Last trip of the night. I lose a pole at Holden inbound, which doesn't make sense. It's straight wire on a smooth roadway with no bumps. Nothing to do but run out there and put the pole back up. Immediately I sense something amiss. Your brain puts things together in pieces in an unexpected situation like that, like the way the evidence that your car's been broken into sinks in slowly, bit by bit, with resistance. I look at the back of the bus.
There's no glass where the back window should be.
Instead there's a few faces of the African-American high-schoolers sitting the back, peering out at me with confusion.
"What happened?" I say.
"I don't know, man," one boy says. "I just tapped with my elbow and the whole window fell off. I was just leaning back a little, like this."
They're worried. They're expecting me to be angry, and they carry the look of one who knows he's in trouble now. I know they're telling the truth based on their tone and attitude; puppy dog eyes that can still see. Clearly good kids.
I say, "I think this bus is older and than both you and me!"
Relief and laughter. "It's fine, you guys are cool. It's all good." I put up the thrown pole, forcing the cars to move, staring them down with a benevolent but firm hand. I can hear one of the kids saying, "Damn, he's walking right out into traffic." Standing out there for an extra second I look at the back window, which itself is lying on the pavement about a hundred feet behind the bus. I'm wondering if I should try to grab that beast and haul it back onto the coach. Lying there in the roadway, I realize that it's massive. Definitely can't reattach it in the proper place. I decide to retrieve it- it hasn't shattered, being laminated plastic, and some girls sitting on the side of the road say, "I think you need a newer bus," and I laugh as I pick up the window, saying, "I think you're right!" I run the window back up to the front of the bus, stash it on the wheelchair seats, and continue.
A few of us at front marvel at the absurdity of it all. "We must be in a recession," I say. If ever there was a sign that we need new trolleys, this would be it. Parts of buses falling into the roadway, leaving a literal trail up Rainier Avenue. Great. A little while later I decide to walk back there and inspect the bus from the inside. The youngsters are still sitting back there, along with some others. "That's crazy," I say, watching them sitting next to the huge open space right behind them, the trolley ropes near enough to touch. Thank goodness I've got these kids on my side, or they could yank those ropes and disable the bus at their leisure. "I kinda wish I could sit back here just to see what it feels like!" Laughter. "It's awesome," one of them affirms. The kids love the ride, spending most of the trip staring out the back window, watching the fluctuating ropes and the world receding into the night.
"COME ON!" A woman yells at her friend, waiting to get on at Brandon. She's maybe 25, quite heavy, and her friend is older, male, and drunk. I say to her in a friendly sing-song, "hey!" She turns her head. I say, "How's it goin'?" She doesn't respond but her eyes register a softening, which becomes moreso when I tell her there's no rush. The two of them and a third fellow get on, and they make some serious noise in the back, standing, yelling, continually changing seats. Hardly a sober cell in their brains tonight. I feel bad for the regular kids back there who have to listen to the ruckus of this trio, which is not profane but merely loud. As far as I can tell.
The trio comes up to the front, preparing to get off, but the light at Jackson is red. They're not gone just yet. I ask the drunk one how it's going, and he says good. I like it when people are coherent and responsive. As long as you can talk to someone, and they can listen to you, you can influence the situation. The woman tells me he's her husband, and the other guy is, well, her second husband. "He's sexy," she notes, referring to the second husband. I ask her how she's doin,' and if she's enjoying her Friday night. She is. Pretty soon they're all over each other, Husband One sitting on the chat seat, and she's sitting on top of- more like crushing- him, while Husband Two slaps her behind repeatedly. She laughs, enjoying it and kisses Husband One. Passengers less than a yard away look on; they're in view of the entire bus. I can't allow it. I get Husband Two's attention: "hey, man."
You can feel the tennis ball teetering on the brink of the net; during this minute, this exchange, the atmosphere could all tumble into badness. But not yet. They're still on my side. "Hey, man, could I ask you a special favor?"
"Could you guys...maybe wait till you step outside the bus to do that?"
He laughs behind dark sunglasses. "Sure."
The girl hears this and resists another slap, yelling, "he said wait!"
They step off, and we wish each other well. Husband Two says, "you're one of the coolest, man," with a hint of an accent.
I see Ernie driving the 1 and I pull up alongside him. We're always excited to see each other. I got on his 7 one evening and was thrilled- He greeted every passenger, looking them in the eye as I do! He explained to me his take on it: "it doesn't matter if they respond. What matters is that I put myself out there. I accomplished that." His happiness truly originates from within himself. He isn't depending on the passengers for good times. I'm not quite at that level. I deeply enjoy when my goodwill is received by them, or when it reflects back through them onto me. I mention something Roderick told me- "you put yourself all the way out there, and on these routes, you get a lot back." He agrees. We continue in this vein, and I share with him the definition of optimism I mentioned earlier (Purple J), and he eats it up. "Whoa, man. I need to sit with that for a moment. Let that sink in." He closed his eyes at the red light at Third and Main to more easily process. What a guy, I remember thinking.
