The Warm Night
A globular form is running across the street, waddling in between the lanes rather more dexterously than I might expect. He's anxious to hop on board before the light turns green. As a bus driver, you see more than your share of accidents and injuries, and the urge to chastise such recklessness is strong. Once a wheelchair-bound woman jaywalked– make that jay-rolled– right in front of me, forcing a shuddering slam on the brakes. Out of concern for people, but also out of a deep-seated fear I have of accidentally killing someone, not to mention being fired, your adrenaline takes over, sometimes in the form of a too-strong tirade against the passenger. When you've seen people get killed, it's terrifying to see someone almost get killed.
When the woman made it to the bus and as I lifted her wheelchair aboard, I said, "you know what I'm thinking, right?"
"Yeah," she said, chagrined.
"That was not smart. I'm sure you've got your reasons, so that's all I'm gonna say."
That's my version of a raging tirade. Tonight I decide to hold my tongue for the shadowy ovular figure now boarding. I'm not the world's grandmother, after all.
"Hey, perfect timing," I say instead.
"Whoo-ee," he breathes. "Din't think I was gon' make it!"
"It was meant to be! Hey, you still got it!"
"I'm tryin'!" He laughs, sitting near the front and noticing a woman seated across the aisle. They know each other. One of my favorite things about the 7 is the sense of connectedness within its various bodies of passengers, particularly in the east Asian, African, and African-American communities. He's asking after her children.
"She eleven now," she says, stressing that they're no longer toddlers.
"Wow, tha' was fast."
"Yeah, they growin' up in a hurry. My boy, he's seventeen. Taller than me!"
They carry on, talking the past into being, giving it shape and resonance, becoming more friendly by the minute. Another of my favorite things is to kickstart a conversation on the bus and then drift out of it, listening as it grows on it own.
"I don't think I'll get married," she's saying, as I smile in silent assent. "I'm fine. If you don't marry 'em, then they wanna stay with you!"
"Ha, yeah, funny how that work!"
"Yeah, they know they could still lose you, so they gotta keep they act together! And if they don't, well shoot, you're free to jus' up and walk!"
I listen as they chuckle together, kneading the night into a warm and easy space. Their conversation drifts to children again, now to jobs and housing. I'm struck by her homespun wisdom and evenness of character, which is especially apparent as she discusses child-rearing.
"Got good people on this bus!" I say to him, after she's left.
"She sounded like a good soul."
"Yeah, she's been that way her whole life. Happy, no stress, take it as it comes through thick and thin."
"I admire that."
"Oh, I look up to that. Takes some skill."
"Yeah, havin' a good attitude just changes things, you know?"
"Makes it easier for everyone."
"Well, it's nice for other people, but it's really good for you!"
"Exactly, it makes our life easier! Selfishly, it's still a good, worth the,"
"It takes more energy to be angry than to be happy."
"So much more!"
During this, an elderly Chinese woman with a bouquet had boarded and I'd complimented her flowers, not knowing if she'd understand me. She did. As she's leaving now, having listened in on us all, she says to me, "your hair looks good that way!"
"Oooh, thank you!"
It feels like a gesture of appreciation for all of it, the pleasantness of this room, and the innate need to return goodness, make the positive come back around. Are we the ones who cause karma to come into being?
The heavyset fellow feels it too. He's also leaving now, and though there's a flurry of activity here at 5th and Jackson, he hangs back on the sidewalk, waiting a moment to share something. With the type of radiant, childish enthusiasm that can only be called magical, he says, "I'm gonna start playing the sax again!"
I can see how much it means to him. "Oh, excellent. Good for the soul!"
"Yeah. I haven't played since the eighties!"
"It's gonna be beautiful!"
"Have a great one!"
I watched him walk into the night, a man newly filled with happiness, that gentle stirring which starts deep inside you, a well-being whose reasons you'd have trouble explaining to others, but which you know, truly and deeply, is there.
I live for moments like that.
The Good Spaces
I used to be shyer than I am now. We drove in silence for a while, he and I. It's this young man and myself, as we deadhead back to Atlantic Base. He was along Rainier and knew I'd be passing through Chinatown. So here we are. His 'fro is tied back in a thick ponytail, with a sweater cap on top; dressed in a collection of grays and heavy blues, thick fabric. I'm guessing late high school.
He's the first to speak. After several minutes of us cruising up the boulevard, whizzing under I-90, he says in a friendly tone, "this bus don't sound too good."
I was just thinking that. "Yeah, it sound like it's 'bout to blow up! I just need it to, if it can hold together about ten more minutes, then it's all good. Takin' it home. How's your day been?"
"Good. I was talkin' wit' my bro. He's about to ship out, goin' to Afghanistan."
