A figure under streetlights, his gesticulating arms spread wide as he stood in front of his companion.
The high-pressure sodium-vapor lamps of yore have a way of collapsing the color spectrum just so; the deep shade of his skin made less of an impression, and I couldn't discern what color his open denim jacket was, nor his sagging jeans, layered undergarments and assorted street jewelry, contrasty basketball shoes which could as easily be blue as red. Tonight he was just a forty-something figure cloaked in monochromatic orange. I called out to him.
"Hey, there he is!"
"Hey, iss muh boy!"
"This damn cigarette." He didn't need the bus, but wanted the camaraderie. He leaned in for a handshake– no fistpound tonight, just the classic "gentleman's agreement" approach. In his other hand was an unlit cigarette.
"Say my Daddy cracked," he said, raspy voice rising. "Said he over."
What did he mean? He sounded unhappy about it, and if it was an accusation I wanted him to know I'd said no such thing.
"Who said that?"
"Cancer, man. Cigarette smoke."
"Aaaoouuh," I said. "I'm so sorry. I am so sorry."
Sometimes tears come very quickly.
"Cancer," he said again. His eyes crinkled over, his lips tore downward. His body pitched forward in helpless rage and love, frustration convulsing in the face of a silent abyss. He saw his father then, and he saw the size of death, the savage indifference of unearned punishment come too soon. I didn't know what to say. I stammered in sympathy.
He screamed. He screamed his pain with primal force, wordless, body scrunched up with effort, a vowel of catastrophe roared so mightily I thought he would break glass.
People looked up. They turned around. A just-deboarded friend of mine was on the sidewalk. She paused, perhaps fearing the worst. A companionable freeloader skulked up to me on the pretext of checking the time, but more likely to ensure my safety.
There was no cause for fear. Our man was just in lamentation, struck low on an elemental level.
"I'll see you fuckin' later!!" He yelled between gritted teeth, caught between cosmic frustration and the decorum of acquaintanceship. Still the tears, bending his face toward a delicate ugly, painfully beautiful in its truthfulness.
We grow, but do we ever really change? In moments of uncomplicated joy and extreme sorrow, you sense the boy in every grown man, no matter how dense an alpha-dog outfit they muster. I saw him as outside of time, nevermind all the tough swagger and accoutrements; there's a hurting child in there, confused from day one as we all are, as to why there can be no life without suffering. His sadness came from a place before intellect, before adolescence. Beneath all the attainment and attunement of age...
Deep down, always, the child is the father of the man.
I don't have the answers, but I let him speak. I hugged him with my eyes, and we shook hands again, nothing fancy tonight. Just the connected human touch.
It seemed remiss of me not to at least ask.
"How's he doin' out there? He's doin' okay?" He didn't look it, that's for sure, laid out on the sidewalk as he was, facing the heavens, maybe twitching a little, a crowd gathering round. A skinny, bearded mass, sprawled out on musty nighttime pavement.
I was asking the woman who'd just stepped in. She wasn't your first idea of a registered nurse: another soul looking somewhat down and out, olive skin tanned hard under an open vest, asking if I stopped by the Union Gospel Mission in Pioneer Square. She'd mistakenly left her bag on a bench down there fifteen minutes ago, and was hoping against hope. It's Pioneer Square, sure, but... miracles have a way of happening in the worst places, too.
"Oh, I think he's gonna be alright," she said.
"I sure hope so. He doesn't look too great, lying around like that. Good to see some folks steppin' in."
"And I'm a registered nurse, so,"
"Oh see there you go. Gosh, I'm glad you were hangin' around! Nice uh you to lend your expertise!"
"Well, I leaned in to check vitals, and he starts cussin' me out, 'get outta my face,' 'get the fuck away from me,' you know, and I'm all like, 'okay, he's fine!!"
"Ha! Yeah, that's when you know they're okay!"
"If they're cussin' you out, you know they're gonna be fine. If they're having trouble breathing, or they're unresponsive, that's one thing! But if they have the energy to actually be pissed off,"
"Which takes a lot of energy!"
"Oh yeah, he's gonna be fiiiiiiine. He's like, get away from me, you dumb bitch!"
"Hey, it's cool. Means he's okay!"
"Yeah, definitely gonna live. It's like a car crash, if both people get out of their cars start yelling at each other, you know that means everything's actually okay!"