Anyways, tonight I pull up alongside his route 1 and he asks about my night. "Fantastic," I say. In the nanosecond I say that I consider the yelling, the inappropriate behavior, and I know Ernie would agree- those things have no ability to make my night anything other than fantastic. They don't even register in my answer. "Hey, Ernie. The back window of my bus fell off."
"Yeah. Totally crazy. They barely touched it, and bam. Lying out on the road somewhere. I went back and got it."
"You know, it was it's time."
"It had reached it's time."
"Yeah. It had made it to the end."
"Today was it's day."
When I get to the last stop, I see the three kids in the back preparing to get off the bus. I blink and realize I can now only see two of them. Did that other kid just do what I think he did? "Hey, did he just climb out the back window?"
"Yeah," his friend answers.
What else would you do, I think. You're riding the only bus you'll ever ride that has no back window. Then, you get the only chance you'll ever have to climb out of a bus through a gigantic hole in its back. You don't want to miss out on that unique and once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Obviously. I'm not going to say if I did the same when I got back to the base, but I will say that I wasn't about to let a fantastic and unrepeatable one-time-offer of excitement go to waste.
It's time to let the homophobe on. He's older, black American, identifiable less by his twisted feet and crutches then by his steadfastly negative attitude.
"I need the lif,' man, get the lift out."
"I'm'a get the lift out for ya."
"Yeah, I want the lift out."
"I got you covered."
You can say anything to this fellow, and he'll find a way to see the bad in it. He's creative that way.
Me: "You got new shoes!"
Him: "Don't do me any good."
"Good to see ya!"
"No, it's good for me to see you. I'm the one who needs the bus. It ain't good for you to see me, it's good for me to see you."
"Alright man. That works."
"I wanna get the out, driver, I need the lift."
"I'm gonna get the lift out."
"I need the lift."
"I'm'a give you the lift."
"Too many sissy gay guys in this city. Ain't no real men left in this town."
"Is that right."
"Yeah. Gimme the lift."
At this point I'm tempted to say, "hang on. Do you need the lift?" But I refrain from amusing myself so.
"There it is," I say instead. "Have a safe day now."
Once he rode out to the end of the 43/44 in Ballard. I let him stay on the bus during the layover, and took my break outside the bus, stretching and reading and talking to the wonderful lady who works behind the counter at 7-11. She always calls me "Baby Bus Driver," in a motherly way, and has since shortened it to just "Baby." She asks when I'm going to get married and have kids. "Not today," I say. I gotta go drive the 44 first.
I walk back out to my bus and drive another trip, with our friend the homophobe still on board. (His homophobic tendencies are a little more in check today). He is silent for the duration. When he finally gets off on Pacific, I heard him say something I couldn't believe:
"Driver, I need the lift."
"That sounds good."
"I need the lift at the next stop."
"Alright now. Have a good day."
YOWZA!, I think to myself. To what do I owe this great honor?! I conceal my surprise at the statement, but I am floored. It is the first positive statement I've ever heard from the man. Him saying 'have a good day' is- well, it's the tectonic plates shifting into a newer world, is what it is. I remember a passenger once getting on my 4 to the Central District. After a simple and pleasant interaction with me, he sat down and said, "Man, to me, what just happened, right here, was a miracle." He was blown away by the intimation of trust and respect, of people dealing with each other on an equal plane. I forget the nature of our interaction; it's only defining characteristic is that it was positive. But I wonder if my attitude towards that man was as unexpected as that of the homophobe in this story was to me, and I can understand the impact it must've had for him to call it a miracle. Homophobe Guy saying "have a good day" certainly felt like such.
On Third Avenue we're supposed to follow a relatively simple set of rules so buses can successfully negotiate the skip stop pattern. One of the rules is to not pass buses that use the same set of stops that you, and another is to use the left lane except to service a zone. These guidelines, when adhered to, prevent situations like buses blocking zones that aren't theirs. Today I was struck by the behavior of a particularly mean-spirited driver on 3rd. She has taken the time (and energy) to yell at me out her bus window in the past, and there is something ugly about her actions. She'll try to pass me as I cross Yesler Southbound, turning right from the left turn lane, in essence trying to force me off the road; today she pulled in front of me to block one of my stops for a light cycle, then pulled back into the left lane where she had been to continue her route. What's frustrating about her driving is that it's impossible to interpret her driving approach as something other than actively malicious; unlike some other operators, she is not merely uninformed or lazy.
Now, my job is to not to let her be a joykiller. I believe that I have good defense mechanisms for not getting roused by passengers, but my ability to be bothered by other bus drivers' driving is a little more vulnerable. I haven't built it up as successfully, mainly because it's usually not necessary. I get confused when they drive poorly, because unlike cars, they don't have anywhere to be, and of course they're also getting paid. I looked at her not with resentment but with sadness- what must be going on in her life, to make her take it out this way? I let it all go. Sometimes when you just give up feeling anything about an incident, you can start over slowly, lacking energy at first, feeling empty but freed, freed from having to invest in the emotions of stress. Then you build yourself back as the minutes go by. I was in mellow Nathan mode- simply meaning a slightly lesser mode of overdrive, a toned-down hyperactivity. "This is Third and Pine," I said, in the voice of a tired but good-natured grandmother who's spent a little too much time working in the yard.
