A Pause for TED
I'm giving a TEDx talk on May 4th.
The details will be updated here, at the home page for TEDxUofW.
I'll be very intermittent on the blog between now and then, but it's not because I don't love you all! I need time to finesse this thing so it can be worth your while. You know how I like to get these sorts of things right (check out the Speeches page for past public speaking appearances of mine!).
That's one update. The other update is that as of last night I'm finally back where I belong: on the fabulous, legendary nighttime 7/49. You won't have to read about me griping about lack of community on the 5 (although I've really grown to adore some of the folks out there; more on that anon). Instead, you'll hear me waxing poetic about the litter on my bus, pictured above, on one of the few lines where the route is instantly identifiable by the condition of the coach interior!
And sharing moments like this one, which happened on my first night back, and the number of similar incidents of which I've already lost count:
Sensitive dark eyes glinting with a human spark after hours, deep in the southland interior. "Where you been, man?" he exclaimed. He had that certain middle-aged grin, easy, a face that still thinks it's a child from time to time, able to glow.
I smiled wide. "I been right here waiting for you!"
"Ha! Really though!"
"I was hidin' out on another route but I had to get back here. I missed this one!"
"What number they had you on?"
"The 5, oh. How you like that?"
"The 5 is..." I gave the 'more-or-less' hand gesture. "It's okaayyyyyy."
"Yeah it's, you know. They're all right. But I miss the energy out here, people sayin' hey!"
"Tha's what I'm talkin' about! My guy is IN TOWN!"
"You know it!"
"IN TOWN!" He had to put his ebullience somewhere; it was too much for only me. He turned to the person next to him, a half-attentive younger fellow this midnight hour, but who nodded in agreement to his enthusiasm: "Ey, you know this guy? Talkin' 'bout this driver, bro! Beautiful boy! Man's got a heart, you know wh'I'm saying?" He reached back up to me with his voice. "Ah love you. No. I love you."
"Love you back, my guy! Great to be back!"
"Sheeeyit. Man, stay on our shift! Love you. Everyday just like you know, we already got what we need!"
I might be the only person who's equally excited to be giving a TED talk and driving the night 7....
Thanks for tolerating my absenteeism from the blog this next month. I'll still stop in from time to time, and meanwhile, check out this list of 2018 highlights from my blog, with commentary!
"Hey," I exclaimed, with welcome surprise, feeling the vivacious synergy from the old 7 whose dearth on the 5 I detail here. Encountering affability in an ocean of indifference; maybe I was feeling what they often feel out in the world. If Seattle is to them what the 5 is to me, am I their 7? Their oasis? I've gotten spoiled driving that route. No Seattle Freeze out in the 'hood….
He perked up too, taking a moment to switch his Big Gulp from right hand to left; a fistbump was important. He gestured to his friend, who unlike him was American and white, exclaiming, "this is my brother! From another mother! But still my brother!"
I laughed. "Cool!"
He was asking where the weed place was. I thought I'd seen him somewhere. Finally he blurted out, "I remember you from before." Befow.
"I thought I recognized your face, yeah! Where, the 7 the 49?"
"Ah was in Rainer Beach trying to get a ride, and I didn't have no goddamn money but you said, ‘GET IN!' Ah always remembered that, this’ the cool bus driver!"
I have every confidence I really did give him a free ride, but did I really yell 'get in?' Doesn't sound like me. Ah, memory. That must be how he remembered it, though, massaging this and that truth toward the essentials of the moment– the fact that I welcomed him onboard with enthusiasm. We highlight the things in our minds that resonate most. I'm sure I do the same, even if I make every effort to be accurate with spoken dialogue. Leaning toward the goodness.
Of which he had an optimism that was contagious. In his drunken state– definitely something besides Fanta in that Big Gulp– he hardly knew what to do with it.
"Hey," he brayed. "You know what? I kick it with white people."
"Hell yeah. You know why?"
"White people are cool!"
I grinned, but hesitated to agree outright. The news these days has got me wondering otherwise... but more seriously, any comment about behavioral patterns across entire cultural groups leaves a sour taste in my mouth, even if it's positive. You know, like your Aunt Martha blurting out about how good Asian people are at math (which, by the way, I'm living proof is false...).
In my years driving buses I've observed more than a few behaviors that this or that class group, culture or income level disproportionately engage in. But don't you feel less like your best self with such thoughts? And don't you love being proven wrong on those assumptions, reminded that although individuals may be hampered by circumstance, they are not bound by their background?
But I'm getting way too deep in here. I think he was just trying to express that he liked people of all cultures. Such as me. Like I do. That he evaluated people on an individual level, and his inclusive perspective contained a certain invigorating high, one I know well. It feels so deeply good, and right, to leapfrog past prejudice, into that heady and intoxicating place of living the idea:
We all have a lot in common.
