Aurora Avenue, Down and Back
"Aurora and 130th: "Take it easy," I say to one of the motley crowd getting on. She's maybe 60, dressed in blue and red, with a plastic top hat that Lincoln might have worn if he played at Woodstock. "That's the only way to take it," she sighs with a smile.
3rd and Virginia: An older lady, sitting in the chat seat, asks me an important question: "Do you drink soda pop?"
"I never drink soda pop."
"How come you don't drink soda pop?"
I realize that this is the gal who asked me about 180th street over and over for 40 minutes. I like her. I respond to her question-
"'Cause I don't wanna become one of those, uh-" trying to be diplomatic- "bigger bus drivers."
"You don't wanna gain weight?"
"No, I don't."
"Can you gain weight if you don't watch what you eat?"
At this point a lady with interesting glasses who's been listening in tells me I'm a delight, and that this 358 has been the best of the five bus rides she's taken today. I melt. I can't help it. What else can you do?
3rd and Pike: "Thanks Brudda," he says pausing before asking rhetorically: "Is he a DJ or is he a bus driver?"
3rd and Spring: A silent guy gets off. He moves one his headphones so his ear is exposed to the world. He's a bigger guy, dressed in oversized clothing, a beanie, with glasses and a couple jackets. Quietly he turns and says, "you're doin' a good job."
5th and Terrace: There's only one more stop left on the route. I wait for a running man, something I might not normally do, on the strength of his smile of recognition. I don't know it yet, but he knows me. "So, no more number 7?" he says. People ask me this more than I expect. A short time ago, walking around 5th & Jackson on my break (I was going to Uwajimiya to look for miso soup), and a brother in a jumpsuit interrupted his friends to ask me more or less the same thing- "you don't drive number 7 no more?" At Atlantic Base recently, where I stopped in on a break, I greeted another driver, a mainstay on the 7 who I've waved at for years. "Hey, number 7!" "Hey, now. They're askin' about you out there," he says. I tell them all I hope to be back soon.
Jackson and 5th: A fellow gets on with a styrofoam container filled with potatoes, gravy, steak, and collard greens. It looks great. "That looks great," I tell him. He asks about the Shoreline Park and Ride.
In film direction, often the best way to fine-tune an actor's performance is to make a suggestion that circuitously accomplishes what you want, without being on the nose. For instance, if an actor is using his hands too much during a line reading, you might ask him to do a take while holding a knife and fork. It allows you to get what you want without interfering with his mental approach to the scene.
In vaguely similar fashion, I want to tell this man not to spill potatoes and gravy all over the back of my bus. I'm not gonna tell him not to eat on the bus. If you were looking at a long bus ride to Shoreline on the 358, would you really sit still holding a warm plate of mouth-watering steak and potatoes for fifty minutes? Of course not. Nobody holds steak in their lap for an hour without eating it. That's not natural. So I tell him, "we got paper towels right here if you need them." It's another way of saying, "be mindful of spilling things." I've got my fingers crossed, hoping that will work. He goes and sits down.
Aurora and Galer: A fellow with glasses, perhaps mentally disabled, is friendly enough. His attitude is interesting, though. He's pretending that he knows Paul Bachtel, the Union President- and for all I know he does, but he only offers information that I've already mentioned in the conversation. It's highly questionable, but I enjoy talking to him. Well, maybe except for when he goes, repeatedly, "I sound like I know a lot about the Union, don't I?"
"Everybody knows something," I say. He reminds me of a fellow who's definitely not a service planner, but pretends to be one. I stump that guy on route questions regularly, but I don't call his bluff. You can still be a nice person and pretend to be a service planner, after all.
64th and Woodland: "Okay, I'm just gonna ask you," says a lady up front after a prolonged period of silence. She hadn't spoken to me yet. "How old are you?"
She instinctively grabs onto the stanchion for extra safety.
Aurora and Northgate Way: A lady of indeterminate age with a friendly face, hiding behind glasses, hair, and a bike helmet, tells me about her scuba class that she's about to go teach. The blue interior lights make the front of the bus dim at nighttime; her smile lights up the space. The energy is hers, and now it belongs to both of us, growing with all the people we touch.
Aurora and 145th: A construction-looking fellow gets on and says to no one in particular, "guy looks like he's sixteen." Of course he's talking about me. We laugh and have the you're-too-young conversation. "I should be at home doin' chores!"
"Take us to Vegas!" he says.
152nd: Drunk G, dressed entirely in oversized black denim, steps on. He's in good spirits tonight. He sense an affinity in me, and our greeting to each other is warm. Don't know if I've seen him before. He goes and sits next to Potatoes and Steak man, who he seems to know. The two of them and another man nearby begin talking. I'm reminded of the 7, where people simply know each other.
155th: I slow to a stop in the bus lane behind a slowly merging car that's blocking my way. It seems like the right thing to do. Construction Guy says, in a kind voice, "oh, it's okay to go through using this lane."
I say "well, I want to, but I don't wanna run this guy over."
