Photo by Kristina Moravec.
This is the last of a three-part story– see below or click here for Part 1 and Part 2.
Racing down the steps to Convention Place, and not more than five minutes later the 41 surfaces to take me home. How glorious. I peer through the windshield at the driver. It's David again! Can this be? I recognize some passengers within, but I must chat with David while I can. He retires in a couple of years. We talk about Camino Island. He bought a house out there. We talk about the ferry system.
How could I not be interested? To dive from each of these worlds to the next– Trenton's monarchies, Jaesun's coffins, Wendosun's traffic, Joni's Postmates, Michael Moore's Dick's locations, and now David, explaining his commute. Here's the thing. Of course it'll be great to retire on Camino, but for the two remaining years he does work, his commute will be an absurd fifty-two miles each way! He bought a jalopy of a Honda for that purpose alone– a quick temporary purchase. Throw on a new set of tires and knock 90,000 miles into it, then retire. Not bad.
It's like flipping open random pages of the densest book there is, our swirling book of life. Anyone who's read this blog knows I thrive on details. I'm just a student in this glorious racket, and I drink it all up. What a many-splendored thing, existence. I care equally about each of their preoccupations– to hear anyone talk about things they care about, really. One of the great elixirs.
I interrupt and say, "David, let me ask you something. You've been doin' this for a while. How do you stay in shape?"
He laughs. "I don't!"
"Well, you're doin' a sight better than some of our own coworkers, and man, I wanna follow in your lead! Would love to do this for a while!"
He explains how it was easier to lose weight working at the bakery than on the bus now, where you don't get to stand all day and sweat off the pounds.
"Well, I'm thinking not just about the weight stuff, but also the you know, the shoulder stuff, the knee stuff,"
"Oh, I don't have any of that."
"What? How do you do it? 'Cause I think I've figured out how to stay mentally happy out here, but I want to know how to stay physically healthy too, you know?"
David realizes what it is. "I'm always changing how I sit. I never really sit the same way. I adjust this, I move that, after a trip I go like this…." That's his secret. Slight differences. Minimizing the repetitive nature of the movements.
"That makes perfect sense. It's brilliant. Well shoot, I'm gonna take you up on that, man!"
I feel rejuvenated. I'm about to walk home, but wait! There's What's-Her-Name, driving the 348. How could I not say hello? What a sweetheart she is. How does she manage to make a mullet look so slick? Decades of experience, I suppose. I ride with her for one zone. She tells me about the nutty folks she encounters on her route. I quip, "hang on. Is the 348 the new 358? Is that what you're tellin' me?"
"It's gettin' that way!"
"'Cause if that's true, I might have to start picking North Base!" I explain to the girl she'd been chatting with prior to my arrival, "I live up here but I commute all the way downtown to drive the routes down there because I like how lively it is. But if it's crazy right here, well this just makes everything so much easier!"
They marvel at how ridiculous I am. Why do I do it, really? How insane am I? Instead of picking North Base, which is eight minutes from my home, I commute for an hour and a half in traffic so I can drive routes where all kinds of ridiculous things happen that don't make sense? "You really are crazy," one of them laughs. When I mention I drive the 7 on all five of my worknights, somebody reminds me Metro offers free counseling and therapy services. The driver tells me about her exciting medical procedure, which will take place tomorrow. They're turning her into the Bionic woman- implanting a device in her body with actual buttons! "Press this if you feel pain here," et cetera. I wish her luck.
"He's one of my favorites," I overhear the passenger say as I walk away.
Strolling through my door, I realize something: I've just spent the last seven hours talking nonstop to friends and acquaintances. Almost every minute of every step of the way. Why would I move anywhere else? Where else can I go where I'm on friendly terms with a few thousand people of every conceivable background? I don't deserve this. O Seattle, how I thank thee, for taking me in your arms as you have. Don't expect me to flee anytime soon.