A group of teens approach- one young brother and three girls, waiting to get on at Letitia outbound. He leans into the stairs with a questioning look up at me, as in, is it clear? Can I get on? I say, "all yours!" He smiles with enthusiasm, they all do. Bright eyes. Something about their burgeoning enthusiasm- maybe they're excited at being acknowledged in a friendly way, or about seeing someone their age driving the bus- whatever it is, their bright energy is the spark I need to start it up all over again. My announcements contain the same words they always do, but the extra bounce is back, the barely contained happiness that voices itself between the consonants.
"Hey, how you been, man?" says an older guy at Rose, dragging his cart on. He recognizes me from somewhere before. The wheel of his cart is broken.
"Did that happen just now, or earlier?"
"Earlier," he says, but he's still in a good mood. "I gotta go to Federal Way."
"Oh, man, that's out there." We discuss what I call 'walkin' the walk-' if you live in Rainier Beach or spend time there, you've done it. I know I have. It's the walk from Rainier Beach light rail station to Rainier and Henderson. See, there's nothing of interest at the light rail station proper except other buses. Where everyone really wants to go is Rainier Avenue. Typically you spend a few minutes waiting for a bus that might take you the distance (only seven-ish blocks), but then decide to simply walk the walk. It's a rite of passage that all of us who move through the area must take part in. I actually kind of enjoy it- a shared experience everyone's done at least once. (If you use that corridor but haven't walked the walk, you know you want to do it. Waiting 15 minutes for a 2 minute ride on the 8 is for pushovers!).
I reflect on the man's commute to Federal Way and how long that will take him. It's no wonder some people are uptight. I spoke with another (happy) passenger who, traveling entirely by bus, was going from Burien to Everett to Columbia City to Wallingford and back to Burien in a single day (I assume he did 131-510-510-7-7-16-16/26-121/131). When people say they're "out running errands" on the bus, that can be a mammoth undertaking. I've often said that if you can do three things in three different locations using the bus in a single day, that's impressive.
A Hispanic fellow is smiling before I even get on. Sometimes you see them just light up when they recognize that it's me. "You always smiling," he says. You can tell he's been working all day. The energy is definitely back.
"Alright, we made it to Henderson," I tell the bus. "Got the Community Center on the right; Rainier Beach High School on the left; grab a 106 or 107 here. Let's make a stop at Henderson. Have a good night everyone, remember it's Friday. Have fun, be safe," I say in a voice that oddly mixes concerned parent with slightly unhinged happy tour guide.*
The group of ebullient teens from Letitia gets off here at Henderson, and the lady getting off right in front of them said something- which I can't remember- that caused me to smile and fold my hands together in prayerful supplication. She had helped me out with something earlier, and I wanted to communicate a thank you that crossed the language barrier. Anyways, the brother right behind her thought this was cool, and he imitated the gesture for his own thanks to me. I didn't know gestures of supplication were cool, but maybe they are!
They, the group of them, were so excited by my enthusiasm, which they didn't know I had partly gotten from them in the first place. Their was a light in them that was an absolute joy to see, faces rendered beautiful by their smiles and warmth. What a massive contrast to that operator on Third Avenue. A few of them asked for trades on their transfers, and they did so with such vivacity and glowing ardor that I was more than happy to help. They asked me on the right time on right day. I think I was getting more out of their energy then they could possibly get out of their transfers. "Thank you for askin' so nicely! You're a gentleman!" I say to the young brother. "Thank you so much for sayin' please! You guys are awesome!" I tell the others. In fact, I think the transfers themselves were a moot point for all of us- we were just elated at sharing the zest of the moment, generous spirits recognizing the same in each other. The Third Avenue incident has assumed its rightful place as a distant, fading memory. What even happened back there? Unnecessary details, slipping off the radar of the mind.
I want to believe that most of my positive energy emanates from within me and is therefore in my control, but I feel that's only partly true. I can't deny that the attitudes of happy people around me, especially their reactions to me, can act as a tremendous boost to how I feel. I let negative stuff bounce off me, but I like to retain the positive stuff. I'm reminded of conversations Gabrielle (who periodically shows up on the 7, mentioned in an earlier post) and I have had about the subject. I was satisfactory in "Mellow Nathan Mode" before these kids got on, but there's no denying that they in particular, along with other little things like Broken Wheel Guy and Hispanic Smiling Guy, were instrumental in buoying me back up to my best self. I remember driving the 7 every day back in 2010, and waving at Abiyu on the other side. He had the route most days as well. I would see his rich smile and wave when we crossed paths at Andover, and again at 23rd, and it was awesome. A small thing, but it put me right back up there. There's a gal driving the 7 now (what's her name?) who, every time I see her, is in a great mood, flashing a beautiful smile across the lanes of Rainier. We always give each other an unreasonably huge wave.
*I once took an official tour of Pomona, a neighborhood near Ontario, California. What was so fun about it is that there's hardly anything of traditional tourist value way out there in Pomona. It's a bunch of houses, with some restaurants and motels and okay, a few vineyards. The place is known mostly for growing Olives. The tour guide was extremely excited to share all this with us, and made the most out of the place, telling us about the ages of buildings and other marginally interesting facts with an enthusiasm that made the entire tour one of the best I've ever taken. Because of his attitude it all became riveting. Sometimes I'm reminded of him when I announce with enthusiasm things like the Men's Shelter or Center Park public housing.