"Oh wow. That's intense. You see him often?"
"Is he older or younger,"
"Okay. Man, Afghanistan. How's he feel?"
You can sense this boy warming up, opening himself, the space shifting from neutral to actively welcome. "He's excited. He wants to go out there. Always wanted to join the army."
Silence. Then I just blurt out what's on my mind: "I don't know if I could do that, dude. Goin' out there."
"Yeeeah, man. He's a little messed up in the head, man. He' just… angry."
"Oh man, that ain't no good."
He was looking at the floor when he said, "yeah, he just really wants to kill people."
I'm reminded of a military wedding I once attended, eavesdropping on the groom, who was bragging to his friends about the men he'd murdered abroad. "Dude, ugh."
"I couldn't do that man, I care about people too much! I'd be thinkin' about their moms, their kids…."
"Yeah, that's me too! I couldn't do it!"
"Dude, that's a good thing, man. We need folks like yourself."
You felt a gentle wave of relief wash over you, listening to the timbre of his voice, halfway between a child and the future. After all the posturing, the hard stares and high guards, the uncool and deep-seated urge toward human goodness lives on. To find spaces where we can share the truer sides of ourselves is one of life's more noteworthy pleasures.
I'm inbound at Graham, shortly after 10pm. I'm looking for things to hold me up. It's very important to not be early. As operators, we don't get penalized for being late, since anything can make a bus late, but if we're more than thirty seconds early, it's over for us. That's a conversation in the boss's office, because as a passenger there's nothing worse than being on time, walking out to the bus stop, punctual and ready to catch it– and then seeing it fly past you before you can get to the stop, taillights already fading in the distance, even though you did everything right. So, I park it at Graham, sitting out the next light cycle.
"Ay ay hold up," a couple of figures exclaim, materializing out of the dark.
"It's cool." After a pause I say, "How's your night goin?"
He looks grateful for the acknowledgement of equality, and offers his fist for a bump. "Aw man, jus tryin' ta stay smart like you!"
"You and me both!"
He waves a handful of bloody napkins in the air, gesturing. "Yeah my girl tore her foot open, so she takin' a minute."
"Oh I'm sorry. It's all good, no rush. We got time."
"Thank you." She pulls herself onboard, and they choose a seat, sprawling out on the largely empty bus.
As we ride further into town more folks get on, some who know me and others who don't. A middle-aged man storing a basketball under his shirt is happy to see me again after a long time. "Excuse my foot," the lady says to him, her wounded limb sticking out in the aisle, as he sits across from them. The napkins are falling everywhere. One floats up to where I am, and I ponder the daubs of blood at a red light.
Although she spends most of the ride speaking loudly and profanely, I don't make an issue of it. People with open wounds deserve a free pass sometimes. When you should really be in a hospital and all you've got is the 7, you deserve a break. Although at first it seems she's merely arguing with another passenger about which of their brothers died more horribly, it gradually becomes apparent something of greater emotional resonance is taking place. As her male companion retreats to the back of the bus, away from her, she implores him with a despondent "sit the fuck down. Where you goin'?"
She tries to understand his behavior, asking, "you wanna go back?" But his better angels are fading. There's no reason in him now, just alcohol. As he avoids her, she keeps saying, "a drunk ain't shit. A drunk ain't shit. Figure it out, slut." Referring to him. "A drunk ain't shit. Figure it out, slut. A drunk ain't–"
"We're rollin' out," I say into the mic as we pull away from a zone, passengers still walking down the aisle.
"Yeah, le's roll, I gotta be at 5th and Jackson in five minutes," she says.
Piece of cake. That's three minutes away. "I do what I can."
"Listen, a drunk ain't shit," she says to the back of the bus. A drunk ain't shit. Figure it out,"
I look at the bloody napkin on the floor and decide to say something. Distract her.
Loudly, confidently: "How we doin' tonight?"
"Good. My brother just passed."
"Oh, I'm sorry!"
"It is heavy."
"Oohh, I'm sorry." I mean it.
"I'm sorry too. We was close. And then mah daughter..."
Her friend comes up to her again, saying, "hey, gimme a hunnerd real quick." He's standing over another man, perhaps interested in a transaction of sorts.
"I don't know what he's talking 'bout," she says, ignoring him. "I gotta catch that 41."
"Oh yeah, the one comes at 10:42, what is it? 10:38?"
"10:38 DAYUMN, you know whas' UP! You coo'!"
"I used to live out there, so I'm on that 41 all the time."
"Oh, tight. You know all the shit."
"Aw. Well. I hope it's a better rest o' the night!"
"Thanks, you too!"
