"You've gotta watch out for that Ethiopian guy in the back," a white man in a spandex bike outfit once told me, referring to the underweight man in the massive black jacket, with rotting teeth and dirty fingers, sitting in the back talking with his friend.
Generalizations notwithstanding, 99% of first-generation people, especially Africans, never give me any problems. The East and Central African communities are among the friendliest groups out here.
Out loud I say, "It's all good. Those guys never give me beef."
"That guy does."
There are exceptions to every rule. On that day the man in question, along with his friend, did end up hollering at some women in the back of the bus- they all knew each other- forcefully asking the women for something I couldn't understand. "Hold the bus," Black Jacket Man yelled up at me, while one of the women gave him some money, apparently trying to placate him with a short-term solution.
It pays off to be friendly, though; as the men stepped out the back, I yelled a farewell- "thanks, my friend!", and he didn't forget to thank me for my time. As stated earlier, I benefit by remembering that my interactions need to be informed by the fact that I will see these same folks again, and again, and again. They're out there.
A week or so later I wait for a runner- no, sprinter is more like it- positively streaking toward my bus, defying physics as he bounds toward my open door. It's him, Black Jacket.* I actually like this guy. He's a ticking time bomb waiting to explode- there are stories of his ugly behavior- but I like his huge smile. He beams with pleasure upon recognizing me, his bright eyes and decaying teeth practically glowing. He mumbles animatedly in the direction of the transfers, and understands when I tell him I'll give him one on his way out. I've discovered this is a useful way to keep no-paying customers in check for the duration of the ride.
He's an absolute gentleman today. I have a feeling he would've been fine even if I had denied him a transfer; but you never know. It's not worth it to find out sometimes. There are boundaries that don't need to be tested. At the end of his ride, he bounds out of the back door, skipping past the overloaded bus to the front; "My brother!" he yells up at me.
"My friend!" I respond. A promise made is a promise kept. His smile is the face of someone who feels valued. We shake hands in the sunlight, and he goes glimmering off into the busy afternoon, the gleam still carrying on his face.
*Black Jacket has an identical twin, Blue Jacket (not his real name!), who possesses the same mannerisms, if not the same coat. I'm on first-name terms with one of them, but have no idea which.
This story is continued from the previous post, available here or directly below-
At Pine, LSBW gets off. Before doing so, she takes a moment to slip back in character, telling Spry Lady, "I'm getting out at PINE. I'll kick your ass, you anorexic bitch!"
"Aw, we don't need to say stuff like that," I say, in the tone of a disappointed Auntie talking to her lovable grand-neices. "Have a good night."
"Okay," she says. I was prepared for anything, but her response is so unexpectedly ordinary I can't help but laugh.
Now it's just myself, Gent, and Spry at the front. The bus fills up a little on its way to the next stop, Union, but the conversation between the three of us stays focused. I immediately thank Spry for having the patience to put up with LSBW.
"Oh, it's fine, I've seen her around. She's mentally disabled," she explains to Gent, "her mom's white and her dad's black, and she thinks people don't like her because of that."
"Which doesn't make sense at all, because there's such a variety of people in this city, and it's a fairly tolerant place-"
"Exactly, nobody cares about that stuff here,"
"Yeah, we're a rainbow city!"
To Spry, I butt in again with, "thanks again for your patience. You're wonderful."
"Oh it's okay, it's fine, I know her. I mean I don't know know her-" you can see she's trying to make a good impression on Gent-
"Yeah, I do too," I say. "She's always like this."
Gent, quite a bit more tolerant and empathetic than I would've guessed: "Yes, her mind is telling her to say things..."
"-that would make her blush, if she actually knew," I say.
"Exactly. You can't take it to heart."
"It's not you."
I look at them and smile to myself. What a pleasure it is to see these two people, one in a suit an the other in rags, of the same generation but from the absolute opposite ends of the spectrum, trying to make each other feel better. Making real the thread that ties them together.