Just a note letting you know that I've posted a few images from China in the Photography section of the site. I've shown only a select few of the Asia photographs to people, but wanted to share some of them with you readers. Something about them compels me to keep them close to the vest. I'll leave them on the site for a week.
Football practice has just conluded at Rainier Playfield. It's 5:30. The children fan out into the world, away from the field, their awkwardly oversized shoulder pads and serious expressions lending them an unintentionally funny air. A few of them remember to smile. Some have parents or siblings waiting for them, and some don't. Only one gets on my bus today, a stone-faced preteen clutching a helmet and grocery bag full of candy. He is alone. At first he says nothing, but after watching me greet passengers for a time, witnessing the warmth of interactions he's not part of, he comes forward to sit in the chat seat. I follow his silent lead and do not engage him in conversation, wondering what he might be thinking. Finally he pipes up:
"Hey. Do you want chocolate?"
He's holding up to options in front of a deadly serious face. I can choose between Almond Snickers or an oversized PayDay. I don't even eat chocolate, but the image of this boy with his candy bars, trying to talk, would be wrong to resist. Turning down the Almond Snickers out of health considerations would violate the more overriding principle of attempting to make people feel welcome and comfortable. Plus, it would be better for his health if I removed and destroyed as many of those candy bars as possible; I gladly accept. I ask him a few more questions ("How was practice?" "Do you have a long ways to get home?" "Are you enjoying summer break?") and receive stoic one-word answers ("Good." "No." "Yes."). But at least he made the effort. I see him on occasion waiting for the 48 at Walker, and always give him a big wave. He returns it. Step by step.
Another child, this time a young girl, gets on at Fisher Place outbound with her family. I ask, "Are you having a good day?"
"Guys get a chance to to enjoy the sunshine?"
"Yeah. We went to the acrobatics place."
"Oh wow. Did you have fun?"
"Had you been there before?"
"Oh, so you knew you were going to have fun!"
Clearly also a one-word responder, but in her you could sense excitement. The stoic face was absent. Maybe it works in phases. You graduate from serious face to normal face to talkative face, with optional deviations like rebellious face or quiet face. I certainly used to be a quiet face.
I see Jermain at Genessee. He knew me from the 4. It's Jermain time. "As-Salamu Alaykum," I say as he leaps onto the bus. "Wa' alaykum a-salam," he returns with a huge smile, offering a big regular handshake. He's in high school, always in a pleasant mood when on my bus, and asks lots of good bus questions. A curious mind. We talk about his strategy for fasting during Ramadan (sleep in till 2pm!), late night prayer at the local Mosque, and communal trips to the Family Fun Center. "I be on them go-karts, man," he enthuses, describing a recent event involving chaotic go-kart domination with his friends.
A friend is with him ("Hey, now,"), and I can't help but share with them my dismay at not being able to get this route for next shake-up. "Man, I miss this route already," I say as we cruise in the open stretches around I-90. He asks about my next route (the 358), and we watch a 358 on the other side of Third Avenue pull into a zone.
"That's gonna be you, man," he says.
"Dude, that doesn't even look like me," I say.
Mob mentality is interesting. When you get a group of thirty youngsters in the back making a ruckus and behaving like- well, youngsters- it can be unpleasant. The most bizarre aspect of a situation like that is, and this is a thought I try to keep in mind, the most curious thing is that any one of those kids, by themselves, would be fine. They would be perfectly civil. It's only when your friends are around that you, the angst-filled teen attending Franklin, take on this air of braggadocio, attempting to carve out respect in the eyes of your peers.
It's been said that the average of intelligence of a group is lower than the intelligence of any one of the individuals that make up that group, and I believe it. A thuggish gent steps out at Othello. I hear from him a whisper: "thank you, sir." It's almost as if he's afraid of owning that gentle side of himself, the side that acknowledges others as human beings and would likely allow him to get along with just about anyone. It might be suppressed when he's with his friends, but it is a part of him, and it's here, voiced to me by choice. I'm honored and excited.
Up until now, it's been a quiet day. But now I'm 30 minutes late. When you're a half hour late on the 7, things get fun (I'm paraphrasing). I remember once getting on a 41 that was extremely late. I was the first passenger on, still in my bus driver uniform. "Let's play," the awesomely overweight driver said in an almost maniacal voice. We ended up somehow squeezing a hundred people onto a bus that only has 58 seats.
I don't get a hundred people tonight, but what I do get is the energy, which surfaces with a vengeance, catapulting the mellow haze out the window. The fog has lifted. "There he is!" I yell at a face I recognize in the crowd boarding at Henderson. Friendly guy in a sports jersey carrying some furniture. Behind him getting on- is it a man? Is it a woman? I'll let her decide. She's young, flat chested but wearing a bra underneath her oversized unbuttoned shirt, exposing her trim tummy, braids flailing from her moving head. "Hey," she says, "he said 'there he is!'" Smiling at me, excited that the driver is alive: "You see him! You see me?" "I see you now!" She laughs. We didn't say anything especially clever, or even funny, but you could tell she was high on the idea of this driver who's- wait- who's excited to be here? Guy's probably crazy.