At awards shows the winners read off endless lists of everyone who helped them get there. It's boring to listen to, but I know why they do it. To be bestowed such privilege feels odd when you know it's really thanks to the kindness and assistance of so many others. I won't thank everyone by name, but rather paraphrase Morgan Freeman in 2005: I'd like to thank anyone and everyone who ever had anything to do with the making of– for me, this feeling of goodwill and forgiveness and freedom and love, a love I feel from all directions. It is so dear, so precious, and I cherish its fragile beauty such that I hardly dare write these words acknowledging its existence. Thank you.
Photo by Neda Khanjani. Continued from the post below, here.
Before I even walk into Vermillion, a face calls out my name. I haven't seen Joni in years. Here's her companion, Emma. What a delightful couple of folks. We chat away. Why are we talking about Postmates? It's about the camaraderie beneath the words, the shimmering acceptance. I get excited as I explain "how completely awesome" I find the job-related side of the restaurant industry.
Finally I wander inside. A few faces see me but don't approach; they're trying to place me. Where have they seen that face before? Why is it smiling at them? But here's mister Jaesun. What a guy. I see him before he sees me, as he works the change machine. "You're all set for laundry money," I say. Handshake, handshake and man hug.
Look at the genuine thankful thrill in his eyes, in his voice, as he expresses his gratitude for my being there. Here is everything good about the new generation, and it is significant, generous and true. I know how hard it is to make time to talk to one person when you're the center of attention, as he is tonight, but he takes time to give me his tour of the work. Truly one of a kind, that Jaesun. A painter, bouncer, multimedia artist, musician, comic book enthusiast, as simultaneously booksmart and streetsmart as they come. I've known him since we both took darkroom photography in 2005. He was in high school and I was in college. We haven't spent nearly enough time together.
We look around at the walls. The show is comprised of modified proposed land use signs, all recut in the shape of coffins, with various art– photography, paint, spray paint, ink, and more emblazoned over them. It's a funerary cry for the vanishing Seattle. Jaesun shows me his contribution to the show, and knows all the other pieces too, clearly passionate about the work of his artist friends (The New Mystics, among others). I want to congratulate one of the artists on her photographs, but she's a little too into her boyfriend at the moment. We'll let them have their space. "Listen, I gotta go to work," Jaesun says. Forget the handshakes. Full hug.
As I walk out– there's Trenton! Drink in hand, ice cubes with lime, head cocked to one side. What a splendid fellow. I join him and his friend Emily in conversation. We're talking succession politics. I mostly listen. Don't you love listening? I get more out of listening than talking. I already know what I'm going to say, after all! Trenton makes the salient point about how hereditary monarchies, imperfect as they are, were an attempt to offer an alternative to brute force regime changes. Something besides the physically strongest always taking the throne. It's a compelling argument, but I feel the call of Metro. Adieu, friends.
Avoiding the famously unreliable 11, I walk over to the 49 bus stop right as one rolls up. I realize it's my own piece of work I'm getting on! Am I really that nutty, riding my own shift on my day off? Ah, but such is the humor of the universe. There it is, big as life, turning the corner now. Is that what I look like? A Latino woman at the zone recognizes me. We exchange pleasantries. "Your spanish is good!" she exclaims.
"Un poquito! Que tenga buena noche!"
Stepping aboard, I look around, all grins. Who's driving? It's Jose! Nice man. I don't know him too well, but we chat it up. He exclaims, "you just can't get away from this, can you?"
"Ha! I love it that much!"
I sit down, smiling at the next man getting on, a scruffy rough-and-tumble character looking rather down on his luck.
"Oh, it's you," he says.
"Hey, how ya doin'?"