It all boiled itself down into that beautiful phrase, the closing phrase of so many moments. What matter is the strife which came before, if we can work it down, parse it down to the simple equal goodness of a genuine "Thanks, you too?"
Name Caller III
From what creative well do the good people of Seattle turn to to keep coming up with these names? I never thought it would get beyond one list of names people call me, but here we are on our third (here is the first list, and the second). I can't quite decide on a favorite.
King bus driver
Waa Waa (as in an infant, crying)
Kim Jong Un (incredibly, as a positive designation, I think)
PS also- a humbled and hearty thank you to all those who bought nearly everything I put up at my most recent show!
This One's for the Folks Upstairs
Hopefully you didn't ride any buses last weekend. For forty-eight less than glorious hours, a supplementary audio announcement system was in use on all coaches. After every zone, and every five minutes on top of that, three new announcements were played: one asking passengers to hold on in three languages, another asking folks to stand behind the yellow line, and a third informing that illegal activities were being monitored and recorded and would be reviewed later.
These played in addition to the usual announcement fare, normally a mixture of automated stop announcements and prerecorded PSAs played by the driver when appropriate ("please move to the rear" on a full bus, etc). The result was a blistering cacophony of unending noise, interfering with operators' ability to give good customer service and all but destroying any semblance of a relaxing ride for customers. Incredibly, the operator had no control over the volume, frequency, or sheer existence of the announcements.
Passengers were instead left with continuous reminders of things which at best were obvious (hold on) or rarely pertinent (stand behind the line). The worst offender, however, was having to hear every five minutes– not an exaggeration– about how illegal activities were being monitored and recorded for subsequent review. A second ago you had a bus full of people who weren't thinking about crime, but now they were, while being implicitly told they were in a hostile and unsafe environment. The accusatory tone could legitimately be termed insulting.
However, I don't want to harp on the negatives here. I'm impressed by the two things which happened next: the overwhelming public outcry against the announcements, and Metro's immediate execution in addressing that outcry– the PSAs began on Saturday, and were eliminated by the Monday morning commute.
The first of these two points admirably flies in the face of the lie-down-and-take-it passive-aggressiveness Seattle is sometimes accused of. Thank you for expressing your voice, you thoughtful masses. That's how history gets made.
The second point puts a human face on a bureaucracy. There are people in positions of power at Metro who care, who genuinely care about the welfare of the ridership. I've met some of them. For every scheduler who thinks you can get from 12th & Jackson to 5th and Jackson in two minutes, and every planner who thinks transferring more than once is a good idea, there are ten other employees who spend their days thinking of how to benefit the largest number of people, especially those who sorely need the service, with the limited resources available. These faces receive no thanks and minimal exposure, but they are there.
RapidRide first launched on Pac Highway instead of Bellevue even though both were ready at comparable times because starting the service in a low-income, working-class area meant something. It was a statement. It said, Metro's best service is not for the elite. It's for everyone. It is offered without judgment, that people of any stripe may prosper and contribute to our growing city. Metro just resurrected the 47– "newly resuscitated," as I told the passengers when I drove it yesterday– due to customer requests. They didn't have to. Years ago they brought back the 9, and reworked the 345/346 routing at the suggestion of the community. Right now we're in a boom time, with significant new service all over the network (I cannot express how useful new night runs on the 5, 40, and 41 are). It feels good to see bus changes that aren't reductions.
If anything, the ill-fated PSAs were examples of the overzealous to urge to invent something simply because one can, rather than because one needs to. For the fine folks overseeing the project: we've made it this far without those things, and Metro's place is to set new standards rather than follow them. The obvious solution is to have the PSAs be playable at will by the operator when (s)he deems it appropriate, like our other PSAs. The yellow line and illegal crime notices in particular are usually unnecessary. Noise pollution leads to noise ignoring, and not having manual overrides for any new technology is inexcusable.
People appreciate being acknowledged, whether it's the driver greeting you or an organization responding with alacrity. On the 47 yesterday, I didn't just have passengers telling me they were glad the route was back, although that was appreciated. I had people throughout the afternoon literally yelling from across the street, waving and hollering about how glad they were to see the route back in the neighborhood. I'd never seen anything like it. They were thanking me, though I have nothing to do with it. That thanks goes to Seattle voters and to you mavens, the good folks upstairs.
An Eclectic Gathering
This show is a lot of fun, and happens once a year. It's called 100 Under 100, and it's a hundred works of art of all types by different artists, with each piece retailing for only $100! The opening is Thursday evening, and I'll have six pieces on display. This is the only way to buy works of mine at this price. Perhaps I'll see you there! Special thanks to two greats, Dara Solliday and Jane Richlovsky, for this wonderful opportunity.