"Can I help out with that stroller?" I say to the two girls in charge of it. It's a big Range Rover of a stroller, and the toddler inside it has no business sitting in one, being at least two years old. But no matter. I'd ride in a stroller like that. The girls say sure, if you want to help, and I say of course, "you got precious cargo right here. Right, little lady?" The baby girl gazes at me with curious eyes.
"Hi," I say to another young lady I've never seen before, in the tone of voice you're supposed to use for long-lost visiting family. "I like your hair!" She's totally confused. It takes her a moment to realize I said something other than ask her to pay the fare. She gets excited.
A middle-aged Caucasian fellow, the only guy around who's older or white, steps on with his young daughter. "I remember you from the 10," he says. "We used to laugh at you, because you were SO FRIENDLY! To everyone!" "I can't help myself!" I say.
"Hey, you my age," a skinny young thug observes. "You should hang, man, we should trade places." He doesn't have the usual sullen attitude required for thugs, but is quite awake. He sits down across the older white gentlemen and adjacent to the two stroller girls. The four of them form a sort of square at the front of the bus. For a while I talk to the white guy about the route 10, then about the 7 and about bus changes. Meanwhile, Awake Thug regals the two stroller girls with stories of his girlfriend, and I can't help but listen. "They was like, wa's wrong witchu? 'Cause she done had normal kids before. But this time the doctor was like, whaaaat?"
I laugh at his ebullient tone, and Stroller Girl Number One looks up at me in the mirror, at first with apprehension, maybe expecting me to put a stop to the fun of their conversation. But upon seeing my laughter her face opens up, relaxes into an appreciation of a shared and open space, warm with acceptance.
Somehow, no one minds the boy's language, which in technical terms couldn't be worse. That's the wonderful thing about a route like this- often there isn't anyone on board who would be offended, and thus no real pressure to maintain a sense of decorum. If this group was surrounded by commuters from the Issaquah Highlands, then we'd have a problem.
Awake Thug elaborates on his narrative, replaying a dialogue he'd had with a medical official ("I be like nigga, why you bringin' all this bullshit, talkin' a bunch a nonsense. Then I be like, 'don't be trippin, mothufucka, I'm messed up;' then, Doctor be like, 'what, how this baby get this way?!' Lookin' at my girl like she crazy").*
It's no longer a mellow night.
The Caucasian man opposite him responds to this last statement with, "probably 'cause you were like this-" and he shakes himself wildly, imitating an addict. It's a joke in amazingly bad taste, and, because of who's telling it, potentially very offensive. But incredibly, it goes over smoothly, with everyone laughing. I felt that the laughter was a response not to a funny comment, but more a result of this very disparate set of people feeling united in a sense of acceptance, different spheres respecting each others' sensibilities. They weren't laughing about somebody's crack babies. They were saying to each other, "how great, that we very different people are having a good time together." It was less about the words themselves as the tones and shades of their voices, which carried hints of many things- excitement, distraction, belonging, nervous confidence relaxing into a cautious togetherness.
It's a good thing that there's hardly anyone else on the bus, because Awake Thug continues with "I trust all your company enough to share some family secrets." In a manner of speaking. Here are his actual words- "I videotaped my girlfriend's first baby getting born, all that coochie juice spillin' out, guts everywhere-" and I can't help but express, "stop, stop now!" Which in spoken words translates into, "Aawww, I jus' had dinner!" They all collapse laughing. The boy yells, "you need to turn t' the lef!" Meaning out my window.
What's being said isn't actually very funny, but the mood is what matters, a laughter of creation, a building camaraderie that crosses age and race. Judgment is pushed to the side, forgotten for a time. You can sense the teenage boy reaching for something he doesn't yet know the shape of, a type of respect that isn't valuable to him now, but perhaps with maturity will be.
At Walker I stop and open doors because somebody had rung the bell. I've just announced all the fun activities you can go to at Walker Street (Center Park! Lighthouse for the Blind! 2100 building! Get on a 4!), and when no one gets up, I say, "anybody want this?" Our boy up front responds in the affirmative, but holds in his seated position for a moment. I peer around at him. He's in the middle of trying to get Stroller Girl Number One's phone number. Instead of rushing him explicitly I say, "gotta get the number!" She blushes, and he gets my message, wrapping up and saying, "Yes I do, brotha," giving me a fistpound on the way out. At 5th Avenue Stroller Girls One and Two get off, and I offer to help take their stroller down the stairs for them. "Since they're payin' me. I may as well do something."
After that it was gone, but just for a moment there, a group of strange people who might never talk to each other again enjoyed each other's company with the verve of a raucous family dinner.
*Linguistic enthusiasts: for an examination of African American Vernacular English, which actually follows a rigorous set of syntactical principles, refer to cognitive scientist Steven Pinker's book The Language Instinct. If you're feeling lazy, there's also the Wikipedia article on the subject, which has a nice breakdown on phonology.