I explain it's my day off, and we talk about "hangin' in there." The best we can do. He asks if I know Real Change, the newspaper. Of course I do, I tell him, the best newspaper in Seattle. We talk about last week's issue. He sells the paper all over. Lake City, Northgate. I commend him for the difficult work he does– selling Real Change is only for the most hard-working and self-motivated of street people– and we start talking about Lake City. I'm there all the time. We talk about Fred Meyer. We talk about Dick's. He mentions the new Dick's in Edmonds, and we start trying to figure out how many Dick's there are. Make him feel normal, not ignored. Human. Counting them off on our fingers: "let's see, we got Ballard, Capitol Hill, uh huh Wallingford…."
A woman seated nearby who I vaguely recognize is watching us, perhaps with surprise at what we must look like– the odd couple of all odd couples, talking up restaurants. What's going on here? Just two guys on a bus, thirty years apart, one with shiny dress shoes, L.A. jeans, and an ironed button-up, the other with tatters and grizzle and an indefatigable eye. His name is Michael Moore. "Like the filmmaker!"
I bid the driver farewell, calling out, "say hi to all my people for me!" I can't stop smiling. I beam at the female passenger as I run past. She looks pleasantly confounded.
Continue here to Part 3.
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.
History is going to love this corner of our country.
By now you know that the Washington State Attorney General sued the Federal Government of the United States… and won. "This is the first time this administration has been reined in," notes Governor Jay Inslee. Think about the power of that sentence. Seattle is now being described on national news outlets as "the epicenter of resistance to Trump's Agenda."
Which is to say, in the eyes of future generations: the leading edge.
It's in times like these I'm reminded Seattle began as a frontier town. A place built by strong, willful men who understood that all great things are predicated on a maybe. Port cities are always a little wilder. Picture the prospectors and dreamers with their toughened steel resolve, who knew the meaning of calculated risk and did nothing but fail forward, bolstered by the fight, wrestling this metropolis into existence.
When faced with overwhelming odds, theirs is the ethic that realizes a hope and a prayer. You assemble the resources necessary, with discipline and foreknowledge. Then you execute.
Attorney General Bob Ferguson leads that charge now. Trump signed his executive order on a Friday. Over the weekend, Ferguson and his staff were able to finalize a nine-count lawsuit against the President and file it by Monday. Ferguson's a former chess champion. Calculated risk, nimble execution. Noah Purcell, once a Franklin High School student, now a 37-year old Harvard Law graduate arguing the issues before the Ninth Circuit of Appeals. Judge Leonie M. Brinkema, calling a spade a spade (see timeline of highlights below).
As for James L. Robart, allow me to take a moment. A Republican federal judge in Seattle appointed by George W. Bush in 2004, and confirmed in a unanimous 99-0 Senate vote, Robart epitomizes the notion that upholding the rule of law need not be a partisan issue. Decency and integrity should transcend the reductively binary nature of our political system. Robart was former president, now trustee, of Seattle Children's Home, a facility specializing in mental health rehabilitation and care. He was heavily involved with the Children's Home Society of Washington, which addresses disadvantaged families and their children. He does pro bono work for refugees, to the point he's become nationally known for it. Also, you've heard his words before. In a 2016 hearing, he recounted FBI data, saying, "Police shootings resulting in deaths involved 41 percent black people, despite being only 20 percent of the population living in those cities. Forty-one percent of the casualties, 20 percent people of the population." He paused before saying, "black lives matter."
These are the giants of the modern age.
When people in positions of power exercise their ability to help those they represent, the effects are incalculable. When they're not afraid to make wildly unpopular decisions or embark on potentially career-killing endeavors, they are motivated by something other than getting reelected. Something beyond. The studied, burnished glow of history lasts a lot longer than another term in office. We will one day forget these were ordinary human beings who put their pants on one leg at a time like everyone else. By then, rightly, we will describe them as taller than they were, deeper in voice; our memories will involve biblical metaphors and descriptions of rooms getting hotter, crowds hushing. These items will not be true in the literal sense, but they will be emotionally accurate. Ours is a time desperately in need of heroes. We've just found a few.