All of my musings were collapsed into my short reply: "Sometimes. Sometimes they're not cool, but yeah, sometimes they are."
And in his rejoinder, whose enthusiasm I in retrospect now prefer, lived the exhilarating fullness of the leapfrogging I mention above. "Naw bro, they hella cool!"
Though they sat halfway down the bus, I could still hear the two of them, and was glad for it. Theirs was a positive bluster made amusing by the casual profanity of our friend, which was so pervasively offhand that the familiar monosyllabic words clearly had no meaning, and angled the sentences instead with a rhythm, an emphasis, a further articulation of his ebullient enthusiasm.
"I like how he's calling out the stops," the Brother From Another Mother commented.
"It's the shit," our friend replied. "We in the city. He the coolest. More than Bellevue. If you in Bellevue they definitely ain't gonna tell you where the fuck you at. Those motherfuckers very quiet."
His swear words had no added emphasis, and were spoken in the amiable tone of a restaurant menu, the casual enthusiasm of the daily special.
"Hey, you know the coolest place in fuckin' all Seattle, Washington?" he asked his friend suddenly.
"Renton. Coolest fuckin' place anywhere."
This guy likes Renton. Now that's what I call positive...
"Thank you boss," he said when it was time, as they came forward to exit. "This is my guy. My brother." A sheepish young man with curly hair.
"From another mother," I added.
"You know it. He's good guy."
Vouching is always a positive act. It's proof positive of your friend's worth, but also yours too, your value as a curator of life. He was relishing that benevolent authority, and continued: "You know what? I left my job to help him. I came back. He cool. He leaving though."
"Yeah," replied the quieter fellow. "I'm moving next week."
"Had enough of this place, huh?"
"Ha! I guess."
"Well. Two thousand nineteen. Fresh beginning, new start!"
Oh, how I love seeing people light up! "Yeah,” he exclaimed, realizing how completely I was a sympathetic ear. He didn't have to be embarrassed about his loud friend, nor of the mind that his moving details were banal to me. He knew I cared. "Two thousand nineteen," he echoed, a quivering positivity coming to life, his voice daring to sound musical.
They walked off into the evening, the odd couple, comforted by acceptance, differences, encouragement. The guy from the 7, gesticulating happily through his long-sleeved sweatshirt jacket. Another Mother laughing in return, his teeth in a sidelong nighttime grin.
Yes. As it ever and always is, it was worthwhile that I came to work today. To move about in the rough-hewn fabric of urban life as a witness, and maybe contribute to its light a little too. Because they were smiling more now than when they got on.
The future was uncertain, it was nigh, but they were making it their own, together.
Just a quick note of thanks today, as only he could say it~
"Listen. Listen," he said to me.
"Please," I answered.
"You got to stop!! You just about the biggest player I've EVER seen hustlin' on the street! You a boss player leadin' the future, man."
I couldn't help laughing at– with– his ebullient rush-roar of enthusiasm. "Naw dude, you know I'm just trying to be like you!"
"Hold up. Hold up." Shaking his head. "No. You... BRINGIN' that beautiful energy like I ain't never seen. I don't even know you but I know, I could tell you's a good kind hearted man with a good soul. Don't never change that, lil' bro. No matter what they say, don't never change that. Unless it's about the money!! I'm just playin'. Really though. You got to keep it just like you been keepin' it cause this is special. Ah wanna extend a happy New Year and best wishes to you and all of your family. What's your name?"
"Nathan. And yours?"
The firm handshake. The manshake, first to solar plexus afterwards, a thing we somehow knew, giving different voice to the same unstoppable seed. Love.
He called it out again, and I heeded his call with the gladness and serious weight I would have ascribed the same command were it to come from the Gods of our ancestors, the artists we trust, the philosophers and sages of old, and I felt all their voices in his, now, a gravelly-throated grinning stranger not much different from myself:
In The (Phinney) News
A big thanks to Ana, Rylan, and most of all, Erika. Full article here.
Apologies for my lethargic posting rate this past week– it's tax time, and such things are complicated for us enterprising (if starving) artists! Our brains aren't equipped for such matters... I'd much rather just write you another story, or shoot another roll of film. But poring through these artist deduction statutes brings its own fascination. Stand by for more posts soon!
Sustenance (in White Center)
They were out there, figuring it out. A scruffy white van and a broke-down '90s-era red Ford Explorer stood on the roadside facing each other, doors open and hoods up, jumper cables linking the two in an automotive kiss. Sure, they were sitting in the bus layover, but was I really going to tell them to move?
