"Thank you. I hope it's a pleasant rest of the evening for you," I say to someone at Third and Union, on a late-night inbound 13.
"I hope so for you too," she replies. It's been a quiet evening.
Then, from the sidewalk, out in the darkness, a face approaches with the familiar accompaniment, shrill and hoarse all at once: "AYYOUGOTHIRDUHJAMES?"
"Hi, Denise! I do!"
There's only one Denise. She plows onboard like the force of nature she is.
Abnormally thin and ever-moving, she comes from the cartoon tradition of relentless vocal and physical energy. You sense it rushing out untapped, barely controllable, an inertia with everywhere and nowhere to go.
"Aw, pretty good," I reply in normal tones.
"I GO THIRD JAMES! YOU GO THIRD JAMES?"
"Oh yeah, Third and James!"
"THANK," she cries as she tosses in a few coins. Glistening yellow pustules cover the lined umber skin and charcoal bruises of her aging hand. Denise will always offer a token gesture as she storms the farebox. What more could one ask for?
She sits down and stands up. Then she sits down again, just behind me.
"How you doin' tonight?"
"GOOD," she wails. "MAH FAV'RITE DRIVER!"
"Aw!" It's often hard to tell how present she is. Typically every fiber of her wiry frame is focused on her next fix, but you get a glimmer every now and again. She loves candy, but doesn't have any tonight.
"AHM GOIN' THIRD JAMES," she announces to no one in particular. There's only one other passenger on the bus, a crisp silent man in a blazer from Queen Anne. "I WANNA GO THUHJEMS." The syntax was shaky to begin with, and it's beginning to
collapse. She experiments with subtly different alterations on an established theme. I'm listening to the Goldberg Variations here. "AH GUH THUJUMS," she offers.
At Marion a well-dressed African-American gentleman asks if I stop at Yesler. I do. He folds his umbrella, reaching inside his frock coat for an Orca Card. The glint of his oiled shoes catches in the dim light. The man's on his phone, attempting to have a conversation: "I might be able to get that to you by Tuesday-", but it's to no avail, what with Denise's variations in the background- or, perhaps more accurately, the foreground.
"I GOTTA GO THIR' JAMES," she howls to the high heavens, with wild abandon.
"That's what I'm talkin' about," I say. "We're definitely goin' to Third and James!"
Well-Dressed hangs up, giving up on his conversation. He looks at Denise, and then at me. "Dayumn," he declares after a moment. "Why's it so loud in here?"
"Just another day in the life!" I laugh.
I respond to her with, "I'm goin there too!"
Denise has dropped some change, a few pennies rolling out of her clenched fists like so many raindrops. One rolls toward Well-Dressed. Denise says, "you want tha' quarter?"
"That's a penny." He kicks it back disdainfully. "There. Take your penny."
"Oh whuh oh iss okay," she replies, rocking back and forth, barely registering him.
I was thinking of commonalities I shared with Denise, or other ways of considering the scene. Moments of urgency I've felt. The Goldberg Variations. Well-Dressed seemed to be thinking about how different he was from her. Even a sigh can be elitist: "I want the next stop," he moaned.
Now, the next stop is called James, but it's also the stop for Yesler. The zone is on the block bordered by the two streets. Well-Dressed asks, "is the next one Yesler?"
"NO! NO! THE NEX' ONE THUHJUMS!" Denise's mouth extends out, flat sideways, almost in tears. She sounds like she's about to start crying.
Placating: "No worries, both of you guys want the next one, it's all good. It's the same one, Yesler and James."
"Here we are. At Third and James! Bye, Denise! I'll see you again!"
"AY!" she yells at someone in the shadows, already racing forward, on to the next thing.
Well-Dressed is gone, and the third man gets off as well, the silent witness from Queen Anne. "You have a good night," he says with untold volumes of emphasis and concern. It was the genuine concern you voice for your friend who's just been drafted.
"I will," I say, laughing. He was kind, and I was grateful, but I felt fine. No draft was taking place.