Ah, Seattle. Home to Amazon, Starbucks, Nordstrom, Google, Weyerhauser, Alaska Airlines, Costco, Microsoft, Expedia, Paccar and more. Twenty-first century American life gets to happen, in part, because of this city. And we're putting our foot down.
The city that stopped a nationwide ban that involved religious discrimination and violation of due process. Headquarters of the multinational luxury department store that dumped Ivanka Trump's clothing line. Whose Mayor uniquivocally identified the city's purpose as a sanctuary city and the lengths he is willing to go to sustain that. Whose Governor was unafraid to call a President's executive order "unjustifiable chaos and cruelty." Whose lawmakers are developing protocols for shielding sensitive data from the feds, data which could target its Muslim residents. Whose transit managers refused to stop access to a key protest site despite being told to do so.
Home to more than 100 businesses who vocally, enthusiastically lend support during and after these legal proceedings, including many of the above. Starbucks pledging to hire thousands of refugees in explicit response to the ban, and offering free legal advice to its affected employees. Seattle Schools explicitly stating it will never ask for documentation of its students, and will, instead of doing so on federal demand, refer such requests to its attorneys. Whose State Senator specifically thanked all protestors, lawyers, and others who made their voices heard during the Sea-Tac protests. Whose Governor Inslee told the Seattle Times, about the Trump Administration: “These people couldn’t run a two-car funeral. It is a train wreck. It can’t stand. We’re drawing the line here at Sea-Tac.”
And finally, whose state Attorney General, responding to an angry tweet from Trump ("SEE YOU IN COURT," etc), replied:
"We've seen him in court and we're two for two."
You know the outline of the events, but let's take a moment to review exactly how monumental (can I just go ahead and say glorious?) this stuff really is. Here's a timeline with highlights I find compelling. (All the information mentioned above can be found in the links included in the following):
On Monday, January 27th, President Trump signs an executive order banning citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries (interestingly, none of them countries of origin for 9/11 terrorists; also, Muslim countries where Trump does business are left off the list), as well as permanently banning Syrian refugees. The order would give preference to Christian immigrants because they have "suffered more so."
Protests spring up worldwide over the weekend, with a potent one at Sea-Tac involving the Port of Seattle attempting to minimize the protest size by demanding that Metro and Sound Transit halt rail service to Sea-Tac Airport. In a strong statement of their own, heads at Metro and ST revoke their acquiescence of this demand only 33 minutes after doing so, emphatically stating that citizens are allowed to the right to peaceful protest. Although Port of Seattle Police pepper-sprays the crowd, Seattle Police do not do so.
That's Saturday. On Monday, the State of Washington, in the person of Attorney General Bob Ferguson, files a lawsuit against Donald J. Trump and his administration, on the grounds that his executive order is illegal on nine counts.
Also on Monday, Trump fires acting US Attorney General Sally Yates after she refuses to enforce the ban, requiring all relevant staff to essentially ignore its existence, on the grounds that her "responsibility is to ensure that the position of the DoJ (Department of Justice) [is] legally defensible."
Ferguson's lawsuit is designed to invalidate the ban nationwide. It isn't meant to chip away at minor provisions. The aim here is to demolish the ban conclusively. It's a politically and legally risky move– "daring," as the New York Times calls it. Bob Ferguson: "This is why you go to law school."
Minnesota's AG joins the lawsuit on Thursday, which cites widespread and immediate irreparable harm to state residents, employers, schools, and the economy. Over 100,000 visas are revoked due to the ban. The lawsuit gets fast-tracked to a hearing the next day.
Friday, Seattle. U.S. District Court Judge James L. Robart stuns the country by ordering an immediate national halt to enforcement of the ban. Robart's decision goes out Friday night; federal employees are prohibited from executing the ban's orders starting Saturday.