"Oh, there's a guy there. I see."
"Yeah, I hear it's frowned upon."
"Yeah, I've hear that too. Okay. Probably a good idea. Carry on!"
160th- Myself, Construction Guy, Guy I Can't See Because He's Sitting Behind Me, and Guy Who Pretends to Know Paul Bachtel enjoy a spirited conversation amongst each other. I forget the subjects covered, but everything was periodically interrupted by Guy Who Pretends to Know Paul Bachtel, who would chime in with, "I'm gonna put in a good word for ya with Paul." He would say this even if the conversation had nothing in the slightest to do with Paul Bachtel, which was most of the conversation. Example: "Do they still have power motors on those lawnmowers?"
"I'm gonna talk to Paul Bachtel. Put in a good word for ya."
"When's that tire store gonna reopen?"
Everything went smoothly until I heard the code words for conversation disaster. The code words rhyme with Bit and Omni, or Arrack and Bahama. "Please, no conversations about the White House," I say as if in pain. "I don't wanna go down that road."
"Good call, man," says Construction Guy. Guy Who Pretends to Know Paul Bachtel had been muttering praises for Bit Omni, and I wasn't about to have it. No way. Let's get back to tire stores.
165th: Potato Steak Man comes up and says in a quiet voice, "I'm in need a those napkins." I tell him they're right over here, with the timetables. He takes them and completely cleans up the mess he's made, without being asked, all by himself. Frankly, I'm impressed and excited. It worked. Later he comes up to put the trash in trash can. I ask him where he got the food at, because it really did look terrific, but he just laughs, thinking I'm joking. Me: "You're makin' me hungry!"
180th: Drunk G says, "I'm gonna go talk to the redhead." He walks toward a seated street woman in her 60s, who's blonde. "I'm tired of that ghetto talk," he says to her, attempting to sound sincere. Maybe he is. They share an amiable conversation that thankfully doesn't go off the rails. You can tell she's been in situations like this before. She's off at 185th.
200th: Drunk G and Potato Steak Man begin to get off. G gives me a fistpound and thanks me for being myself. Potato Steak asks if this is Aurora Village. I say that it isn't, that the next stop is better. Drunk G, now on the sidewalk, hollers at his friend, "let's get off here! I can see the Transit Center right over there!"
Potato Steak Man: "Dogg! I'm not listenin' to you, I'm listenin' to the bus driver! It's one more stop!"
Me: "Yeah, don't leave me yet!"
He looks hesitant. I seal it with, "yeah, man! Party's not over!!"
He comes bounding back on with a smile. I doubt many bus drivers have asked him to not leave the bus before.
Aurora Village Transit Center: An older guy with pure white hair, tied in a ponytail, wiry fellow with a paperback novel under his arm, comes up for a fistpound, saying with amazement, "you're the man!" I say, "no, you're the man!" He's like a happy boiling pot that's about to explode. "Dude, no, you're the freakin' man! That was awesome!"
Construction Guy comes up with a congrats and a handshake.
Now it's time for Drunk G and his pals to really get off. We enthusiastically shake hands, and he compliments me and the ride. He ends by declaring loudly, "BUS DRIVER BY NIGHT..." -he pauses, thinking, as I wonder what he'll say next- "...PIMP BY DAY!"
We all fall apart in laughter. What I found funniest was that he had chosen to designate the bus driving aspect for nighttime and pimping as the daytime activity!
The Old Neighborhood
If you haven't seen them already, I just wanted to let you know of latest batch of photos in the Photography section, cross-process prints taken in various parts of LA that I used to live in.
I related the story in the previous post because I was recently reminded of Mr. Amalric while doing the 358. After that day of seeing him on the 5, I subsequently ran into him a couple more times while driving the 10. I discovered that his daily commute was to take the 10 or the 43 to downtown, followed by the 358 north to his place of work. Having never driven the 358 at that time, I asked him about the route. He talked about its circus-like clientele aspects, and added, "you'll always have at least ten or so people on your bus who are out cold."
"Usually, yeah. Hopefully!"
"Yeah, 'cause if you think about it, it's a great route to fall asleep on. The route's so long. You get a full hour of nap time and at the end there's another bus to bring you right back, and the service is frequent enough that you don't have to wait too long. Plus there's Costco up there, and they have pizza."
It is true that the 358 is sleeper heaven in a way that many other routes are not. You, the sleeper, want a nice long route that takes you somewhere that's either interesting, or that you can come back from. The Owls are great, because they do giant loops around the city and bring you right back to where you started. There's an art to it, and new homeless people can learn the ropes on how to "do" the Owls from more seasoned sleeper veterans. Sleeping takes skill when you've hit bottom.
During the day, the 522 is good and comfortable, but it drops you off in the middle of nowhere; the 150 used to be a good option but those new South Base vehicles have seats that you can't sleep in- instead of a seat cushion where your head goes there's a skinny metal bar. Forget that. The RapidRide downtown would be a killer sleeping vehicle (long, frequent, good end points) if it weren't for the same reason- annoying antisleeping seat design. The 358, on the other hand, is out of North Base, where the old buses go, and old buses still have the comfortable seats.