They were concentrating. Two Latino men in their thirties, wearing clothes you don't mind getting dirty, puffy dark blue jacket with a tear here and there, the other a denim coat and jeans with paint spatter. Tennis shoes with the heels worn down, maybe a baseball hat: the universal outfit of a vast cross-section, invisible to some, a nation spent in kitchens and construction lots and shipping yards and painted houses, sharing all in the lived-in texture of analogue work.
I pulled up behind them, parking for my break, and retreated into the dark interior of my bus. I'll leave them alone. I was exhausted, and today, one worse: I was ill. Why did I come to work today? Why do I do this? I know why. Because my being absent makes the dispatcher's job harder, and I abhor being an inconvenience.
In nearly twelve years on the job, tonight was the first and only shift during which I did not announce any of the stops. Could not. I was unable to utter anything beyond a hoarse squeak. This was publicly demoralizing in ways I didn't anticipate; here were people who recognized me, wondering where did all the good cheer go?
No, I haven't finally become jaded, I promise. I'm just dying here is all. I felt so unlike myself, and tried to let them know there was no defeat in my silence, no judgment either. I beamed out smiles and nods, radiant but voiceless; waved through the mirror at people exiting the back door, or threw out the thumbs-up sign, marveling at how that symbol transcends so many cultures and ethnicities.
I thought about how maybe taking care of myself is important. I'd woken up feeling terrible but confident I wasn't contagious, being on what I assumed was the downslope of this thing. I was so sure the illness would go away by the time my evening shift started. I know other people abuse sick leave, and detest the thought of being grouped with that ilk. I drove safely as usual, but when my natural reflex of saying "thank you" came about– nothing. Just a dying frog cough.
For the first and probably only time in the history, I was thankful for all those people who wear headphones and never talk. Thank you, hordes who are deaf by choice, for knowing I would be sick and voiceless today, and graciously behaving in such a way that I can cope and almost appear healthy. How nice. Good thing I was driving the 5...
My break tonight was only ten precious minutes, and I needed every second. I stood and reeled, closing my eyes. Stretching, but only nominally tonight. Weakly. What an unusual feeling it is for me, to look forward to the end of a shift. Coming to work at this rate I'll never recover...
There was movement outside. They were unplugging the cables. It wasn't working. We're on Roxbury, the edge of White Center, with an auto center (closed), a Safeway and a gas station nearby. The two men were getting behind the Explorer now, and a third companion of theirs, a woman in her twenties, also Latina, took the wheel as they pushed the car in a U-turn and tried to get across the street to face in the opposite direction, headed somewhere else.
Look at these three. The two men straining, thrusting and exerting over the arduous task of pushing a car forward during a hard turn over uneven pavement. Her, steering carefully, concentrating, long black hair tied up in a ponytail, the sleeves on her grey sweatshirt pulled slightly back.
Never mind my brief ten minute chance to rest. I jumped out there, calling out, "do you need help? Can I help?"
"Um. Sure!" one of the guys replied, right as another passerby volunteered himself as well, a white fellow in his neatly-dressed thirties. Together we all got behind that Ford and threw our weight into it.
I was sick. Frail. Pushing the car was more of a strain tonight than I anticipated. Not sure how much I was really helping... But are you really surprised when I say this made me feel more energized than any catnap?
I thrusted forth alongside the others, shoving the street into my hips, looking down at the pavement below. I thought about the conversation I'd once had, and the books I subsequently read on the subject, about how the Latino population lives the longest because it has the strongest sense of community. I couldn't even tell if these three knew each other. But regardless, they worked with what they had and capably, committed to helping each other out.
And it made them beautiful.
Maybe it made all of us beautiful, the five of us now, getting this thing up to a decent speed finally, leaning into it, strong-arming it up a driveway entrance and through a gas station, this jalopy moving ridiculously now, almost as fast as if it actually worked, aiming for the Safeway parking lot. Some of us chuckling amidst our efforts; her braking, because we were too effective.
As we passed through the gas station a young man leaned out of his chrome-glinting low-rider: "Ey, you guys need help?"
We were okay now, but I marveled all the same at how this felt. Strangers offering assistance, coming together, being together. No wonder. No wonder they live longer. Me lucky enough to feel a glimmer of it tonight, basking in the sensation of a life lived with help from others, a safety net. I thought about my aunt relocating to Mexico because she liked the culture, the people. I thought about working-class neighborhoods, the statistics that show how unsafe areas have stronger senses of community, because people have to rely on each other to be safe. The problems may be more fraught, but maybe you're better equipped to deal with them. I felt the enveloping joy of togetherness, enthusiastically shaking hands afterwards with the other passerby who'd helped, without knowing why. We all walked away from each other smiling.
That was why I came to work today. To be rejuvenated, cured, in a different way.
Reminded that things like this still happen.