"Exactly. If they were actually hurting, you wouldn't hear anything. There would be nobody arguing!"
Profanity never sounded so good.
Do I show up in his dreams, as he has in mine?
In my life he began as a recurring face in my periphery, one of those men who lay about the Fifth and Jackson plaza. The guy with the shorts. An hour, a month, a week: they're there, sidestepping life's challenges with another beer from the corner store across the way. How many methods are there for preventing the present from becoming the future, and at what point do these different attempts collapse under the weight of time? They live in the shadow of unconquered hurdles, looming problems supplanted by too many other issues to solve right now. Meanwhile, I've got enough here for a PBR....
Allow me to paint you a picture.
There's the northwest corner, including a recessed westerly alcove to the left of the FedEx. That's the bathroom. Closer to the corner proper, at the site of the now-disused Waterfront Streetcar terminal, is Hangout 1. It's shady and concentrated, a small staircase of sorts under cover of the weather, suitable for furtive transactions and exchanges. Amharic is the dominant language here. Wouldn't you find your own people in a new country, even if they weren't the sort you'd introduce to Mom?
Directly east is Fifth and Jackson's northeast corner, Hangout Zero. In the Seattle tradition of safe and unsafe areas rubbing right up against each other and, incredibly, adhering to division lines as seemingly insignificant as a roadway, Hangout Zero is completely innocuous. It's not a hangout. There's nowhere to sit and it's too open. You could spend all day standing at the corner of Hangout Zero and expect not to be hassled.
The southeast corner is the nearest, but not the most desirable, opportunity for liquor refueling. Hangout 2's Union Market mini-mart has suitably expansive open hours, sometimes gets shot up (or worse), but generally performs its function as a supply haven for drinking tendencies of the Bukowskiesque stripe. English is the language of choice on this corner, which doesn't have chairs or benches but is workable for those in walkers and wheelchairs, and besides offers a few utility boxes and garbage and recycling cans to lean on or perhaps explore. Treasure hunting, I believe, is a natural human impulse.
Further up, an entire two blocks out (a commitment, when you could just comfortably pass the time right here at Hangouts 1 or 2), is the mini-mart my recurring friend mentioned above prefers. He has an adventurer's spirit about him, and is too refined for Hangout 2's decidedly mediocre alcohol offerings. You've got to travel to get the good stuff.
And then there's Hangout 3.
The southwest corner is the Grand Poobah of this whole affair, and the reason all the satellite hangouts surrounding it exist in the first place. Designed in the 1980s in anticipation of the 1990 opening of the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel, atop which it sits, it vastly predates urban planning concepts aimed at discouraging sitting, loitering, sleeping, enjoying the sun, enjoying your neighbors- call it what you want. All that happens here. This open, welcoming (and okay, often nerve-wracking) brick plaza is supposed to be lived in, and it is. Sitting areas and shade abound. The bus zone on this block and transit tunnel below keep the proceedings flowing.
The adjacent Union Station (an immaculately restored former train station lobby, in a building now used for Sound Transit offices) extends the plaza the full length of the block. The buzzing hive that is Fourth and Jackson is one of Metro's key intersections, and the massive amount of service passing through gives a sense of the city's pulse. It's almost impossible for sixty seconds to go by without a bus in sight. You can feel when a game or event is brewing.
Although it can't be true, I feel like I hang out at Hangout 3 as much as the friends I detail below. Personally, I love the space, and I've loved it since childhood. I'd stand there, at the decidedly safer and mysteriously drama-free far west railing facing Fourth, and watch the buses go by in awe.
Now I'm there every day, walking through it on my way to work, walking back to it from the base to wait for my bus, driving through it four or five times a night on the route of all routes, and using it as a passenger on my days off for the excellent transfer point that it is.
And every time I'm there, no matter the hour, they are too. They carouse the nights and days away in various states of inebriation, on an endless summer vacation with gradually diminishing returns.
There's Ali of the Cane (a la Madonna of the Goldfinch), who jokes with me about why I've forgotten to bring him his very own Metro bus; there's my Laotian friend who teaches me key phrases and likes Coca-Cola, who may one day return to his family; there's another Ali, slightly less drunk but just as friendly, with sisters in Houston; his dream is to see them again. There's Tall Guy 1, who goes out of his way to greet me, and who is currently in a wheelchair and cast but plans to be out of them in six weeks; and Tall Guy 2, a more stolid presence, often not in a state to recognize my face, but kind when he is. Others are there intermittently, or are newer faces- Sabu, Einstein, Texas, and more. English tends to be the preferred language here, not because the crowd is generally American (as with Hangout 2), but because the international nature of the conglomerate requires a universal communication choice.