I take it as a compliment when someone falls asleep on my bus, because it means that I've been driving smoothly. However, it's no one's favorite task to have to wake these guys up. Usually you and the sleeper are the only ones on the bus at this point, and you're not supposed to touch people, because people can react violently when woken. Boy, do they ever. Once on a 7 (at 8am!), as I was taking the bus back to base, I noticed a strange dark shape in the middle of the bus that moved slightly during hard turns and stops.
It was a young gentleman who was completely and utterly unconscious. Nothing I did could rouse him, and I actually wondered if he was still alive. I asked for some police to come wake him up, and three King County Sheriffs, together, were almost unable to get this fellow off the bus because of how berserk he went upon waking. He flailed and punched and screamed and wailed, filled with animalistic raging power as he attempted to destroy the officers, the seat, and the bus all around him. Must have been one really bad dream.
In my earlier Metro days, I didn't have any idea how to wake people up. I would walk to the back, where they were, and clap my hands, or make some kind of noise, and then yell, "last stop!"
This is not good. Nobody wants the first thing they hear upon waking to be someone yelling "last stop" at them. It's annoying. I remember a drunk teenage girl in the back of the 252 just staring at me after hearing that. She slouched in her seat a little further. She got off the bus at the next stop, but I could tell she didn't want someone yelling at her- this instinctively makes you want to disobey. On another occasion, a large, sweaty man on the 245 layover in Factoria could barely hear my entreaties. As a newbie, I was nervous, and I wonder if he could sense that. I called for assistance and learned something valuable from the Bellevue Police Officer who showed up:
This guy didn't yell at all. As I watched, he, the officer, walked back to where this (huge) guy was, and said to him in a normal speaking voice, "how's it going?"
The guy looked up and said, "uugh-uuhhhh-uhh."
That was all it took. The officer then said something kind and helpful, explaining about how this was the last stop, and if he knew where he was, and so on. He ended by wishing the swarthy gentleman a good day.
You glean things from the most unlikely sources.
The officer had treated the guy like he was a friend of his. He'd asked after his well-being. He hadn't condescendingly yelled at him like he was a drunk teenage girl. I felt like an idiot. Afterwards, I've approached every sleeper in the same way. I still clap loudly, or bang on the back of their seat, but I always speak in a normal tone and make requests instead of demands. It works a thousand times better. I'm amazed at how they can almost always hear my calmly-voiced "hey, how's it goin," which is what I ask even before I make any loud noises.
Anyways, today I walk to the back of my 358 at 5th and Main to check for bodies and iPhones, and I smile and think of Mathieu Amalric and his comment about ten sleepers on any given 358- in the back today we have not one sleeper but two, both out cold, doing the same thing on either side of the bus. Both would make great portrait subjects, so detailed and many-layered is their filth and grime. One had gotten on at 115th, drunk but quiet, and here he was in a stupor, complete with drool, matted, greasy, overgrown hair, with a dirty, torn, pockmarked jacket, kleenex and paper falling out of his pockets. Sprawled out. A living monument, a resting giant, a sleeping tiger- call him what you will.
The other fellow, 55 perhaps, seated on the other side and a row of seats closer, was pitched forward against the seat in front of him, so I couldn't initially make out his face. The back of his head and neck was interesting enough, though, what with the curly, unwashed hair, some silver strands reflecting in the light- age finds us all- and a green jacket covering layers of other clothing, sweatshirts and undershirts, all with drenched and sodden collars. Crusty. If you have nowhere to put your wardrobe, you have to wear it all. He was still wearing his massive backpack, which was splitting at the seams, and newspapers were all around him, packages of condiments littering the floor, spilled drinks and scraps of food filling out the picture.
It was positively baroque.
I remember riding the 174 as a child, as I often did, and noticing that the street guys occupied a lot of space, what with their bags and jackets and paraphernalia. I've always thought it would make a great painting. Here, I thought, there's so much detail. You would want Jacques Louis David to paint this, or maybe Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. Those paintings where the closer you go to the painted surface, the more details you notice.
Anyways, I did my usual thing.
"How's it goin,' guys." CLAP CLAP.
"Yeah, we made it to the end. Can you hear me okay?"
"Yeah, we made it to the last stop."
I didn't even have to ask if I could ask them to step outside for me.
"Thank you," Drunk Quiet Man says, stirring from his position in the imaginary David painting I had situated him in. The other guy, Pitched-Forward Guy, took longer. I gave him a second to get his things together. I left both doors open and went back to the front to prepare the coach for the next trip.
"Hey," he said after a moment. "Thank you, I'm sorry about that."
"I'm not in very good shape. I huuh-huuhhh-huu."
"It's all good."
"I left a bunch a condiments back there, dude. And some other stuff on the floor. I'm sorry about that."