Robart does not have to rule on the legality of the ban in his Friday evening decision, but only on these three factors: 1) are the plaintiffs (WA, MN) likely to succeed at a later date; 2) could WA and MN residents suffer irreparable harm if the ban is continued; and 3) is blocking the order in the public's interest. He didn't have to rule on the ban's legality, but he makes comments to that effect nonetheless. Check out this exchange:
Robart: "How many arrests have there been of foreign nationals from those seven countries since 9/11?"
"I don't know the specific details of attacks or planned attacks," replies Michelle Bennett, the representing Trump attorney.
"The answer to that is none, as best I can tell."
"The rationale was not only 9/11. It was to protect the United States from the potential for terrorism. The court doesn't get to look behind those determinations."
Robart: "[I'm] asked to look and determine if the executive order is rationally based. And rationally based, to some extent, means I have to find it grounded in fact instead of fiction."
Fact over fiction indeed.
On Saturday, the US Government makes an emergency request at a federal appeals court to resume the travel ban. It's denied. Trump goes haywire on Twitter, using the all caps function more than any teenager knows is appropriate. The DoJ's denied court filing contains language no less strong than Trump's Twitter accusation of Robarts as "a so-called judge," describing US courts in general as "particularly ill-equipped to second-guess the President's prospective judgment." It further emphasizes that courts cannot review the President's determination on which steps he takes to prevent terrorism.
Monday sees attorneys general from sixteen states form a coalition as they file a brief against the ban, citing adverse effects on their respective states' interests.
On February 9, Thursday, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco delivers "the latest and most stinging judicial rebuke" to Trump's Muslim ban, refusing to reinstate the ban. The three judges (appointed by Obama, Carter, and Bush II) roundly reject the appeal, steamrolling over the above DoJ assertion with the words, “There is no precedent to support this claimed unreviewability, which runs contrary to the fundamental structure of our constitutional democracy.” Further highlighting the illegality of the ban, the judge's decision proclaims: "the Government has pointed to no evidence that any alien from any of the countries named in the Order has perpetrated an attack on the United States…. Rather than present evidence to explain the need for the Executive Order, the Government has taken the position that we must not review its decision at all." Sucker punch: "We disagree, as explained above." Full 29-page ruling here; seven key takeaways summarizing the ruling here.
For now, the DoJ isn't exactly rushing to take this to the Supreme Court, nor has it even said it will attempt to do so, perhaps finally grasping where it stands.
On Monday the 13th, federal judge Leonie M. Brinkema, follows the Ninth Circuit ruling with a ruling of her own in Virginia, but goes further than previous rulings in addressing the gorilla in the room and calling a spade a spade, explicitly describing the ban as a First Amendment violation, linking it as a continuation of Trump's expressed anti-Muslim sentiments and 2015 plan to eliminate Muslim immigration, noting that the Administration has "not denied any of these statements or produced any evidence, beyond the text of the executive order itself, to support their contention that the executive order was primarily motivated by national security concerns."
Travel ban legal timeline (CNN)
Bob Ferguson in his own words (NPR)
"But they ain't hardly gave him a chance yet!"
I chuckled ruefully. At this point my use for such a perspective is limited. A chance? What should I expect from a man who's tolerant– downright enthusiastic– about sexual assault, subjugation of women and people of color, religious discrimination, violation of due process, women's bodily rights, who encourages assault toward women and minorities at his rallies, who in a few days has relegated most of the country to second-class citizens and turned the clock back on social progress several decades… a chance? I'm not even that nice, and I'm Nathan! I looked askance at Detroit Fred, the speaker of the above line.
Conservative friends, understand that my frustration is not directed toward you. I do not want all my friends to think the same as me. The above to me are political issues only in the sense that they violate the Constitution. For me they transcend the political.