The open layout from an earlier design time actually helps. Violence at Third and Pike/Pine too often involves bystanders, due to the cramped nature of the proceedings. Getting rid of the benches there hasn't gotten rid of anybody so much as simply prompted them to stand, blocking doorways to businesses and tunnel entrances, creating far too much street denizen-passersby friction.
Fifth and Jackson, conversely, is loitering done right: excepting the iffy nature of Hangouts 1 and especially 2, the plaza at Hangout 3 is a thing of beauty (we'll ignore Hangout Zero, which, absurdly, might be one of safest corners in the neighborhood). The plaza benches and landscaping invite and contain my Bukowski friends such that, if you prefer to avoid carousing, there's space and pathways to easily do so. Fights happen regularly enough here, and though both intersections have robust police presences, the spacial geography at Fifth and Jackson is such that violence almost never involves pedestrians or bystanders. It's kept "in-house," as it were. How nice.
The face I most associate with Hangout 3 is the fellow with the shorts. Shorts is one of the Somalian set, often with Ali of the Cane and Tall Guy 2. He moves like people did in those old hand-cranked projections of silent films– sometimes slow motion, sometimes slightly fast, erratic. More often he's on the slower side, treading air like Charlie Chaplin in 1 A.M. Short curly hair, forties. In my first interactions with him, which were on my bus, I was apprehensive. He was unpredictable. He could be loud. I'd avoid eye contact in the plaza.
Over time it occurred to me I need to be on good terms with these guys, because I see them daily and will for the foreseeable future. For me, they're like neighbors. Hangout 1 is still a little too confusing (and mysteriously empty this past week), but in passing through Hangout 3 I'll nod and wave, and the folks enthusiastically do the same.
Once Shorts boarded at Third and James, clad in a knee-length pair of dirty white shorts held up by an elastic band. Just before stepping on, he indifferently tugged at the elastic, pulling out and readjusting an enormous, eighteen-inch serrated blade. He reinserted it near his underwear and loped in.
I asked, "you're not gonna use that thing in here, are ya?"
His smile is so genuine. I love seeing it. "Oh no, my brotha," he replied. "No problems!"
True to his word, he didn't harm a soul. These folks are rarely on the bus for very long; they have smaller orbits, and there's no law against riding the bus while carrying the world's biggest bread knife.
Not long ago I saw him, uncharacteristically, clear over on Capitol Hill, outside the Egyptian Theatre. He waited until I'd boarded all the passengers waiting there before exclaiming to me, "Summertime!"
"Heeey! Whats goin on', man?"
"I'm chillin' here today, over there, too much drama."
"Yeah. Better over here, less drama."
"Less drama! Alright man, I'll see you again."
"Yup! Thank you so much!"
His yup had a childlike quality, and so did his bright grin. Those components in combination with the shorts made him appear younger than he is. I certainly wasn't expecting to hear a preference for less drama from Mr. Bread Knife Machete, but was happy to share that in common for the moment.
Most recently I saw him again at the corner of Broadway and Pine. He must be taking to the area. He was rocking back and forth on his feet a little, asking a put-together passerby for spare change. To a stranger his propulsive voice and leering demeanor can be frightening, and this Amazon-young-professional-looking fellow looked not a little terrified.
I was across the street in my bus, but I needed to wave. I forced open my window and tapped the horn, waving my arm out wildly, hoping Shorts would see me. He was disoriented but only for a second, and absolutely lit up upon recognizing me. "Heeeey," he yelled. I returned the howl with enthusiasm.
I waved for two reasons.
I wanted Mr. Young Professional to realize this crazy-looking immigrant street guy actually has friends– and friends in other parts of society at that. He can't be that scary. He's legitimate in somebody's eyes, and there are people who go out of their way to say hi to him.
I also wanted Mr. Shorts to feel something besides shunning and ostracism in that moment. Let him know not to put too much stock into Mr. Amazon's cold shoulder. He may not like you right now, Shorts, but there are people with jobs and without who love you, who get excited when they see you.