"Oh, that's fine." Mainly I was just excited about how he was awake. Ketchup and mustard packages on the floor are the type of thing you complain about if you drive the 238. On the 358, they're not even on your radar. "Have a good day now, be safe."
"Yeah, I will. Thank you." He said it with sincerity. Oh, things like that warm my heart.
I walk back to the bus to see exactly what he means by "a bunch a condiments and other stuff." It's actually a pretty accurate description- no live fluids, just newspapers, junk mail, and little packages of honey mustard, sweet and sour, and barbeque ("extra spicy").
I also see a wallet. It clearly belongs to him- the reduced fare permit, the orca card, the tattered condition. I grab it and run out the door, down the block, around the corner, searching. Where's the guy dropping litter everywhere who would look good in a Jacques Louis David painting? There he is, mingling with the masses at 5th and Jackson. I was just about to lose him. I sprint up to him and offer him the wallet, breathlessly, saying only, "hey."
He recognizes it instantly and beams. Life courses through his veins and out his crisp blue eyes, probably the only crisp thing about the guy, but there they are. He musters a "thank you" that carries a verve and force no actor could replicate.
"All better now," I say.
"Man, I'd hug you, dude," he says, pausing mid-sentence. The unspoken end of the sentence is, "if I wasn't covered in filth that makes me look perfect for an Andrea Arnold movie."
"It's all good, man. I'm glad you got it back!"
"You're glad! I'm glad!"
We wish each other well. No commuter has ever looked at me with the kindness that emanates so naturally from him. I go back to my bus and check the bus one last time and- there's something else down there, by all the sweet and sour packages. It's his medical card. Medical cards take forever to replace, and they cost money. I run out the door once again, sprinting down the block, tearing around the corner, hoping he's not another bus yet-
"Thaaannnkkk you," he says, seeing me run up again and understanding what I'm holding out to him. "Thank you" doesn't even cover it. He's overjoyed, not in an ebullient way, but in a quiet, heaving sigh of thankfulness. Something good happened today. He offers his hand, which I enthusiastically shake.
"My friend, my best friend's wife's friend, just died in Afghanistan, and I haven't been taking it too well."
He and I exchange a few more words between ourselves. These are the small moments that life is made of. Two men, one young, one old, from different planets, standing in the cold sunlight, both casting the same sort of shadow as they talk, sharing in the goodness that they've made, united in the idea that they're both doing the very best they can at this challenging and difficult and complex thing called living life.
I was once out to dinner with a young lady several years ago, on Capitol Hill. We were at the (now completely defunct) Pho 900. I was driving the 43 at the time, and, having just finished up a shift, still had my uniform on. It was a casual evening. Although this wasn't why I had the uniform on, I've noticed that I get slightly better service in certain restaurants if I'm wearing it.
In any event, we were sitting toward the front of the long room that formed Pho 900. To access the bathroom, you'd have to walk down the length of the room, past all the other tables, to the very back, where the bathrooms were. Midway through the dinner I did so.
As I walked through the restaurant, past the tables, I glanced out among the people. It would not do to have one's head bowed. One must wear the uniform with pride. Directly in front of me, in my line of travel, was a table occupied by a man in his 40s and two women, perhaps in their 30s. The man, who happened to look exactly like an American version of the great French actor Mathieu Amalric, watched me with a half smile. I nodded a friendly return as I walked past.
It is easy to forget exactly how public the job is. If I walk through downtown Seattle, someone will recognize me. I'll no doubt see at least one person I know, probably more. The wonderful thing about this fame, unlike most fame, is that it derives from first-person experience only. They know me only because they've hung out on my bus before, not through secondary or tertiary evidence like newspapers and magazines. It is therefore free from most of the drawbacks that come with widespread recognition. For me, it's an honor to be known amongst these denizens of the street, these working people, these walks of life. I would prefer no other group of humanity to be a part of.
As I returned from the bathroom, and am now walking back to my table, way up there, where my former lady-friend is waiting, I see that table again- Mathieu Amalric and his women are looking at me. I decide to say hello, and we get to talking. It turns out Amalric rides my 43 on occasion, and he was telling his ladyfriends how much he enjoys my service, and continues explaining the experience to them- "he says where everything is, and he says hi to everyone- no, I mean, everyone-" and so on. They ask some questions, and we get into an enjoyable discussion about the specifics of security, of kindness, of routes, coach types- but more than anything we were simply making sounds of friendliness, souls bumping into each other in this rainy city, finding solace in acceptance and generosity. It was a warm feeling, and I bade them all a great rest of the evening as I returned to my table, apologizing to my date for keeping her waiting.
Former Ladyfriend and I resumed our amiable shared space together, and were slowly finishing out our meal as Mathieu Amalric and his women left the restaurant. I had told her about the conversation I'd just had with them, and we all smiled at each other. "You have a great night," he said, putting on his hat and walking out the door.
The rest of the dinner went smoothly, and she and I sat around for another half an hour, spending a good amount of time talking about Mathieu, about the impact we can have on others, the pros and cons of wearing the uniform, and so on. We sipped our tea, we talked about her job, we talked about movies. The staff cleared our table and wished us a good night.