It doesn't matter if you're almost done with your trip, and everything's been great so far. Just because you've made it all the way up the bottom of Valley to Dearborn without any problems- doesn't mean it couldn't all still blow up in your face, as it once did for me a couple years ago. I won't tell that story today though. Have you noticed how horror stories by drivers are usually about their last run? "It was my last trip of the night," they'll solemnly begin. A driver I knew drove the 7 for years, shake-up after shake-up, and never had a problem- until, of course, the last trip of the last night that he did the 7. Only then did a young kid run directly in front his bus while it was moving and smash a forty into the windshield, shattering it and leaving glass fragments everywhere. The driver telling this tale was convinced it was because he had mentally "checked out," and somehow the people and world around him could sense this. I think there's truth to the idea. I know my passengers can tell quite easily if I'm checked out vs. in, as it were, and they respond best when I take the time to be "there." I remind myself that just because I've driven the 43/44 from Third and Pike all the way to 30th and Market, there's still that one stop left at 32nd, and I still need to be at my best for that guy in the back scratching the inside of his elbow with blurry eyes.
Now, there's a wonderful flip side to all this, which is- just because your day has been heavy, or stress-inducing, or testy, doesn't mean that you're next trip won't be absolutely fantastic. It had been a mellow day, unusually so, and the bus almost felt like a commuter run, you know, like the 212 or 301, where you have a bus full of people but it's deadly silent. Here the silence was warm (unlike some commuter routes, in my opinion), and I welcomed a bit of mellowness. But it was becoming one of those days that you don't write about, that drift off into the ether of life, remembered only faintly even shortly after. Some trips were demanding but unremarkable, and others were just mellow- which is surprising in its own right on the 7. Good working people, tired from hard jobs and long hours. No 9-5 business suits here.
Mellow moments: a teen at Marion who recognizes me- "hey, wassup man," he says quietly with an eager light in his eyes; he's the one with the blue and red flat-billed baseball hat. He and his friend step out at Main and he waves a goodbye of his own accord. At Walker a mother in bright yellow steps on, looking at me for a moment after I ask about her day. She seems to slowly wake from the day's mellow haze as she says, maybe to herself, maybe to me, "wow. What a nice greeting." Later on at Brandon, I glance over at the other side of the street to see a waiting passenger, bald with magenta aviator shades. Not unlike a moment from an earlier post about Third and Yesler, I nod at him for no reason, and he nods back, just because we're both humans, sharing nothing other than this existence on this day, another Wednesday on Rainier Avenue. Wind rushes in through the driver side window.
Cruising around the curve from Brandon to Orcas, and there's a family sauntering along the sidewalk- man, woman, and stroller. I glance over to see if I know them. The woman looks at my bus for perhaps the same reason, and she recognizes me, her face creasing into a wide and natural smile- how curious that you can differentiate between a genuine smile and a fake one, though most of the same facial muscles are being used- and then she's gone, as a telephone pole passes between us. We saw each other for only a split second, but it's long enough for a smile on both ends and a wave from me. I hear her exclaiming to her boyfriend in excitement. Who knows what he thinks.
At Holden- I smile at yet another man on sidewalk; he's nowhere near a bus stop, just walking along Rainier, first-generation African. Never seen the guy. He raises his eyebrows in a friendly return, his forehead wrinkling in a kind way, corners of his mouth turning up.
These are small moments, gone past even as they happen, but they register. It only takes a split second. Almost at the end of the route, up in the Prentice Street neighborhood, there's a blocking accident that's being investigated by police. Someone had t-boned a car containing a Filipino family and driven off. I see them standing on the sidewalk now, two men and a very small baby. Incredibly, all are fine. An African-American mother and her adult son step out of their home to console the family. I have only one passenger left- a semi-regular, very friendly, with a hole in his aged throat that makes his voice deep and smoky. He'd meant to get off earlier but had fallen asleep, probably lured to rest by the mellow day. He isn't frustrated as we wait for nearly 30 minutes for a tow truck to clear the accident. I'm frankly amazed, and grateful.
To pass the time I walk outside the bus and start a conversation with the policeman on the scene, and have my very first positive interaction with an on-duty Seattle police officer. I've had great experiences with Transit police, the Sheriffs, and the Highway Patrol, but I've never once been treated kindly or professionally by regular Seattle Police. This fellow, Saurez, is the first to interact with me as if I'm human, and we have a terrific conversation, standing in the middle of the street, chatting in low tones. We spend a good 20 minutes talking and listening, sharing our thoughts about wages and benefits, crime rates in wintertime, accident details, the "pay as you leave" concept, the world of Third and Pine, how Seattle has changed recently, and the fact that both of us could write books about the things we've seen ("they'd have to be long books!"). I would always tell people, "I'm waiting to have a single positive experience with Seattle Police," and this guy is it. I know there's fine people on the force- the father of a very dear friend of mine works in the North precinct- but I'd never actually seen any of them on duty before. They are out there, and deserve the benefit of the doubt. Toughest job in the city. I hope to have another positive experience someday.
When the accident finally clears, I look again at the young baby, almond eyes gazing out curiously, still in the arms of his father. I say to my raspy-voiced friend on the bus, "I am so glad that baby is okay."