Some people think Denise is the bottom of the barrel. I don't agree. That would be elitist apathy, which we can always use less of. My heart breaks a little when I hear terms like "Lake City Trash" or "Garbage on Aurora" used to describe people. I happen to like the lady. She is exactly who she is determined to be, no more and no less. My first experience with her was in my early teens. She asked me for change (at Third and James!). After I gave her a handful, she walked away without a word, picking out the pennies and throwing them on the ground. I was offended by that for years, even recently. Now I can see her single-minded drive wasn't concerned with offending others; just hurting herself.
That was around the time I stopped offering money to people, and the beginning of my time gladly offering help- gestures, food, a smile- and expecting nothing in return. She was doing her best to eliminate everything in her life unrelated to acquiring crack cocaine, in a way perversely similar to my great desire to purge from my life everything unrelated to being truly happy. Without knowing why, I must admit her unrelenting energy and focus brings me amusement. No other passenger knows with such confidence which stop they want! I imagine she would like simply to be acknowledged as a fellow member of the human community. I get the feeling that doesn't happen very often.
"You're a foonie bus-drivin' horse master, y' know thaht?"
I'm strolling back to my bus one morning at Aurora Village Transit Center, after using the restroom. My job, among other things, is to take seriously people who call me the foonie bus-driving horsemaster. This gentleman, a passenger on my most recent trip, has just approached me. He's stockily built, but with the romantically scraggy locks of hair you expect to see on the front of pulpy romance novels. His terrific Scottish accent carries a tone ambiguous, a current of anger whose level I can't quite place.
"Yeah, calling' out THS. You might not wanna dew thaht." THS is the methadone clinic. The letters stand for Therapeutic Health Services ("we know what that means," some users and I joked when I once explained the acronym to a curious onlooker).
"But that's where everyone's goin'!" I reply.
"But they're in treeetment, maybe they don't want everyone to know they're in treeetment," he growled darkly.
"Oh, but they may not be goin' there. Maybe they're goin' to the taco stand across the street...or hey, the smoke shop!"
He resigned himself to a chuckle. "You're a foonie horsemaster!"
"Have a good one!"
He gave me the peace gesture, two fingers.
Later, he tells me again, under identical circumstances, a tinge of burly threat coloring his words: "I'm teeellin' you, you got to stop sayin' THS. I'm the only person got off there this morning and yew said THS, now everybody thinks I'm an ahddict!"
He sounded angry, but I pretended not to notice. "Oh man no, they don't think that! They're self-absorbed in their own stuff. You know I'm just callin' out the local attractions! Maybe they think you're goin to Aqua Quip, gonna buy a hot tub...." There, I got him to smile.
I knew I needed to pay a little more attention when he was next on board. Which is why the next time he rode, I glanced in the mirror before announcing, "this is 165th next, by THS. Also by the Credit Union and the auto shop, Shoreline Motel, there's a U-Haul, let's see...we got Dana Waterproofing right here..."
Never did 165th receive such a careful and studied series of announcements. He indicated his approval by way of congenial silence. I imagine Dana and Sound Credit Union never dreamed they'd get announced as local attractions, but hey, everyone deserves a moment in the limelight.
This post also available at The Urbanist.
"I got my transfer in here somewhere." We're at 185th inbound. Her face is lined with age and humor, that kind of spirit you don't find enough- equal parts confident and humble. She's over fifty, with blue-gray eyes, wearing a couple older sweatshirts and nursing some bulging paper bags, babying them so they don't tear.
"D'you wanna come in and look for it?"
I remember an operator who came out to ride my 3/4 once. He was intrigued at how excited I was after every shift, and why I had so many commendations. "What are you doing out there?" he asked me one night at the base. After riding a trip on my 4, incognito, he came up and said, "Okay. Two things. First of all, Nathan, you should never become supervisor. You're way too good at being out here. We need people like you out here. Secondly, I've driven this route many times, and I know a lot of these guys. When they get on my bus, they don't pay when they leave. But I watched them get on now, and at first they don't know what you're doing, being so friendly, if you're bullshitting them or being sarcastic, but I notice they sit down and they keep watching you. And they realize after watching you interact with everyone else that you're actually being sincere, you're for real. And they go digging in their pockets for every loose scrap of change they have."