Reading this, you may have already guessed what happened next, but I certainly didn't.
I went up to pay the check, and discovered that I didn't need to- Amalric had already done so, long before! I couldn't believe it! I couldn't believe it! And he hadn't said two words about it. That crafty fellow! I was floored. He had paid for our entire table. I just couldn't handle it. I ran outside to see if he still nearby- no dice. No way to thank the guy, no way to find him, nothing to do but enjoy it- the gesture, the appreciation, the sheer notion that somebody would even want to extend such selfless kindness your way. It was humbling.
I never saw him on the 43 again.
Almost two years later, however, he did show up on the 5. I recognized him instantly, and vice versa. I thanked him, thanked him, and thanked him again. I told him how I ran out into the street looking for him right afterwards, and how I'd hoped I would one day get a chance to thank the guy, and here we were. He brushed it off, laughing, saying that my service on the bus counts for so much more. I went right on as if I hadn't heard him. Somehow I just can't get over stuff like this. I can't. It's the gesture. It isn't the issue of money so much as it is the intent behind it, that reaches me so. Little does he know, if I ever see him in a restaurant again, his meal's paid for.
North End moments
My outbound 358 trip is starting to be packed. It was nearly empty the first week, but now everyone shows up to go home. One afternoon I have five (5!) lifts on one trip, three of them downtown! One after another. I'm lovin' it. There's a veritable battleground of walkers, wheelchairs and bags at the front. "Okay, this is gonna be like Tetris," I say, getting up to rearrange various articles to allow a wheelchair to exit. One passenger, a well-dressed female commuter,* is furious at me for arbitrary reasons unrelated to the lifts, and fumes silently at the front seat of the bus for half the ride (I had pulled forward to the head of the zone, as I'm supposed to; she didn't like this). I can only wonder what she's thinking as she listens to me remain in a perfectly good mood with everyone. Aside from her, everyone's thrilled to be here. Have you noticed that when you the driver are friendly, the people- strangers- sometimes start talking amongst themselves and introducing each other? As our angry commuter lady gets off I say, with sincerity, "I hope your day gets better."
She turns around with a look I wish I could decode. It's the look you make when someone you hate asks you out to dinner.
Or is it? It's obvious that she's surprised, but is she even more furious, or is she surprised in a mood-changing way? I'll never know if I washed away her anger in that moment or amplified it all the more.
Older Eastern European wife and husband, coming out the front- I love when people leave through the front- they don't speak English, but they do give me candy, by way of thanks (I think!).
"This is the positive bus." The older lady deboarding says this as if labeling an unidentified substance for the first time. She says so with authority, so I guess it must be true. I'm not gonna argue.
A teenage boy in a winter jacket stalks up to the front, with the sort of expression you might wear after witnessing a cheetah chase down a gazelle-
"Where do you get your energy, man?"
"I don't know!"
"It's amazing. You're freakin,' overflowing, dude."
"Thanks, man. Yeah, I have no idea what it is. I feel like if I found out what the secret was, I'd lose it, and the magic would be gone, you know?"
"Well hey, keep doin what you're doin."
"Thanks, man. I don't know what it is, I like the people, I like the route..."
"You're awesome. Thanks."
Another young man, slightly older and not living as easy of a life, offers a similar response but in different words. I'm humbled by the fact that he takes the time to come up at the end of the route to say something. He's excited by it all- there are so many millions of ways to drive the same route. He's excited by the approach, the attitude, the feeling of camaraderie inside here, a warm, dimly lit space where it's okay to be friendly-
"'Cuz its what we all want, you know?"
"Uh," I say, not entirely comprehending.
"We want the "cool bro" bus driver, man! And you are it!"
*I just got a complaint from that same lady, about this very ride. It turns out she stayed at the front so she could type her complaint while watching me drive, adding things she didn't like about my performance. Unfortunately for her I wasn't doing anything out of line, so the complaint reads more like an angry commendation- "the driver pulled to the head of the zone! He was courteous to too many of the passengers- even the non-paying ones! Tell him how to do his job!" Indeed. She had already sent it in by the time I'd wished her a better day, or she'd no doubt have mentioned that as well. I'm curious to hear what my chief makes of the fracas. It's a nice reminder that the point of all this is not to please everyone, that being impossible, but to simply do all I can, which is put myself out there, in the best way. I remember a driver (Ernie) once telling me, "I greet every single person. It doesn't matter if they say anything back. I've done my part." I would add that you're putting your energy out there, to the universe more than to any specific individual, and it will come back, if not by way of that person than in a larger sense.
High on something
A sort of smorgasbord of moments that have turned into memories-
I'm at a red northbound at Third and Seneca, and there's a 17 express in front of me. I think the great Ivan's driving it. That's Ivan Alexander, as in Ivan the Terrible, Alexander the Great. On impulse I throw on my brake and sprint up to his bus and yell, "Ivan! Heeeyyyy! I don't have anything important to say, I just wanted to say hey!" I'm high on something- life, the 4, saying hi to people. He gets it. He laughed at the absurdity of it as I sprinted back to my bus in time for the green light.