Gent gets out to go enjoy his concert at Benaroya. Spry remains, and we chat up a storm about this and that, I can hardly remember what, my mind still reeling from what had just happened, processing it all. Spry has long since moved on, and is happily babbling about something else. When she gets off to go back inside Harborview, I thank her again for her strength of character. "And you're not anorexic," I say at one point-
"Oh, but I am. I'm havin' serious problems with it now, that's why I'm staying at the hospital. Never been over a hundred pounds my whole life."
I'm humbled by how strong this person is. LSBW had struck what undoubtedly has to be a raw nerve, and she hadn't flinched, and more than that, she'd forgotten about it within minutes. "Well, I think you're awesome," I tell her. "You have a great character. You're doing great. Don't listen to that other stuff, it's not coming from anywhere."
"Oh , I know. Listen, if I'd a gotten out at Pine with her, she'd a been terrified. It's all good."
"Have a great night."
"I will. You too!"
We'd try to pick her up a little, Gent and I. But she didn't really need it.
Extremely bad vibrations are humming in the air. Fifth and Denny, northbound. I and my follower, who has caught up to me, are leaving a zone. A runner runs up at the last minute. I don't wait, because there's a second bus right behind me, and I take the yellow light that's in front of me, clearing the intersection just in time; however, my following bus doesn't stop for the running lady either, and drives through what is unquestionably a red light. Bad form! Additionally, I was on time (incredibly) and he was thus 7 minutes early, making his move all the more egregious. I sigh as I picture the event from the runner's perspective. Purposefully, I don't look in the mirror- I don't want to know which driver it was. Don't want to hold grudges.
Later on, inbound from Queen Anne, I'm having a pleasant conversation with a recent mover to Seattle- an older gent who grew up in New York and recently lived in Texas. Sophisticated fellow. He loves how bountiful the art scene is here, as compared to his former digs, particularly from where he now resides in lower Queen Anne. He's on his way to see a show at Benaroya. We speak of Seattle's mild weather, beautiful nature, and so on. Great. All well and good so far.
At Broad, an older lady of perhaps sixty hops on, approximate in age to the gent I'm speaking with, but from a completely different background- she's spry and frightfully thin, with weathered tan skin and raggedy clothing. She's staying at Harborview for the time being. The three of us begin a new conversation. Gent from Texas is wonderfully open-minded, and the street woman's attitude is rich in verve and wit. We discuss Benaroya and its multiple concert halls. They discover they've both read the same Michael Connelly novel. She sits angled forward, excited, with straight posture; there is the impression of a happy, excited child, thrilled at the chance to discuss culture with Gent.
There was another passenger who got on at Broad.
Yes, you know the one. Frizzy hair kept close to her head, heavyset, glasses, a face both chubby and pinched, with those unmistakable pink tights...there's only one of her, and lower case letters just won't do when describing her- yes, it's THE LIGHT-SKINNED BLACK WOMAN.
She's sitting directly behind me, listening to Gent and Spry Lady discuss Connelly's books directly across from her.
"WAIT. YOU CAN READ?!" she says.
"Oh, I think we all can!" I respond.
I keep the conversation between myself, Gent, and Spry going at a hurtling pace, in an effort to prevent LSBW from getting a word in edgewise. I've never talked with such fervor about Michael Connelly before. In a moment proving the universe does indeed have a terrific sense of humor, LSBW asks us to speak a little more quietly, and stop being so (fucking) loud. All things considered, she seems realtively sedate so far. Not bad. I try to stay sharp, and ready.
At Virginia I pull around a 131 who's using his lift. He's a little further back in the zone, and I pull around into the left lane, going around him; I check for passengers who might want my bus at the head of the zone, then pull to the stop bar at the intersection, waiting for the light. I'm still in the left lane. The 131 pulls forward alongside me, and the Ryerson Base operator inside it opens his window and glares at me. Haven't seen him before; he doesn't know me. Clearly he wants to talk, and I open my doors.
"What's up?" I say.
"What are you doin' up here?!" he spits out, the whites of his eyes shining. "You don't get to pull in front a me!"
"You wanna pull ahead, man? Go for it, man, you got it!"