This, these are the important things we can do in this life. It's what we're trying for when we're kind. To make our fellow human feel valued, acknowledged, important, in that brief blink of an eye during which we're here.
It's curious. My father was in the A section of The New York Times not long ago, along with several other articles in various publications and a terrific short film on his work that's already won awards and been accepted to multiple festivals, and now there's myself on the front page of The Seattle Times. I'll say it made for one interesting driving day on Tuesday....
I can't think of two people less interested in fame– especially him. The goal has always just been to be ourselves, authentically. For myself, am I happy that 31,000 people have visited this site in the last day? Of course I am.
I desire to expand my readership because I would very much like to publish this blog in book form. The feedback I get on it is just too potent, and somewhere out there is a publisher willing to take a chance on the fact that there aren't currently any inspirational urban/ bus driver-customer service/ celebration of compassion/ non-fiction short story collections in existence.
Putting aside the fact that the article is about me, what gratifies me about it is that it's headline news about something positive, about service work, about the timeless and timely nature of compassion. I really can't be thankful enough; and thanks also to you readers for sharing in the perspective and coming to the site. There's bus stories aplenty waiting in the wings, but for now, some updates:
I've revamped the Films page and posted below with links and background on two recent film projects;
Updated the Upcoming Shows area– I have one show running currently, with two more in September;
And added a new page compiling the various videos of me telling stories about town. There's more of those in the offing, as well.
I also want to bump the recent "Well Hullo" post, a sort of "Intro to Nathan's Blog 101" from the other day for newcomers.
For those of you who've commented and emailed– I will get back to you! I'm just a lil' overwhelmed at the moment! Bear with me as I work on the site and scoot out the door to drive another shift!
People have been asking about these for years.
I've withheld these for ages on the technical grounds that public online viewability often disqualifies films from festivals, but that's starting to be less of an issue now. These two shorts have had their rounds at respectable venues, and I'd rather you all just had a chance to see them. They're complicated, imperfect, delicate; designed to reveal themselves slowly, to be taken in more than once. Six of my films have played at festivals; these are the most recent two.
Regulate (pictured above) stars Eleanor Moseley and Ryan Cooper, among others. In it, a recently remarried woman in her forties, whose daughter is suspected of terrorist activity, finally decides enough is enough with regard to her theatrical and overbearing ex-husband.
The general idea was to shoot a chamber dialogue piece with greater-than-normal attention to aesthetics (see more below). Although I've received a lot of compliments on the film's visual design, I say the main cause célèbre here is Eleanor's performance, particularly her closing monologue, shot in a six-minute unbroken take. This premiered at the Henry Art Gallery and was an Official Selection at the 2016 International Women's Festival and two other festivals.
Full (twenty-eight minute) film here; IMDb link here.
I don't talk too much about the genesis behind my projects, but I'm told sharing is caring. If you're in the mood for a tell-all, check out Regulate's hour-long commentary with yours truly.
I'm not sure how I managed to talk that quickly for that long without any dead air.... Every question you could ever lob at me about theory, regrets, successes, content and formal decisions– good and bad– gets answered in this hour. Put it on while you do the dishes. This is how I see film.
Rejuvenate has been showcased on this blog before, but never in its full fifteen-minute form. Commissioned by Real Change, this film showcases the lives of two street newspaper vendors as the colorful, vibrant people they are.
We see a lot of stories in process on the street, and we wonder where these folks come from. With Rejuvenate I wanted to offer a window of sorts, and not the usual dour one: I find tiresome the approach of filming the homeless in unsophisticated static shots of desaturated brown and grey. Just because documentaries focus on content doesn't mean they should get away with a lower bar for visual aesthetics. Here we focus on communicating to the viewer with dynamic camera movement, natural lighting, and rich color.
We'll leave sociological analysis to the experts; this is a vérité celebration of two faces in the crowd as fleshed-out people with energy and dreams like yours and mine. Rejuvenate premiered at the 2013 Real Change Annual Breakfast, at the Washington State Convention Center, and was an Official Selection at the 2016 Seattle Transmedia Film Festival and the 2016 Grand IndieWise Convention.
Full (fifteen-minute) film here; IMDb link here.
Here's a newspaper profile on me written by one of the film's subjects, Tricia Sullivan.
Information on my other films here.
Thanks for watching– on a big(ish) screen, I hope!
Photo by Ken Lambert for The Seattle Times.