"Wow," I said, thrilled. "Thank you." I didn't know that. It's hard for me to gauge the experience of riding my bus- partly of course because I can never do so, and because I'm so preoccupied with the road, with the front of the bus, and with being myself.
After a time the woman comes forward and says, "this is my transfer, but it's expired. But I have a cold pop. I got a cold 7-Up here, for an upgraded transfer."
"Oh, you don't have to give me that. You should hang on to it. That's nice of you though," I say, trading out her transfer for a fresh one. "I love the idea. Barter! I wish more people did that, I wouldn't have to pack a lunch!"
"That's just what I need. Thank you."
"I'm glad I can help, I know it's just a little thing."
"Oh, everything helps. I'm planning a memorial service for my friend. She died. Well, she OD'd."
"She'd been on heroin for thirty-two years, she tried methadone thirteen times,"
"Wow. Oh, that's heavy. I'm so sorry she's gone!" I'm thinking how amazing it is she lasted that long in the first place. As if reading my mind, the woman says, "Yeah, but honestly I shoulda lost her ten, thirteen, fifteen years ago. I'm glad I got to know her."
She spoke of her friend's time in jail. How she tried vacating her spot at the methadone clinic so Sam, her friend, could take her spot, though this turned out to be of no use because THS is an addiction clinic, not a pain clinic. I wasn't sure if Sam was her deceased friend or another one; either way I could see the large-heartedness in her aging face, those blue eyes still bright and pulsing.
"That's really good of you," I said. "That's a pretty huge gesture, just 'cause the hardship that puts on you,"
"Yeah well you know, sometimes, these folks in the clinics are goin' through some tough-"
"They're great people."
"They have a lot to offer,"
I meant every word, and I hope it registered. On the morning reverse peak runs of the outbound 2- "the methadone express," as some call it- the recovering addicts are often the kindest passengers. They're more expressive than most, which I personally enjoy, even if others find it grating, and they look out for each other in the way that small-town communities do, invested and intertwined with each other's lives. They ask about your living situation, and they get sad when your dog dies.
"I like your outlook."
"Hey, we're all the same. What's your name?"
"I'm Nathan." Handshake. "It's good to meet you."
A month or so later I saw her again. I said, "how was the memorial service?"
Stephanie's jaw dropped. "Wow. It was good. You remembered!"
One of my films concludes with the lead actress delivering a six-minute monologue, which I asked her to memorize in full because I wanted to shoot it in one continuous take. She did so magnificently, and I was thrilled at her ability to retain all the information necessary to perform a monologue of that size. I was beyond impressed when I learned that she had simultaneously memorized another lengthy monologue for auditioning purposes, while also working on other things, and that she was able to dedicate complete focus to all of these works. You can keep adding, she told me. We think that by adding stuff, some other material in our brain has to get thrown out, but you can retain a lot in your memory. I definitely can't remember everyone's face, but I make an effort.
"It was good. It was okay, actually." Stephanie's grief had grown in the intervening weeks. There was energy inside her still though, and she was trying to expend it in healthy ways. Some people feel most whole when they're helping others.
"You know that area, around by the side of the tobacco shop, and up to where the bus stop is?"
"You notice anything different about it?"
"Uh," I said, stalling. That area's usually overrun with filth, but I remembered it looking cleaner than usual today- though I couldn't be sure.
"Did it look cleaner today?" she asked me.
"Actually, yeah, it did!" I said, turning. "it looked kinda nice today."
"That was me," she said with pride. "I cleaned up that whole area. I was thinking, this place just looks-"
"Wait. You cleaned up that entire section?"
"Yeah, I spent seven hours over there yesterday. I just got tired of looking at it. I was like, the whole rest of Shoreline looks great, and then this spot by the clinic always looks like complete shit-"
We started laughing.
-"and what kind of message does that send to everyone, you know?"
"That is fantastic, Stephanie. Seven hours! You know, before you said that, I was thinking, it looked good."
"It's about the community, you know? These aren't bad people."
