A brand-new batch of recent film work for you all, in the Photography section! These are unedited negative scans of cross-processed Fuji Provia slide film, various color negative brands, and the excellent Croatian black-and-white stock, Fomapan.
"Whuhjjoo pick?" What'd you pick? It's the question we operators all ask each other, right after "Pick-" that thrice-yearly event in which we have an opportunity to choose a different route. It's all terribly exciting, and not unlike a total job change- you might be in a different part of the county, with different coworkers and passengers, shifting your schedule to accomodate new hours or days off.... I was at the 4 terminal at Center Park, and eagerly asked the question of Kevin, the driver of the bus in front of me. We're both from LA, and we like to riff off each other. Warm sunlight held on our faces, glancing through the burgeoning leaves of late Spring.
"I picked 7s," Kevin announced. He sounded disappointed. Oh no, I thought. Was I hearing a little of the old Picker's Remorse?
With buyer's remorse, hopefully you can go back and return your item. Picker's Remorse is a touch more extreme, in that what you pick for the shake-up cannot be changed. Except in the most unusual of circumstances, it is binding. Sometimes you feel Picker's Remorse moreso precisely because of this permanence, even if you're not actually sure how bad the work will really be. I like Kevin, and I didn't want him feeling the weight of the old P.R. When you feel the Remorse, you see everything through a damp lens. He's at heart a positive guy, and without really thinking about it, I naturally wanted to steer him back to himself.
I said, truthfully, "man, I wish I coulda picked 7s!"
"I always see you smilin' always on that 7."
"I love that thing. Seven in the summertime, that's one o' my favorites. Back and forth on Rainier Avenue, stays light out in the evenings, nice big Breda, takin' the workin' people home, movin' the people around... it gets hot though." I'm referring to the coach type, essentially a bubble of glass with no air conditioning, which gets famously hot in the summer.
"Yeah it does. It be burnin'!"
"It bakes. But it's like, it's one a those things we're gonna tell our grandkids, you know, like 'when Aaahh was young the bus was a hundred degrees!'"
Something awakens in him in that moment. He registers a sea change, the blinders coming off, a new perspective smiling out: "Yeah! yeah, you right!"
"Is' part a the journey, you know, we all goin' through these parts a life,"
"Yeah yeah. I dig it. See man, Nate, you got the attitu'."
"Aw, I don't know. It's just part ' of that journey, you know how you hear the old folks talk about back in the day... and right now today, this is our time!" Today's complaints will be tomorrow's nostalgia. How's that for bizarre human nature? "And we got to enjoy it today, you know?"
"Yeah man, them old folks, they went through some stuff, man, I'm tellin' ya. Some uh these young folks nowadays,"
"Got to look out for the elders."
"Check this out," he continued. "It'd be this old lady ride up with me every time I do the 2, goin' up Queen Anne area. Her name was Miss Bonnie, and we'd get to talkin,' she always be on there, and I got to know her a little bit. And she always take a long time get on the bus, she had her walker, carrying her groceries, everything. And one day she be getting on and her wallet falls out. And out comes a roll of hundred dollar bills."
"No joke, came right outta her wallet, fell on the floor. Five, six, seven hundred dollar bills."
"Right there on the floor."
"Yeah. and you know whuh she said? She said excuse me, I think I dropped some bills. And I put my hands in the air said it's okay Miss Bonnie, I'm gonna get that for you, you go 'head get yourself situated. We got you covered in here. And I picked up the bills and she sat down and I gave the bills back to her. She trusted me to do that! You think that would go down between any two a these young folks today?"
He's sliding down again, but I can't give up hope: "the thing is though, there will always be old people tha's rude, old people that's polite, young people that's rude, young people that's polite. For me, I get so excited when the young folks are polite. Sure, it don't happen all the time, but it does happen."
"And that moves me, man! It does somethin' inside. Cause those kids are the future."
"Man, iss been a pleasure rappin wit' you! I got to go get in this number 4 here."
Shaking hands with enthusiasm: "it's gonna be a beautiful night!"
"Yeah it is! Always!"
If you know what's happening in this picture, it's because you were there! I'll write about that in the book, but not on the blog. Too much silly string involved!
Hope to see you at Seattle Art Museum this Thursday. It's a short, one-night only event, and likely will not be allowed to be photographed or filmed for posterity. If you're in the neighborhood... Details here!
My thoughts on what films will dominate at today's Oscar ceremony, and why- over at Erik Samdahl's site, filmjabber. As for my thoughts on the actual quality of the films themselves, check out my Top Ten of the Year if you haven't already!
This post also available on theUrbanist.org.
"Are you righteous? Kind? Does your confidence lie in this? Are you loved by all? Know that I was, too. Do you imagine your sufferings will be less because you loved goodness? Truth?"
-Terrence Malick, The Thin Red Line
I've driven buses across the Aurora Bridge about a thousand times. Without fail, every time I do so, two thoughts cross my mind.
The first thought is inevitably on how incredibly beautiful the everything looks. Regardless of conditions, whether stormy, foggy, clear- whether a loamy yellow in the setting sun or night after dark in deep blues, where you can sense the vast space while hardly seeing it- wow, I think, coming around the curve at Halliday and bursting into the wide open expanse.
It's absolutely gorgeous out here.