"You got that right."
"Kid could be president someday."
"You never know. You never know."
I reflect that before 2008, I wouldn't have said that.
Up until now, it's been a quiet day. These moments have been nice, but there's a softness to it all. It's pleasant enough, but that's all it is. Now, however, I'm 30 minutes late. It's getting towards 9pm, and it's time to start my next and last trip.
TO BE CONTINUED!
An older African American gent steps on at Genessee, asking for a free ride. I'm glad to assist, but I almost retract my kindness when he blurts out, "vote Mitt Romney!" I have no idea what he's doing, in this neighborhood, saying a thing like that. Maybe he has a death wish! Another African American fellow, also older, saunters up to the bus, saying to me, "excuse me, ma'am, can you tell me how to get to Capitol Hill?"
"Sure," I say in my deepest man-voice.
He spent the rest of the ride apologizing. "Oh man, I feel like shit," he pondered, looking at his shoes. "You're obviously a dude." He genuinely felt awful, and couldn't get over it.
Holly street, inbound, getting on into the evening. No one's at the zone. As I drive past, a young guy with shades and a huge T-Shirt leans into the street, pretending to fall in front of the bus. He's joking; he must know me. We both laugh.
Turning from Third to Third South, crossing Yesler. There's a man on the corner, dark skinned 60s, with glasses and a salt n' pepper shadow. I smile and nod at him, who knows why, and he winks and points a finger back at me, the way your favorite uncle does when he says, "you're the man." Who knows what an interaction like that means, other than, simply, two strangers reaching out, their interaction scratching the surface of a still lake, each etching a mark of acknowledgement and respect for the other. The guys at the next stop don't know why I'm smiling so, but something about that little moment made me excited.
A semi-regular passenger rings the bell for Graham Street. He's a thin but tall teenager of ambiguous heritage, in an oversized shirt, oversized shorts, oversized everything- shoes, hat, and whatever else. He pays the full fare and takes the transfer I offer him. He has a kind face, but don't tell him that. "Good-lookin,' bro," he says. I wonder what he'll be like in ten years. Got a good feeling about this guy.
She's around my age, getting off at Genessee outbound, and her hair looks great. Hair is a big deal in her culture, and from looking at her you know it. Sometimes I compliment without thinking, and in that moment I said, "I like your hair!" She turned in stride to look down at me, smiling in mild surprise, and in the inflection of her response ("thank you!") I could tell that she totally got it, got the intention: this young guy wasn't trying to be flirtatious or obnoxious, but just wanted to get it said. Somebody had nice-looking hair, and I was letting them know about it. On occasion I'll compliment someone and they'll become cagey, worried that I'm a former child molester living next to them in Snohomish County. This is not the case. Here there was no such fear. I don't know how she understood that I didn't mean anything further by the comment, but she did. Her tone of voice carried with it a subdued joy, bubbling forth from beneath her sparkling chocolate-brown eyes. It was the joy of the platonic gesture, of no strings to fret over, of having no agenda. Ah, yes. There's a freedom there that's worth something.
PS- bonus points if you know where that picture was taken!!
On the 7. It's 6:30, getting towards 7pm. The rear-view mirror is a mosaic of faces and lives, people ready to go home. I see younger Asian woman, 30s, dressed in generic dark clothing, nothing fancy, smiling at my "here we go" announcements. A red-faced man in construction clothing steps on through the back door at Maynard, recognizing me, the driver way up there, and shoots me a big wave, which I enthusiastically return. Good to have friends on board. The Asian woman smiles wide at this, her and others lighting up the place like a beacon. She comes up to express her pleasure at being here, sharing in this positive space: "I really like you!" Her English is limited, but the enthusiasm is real. An occasional regular, "Big Guy," with long dreads (whom you might remember from this trip), pats me on the shoulder. I see the great Charles F. driving the 7 on the other side. I give him the "raise the roof" gesture. He has a bone-crushing handshake and a smile for everyone.
The elderly lady with the wheelchair rings the bell, saying "wheelchair getting off!" As she rolls forward to the lift, I teasingly tell her, "Now, you don't haaave to leave me now-" she laughs, and I see the waiting teenagers outside watching me with smiling eyes- "yeah, you could hang around for a while, maybe ride a couple round trips..." She's not convinced, even when I tell her the night is young, but she's chuckling. That's the important part. Positive energy, drifting into the ether at Andover Street.
I help a lost Chinese grandmother, excited mostly at the chance to try out my Mandarin. I don't have too many Chinese grandmother friends. I'm inwardly giddy when she can actually understand some of my amazingly bad pronunciation.
Plumber Dave gets on at 5th with his bicycle, a huge grin enlivening his gaunt form. "Shit, man," he beams, "it just makes my day to see you drive up! Smilin' every single time!" He's always hard on himself, blames himself for his divorce and other life problems, but he gets such energy out of being here. We always end up talking about the value of kindness, of taking the effort to care.
Dave: "When you just take a moment to talk to someone-"
"Exactly, give the time of day, give 'em a little hand,"
"That might be the only help they've-"
"-had all day. We all need a little bit a-"
"The only positive gesture," I say, as we talk over each other in agreement;
"I know it sounds corny as all get out," he says, echoing a thought I often have, "but it's all true."