A stumbling man, at Rainier and McClellan, sauntering on, clearly intoxicated, insisting on one rule: "I want no lyin'! No lying on this bus!" I think that's a great idea, and wholeheartedly agree with his slurred wisdom. "I'm gonna stop lyin' right now."
"There's not gonna be any lyin' on this bus tonight," I declare with false seriousness. "I can't make no guarantees for the rest of the world, but in here, we got you covered."
On the 7- lollygagging down Third because I'm having conversations at the front- talking with Miranda of Wendy's, yelling a wave out at Real Change Willy, asking a passenger about his curious ringtone ("it's R2D2, from Star Wars," he explains in a precise voice). It's the feeling of getting into a slower rhythm, just sandbaggin' it, listening and laughing and chiming in, talking with the front of the bus and waving at the buses outside. And okay, paying attention to the road. There's something pleasing about this total lack of rushing, of taking the time to be there, to be present for every detail of this many-faceted moment- the timbre of the conversation, my friends I'm waving to, being safety-conscious all the while, enjoying the act of driving this route- all of it. This isn't always the case, but sometimes it's such a sensory overload that you have to slow down. Take it all in. It's the attitude of, "let them come!"
Inundating the north end passengers to the Nathan Way- these guys have never ridden my bus before. An older black man, street gent, says, "That was on. I love your enthusiasm, man, I love your take on it! Got a great attitude." An older woman, office worker or attorney perhaps, last passenger on the bus, comes all the way up from the back to say much the same, using different jargon but with the same warmth. "That was the most personable and entertaining ride...." The vernacular is a contrast, but the meaning is shared.
Then again, even though we're way out in the hinterlands, there's still people who recognize me. On my first day on the 358, I heard a friendly voice say, as I was taking over the vehicle, "on't let that boy drive this bus! He don't haaa' no license!" Incredibly, it was one of my semi-regulars from the 7. Typical. What he was doing way out here in Shoreline I'll never know. No, he didn't get off at THS.
Another man, a young father who I remember from the 4, bounds on with his daughter and girlfriend in tow. He wears an oversized heavy sweatshirt with the hood up, and sagging black denims. His glance is a smiling half-welcome, like he wants to say more. I think he recognizes me, but can't tell if I do him, and thus he hesitates. I give the 358 people the same type of ride I do on all the other routes; there's a satisfaction in getting a regular rider on a new route, where you sense that they're in on your whole schtick, they know how you roll and they like it. I see him in the mirror, looking toward me with mild amusement as I do my thing. When he gets off I say, "good to see you again!" and we devolve into a cacophony of overloud pleasantries and truisms, making fistpounds and gestures of welcome I don't even know; breathing enthusiasm into the dark night.
358 number Nine variable, outbound. Coach 2425.
I'm not sure if I should share this, because it has a little too much to do with me and not enough to do with my wonderful passengers. It's probably not too interesting to read, but I'll put it up for data reasons. It's a record of everything said into the mic, for one trip (last week, Tuesday, I believe). A line break indicates a pause- a red light, a movement to the next stop, people getting on, etc. Inbound trips have more "here we go"s and "hang on tight"s, simply because I only say those or variations of those when people are walking in the aisles; this outbound trip is mostly dropoffs. I don't include all the stuff I don't say in mic- conversations, etc. It was a relatively quiet evening on the 358, all things considered. I think I only used the lift two or three times. We finished early; this trip took just under an hour.
"Here we go.
Alright, comin' up next is James, Third and James, Jefferson, Yesler Way. Right by the King County Courthouse, Upper Pioneer Square, Triangle Park, all right here.
Once again James. Next stop after this is, uh, Marion.
We're movin' out.
Okay, comin' up next.
Comin' up next is Madison Marion. This is by the Wells Fargo Tower, Ferry Terminal, Seattle Public Library. After this will be Union.
Hang on tight.
We got Union University, right here by the post office, good for Benaroya Hall Seattle Art Museum. It's Union. Next one after this is Pine.
Time to roll out.
Here's Pine Street next, Pine and Olive by Westlake Center, Westlake Station The Monorail Pike Place Market. Gimme a second to pull forward.
There we go. Thanks for waiting, Pine Street once again. After this will be Virginia.
Have a good night.
Let's roll outta here.
[through the window:] AHMED!!!
Alright, let's do Virginia Lenora, by the YWCA, DSHS, Worksource; makin' a stop at Virginia Street. Next stop after this is at Bell.
That's the bell for Bell Battery next, Belltown. This is our last stop on Third Avenue, 'cause this is a 358. Next stop after this, is Denny and Aurora.
We're movin' out.
Next one. Looks like Denny Way. There's Denny and Aurora, by the Elephant car wash, also transfer to an 8. This is a 358, goin' up the street, all the way to the county line.
Alright, here's the express part of the route. Next stop is up at Broad.