Practically frothing at the mouth: "That's not how it works. You don't pull around-"
Not gonna give him a second. I butt in with authority, smiling at him: "You go ahead, man, go for it! You got the right a way, it's all yours, my friend! I'ma get outta your way a little, give you some more space, you gon' fit just fine. Plenty of room. You got this. You got it!"
He glares, and glares, and glares, and I hold his gaze with a neutral expression- his is the mask of someone about to kill, while I'm wearing the face of someone about to laugh.
LSBW, clearly forgetting to stay in character, says, "that guy's got problems!"
"Yeah, he doesn't seem to be having a very good day, huh?"
Gent pipes in. "I haven't been to all the cities in the US, but I've been in most of 'em. And I have to say, the bus drivers in Seattle get my top marks. You guys are some of the best I've seen anywhere when it comes to staying patient, dealing with people, being courteous..."
I thank him profusely. I can see he's trying to pick me up a little. I don't really need it, but I'm grateful.
Story continues in the next post- stay tuned!
Some people absolutely glow. I've run into just a few in my life. They are not better or worse than other people, but they exude an energy that isn't reactive. It comes from within them, and spills out with no apparent effort on their part. Theirs is an essence that quivers with life and affects everyone around them, in some way or another. I'm thrilled by it. I'm intensely attracted to this, and I don't mean romantically; when Ali or Audrey Hepburn or Fellini stood in a room, you felt something, and that something wasn't about sexuality, not really. It was something else.
It was the Glow, the vibrating hum of immediate, pulsing life.
There's a young woman who has the glow who rides my 3/4 into town. She's a high school student. I kind of hope she doesn't read this, because I don't want her to feel self-conscious. Would it really do any good to tell her she has the Glow? Who knows. We can only bask in it and learn from it.
You get the impression of life lived without pretense; she usually travels with an entourage of friends, but today she is alone. We sat up front and talked, and more than the particulars of the conversation, I remember the tone and timbre of the voices, and the sensation of light.
It was her birthday, and she was excited. I had worked out some personal stuff in my own life, and thus felt excited as well. Both of us, generating great energy for different reasons... ebullient, vivacious, life-giving conversation. We blew up. She showed me her drawings, a few on her phone, tremendous even at that small size; we talk about art, other bus drivers, classical music, stretching, and who knows what else. Energy, bubbling out through both of us, making all things new.
I'm reminded of the opening lines from a favorite film of mine: "I don't want to be a product of my environment. I want my environment to be a product of me."
Further reading: The Glow II.The Glow III.
Also with the youngster from above: Made it to Heaven on the 4.
Two men and a lady, stepping on at the Promenade. Their rugged appearance is rife with different textures and that instantly identifiable sickly sweet odor hums in the air. One of the men is quite the motormouth. He's found God, and he's got words he wants to say about it.
"I'm alive and unharmed today thanks to THA LOW-AD," he reminds his friends.
"He's always like this," says the woman to somebody, rolling her eyes.
He's no safety issue, nor is he disrespecting anyone, so I don't sweat it; some of the passengers eye me, as they are wont to do in "interesting" situations, curious to see how the driver will react to certain passengers. MotorMouth approaches me. Will the driver put on a tough guy face and order the fellow around? Will he be docile and ignore the guy? Will he-
"Heeeyyyyy, maaan, how's it going?" I say.
"Eeeyy, chief, I ain't seen you for a minute!"
"How you been doin'?"
"I been good, I been good..."
Bear with me as I briefly recount a point I made in my recent speech, in case you haven't seen it: in hunter-gatherer and early agrarian societies, conflict resolution had different aims than it does in city-states. Today, conflicts between citizens are solved by a legal system that attempts to identify the wrongdoer of the crime and assign the appropriate punishment.
Because in city-states populations are large, the perpetrator and victim have likely never interacted before and will likely never interact again after the episode is resolved. This form of dispute resolution is impossible in hunter-gatherer societies, because the populations are smaller, and therefore the victim and perpetrator certainly knew each other prior to the incident of the conflict, and will continue to know each other afterwards.