And I agree- it can sound corny. It sounds like Sesame Street. But it's core. Imbuing one's actions with truth, considering the thoughts and dreams of those outside yourself- Disney and the Teletubbies only scratch the surface. It's larger than that. Speaking truth to the power of the downward pull.
Out here, in the darker corners of evolving, fractured, and ever-progressing lives, this attitude is needed. I tend not to share this with too many people (so don't tell anyone!), but I define optimism as 'being comfortable looking at truth, even when it's negative.' To be able to stare it in the face without wavering in one's worldview, and maybe even offer some incremental kindness; the restorative power of which can easily, and often does, defy description.
I need to make something clear regarding my last few posts: I'm continuing to have a great time. I don't want them to read as a loss of something. To me, the fights and verbal assaults are excellent, positive incidents that made for great days- partly because I feel I did the best I could, but more importantly, because kindness ended up piercing through in the conclusion of those events. I am somehow completely unable to get over people being nice to each other.
Plumber Dave will often follow my cue, offering to help those sitting around him, and his enthusiasm shines through the years- he isn't a broken man in his late 50s with no family and a two hour commute. He has the excitement at the possibility of goodness we incorrectly associate with innocent children. Everyone has glimmers of that in them, be it a little or a lot. He makes the most of his time with others, feeds off my energy to make it his own, making all things new again. They say the eyes are the windows of the soul; with Dave, it's his smile.
Note: I preserve the integrity of the language used by my friends on the road only out of a desire to more accurately present the totality of the experience. I am interested in documenting what happens with accuracy, and hope this is not offensive.
I'm done for the day. I'm standing at 5th and Jackson, outbound, and I recognize some street people and drivers milling about; I walk over and chat with them for a few minutes before going downstairs to get a bus home in the Tunnel. I notice another 7 driving eastbound on Jackson; It’s Fikre. Fikre is awesome- short, youngish (30s) Ethiopian ball of energy, with a terrific sense of humor. He tells me that he’s quiet when he drives, that he doesn’t talk to the passengers, but I don’t believe it- when was Fikre ever silent? He can't stop talking when I’m around. Love the guy. Today, for some reason or another, he blows his poles on one of the deadspots crossing Fifth.
Without thinking I walk over, twirl on my reflective vest, and get behind the bus to put the poles back up. Trolley drivers look
out for each other. While I’m doing that I hear-
“GET OUT OF MY FUCKING WAY, YOU BITCH!”
I smile. It’s coming from a man, a passenger in a taxi, stuck behind us. Leaning out the window, frothing at the mouth; rabid, slapping the outside of the car. Definitely not from around here. He continues-
“GET THE FUCK OU-” I smile because I think it’s a funny thing to say. The taxi is so small, and it’s as if the passenger inside it feels that maybe if he shouts loudly enough, that will somehow help in moving the gigantic, monolithic- and completely immobile- bus in front of him. Like an ant screaming in a tinny voice at an immovable boulder in its path.
“YOU FUCKING BITCH,” he notes, as I walk over to him. I hear street guys on the corner defending me, talking back to him in normal tones- “He’s fixin’ the bus, fool,” “He gotta put the poles up.”
I’m thankful for them, but I have a different strategy. I’m laughing as I yell, “How’s it goin?”
“Good, man,” he says more by reflex than anything else. He’s mid-40s, mixed-race white with black hair, in a nice leather jacket. Totally nonplussed by my response, he looks at me with baffled wonder, as a child looks at a geodesic dome or duck-billed platypus- is that thing real? Can it talk? You see his face working, trying to hide this response and keep up with me.
I say, “right on, dude. Listen, I’m gonna fix this bus for ya, that way we can both get outta here.”
“Yeah, that’s fine. Take your time, it’s all good.”
“Far out, man.” Sometimes the LA side of me voices itself in my word choice, involuntarily.
"Yeah, get that fuckin' bus outta here." Smiling.
"Sure, since you asked. Probably a good idea."
As I get back to the poles, he yells out in mock anger, “HEY, BITCH!”
I turn back to him, laughing, and we both get it now- it’s all a big joke. He howls at the rising moon, “GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY FUCKING WAY!”
"You got places to go, don't you?"
"Fuckin' better believe it!"
I pretend to go slowly, throwing my hand down mockingly toward him. He laughs. Think I can see a smile on the exasperated taxi driver’s face; he was tense before, but amusement is allowed now. Upon fixing Fikre's poles- who steps out to thank me, hopping back in his bus to drive off- I turn back to Angry Leather Jacket man to good-naturedly trade a few more sarcastic remarks (You like bein' stuck behind me, don't you!" "Sure you don't wanna spend all day here?"), and I tell him to have a good night. He returns the goodwill.
The thing about this is, I don't think he was joking at the outset. He appeared to be genuinely angry. It was only when I did the totally absurd thing of asking how his day was- some people tell me I'm as crazy as the passengers, and they're probably right- that he realized he had miscalculated, and needed to shift gears quickly. It was a good shift. I nod at the boys in the street.