If you read the blog, but don't read the paper, check out yesterday's front page article in The Seattle Times. I'm enormously indebted to Jessica Lee's reporting and Ken Lambert's photography.
If you read the paper, but are new to the blog– thanks for stopping in! There's a wealth of material here, ready for you to explore via the sidebar of story categories on the right, the bestselling book you can buy, and photography (yes it's all film!) and movie tabs above.
Check them out if you like, or explore this little Reader's Digest curation I've prepared for y'all:
Stories in Written Form:
Stories in Video Form:
Thanks for sharing in the hope of helping others, in believing in the possibilities of goodness. I started this blog thinking it represented a minority opinion. I'm so happy to be wrong.
Newcomers, thanks for your replies to the posts– which I will attend to shortly. I reply to every single comment on this site.
UPDATE: 2018 was a banner year for me- I made a film, published a book, won a number of awards, and began popping on the radio and the telly a lil' more regularly.
She looked apprehensive.
I probably did too. The clock had just struck midnight, and angry voices boomed in our periphery. She was out there, waiting for the bus in a white and yellow summer dress, breezy, perhaps wishing there was someone around, anybody, besides this angry yelling man approaching. I was inside my darkened bus, waking up disoriented from a short nap. The shift was almost done, and it had been a breeze… but it's never over 'til it's over.
Bus drivers sometimes ride my bus to get a feel for the night 7, different ways of handling it. Certain passenger friends call a ride on my 7 "Bus Therapy," while some drivers have dubbed it "The Nathan Vass Refresher Course." I doubt it qualifies for that lofty moniker (I prefer calling it my "office hours"), but I did have an evening where three operators, unbeknownst to each other, all came out to ride the last half of my shift. I was telling them it's never over until it's completely over, 'til you've parked the bus on the lane inside the yard. You could be a hundred feet away from home base, and it could all still fall apart.
As it happened, we were about a hundred feet away from home base, these drivers and I, wrapping up the shift, when… wouldn't you know it, a woman came running out of the bushes with blood on her hands and waist, waving her arms and asking us for assistance with her boyfriend, who had been stabbing her.
It's never over 'til it's over.
We called for help and she got the assistance she needed. I try not to offer relationship advice to random strangers, but given the circumstances....
"Um. You might think about dumping this guy," I said.
"Oh God yes," she said.
It was with these thoughts I stood and stretched out of my nap. Some real angry voices out there. I sighed. It didn't matter how carefree the day had been. In its last minutes you still might have to step up, summon your better angels and steer the moment as best you can.
I opened the door and turned on the interior lights. Summer Dress and I made nervous eye contact, neither one of us quite sure what was transpiring. She was still standing out there, I was standing by the farebox, as a belligerent voice came closer….
"Hi," I said to her with kind eyes. Any friendly stranger is a friend, not a stranger, in an intense situation.
"Hey," she replied. Cute blue eyes, short, with headphones she knew not to be listening to right now.
"DON'T NOBODY TALK TO ME THAT WAY," said a tall man in dark clothes and a beanie, a bass-inflected gravel rasp to his throaty din. It sounded vaguely familiar: where've I heard that voice before? Ah, yes. I put it together right before I saw his face. Marcus loomed in out of the shadows, walking down from the bus behind me.
Boy, does it ever pay off to know a man's name.
You never know when you'll see someone again, or how. The genial history he and I have paid off in spades now. The present instantly defused, and the girl's eyes lit up with surprise, comfort, and relaxation as I said in a friendly tone just a tad quieter than normal:
"Hey, Marcus." Pause. "You don't sound too happy."
He exhaled. Calming down. "Naw, man. This guy trying to tell me to 'take my shit and get off the bus.'"
"You can always hang out on my bus..."
"Ah know. But this guy's just…"
"I'm sorry to hear it, dude. You know you can always hang in here."
The young lady was searching her purse for change. She looked up at him, saying, "oh, you go ahead."
I think Marcus realized then that he was scaring people. He looked at her now, over the rims of his wire-frame glasses, not lasciviously but how a father looks at girls his daughter's age; with caring. I love watching people think. He deflated further back to his normal self and said, "oh, no. I always let ladies go first."
He smiled and she returned the same, feeling the tension slack loose.
I said, "so he was givin' you some attitude?"