As a result, conflict resolution in traditional societies has a different goal- not to identify the wrongdoer, but rather to find a solution which will allow both parties to peaceably coexist after the incident. In other words, you interact with everyone on the understanding that they're always going to be around.
This is how I behave with "my peoples on the street," to coin a phrase. I've seen MotorMouth before, and I know I'll see him again. He's not anonymous. I might see him next week, next year, or in an hour. There's also the angle that he might have five brothers, or there might be a gun in his pocket. Although the routes I like tend not to have regulars, there are faces that keep showing up. Every day that I'm out here with them, is another day of letting those same people know how I treat people as a rule. One of the advantages of having driven for a few years (six now, for me! Where does time go?) is that this net of people who remember you expands. MotorMouth knows I'm not going to give him the finger, and he feels comfortable.
We talk for a bit, making joyous noise. His rampant religiosity and my ardent spiritualism find a meeting point in the idea of being thankful to be alive, or "UH-BUUV GRAOWND," as he puts it.
"Say, boss," he adds later on. He asks me for three transfers- one each for him and his pals- in a respectful and gentlemanly way. The circumstances are such that I oblige. He thanks me. Motormouth returns to his compatriots, gives them their newly minted transfers, and they step off the back. Motormouth waves to me, and then looks at his silent friends. I hear him say to them-
"Shit, dawg, you guys didn't even say thank you!"
I didn't need to hear that, but I'm glad I did.
What words can I say which would be adequate? I certainly can't think of any. I'm overwhelmed and overjoyed at the response to the show's opening, and can't thank you all enough. To have that many people there...I kept wishing I could talk with each person a little longer, or to give those people waiting outside a chance to come in- what an incredible turnout! I would've been thrilled if just a few close friends had shown up, but this was something else- dozens after dozens, all night long...thank you. For people to take the time and effort to work their way over to my show, simply to be there; thank you. I'm humbled beyond comprehension.
Check out photographs of the event here; I hope to have video of the talk ready to post within a couple days. Feel free to email myself or the gallery owners with comments and feedback, or questions about purchasing.
Also, know that this show continues until July 6th! If you missed the opening, you're still in good hands! Check out www.blindfoldgallery.com for hours and location.
I'm finishing up a morning shift of 36s, where I had a generally terrific time. The 36 fascinates because it is unlike other routes for a number of reasons- it's one of the busiest, as the only route with 10 minute service 6 days a week- but it's a residential route at the same time. Its population has aged quite a bit, and is mostly non-English speaking. It also happens to have a rather terrible schedule, problematic bathrooms, and a sore need for bigger buses. The cumulative result makes for an experience that's very involving but also a bit distant; interactions are limited by the constrained quantities of space and time.
Anyway. The shift was still reasonably great. That's not the subject of this post, however. As I was turning the bus around on the Lenora Street turnback wire, and passing by the 49 layover, where the 49 begins its route to the U District, the coordinator called me and asked if I wanted to drive an extra trip on the 49 to the U District. He phrased the question as if he were asking me a great hardship, obviously not knowing who I am: "we were wondering if uh, you might want to drive an outbound 49, or if maybe you're busy and you'd rather not-"
"OF COURSE I want to drive an outbound 49! Thank you, for that wonderful opportunity!"
I'm thrilled. As we hash out the details, he explains that a single trip on the outbound 49 is needed, and after that I can just deadhead back to base. There's no need for a return trip inbound, which has already been filled.
As I pull into the first zone at 4th and Pike, it's clear there hasn't been a bus in a while. The mob there is often large, but today it's several times larger than I've ever seen it- about 75-90 disgruntled students and others, at minimum. I open both doors and they pile in, forming a standing load after leaving the first stop! I'm thrilled.
Big Man Bryan gets on at Broadway. "You're not Josie," he hollers jovially. Josie's the regular driver (and a great one).
"Yeah, I look a little different today, huh?"
"Just a little!"
Bryan is a friendly soul. He finds a place somewhere behind me and we holler at each other about various trifles- the 70 going back on the wire, or the fact that I saw him less than 24 hours ago. All those SCCC students back there are pretty quiet, but we don't care. We're too busy being excited, and plus, it's past 10am!