The actual words spoken were not so much the meat of the exchange. It was the noises in between. You have to imagine the bubbling, incandescent laughter- perhaps giggling is a more accurate term- which emanated from both of us, for the duration of the conversation.
He came forward at southbound Union, late in the evening on a 120. One of his eyes seemed in a permanent state of half-closure, an exaggeration of the Alfie-era Michael Caine's lidded stare, but this didn't dim his demeanor in the slightest. His outer coat was scruffy while still being presentable, if such a thing is possible; it was a multi-purpose outfit, muted colors and ambiguous textures, a manner of dress you could reasonably get away with at a sporting event, a housewarming party, and that spiderweb network of sewers underneath UW (no need to go home and change!). Which is to say, he'd fit in just about anywhere.
I wonder now if I thought that because his ebullient presence overwhelmed one into simply ignoring his outfit, the details of which I have trouble recalling. I'd place him in his mid-forties, with an eleven o'clock shave (it was about that hour, after all), from a country of origin I couldn't determine. He spoke English well enough.
"How far down Third do you go?" he asked.
"Um, actually just,"
"Is it just the next one?"
"Yeah." Here he laughed, and I laughed, and for some reason we didn't really ever stop.
"Okay!" Bubbling out. "I'm glad I asked!"
"Perfect timing! How's your day been?"
"Good. And you?"
"Fantastic," I said, with emphasis. He chuckled as I continued: "I'm alive; no accidents;" I clasped my hands together in a gesture of thankful supplication, adding, "everything is beautiful!"
He knew I meant it, but the statement has an added element of ridiculousness when sitting at a red light at Third and University in the middle of the night. He laughed again, we both did, skating on the frame of mind that lets you see levels, finding amusement in everything.
He says, "yeah, the stress! And plus the vehicle is so heavy!"
"I have to stay happy!"
Chortles, rising up.
"Yeah, it'll get to you! I drive truck."
"Oh. Excellent! You know how it is!"
"Yeah, I'm always trying to avoid accidents because we're so wide,"
"So wide, so long,"
Our shared agreement manifests itself in gleeful merriment. I don't know what the rest of the bus thinking. Maybe they feel it too; who knows.
At a red light I follow up on his words, saying in a serious tone, "plus you have to be careful because it's your job too."
"Yeah, I look at my mirrors all the time."
Mystifyingly, this gets us cracking up again. "The mirrors, yes! constantly! I stare at them all day!"
Effervescent mirth, though we've got only the tiniest of ingredients to work with. The turning green light at Seneca releases us.
"So do you do cross-country, or,"
"Just local," he responds.
"Good, that's nice. Don't have to drive to Florida. That's always handy."
You would have thought we were under the influence of something. I wave big at an operator across the street, as loud as a silent gesture can get.
"Do you like it?" I ask him. "The job?"
He pauses before replying. I start tittering. "It's good," he says hesitantly. We're at it again.
Third and Spring, our last stop on Third: "Okay, here it is," I say.
"Thank you. Have a good night, be safe!"
Okay, you be safe too!"
"You too, be safe!"
He had a slight accent, but laughter has no culture of origin. His and mine intertwined together, fluently, authentically, even after I drove away, echoing in my greetings to the incoming people.
"Welcome everyone, this is a 120," I announce into the microphone as we approach the turn on Columbia. I'm still riding the mirthful wave, hardly able to control my happiness. Where did it come from? It colors my voice and enunciation, living in the syllables and word choice, hanging in the air of my living room full of strangers. I can see the older Latino gentlemen looking up at me, looking at each other, enjoying the sensation of being here. "Makin' our last stop downtown here at Columbia," I say, "by the ferry terminal. Tonight we're gonna go out to White Center. After that we'll go to Burien!"
I wanted to add a "hooray" at the end, but thought better of it!
Northbound Aurora at 100th. Middle-aged white man, just this side of scruffy, leaning into the front door:
"Hey, did you see a, I left a wallet a couple hours ago…?"
"Uhh," I said.