Okay Broad and Mercer; this'll be as close as we get to Seattle Center, that's on the left. Stop after this is Galer.
Hang on tight.
There it is, Galer. By the overpass. After this one is Lynn.
Alright, we got Lynn. It's Lynn Street, last stop before the bridge; next stop isn't until 46th;
We're makin' a stop at 46th street. Forty sixth, transfer downstairs to a 44; that'll take you to Ballard. Or the U-District. Have a good night, be safe. Remember, you can use both doors, it's okay to use any door.
Okay, movin' out. Next one is way up at 64th.
Okay, 64th and Woodland is next, this is Green Lake. Watch your step here, be careful.
We have a stop at 68th.
Next one 72nd at Linden.
How 'bout a left turn, back onto Aurora here. Next stop will be at 75th.
Once again 75th. Have a good one.
It's 80th. Transfer to a 48 goin' East, to the U District, Central District.
One more time 80th Street. Kinda close to Green Lake Way.
It'll be 85th next. Transfer to a 48 goin' West, to Loyal Heights.
Getting close to 100th, by the movie theatre.
And next one, there it is, 105th. 105th and Northgate Way, transfer to a 40. If you don't know what the 40 is, we have a couple schedules up here. Have a good one, take care.
There's 112th, by the cemetery.
And, 115th. It's the Home Depot stop. Also good for Northwest Hospital, both a those on the right.
Let's see here, 125th, right by Lowes.
And we're gonna do 130th next, 130th, by K-Mart. Transfer to a 345.
Comin' up here, we got 135th, right next to Social Security. St. Vincent de Paul.
There's 145th Street. Leaving the city limits here. 145th is by, uh. The Post Office. And Walgreens.
Here we go.
Time for 152nd.
There's 155th, across from Sears, Safeway. Also get on a 330 here.
It's 160th, walking distance to Shoreline Community College, that's on the left side.
Looks like 165th.
Alright 170th. Across from THS.
Let's do 175th. This is good for the fire station.
It's 180th, by the thrift store. Take it easy.
Up ahead there, that's 185th, pretty good for Fred Meyer, Department of Licensing up there on the left. Grab a 348 here, 185th. This is also close to the District Court.
Alright 192nd, our stop for Shoreline Park and Ride, comin' up on the left side here.
Hang on tight.
And, 198th, last stop before the turn.
It'll be 200th next, right around the corner.
Alright here it is, 200th.
All right. Next one is Aurora Village Transit Center. We made it to Aurora Village. Transfer to Community Transit, or get buses to Kenmore, Northgate. Once again Aurora Village, by Costco. We're pullin' in about 8 minutes early today. Have good evening, everyone. Take it easy tonight. Time is 6:40."
Bam. Done. I'd kind of like to keep going, but I'm supposed to take it back to North Base. Oh well, alright!
You Can Hear It
Note: As stated before, 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.
Full house in the morning. We're on the 2, going east towards Pill Hill. The 2 draws a good mixed crowd. We have our friends the methadone recovery people, on their way to the clinic at Summit for their daily appointments; we have the nurses interested in Swedish and Virginia Mason; there are youngsters headed to Seattle Central, Seattle U, the Madrona School, Seattle Academy, and so on; and then there are joyriders and freeloaders sitting in the back doing loops on the 2, riding the bus to stay warm, or just for fun (as I have).
In the chat seat today we have an older fellow headed to the Clinic. He and his compatriots are seated around him, and, all of them having been on the same bus the morning prior, feel comfortable talking to each other. I listen in for a while, and then we get a half-decent conversation going, he and I, chatting about the trolley bus, the 2 schedule (infamously tight), the free zone and so on. At Ninth, a young woman- late twenties perhaps, Caucasian with a ponytail and scuffed jeans- leans in towards me and asks quietly, "do you know where the ER is?"
I hesitate, because we're surrounded by ER's. I think about her best options, and am about to question her further.
The older gent in the chat seat says, "where she wanna go?"
I say, "she wants to find an ER."
That was a mistake.
Old guy: "You're on the wrong bus!"
The young lady turns toward him slowly. "Good thing I'm not talkin' to you," she says.
He retorts with, "lady, you're on the wrong bus. You wanna go to Harborview!"
He's trying to be helpful, but he doesn't grasp that there's been a violation in the conversation- her question to me was a private one, and not for the whole bus. I shouldn't have brought him into it. Nor does he realize he's the final straw. If anyone on the bus was drifting off, they're wide awake now-
"How the FUCK do you know where I wanna go?" She screams at the top of her lungs. "Good thing nobody FUCKIN' asked you! What the hell do you know about the shit I'm goin' through?"
She is short, but she is taller than his seated form.
"You're just an old ass piece a shit thinks he knows what the fuck is right! Stay the fuck out of my business before I fuck you up! Tryna tell me where to go. Who the fuck asked you about my personal shit?"
Pins could drop, and you'd know how many.
I tap her on the shoulder to get her attention. She turns toward me, thinking she knows what I'm about to tell her. I say in a calm voice, "let's continue our conversation. We were talking about finding an ER."