When the bus is this crowded, the mood can turn exciting, and it feels okay to be loud. Laughter from our conversation fills in the edges of my announcements. "Here's Mercer Street, sadly our last stop on Broadway..." I'm already excited from getting to do an extra route, and the crowd, along with Bruce being here, makes everything feel comfortable. I see an homeless Asian man grinning from ear to ear, looking at us in the mirror, reveling in this house of mirth.
At the end of the line, my instructions were to drive empty back to the base. However, being in a trolley bus, the fastest way to do that from the U-District, aside from the currently dead 70 wire, is simply to drive along the 49 wire. Wouldn't it make sense to simply drive the 49 in service? You know, just for fun? But what if something unsafe happened along the route? I wouldn't be able to call for help. Decisions.
I can't write about what happened next, but I will speak about it during my talk at my upcoming show. The show opens June 13 at 6pm, and my talk will be at 8. Hope to see you there!
...until my show opens at Blindfold Gallery! Several hundred photos, a new novel, wall-sized murals of photography, new and rarely seen video work, an all-new illustration several feet large... I can't wait to share it with you all. You and your friends are invited- I hope to see you there!
"Frappucinos, iced coffees and shit..." Two youngsters boarding. That's all they say. Neither says another word, as they plunk down in the front seats, sprawled out, attempting to conquer as much real estate as possible in a single pose. I can only wonder what the conversation was.
A young couple heavy with luggage, on their way to Alaska, to see the Aurora Borealis. They're passing through from Pittsburgh. Do they have any other business up there?
"No. We've just always sort of really wanted to see it," the husband said.
"Yeah. I can see that," I said.
Deep voices nearby, another totally unrelated strand of conversation, happening right alongside: "Whoa, back up. If you're from another planet, how'd you learn how to speak English?"
Just another afternoon somewhere on the 4.
"Hey, man." Subdued. Older guy in dirty street clothes, talking to another fellow in similar garb.
"You still goin' to that spot?"
"Do they still have that one cook there? Fat lady, brown hair? Beatle cut?"
"I don't, I don't, maybe."
Stretching back, in a voice reminiscing the rose-hued past: "She was the shit, man. I'd come halfway across town when she was up in there. She made that skinless chicken,"
"Mufuggah smelled good, man," he says wistfully. "Every time."
There's a truthfulness in his voice that registers. The man's a romantic.
Garfield student Patrick and myself, chatting about anything and everything, cruising through the shifting principalities of Jefferson Street. We're in the CD; now we're in Seattle U territory; now approaching Swedish Main and Harborview. The conversation propels us up and down the gentle grades. He's got his athletic gear on, presumably just coming from practice.
At first we're talking about how friends of mine will sometimes come ride a round or two, and how it's a fun way to pass the time; then we're discussing the benefits of having interests in unrelated fields; now we're talking about how photography has a difficult time capturing the impression of immense size, perhaps because our peripheral vision contributes greatly to our perception of a large scene, and this is a key missing element in such photographs. There's a freedom of sorts in the air; I realize I don't often hear the young folk speak so openly or honestly, without worrying so much about being cool or sounding too smart. I get excited by people like him. Promise, in the new generation. You just have to look for it.
I was southbound on Third between Pine and Pike, rolling gently down the left lane. We had just left the Queen Anne folks- they all got off at Pine- and are now beginning to round up the motley crew that will comprise our Harborview/Central District group. I always enjoy their company. It's six-thirty pm, and things are quieter now. Mellow. I've got my left hand on the wheel, no need to rush, my right arm stretching up behind me. Magic hour sunlight fades, washing the open expanse of Third in a muted blue-gray. The accumulated sensation of all this makes the thought hit me- right now, I love this more than anything. During this particular moment, today, there's nowhere else I'd rather be. I have found myself, if only for a moment, here, in this growing space.
It's a pleasure to be sharing stories again. I told you this thing wasn't going anywhere. Work on my show has been exhausting and rewarding, and still very much in full swing- I hope you're able to make it. If you're a reader or visitor to my blog, that means you're invited!