I look around on the dash. This coach has been out all day, already operated on for eight hours by another operator. We have an agreement where she leaves her lost and found items with me, instead of her taking them back to base. It doesn't affect the process of the items' transit to the Lost and Found Office, but it does give the items several more hours to remain on the road. I prefer this because you never know who might be out there, bus-hunting, trying to find their lost item. Lost items take 24 hours to show up in the Lost and Found Office, and sometimes that's too long.
I do have a lost wallet today. It's an unusual one- huge, black, really big, with a lot of pockets.
"Describe it to me."
"Um, it's big, it's really big, black, with a lot of pockets."
"I got you!" I exclaimed, smiling, handing him the goods. He made a wordless exclamation of joy, his once anxious face instantly transformed into a radiating, glowing orb. I felt thrilled just to be giving it to him, but I knew my excitement was no match for what must have felt. He stayed on board, going home, his gratitude spilling out on everyone around him.
"I thought I had lost my wallet," he blurted out to anyone who would listen, and to quite a few more who wouldn't. "I'd lost it, I'd asked I don't know how many drivers, standing out here for hours and all of the sudden, he's got it! He had it! I found it! Can you believe that?"
The others shuffled around him. A few commuters listened, but for the rest his praises fell on deaf ears. He didn't care. He had the glow. I smiled, watching him in my mirror, a spirit awakened, vivified out of despair. Happiness poured forth from him like a living organism, omniscient and spreading, a disease you wanted to catch. He'd been swimming for too long, grasping in the dark for air, and now he was on dry land.
Yes it is! The title says it all. Have you thanked your driver lately? Officially speaking, today's the day to do so, although you're welcome to do so any day you choose!
Driving the bus is a rewarding task, but an extremely demanding one. I'm amused when passengers ask if "it ever gets boring-" it's rather more the exact opposite. Repeated exposure to certain behaviors makes being at your patient best more difficult- but still possible. Each day is a test. The County Council's financial decision to tighten schedules exacerbates all the problems one encounters on the road; here's hoping that April 22 funding tax comes through, without which everyone in the county, even those who never use buses, will be put at a severe disadvantage. But enough of that for now.
There's no doubt bus driving has made me a better person. I've learned levels of empathy, patience and kindness I've never approached at any other job, let alone known were possible. I consider the needs of others and see the equal plane we all exist on so much more clearly. I'm thankful for the intense joy it brings me, the opportunity to be here, amongst the crowds, where I feel whole. There is an immediacy and a fulfillment of being I encounter out here that is specific and soul-satisfying. I've not felt it anywhere else.
Much of that joy comes from you, the passengers and other operators. I have you to thank for building such a beautiful house together, on every bus I drive, over and over, day after growing day. Thank you to all the operators who guide me by their example, and who teach me valuable things without even trying, simply by being themselves. You know who you are.
Maybe I'll see you later on today.
In that doorway, over there on Second South, is where a woman goes at night. She injects and imbibes various assortments of drugs as her body shudders and moans, phasing through the different reactions, pushing out time and life.
Just down the block is where a shooting was last night; Sho Luv came by to tell me about it, looking uncharacteristically mellow. He still managed his usual "you old enough to have a license?" upon seeing me, gold teeth smiling thick and wide, but not as wide as usual. "I was gonna go over and wait for the bus over there," he said, explaining his preference for the Third & James zone over Second & Main, "but something told me not to go up there. That's when I heard the shots."
His monologue today was a sober one, cascading between several intercutting topics- "knew a woman who got shot through the cheek, she was okay otherwise," "my big brother, at the club down there," "it don't matter, anybody gettin' shot is bad," "I'm gonna stop inside 88 Keys," "food's alright," "what are they called, the hairstyle, remember back in the, wha's, casual in the back-"
He walks over to the club, considering the pavement as it passes him underfoot. On the other side of this block is Third South and Jackson, where Troy Wolff died from an inexplicable nighttime stabbing in September; his girlfriend was injured but survived. I'm here parked on my layover, doors open by choice, proofreading stories in my journal.
Today the sky is low and gray, the wind coiling around brick facades, giving murmur to the empty historical structures. Garbage blows by, scraps of yesterday catching on uneven pavement. I hear a lilting soprano carrying on the wind and look up. Who could be singing like that, here? There is a boy across the street, climbing on the lower sections of a streetlamp pole. He is trying to tape up posters and adorn them with a sort of flag-like banner.