The second thought is always about Mark McLaughlin and Silas Cool, plunging off the bridge to their deaths, taking the bus and all the passengers with them. Perhaps you know of the incident; everyone on the bus either died or was injured, and the route number, then called the 359, was retired. Why change the number to the 358? As Ron Sims said in 1998, right after the event, "so that years from now, people will ask why? And we can remember a person . . . we never want to forget."
As I cross the bridge where he died, driving the same route he drove, the question naturally occurs to me how I would feel if the same circumstances took place on my bus. Am I prepared for that, I always wonder. I know what the answer needs to be:
I need to be completely okay with it, eyes open and ready.
We all have our differences, but there are a few universals. One of them, I think, is that we all wish to close our eyes for the last time having as few regrets as possible. People talk of squaring things away before they pass on. It's time to make amends, as the saying goes. Having that long talk with your estranged brother. Connecting with your daughter before you go. Being on good terms with the ones you love, and with yourself. Why wait till death's door to be able to look in the mirror?
There is a drive in me to be good, to try and make actual my ideal of a good person. Part of it is reinforced by the daily reminder the Aurora Bridge offers. Awareness of death really means awareness of time. We place value on time only because we know it is limited, and what Bruegel the elder called the Triumph of Death can in fact be seen not as desolation but as a light, a gift of insight, the window through which we perceive the value of happiness and right action, now.
That's part of the drive in me to square things away. I like a clean closet.
John is the guy from the end of this post, he of the white ponytail and smoky voice. He found me when I first started on the 358 over a year ago, and was thrilled by my attitude. "This is route is NO JOKE," he would say, amazed at the ebullient sensibility I chose to bring to the route. He'd stand at the front of the old 2300-series coaches and we'd gab it up.
The bus was often full- the chat seat not available for him- and the yellow line he's supposed to stand behind was a couple feet back from my driver's seat, making it awkward for him to stand and talk to me while still following the rules. I wouldn't have minded if he was a bit over the line- on those coaches it was painted pretty far back, and his being in front of it would not have been a safety issue. But John would lean in precariously, positioning his body at a gravitationally suspect 45-degree angle, proudly pointing out how he his feet were "definitely behind the yellow line, check it out," even if his entire body was in front of it. I enjoyed his company. He was rarely sober, coming from the bar after his day at work, and we would discuss the books he was reading, relationships, and kindness to strangers. I'd be riding the 44, a passenger, and I'd see him get on and we'd keep right on talking as if the intervening weeks or months hardly existed.
Then one night I was in conversation with a driver friend at Aurora Village Transit Center when he came over. I was keyed into the discussion I was having, and intent on listening to my friend.
"Hey John," I said distractedly, happy to see him but anxious to keep talking.
"Hey, Nathan! How's it going?"
"Good, and you?"
I smiled impatiently and he nodded, feeling uncomfortable in the ensuing silence. "Good to see you," I said quickly, and he strained out a polite smile and walked away. Immediately I regretted my standoffish attitude.
After that I didn't see John for a while, but I wanted to talk with him- erase that awkwardness, and let him know that of course, I like his company. Yes, this is pretty small fry as far as regret-inducing dilemmas go, but sometimes it's the little things that gnaw at us.
Weeks later- there he was! At 85th Street outbound! Hooray! The crowd began filing in, face after face, but... no John. He stayed back, outside, choosing instead to wait for the next bus. "John, what the heck are you doing," I said aloud to no one in particular as I drove away. "You're supposed to be riding my bloody bus!"
On the second-to-last day that the 358 ever existed, I saw him again at 46th. My bus was packed, and the general consternation of people boarding and deboarding lasted several minutes. Once again he didn't board, instead standing just out of my sight, by the rear of the bus, sipping on his paper coffee cup.
"John! John, hey, man!" I said, jumping out of the coach and striding toward him. I didn't think about the crowd inside the bus, watching and waiting. I just needed to shake his hand. It would take too long to explain why. I just like taking care of these things. Smoothing out the inconsistent details, ribbing the half-forgotten itches out of consciousness.
"Oh, heeyy, Nathan!" he said, turning, becoming alive.
Me, grabbing his right hand in a firm shake, left arm reaching back for a man-hug. "What's goin' on, John? Good to see ya!"
"Hey, good to see you too!"
"How you been?"
"Oh, I've been great, I've been great, I'm just, you know,"
"You finishing up work?"
I honestly can't remember his response. I was too excited, gleaming as I took in his crisp eyes, chapped red skin, and bright smile.
"You wanna go for a ride?"
"Well, yeah, but, that thing is stuffed, man."
"I think I'll finish my coffee here, get my book out."
"Sure no yeah, makes sense. You wanna relax, spread out on your way home, I'm into it."
"Yeah, you know."
"Hey listen John, always good to run into you."
"I'll see you again!" I said, hopping back inside my bus. We'd walked back up to the front together.
Only then did I register how odd all this must have looked to the other passengers. The last days of the 358 had the quality of time traveling at a speed outside my experience. The act of shaking John's hand collapsed the entirety of the day into a gesture. In it lived the desire to make things right, to touch the lives of all the strangers I'd come to know, to be close to the tough reality that had taken me in with such kindness.... To live and breathe in these final moments, without the need to process them yet as memories, to learn how to glory in the last breath of time, without sadness.
-You can find me on the Great 7/49, in the evenings.