The net I lovingly cast about me includes a friend group wider than anyone else's I know. The attendees at my "first and last" birthday party last year included a hundred or two of my favorite actors, artists, engineers, nurses, authors, professors, cooks, city and county government employees, social justice workers, hairdressers, millionaires, students, playwrights, bus drivers, photographers, storytellers, architects, musicians, bankers, dishwashers, community organizers, poets, businessmen and women, filmmakers, administrators and homeless people. The only connection points linking them were that they knew me, and that they respected kindness.
It's because of how much I care for these fine folks, my fellow human brethren, that the new presidency agitates me so. Detroit Fred's line of reasoning wasn't one I could take seriously. I consider him a friend, and at midnight, with no one else aboard, I chose to respond honestly. I wasn't interested in changing his mind, but couldn't lie about my own. The beauty of the day's protest forbade it. I said, "I think they done already got a sense of how he treat people. They don't want somebody with his attitudes runnin' the show."
Detroit Fred replied with something about how he's a smart businessman, Trump is, that his moves are shrewdly calculated. "Mind you, I'm not sayin' I love the guy."
"I think what they don't like is the racism, the sexism. Can't support somebody thinks like that bein' president."
"People don't, people don't–"
"I think a lotta folks think like he thinks, but they don't share it out loud. He does. He gives voice to how they think, and they go for it."
"Hold up now, Nathan, listen to yoself. Listen to what you just said."
"Tell me, Mister Fred, say it. Tell me what's up."
Detroit Fred paused. He realized then, I think, the futility of sustaining a disputatious tone with me. Our cross-purposes were misaligned over too fine a point. Fred adopted a tone of understanding, asking which was worse: to harbor prejudicial attitudes in secret or in public. I said both were awful, and then it was time to change the subject. Life is too short, and regardless of his views I could learn something from this man. I'd not seen him in years, and he appeared somewhat worse for the wear; finally looking his age, about sixty, a long dark coat and beret, walking his umbrella like it was a cane, fashionably. He had a dignity in his step which not even homelessness could eradicate.
"Detroit Fred, I'm glad to see you, man! I was thinkin' about you–"
Genuine surprise. "Were you??"
"I was. 'Cause something happens with this job which is, I won't see a certain face for a couple years, and then one of two things happens. I'll find out they died, or they'll come up to me and tell me they finally got a place. They'll come up out the blue and say, Nathan, I did it, I finally found a spot. That's hard to do. And that's one of my favorite things about this whole job, is those moments, when they tell me they're all right. But when it's the other one, I found out they've passed on, that just breaks my heart a little, you know? I lie awake at night thinkin' about these faces, man, wonderin' which one of the two things has happened to these folks I know. And I been wonderin' about you, Mister Fred, 'cause it's been a while! And now I see you still walkin' around, arms and legs hearing and vision, shoot! That ain't so bad."
He was thankful for the sentiment and expressed his wish to move down South.
"Where that good food is," I said. "They know how to cook up some cornbread down there."
"They know how to make a lotta things! I like Georgia. We lived in New Orleans for a while–"
"Red beans and rice, baby!"
"–ha, that's right! For me it's more just the beans though."
"Beans are good."
He explained with rapture the taste of his mother's beans, which he could recall effortlessly across the decades. I wish I had his exact words, because it was poetry. They grew up poor, and though meat was in short supply it hardly mattered, the way Mom simmered those beans. Forget the meatloaf; these were so good they themselves became the main course!
If his mother could see him now, I thought, see him a lifetime later and still so grateful, the boy she raised still in there, looking out through an older man's body, her goodness making it through the filters of time and vast distance, her memory easing off the shiver of a cold night in the far corner of the country. Yes, there was goodness in him I could learn from.
He explained he'd lost all his luggage, stolen as he'd slept on the light rail. "A hunnerd fifty dollars of luggage, I was gonna go back down south."
"That body knows what it needs, and if it needs to pull you down for a minute it'll pull you down."
"It sure will. It just didn't tell me what it needed, and I sho' wish it had!"
"I'm so sorry, Fred. I'm glad you're okay, but right after something like that happens its hard to see the bright side."