Marcus didn't even need to vent. "I'm okay," he said wearily. "It's just too hot for all that!"
"Yeah, we gotta keep it low-key!"
Tone of voice. Choice of words. I've asked hundreds of people, including Marcus himself, to step off the bus at various ends of the line. I've never told them to though, and I've definitely never used the words he quoted the other (brand new) driver as saying. If I told all those people to "take their shit and get off my bus," I don't think I would even be alive. Instead I have the respect of friends in more corners of society than I ever could have imagined, corners I never knew existed. Seeing the young lady realize she could relax, that everything was okay, that for some reason this driver knew this guy by name and they could talk things down… I didn't know that would be the highlight of my night.
It's never over 'til it's over.
What a phenomenally continuous and steady turnout and unqualified success of an evening. I couldn't be happier. Thank you all for coming.
Did you miss my show opening this first Thursday past? Never fear, the work is still there. Shift Gallery is open Fridays and Saturdays, 12-5, through all of August and into Saturday, Sept 2. Some words of mine here; gallery location, etc information here.
Image courtesy BBC.
Christine and the Queens was coming to town, and I needed to go alone. Her music is just too special. It was an October night, 2016, and I was riding into downtown, basking in the glow of a happy driver's bus when I recognized two faces boarding at the next zone. Were they my friend Taylor and a companion of hers, entirely by surprise? They were. How could I miss Taylor's enormous 'fro? She exploded with delight upon seeing me– and her friend Clay, incredibly, who knew me too: I'd met her on my own bus for the first time just a week before. I was so glad I'd struck up pleasant conversation at the time; you never know when you'll see someone again, or how. What were they doing on this fine bus, I asked. Where were they going tonight? Were they going to see exactly the same show I was, Christine and the Queens at the Showbox?
They were! We blow up all over again. I marvel at their welcoming kindness, and we agree to go as a group. Of course. There is a moment of stress standing in line– Taylor realizes they're missing a ticket. They've only one ticket between the two of them, and the ticket-taker is being the stickler he needs to be. Do the high-school girls in front of us just happen to have an extra ticket, which they volunteer upon hearing our dilemma? They do! We're bowled over. We're now a group of five, discovering the common interests we share. They shoot on film, like I do; what's old is new again.
Waiting for the act to begin, I'm struck by the growing energy of the space. Christine (real name: Héloïse Letissier), a French chanteuse who can wear a suit like nobody's business, identifies as pansexual, and much of her following is genderqueer, gender-neutral, gender fluid, gay, bi, trans, lesbian, whatever term you like… and all of her following is accepting of such identifications. The younger set has less need to draw division lines in identity components which once were lifelong rigid: sexuality, profession, religion. They've discovered grey areas which can exist alongside black and white. Maybe people can be who they are, search it out; perhaps they don't have to squeeze into an existing type. Look at this crowd under dimmed lights, all stripes and colors, beautiful not because they were young or good-looking, though they generally were, but because they were tolerant.
Christine's music largely isn't about sexual identity, however. It's not reactionary or militant. It's about the joie de vivre of being alive, the potent high of generosity and felt emotion. Here she is now, a petite fireball bubbling over with– would you believe it? Kindness, an all-inclusive love.
She arrests us at the outset with a pronouncement. "There is only one rule for tonight–" imagine her wavy locks swinging as she traverses the stage with a showman's flair– "not a complicated rule, quite simple really." The cute French accent. This was to be a room with no judging, she explained. All accepting. "This world is so strict!" she cried, in mock horror. We laughed in rueful understanding, pleasantly perplexed by her buoyant perspective. In her attitude she was onto something. "I used to be so concerned, about fitting in... and then I just decided to stop caring!" An attentive lull in the crowd, as she exploded with: "And then it became so easy!" Her appeal was invigorating not because she closely replicated existing patterns of cool, but because she was none of them. The epitome of charisma, complete and whole; all this, just by being herself, making silly faces and shrugging it off.
Afterwards we tumbled out slowly, awash in the post-concert high. The high-schoolers made their way home, and we three took a turn about the block, too involved in the recent experience to speak. "I want to talk to her," I said aloud. My friends, I think, spend more time in bars than in airplanes, and they thought Christine and sundry might be headed for a nearby dive. I spend more time in airplanes than bars, though, and I felt she'd be scurrying out the Showbox's back entrance for a hotel and a plane. I gently guided our stroll toward the alley between First and Second, and we paused, noticing three figures slipping out the back door and approaching. Was it her? Was it?