He looks to be early teens, black, in a green hooded zip-up and beige carpenters. The wind keeps rushing through his colorful flag-banner, forever stopping him from securing it as he would like, but there is no frustration in him. His gentle voice sings out soft and pure, angelic, over and over, a lullaby for a bedraggled square. It's a repeated stanza from a previous age, and I can hardly believe it's him. I watch him clamber up a few steps, precarious, as he strings tassels around the pole. The lyrics are lost in the whisk of air, but it feels like a forties slow piece, Ella Fitzgerald or early Nina Simone, maybe a song his mother sang when he was little. The block is mostly deserted. It's just him and the wind and the litter, the flag-banner never quite cooperating, and now, his unfaltering soul singing out, now and now again.
Does his song keep him warm, I wonder? He is not discouraged by the repeating wind, by sullied decrepitude or the buckling weight of history. In his faint but unwavering voice is an outlook that completely revitalizes the space. Some might call him naive; I say he has the boldness to feel something we don't want to forget.
That's the photographer Larry Huang and I, holding a paper plate. Don't ask why.
Many of you made it out to the opening of this show back in November. Some of you stopped by at the intervening Third Thursdays. Thank you for coming. I've met some truly special people there. This Thursday is the closing show for this show (although technically it's still on view, business hours, until April 1). If you haven't had a chance to make it out, or want to stop by again for a chat, I urge you to do so! Looking forward to seeing you folks!
Kate Alkarni Gallery is inside Seattle Design Center, in Georgetown. This show is March 20, from 6pm-9. Details and more here.
John (a different John, not the fellow from the 358 posts) seems to come from another age. Multicolored crumbs pepper his dry lips and beard. His eyes are glassy, sometimes present, sometimes far away. A gentle cloud of paraphernalia seems to drift ever around him- garbage bags on their last legs, the red handles stretched from overuse; backpacks and shoulder packs, hanging off this shoulder, or that one. Here is a man who needs three arms.
The better part of his wardrobe lays heavy on his back. Dark jacket over dark jacket weighing down his drifting figure, halftone layers of brown and gray, with a coating of grime unifying it all. He would sit at Rainier and Bayview in the summer evenings, barely able to talk, but always ready to smile.
You would wonder if he was lucid enough to be aware of your existence, and then he'd look you in the eye, responding graciously to your greeting. Today I'm at the 358 layover, my door open, leaning on the farebox with my book (Dumas), when John comes ambling by. He stops when he sees me.
"Heeeeey," I exclaim, recognizing him.
"Hey, man! I need a taste o' 'caine!"
"Yeah, I'm just hunting' for a little bit o' 'caine. Hey, congratulations on supervisor!"
"What, me? Naw man, I'm still just a regular old bus driver!"
"Aw what? They told me some young Chinese guy went supe."
"I didn't mean to imply..."
"Oh, no, I like bus..." What was I about to say? Where am I going with this? I like buses? I'm not Chinese? Best to tack outward a little- "I'm glad you said hey! I see you got shoes now, that's some good stuff!"
This is the first time I've seen him walking in something other than scuffed, oversize white socks. The bones in his feet seem fused awkwardly. They are large, and he's unable to "walk," in the traditional sense, but he gets by doing the shuffle.
"Yeah, I remember you from that 7 route!"
"Glad you're still hangin' around!"
"You moved up in the world, I see," he announces, looking for the route number. "What's this?"
"I love it. It's like the 7, long and straight!"
"Yeah, they's some good ones. I like that one out by the arsenal."
"Magnolia, yeah! 24, 33..."
"Mostly older folks."
"Real quiet out there."
"Yeah. Nice to get away for a second," he remarks wistfully.
"Oh, the park's beautiful."
"Except them drills though."
"Drills. What kinda drills?"
"The army guys, they run these drills, all kinds a hours..." Discovery Park is built on the historic grounds of Fort Lawton, and still contains adjacent military properties and housing. He continued, "I was out there real early one morning, and they surrounded me with quiet subterfuge!"
