 545. I don't recognize this driver, but he knows me, and we fall into conversation. He's been part-time 22 years, and teaches at several area community colleges. He starts telling me about what it feels like to teach the students. I'm sitting up there in the chat seat, listening to his booming tenor voice and watching the cars and people go by. It's these in-between moments that I often relish as much as the more obviously exciting parts of life. There are so many stories out there.
I stroll over to the Art Museum, excited because it's a "Member Monday," only to discover the place is closed; I'm one of those non-smartphone people. I can't predict stuff like that. What am I to do? Several hours left, but not enough to commence anything too elaborate. It's the feeling of having no plans on Sunday afternoon, where you'd waited all week to have free time, but now that it's here, it's whittling itself away, and there's less activities to do with each passing minute. Monday morning is looming, and the hours are counting down.
I run down the blocks on Second Avenue, sprinting to make a succession of 'walk' signals; when I'm running I feel whole, like all the parts of my body are coming together and have a unified purpose. I meander through the library. They don't carry Sight & Sound. On Marion I greet at a man who's missing some marbles. "Stop smiling at my white skin, you brown motherfucker," he shrieks in a guttural baritone. "Have a good day now," I yell after him. "I know you can do it!" A nearby Securitas guard and I share a laugh.
I find myself at the Kinokuniya bookstore, the one attached to the Uwajimaya building. I'm flipping through the new Jared Diamond book. He's talking about conflict resolution in primitive societies. I glance at the David Byrne book, the one with the doughy white cover. He's discussing the tendency to conflate the new with the inauthentic- something I certainly do. I glance at a selection of journals and notebooks. On one of them, loudly printed in oversized green type, is this: "Do or Do Not. There is No Try." Next to it is a picture of Yoda, from Star Wars. So that's where that comes from. I marvel at the fact that, having not seen or heard the reference in over a decade, I notice it twice in one day.
At Uwajimaya I pick up seaweed and parilla leaves. Strolling back to Central Base, where I've stored my backpack, I run into a man with a familiar face. "If you need an umbrella, I can get you one," he says to me. Ah, the kindness of strangers.
Once again, I sprint for the 41. There's just enough time to go home and cook a quick lunch before grabbing a 346 back to North Base. This time I do make the 41, and Craig is onboard. Craig's been a fixture at Atlantic for years now. He tells me about a series of interviews he's conducting on race. He's trying to compile a bunch of firsthand accounts of people's interactions with the racial divide. We talk about the value of oral histories and creating primary rather than secondary or tertiary bodies of historical information.
Next to Craig on the 41 is young woman of perhaps 30, with her stroller, plastic bags, and toddler in tow. "What are you guys talking about?" The conversation makes room for her and we all chat for a bit. She then leaves us be, trying to be polite. As she steps off at University Street, I want to wish her a nice day- but I hesitate. We only talked for a minute. Would it be weird? Would it make sense? Who cares. I just go ahead and say it, as she's struggling with her stroller: "have a good one!"
"Thanks," she says with a mild exclamation point. She wasn't expecting that, and you can tell she's warmed by it. Her afternoon is now a little different than it was before. I'm reminded of a moment on the 13, where I had asked a man how his day was. "It's been kind of okay, actually," he said. In a tone of surprise he went on, "you know, nobody's asked me that all day. I'm glad you said something."
You've had days or afternoons like this, where nothing really happened, and there wasn't really anything you could do. You had a few extra hours to aimlessly drift in space. You search for something, or I do, some sort of internal calm that lets me be happy doing nothing. Trying to get away from that feeling of wasting time. And then finally you push through, experiencing the gentle pulse of the present, unclouded by obligation. Here was a day where I had accomplished no great feat, but somehow I felt very fulfilled. You aren't wasting time. You're living in the present. You're attuned to details. It felt real to wish that mother well, to see the lines in her forehead disappear for that moment.
I'll end with a quote from Anna Quindlen, extolling the need for the Whitmanesque in our times:
"I don't believe you can write poetry, or compose music, or become an actor without downtime, and plenty of it, a hiatus that passes for boredom but is really the quiet moving of the wheels inside that fuel creativity....There is ample psychological research suggesting that what we might call 'doing nothing' is when human beings actually do their best thinking, and when creativity comes to call. Perhaps we are creating an entire generation of people whose ability to think outside the box...is being systematically stunted by scheduling."