Of the few hundred people who attended, only we would get to share in this moment, twinkling on a damp sidewalk next to an alley. Christine and her two companions paused, and we understood who we all were. It was not a time for pictures or autographs, but brief and deeply felt thanks, congratulations in a mixture of English and French. She was less the international pop star than a person my age, gracious, saying something charmingly ordinary about getting out this rain.
Taylor, Clay and I go to the Alibi Room. I'm telling them how important this restaurant is to me, the intersections that have happened here… then I notice a figure seated against the far wall. Is that my best friend from high-school, Anna Harrison, whom I have not seen in years? At this point tonight expecting miracles seems downright reasonable. It is her. Had she just come from… Christine and the Queens? You know the answer, reader. I go and sit with her wonderful accepting friends, stunned as Anna explains to them how I've achieved my childhood dream of becoming a bus driver, and they receive this news with actual genuine excitement. I can't believe their unironic support of something so easy to laugh at. I feel safe. Anna introduces me around as one of her best friends, and for a second I think she's referring to someone else.
Taylor and Clay insist I stay with this group, as they head out to bus home. I want to drive them; my car is nearby, and I know the bus is a long walk from Taylor's house. Maybe it's instinct for a bus driver to want to give people rides, but they see the joy I'm in and insist. I tell them where the bus stop is and what time it comes. They chuckle at my encyclopedic knowledge. An hour later I'm driving home and as I turn onto my driveway I remember– yes, this is the time Taylor's bus would be pulling in to the transit center. Should I go see if they yet need a ride? Maybe the timing will be just right.
Is the timing just right? Are they just now starting their fifteen-block walk home in the midnight rain when I roll up, identifying myself by hollering, "Christine and the Queens!"?
I believe in miracles, again. They're beyond thrilled. I feel a need to thank something. I am so grateful for so many intersecting things– the odds of Taylor getting on that bus going to the same venue, the odds of having met Clay only a week prior, the miracle of the girls in line with the extra ticket, the impossible possibility of being the only ones to meet Christine, the serendipity of Anna in the Alibi Room, her gratitude and that of her friends, the timing of being able to drive these two home….
But what I remembered most was the energy of that room. The world made sense in there. These beautiful outcasts, the marginalized, the brave, the delicate, the forgotten… together as one under vaulted ceilings. This is what the world will look like thirty years, I thought. This was the vanguard, not the cutting edge of electronics or technology, but of acceptance, the human organism at peace with itself. I savored it all: one of the girls in our group saying to another this is just what she wanted, to have a great time out and meet cool people. Someone singing the lyrics in French to my left. Christine herself locking eyes with me and holding the gaze for the long, long fadeout of the album's closing tune. All that we said, in a moment… in that room, all of us misfits were one, centered about, embraced as whole. There was no judging tonight. It was a spiritual experience.
And it would only get better. November 2016 was around the corner, and the election; I talked with a young man from Barcelona. "I love America," he told me. "You guys are leading by example. You had the first black president, elected twice, and now the first woman president… it's going to be great. It's going to be so great." I grinned, shivering with enthusiasm. The beauty of that room was becoming real. Tangible progress was happening, and was about to expand significantly. There would be new laws and leaders, a voice and a place for these fellow compatriots of mine. Things were going well.
There was a future we could almost touch.
The New York Times: Trump Cites Familiar Argument in Ban on Transgender Troops.
If you haven't read it already, my thoughts from November 9, two weeks later: The Day the Music Died.
Christine and The Queens: "Christine."
I realize this is exceptionally short notice for a reminder, but I'm compelled to share once again that I do have work in Pioneer Square's Shift Gallery tonight. It's not a solo show, and I don't have a huge amount of work up, but I think you'll quite like the work that is on display– not to mention some pretty extraordinary stuff from my fellow artists!
Curator Liz Patterson's desire to incorporate not just my art but specific the bus-related side of my art is exciting to me. These two worlds of mine generally have so little crossover... except when they don't: both are really about the same thing, the creative urge to express and explore human nature. That's what this blog is about– the magical place where booksmarts and streetsmarts meet and intertwine.
If you're doing the artwalk or in the neighborhood tonight, stop in for a chat and some art! I'm there from 5-8.
Details, location and more here.