"Hard to see the silver lining."
"So true. When I get my check next month, I'm puttin' it all back together again."
"There you go."
He asked me how it felt at the protest. He knew it was something I cared about, and he listened. "Okay, I could see it," he said. "I could dig that."
I asked him about the South, haunts he knew. Fred had family that linked him to Little Richard and Grover Washington, Jr. We chuckled at the combination. "Now that's a pairing right there!" He knew George Benson at one time, through Little Richard, and spoke of going to Benson's shows. He told of a moment backstage before Benson showed up, and while Fred was waiting by his lonesome, Kareem Abdul-Jabaar strolled in, also looking for Benson.
"Man, you have lived life, Fred. You know what I'm sayin'?"
"Thank you, Nathan!"
"You've seen some things, lived all these… you gotta write a book, man. 'Cause this is what life is, all these little moments. Hangin' backstage before your buddy shows up."
The grizzle on his chin and cheek, creasing into a grin. "Thank you for sayin' that. That's, that's. Yeah, I've done all right."
"You sure have, man. Everything, from these folks you know but also back down to how good those beans tasted, you know? What more coul' we ask for?"
"Man, I'm so glad I stepped on your bus, got to talk to you. 'Cause I don't share like this with just anyone."
"Oh, yeah. Oh, no."
"You can really hear me. I can tell."
I put my hand on my heart as he stepped out. "Thank you Fred, it's an honor. I'm so happy I got to see you again."
I had done my job. He felt better as he got off my bus than when he'd gotten on.
The cultures of bus driving here at Metro are many and wide. This job, so much more than others, is exactly what you choose to make of it, and with that amount of self-direction the options are bewildering– limitless, really. Settling for whatever everyone else seems to be doing can become the default, rather than the heady and slightly overwhelming task of deciding what you want your eight hours to look like. It's easier to just follow along. There are new bus drivers who pretend to be jaded, I think, because it's what the others are doing. Or who adopt positive attitudes because they see others doing the same. But they can also create their own perspective. It's very much a solo gig, and your perception dramatically shapes how that spent time feels.
Operators have always worked somewhere previously prior to coming to Metro, and the jobs they're coming from generally don't offer such freedom of construction, simply because most jobs don't really do that. Although there are rules to be followed here (rules far more critical than most occupational guidelines), there isn't a boss standing over your shoulder, deadlines to be met, or a nebulous sense of accomplishment. It's tactile. It requires initiative. Your contribution is obvious, and your choice of how you interact with the world has immediate ramifications.
As with all jobs and life in general, a positive outlook here in busland requires considered and rigorous focus. Something in your life you don't like? Either get rid of it; change it; or rewire how you think about it so you like it. It's the third option that's typically most available in workplace environments, and it's certainly true out here on the road. So many conversations I have with my colleagues revolve around us working it out, figuring out how to frame it all, so we can stay sane. It's a never-ending conversation, the journey of discovering how to be happy, and it takes real work. I think it's worth every bit of effort.
I was slouching in the front forward-facing seats, yelling back and forth with my compatriot as he drove me home. He and I are both night operators by choice. We love this nutty stuff, and tonight we were talking about "The Fall" (explained here), and how to avoid leaning into a headspace where fare evasion becomes bothersome. Passengers can be divided into three categories: those who can pay bus fare, those who can't, and those who can but choose not to. It's this third group that's the subject of so much internal discussion.
I was passing on a sentiment an administrator at Metro once shared with me: "the thing is, even if they have the money, if they're bumming rides, they're probably not doing too well."
"And you know, they're still paying!"
"Exactly, sales tax!"
"It's like, who cares?"
"I know!" I exclaimed, reflecting further. "I think I get into trouble when I take it as a disrespect thing. I can't let myself take it personally. Because they're not, that's not their intent, to personally disrespect this or that operator. They don't care about that. They're not thinking about that at all. We think they are, but they're not."