"Those army guys really like to play around out there, huh?"
Right when he said the word "subterfuge," I felt the budding sensation of learning something new. Nobody on the street says subterfuge- except when they do. Who was I, to assume he didn't know the word? There are facets and details in the lives of others we can't pretend to fathom.
A blind senior passenger recently told me he was a chauffeur for celebrities back in his day ("Ah was that mista Daisy," he explained), and although I was skeptical, I had to admit there was a very small chance that yes, it was in fact possible. Subterfuge. In that moment the word took on a new meaning- there are multitudes within me, despite my appearance. I, John, am not a homeless drug addict; I am a person who happens to be homeless and addicted, and there is more that defines me.
To have my belief in depth, regardless of appearance, confirmed, was profoundly electrifying, if such a reaction is possible. It's the freeing feeling of an open door, and the welcome wave of understanding that no, you don't know everything about this universe, and there is still space for pleasant surprises. I grinned out at John, unable to explain just why.
I'm told this was the biggest turnout at SAM for any tour of its type. The thanks for that goes entirely to you, the audience- you, who took the time to transport yourself out there, who chose this over so many other ways to spend a Thursday evening, who came all the way downtown for an event that lasted only thirty minutes, trusting in the possibility. You, who figured out the parking and the ticket line and what else, who wanted to take part in something, to blow on that flickering flame you believe in and maybe make it bigger. Any words of thanks I can summon up now, in the face of such a gesture, would be horrendously inadequate. I'm humbled into a state beyond words, and am hardly able to comprehend such an outpouring of goodwill.
People often ask me what it's like to give speeches like this, or how I feel afterwards. I immediately eject a bunch of superlatives, attempting to give shape to the thrill I feel. "It was awesome," I'll exclaim with ebullient vehemence, using the relevant hand gestures. Such sentiments barely scratch the surface. I offer below some further reflections on the evening from my perspective.
There were so many faces I wanted to talk to, listen to. So many memories fluttering in my mind, being confronted with those smiles and grins of anticipation, gestures of present excitement. I wanted to reach out and touch all that, to feel the anthemic high of togetherness. That's how it feels at the outset; then the sensations begin to parse themselves out.
I see my best friends, familiar, anchors letting me know it's okay to be there, standing there, braying to the high heavens. They let me summon the drive to plunge ahead, to wriggle further into myself. Additionally, there were people I recognized and wanted to catch up with, faces I was thrilled to see in life, right in front of me, faces I hadn't seen in months or even years.
Then there were people whose smiles triggered faint memories, jogging loose the ephemera of passing time. I remember smiling at a woman in a beanie before it all started. Where had I seen her face before? Questions, stilling my mind with contemplation amidst all the noise, reminding me how small I am, how lucky I am to be alive, here, today. Two young boys with curious eyes. The tall man in the back, thoughtful, hand on his chin just like you do, a stranger you already know. Others gathering around, new to me. What deep reservoirs of stories and perceptions are they coming from?
There is a focus in public speaking performance that is both heady and precise. For everything to come off as intended, ninety-five percent of my mind has to be on the work; any less and the spell is broken. As you may know, however, the remaining five percent is still very much alive, taking in the manyness of a humming space. The mind still stirs with echoes and reflections, long after it's all over. I wanted so badly to take each person aside and ask after their day, see how they've been. Did I know them? I know I wanted to.
I longed for each millisecond to hold, for some impossible way to wallow in the immediate details, that there might be time enough to reflect on the multitude of facets each moment carried. A listener tossing her hair, breathing further into a new thought. The click of someone's camera. A family coming closer, intrigued. I register faces nodding at an oblique historical reference, and I stifle my surprise and continue on. Eager eyes at Blindfold Gallery, framed by glasses and a burgeoning 'fro. I want to inhale the worth of this goodness. It doesn't come from me; we're all building it together. There was a light in your being, in your excitement, and I imagined we mirrored each other. Thank you.
This event took place because and only because of SAM's great Erin Bailey. Without her enterprise, enthusiasm and support the evening wouldn't have existed.