"They have bigger problems."
He said with a grin, "my goal in life is to not get shot. And I've noticed that you don't get shot when you say hi to people. So I say hi to everybody!"
"That's a great life philosophy! I'm gonna take that on myself!"
"I've said hi to every single person I've met. And none of them have shot me!"
We cackled. It was true. Customer service is a stronger weapon than any barrier or tool, and we knew it from experience. He continued, "I think I'm about eighty percent bulletproof. The other–"
"Oh, I think it's more than eighty percent! You got a good thing goin'!"
"There are days though."
I spoke my next thoughts aloud, though I think I was hashing out my own issues more than any he may have had. "I want to avoid two things: taking it personally, and having it affect my perspective on people at large. The challenge is we're seeing all this stuff with absolutely no context. We don't know what's goin' on. It's not about us."
"One person having a bad day shouldn't represent–"
"All of humanity–"
"–how you treat every person you pick up for the next month!"
Don't you love how much mileage a single sentence can bring? His final line was better than I thought it was going to be, and recalling it would help me get through an incident a few days later. I doubt my operator friend had any idea he was giving me the aid I needed. Just an offhanded sentence, tossed out in good company, another night on the way home.
They can still be one of your favorite passengers, even if you hardly see them more than once or twice a year. The last time I saw Joshelyn was the New Year's Eve prior to the most recent one. She'd just acquired keys to her new apartment, further north on Rainier, and she was excited. We spoke of reduced commute times, new roommates, and the adventure of transporting possessions by bus.
She was a unique compliment to the riders around her, especially at night in the southlands. Her demure ponytail and sensible attire, chosen with warmth in mind, couldn't disguise a certain electric vitality, unafraid and insistent on being herself, regardless of the circumstances. Sitting cross-legged on the bench seat. Something powerful in her slight, unassuming frame, radiating from those sharp blue eyes– or maybe sharp green eyes, I can never remember.
We bonded over books. How refreshing, this lettered, erudite young mind steeped in books not just from school, more than able to hold her own against her busmates, unsuspecting older men trying to tell her the state of things. Some among the younger set try to hide their intellectual acumen, not realizing there's a way to be smart and stylish at the same time. I wonder if they ask themselves, who exactly am I trying to impress, in my effort to limit my own perspectives, and to what degree is it worth it?
Joshelyn's likely in her post-collegiate years, but she has the relaxed confidence of someone either older or much younger. Her voice doesn't need to broadcast her affinities, feels no pressure to proclaim her quality. I'm impressed by people like that.
Tonight, one year later, our conversation isn't about books or moving furniture. She's telling me about her new squeeze, and it's next-level stuff. They've eloped. "Serious" is the wrong term, although that would be true; potent is better. Spirited. She's been in long relationships before– very long ones– and she knows what heartache is. So when she, with her battle-scarred heart, tells of how excited she is about this new fellow, I pay attention. It's an unusual mixture; she's Juliet on the balcony, walking on air, but she's been through so much more. I expect this ebullience from teenagers. How does she do it, friend? Listen to that voice, those sparkling eyes.
The fact that she possesses the very same is a causer de joie, proof that we can rebuild without putting up walls, that we can still find it in ourselves to be vulnerable, that hardest and most worthwhile thing. Brené Brown, PhD: "vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change."
Joshelyn asked me, "have you ever been in love?"
She put the question with genuine excitement. She asked because she knew it was the most beautiful mode of existence, and that it was exceedingly rare. She asked because she knew it lived in fiction more frequently than in life. That being in a relationship was no kind of guarantee, and sometimes the loneliest place of all. She asked because she knew it sometimes never happens, but if it did, you cherished it, no matter how awkward or strange or new. She asked because she trusted I was smart enough to know these things. Her voice carried the wisdom that was nimble enough to be foolish, brave enough to be open.
I thought for a long time before answering.