"There's three of them right around here. D'you need a specific one, or just the closest one?"
She makes an effort, directing no anger toward me. "I just need any one."
"Okay. We already passed Virginia Mason, but we still have Swedish- hold it- (stopping the interrupting old man mid-syllable)- hold it- we have Swedish, two blocks to the right, and then there's Harborview."
She and I discuss the pros and cons of those two facilities, and I keep her focused with me. I marvel at her ability to keep her fury checked. Usually when someone gets angry, they get angry at everything around them. She's angry only at the old man. Her anger is a hurting anger; there is not braggadocio or arrogant insecurity on the edges of her voice, but rather a bald, mutilated sadness. Who knows what trigger he stepped on, what open sore, what long-lost memory he scabbed open in his innocent remark. Whatever it was, it prevented her from hearing his intention- to help- and only took in the condescending tone.
We continue our quiet conversation, she and I, her standing at the front next to me. We settle on an ER for her, and she says, "thank you." Then, as she's stepping off at Boren, she turns to our older friend and hollers, "Fuck you!"
Underneath the staccato noise of hate, you can hear it- a brittle, burning pain.
You hear her trying to cover it up. "You're fuckin' lucky, dumb shit! You're lucky I'm not beating your ass with my motherfuckin' cane, cause you know I could-" in the midst of all this, she remembers to say, again, "thank you, bus driver!" as she walks away. There's no act in her thanks; that part's real, and you feel it. I hope that's the part of this incident she remembers.
Meanwhile, I need to get this bus back to its happy place. The crowd is positively stricken. They have no idea what to think. Time to hit the mic with an overzealous announcement:
"Alright folks, here we are, getting ready to make a stop at Summit. It's Summit Avenue, right by the Clinic! Time today is 7:24, just in time for a 7:30 appointment. This is also good for Swedish main campus, that's two blocks to the right. Once again, makin' a stop to Summit here. Guys, let's have a good day today, good safe day. Maybe see you on the way back!"
Bus Driver, I have a question!
We're on the 358, inbound from Aurora Village. Way out there. On long routes like this, you need to get along with people, because you might be with them for a solid hour. You know how long five minutes can be on the road. At 180th ("that's by the Thrift store; and the skating rink"), an older woman who looks to be in her sixties (59, it turns out) gets on and sits in the chat seat. Aside from her eyes, which are unfocused and one of which is wandering, everything about her seems normal. From the outside. We begin chatting- she initiates this time- and I'm thankful for the full five, possibly even ten minutes we have before she brings up my age. We then have the obligatory "you look young to be a driver" conversation ("How old are you?" "Seventeen." "Oh.").
She seems a gentle, but fearful soul, and today she's concerned about the impending conversion of the 358 into a RapidRide. I tell her in a calm voice that the RapidRide will follow nearly the exact same routing and make almost all the same stops as the current 358.
In a diminutive and frightened voice, she asks, "How will I know it's the RapidRide bus?"
"It'll say RapidRide on the front."
"But how I will I know it's going to Aurora Village?"
"It'll say Aurora Village on the front of the bus."
"But will it stop at Deseret Industries?"
"It will stop at Deseret Industries."
"Will it stop at Deseret Industries at 180th?" She sounds terrified.
"You know, it will stop there."
"At 180th? By Deseret Industries?"
"Uh-huh. Yeah, it's gonna stop at Deseret Industries at 180th."
"Cause that's where I get on."
"At Deseret Industries."
"Yeah, it's gonna stop right there for ya."
"Wait. At 180th, by Deseret Industries?"
I love this type of thing. There's my linguistic fascination with the number of ways a certain statement or idea can be expressed, the inherently repetitive nature of spoken conversation, but more significantly the opportunity- the rare opportunity- just to have a conversation like this. It's a terrific patience builder- to remain calm, and kind, and informative, for the duration. It also makes me smile inside.
She has another question-
"Bus driver, is the RapidRide gonna stop at, at, at,"
"At Deseret Industries at 180th?"
"It will stop at Deseret Industries at 180th." I attempt to inform her further- "you know, it'll be pretty much the exact same bus. The route will be the same, the frequency will be the same, the stops are almost the same- it's just that the bus will be red instead of blue."
This additional information is only mildly interesting to her. What she really wants to know is- well, you probably know by now-
"What about at 180th," she asks. "Will there be a stop there?"
Where else am I going to get to have a conversation like this? Honestly. Where else will she get to be reassured, so many times, on this particular issue? Today is her day to get this Deseret Industries question completely and utterly solved. I can see that she's genuinely terrified, as her large, wandering eye flips back and forth, and as she leans forward attentively to hear my answer each time, praying to hear an answer in the affirmative.
There is one other thing she wants to clear up-
"Is it gonna stop at Macy's?"
"Yes, the RapidRide will stop at Macy's."
"That's right. The RapidRide will stop at Macy's AND at Deseret Industries. Just like the 358."
"So it's not gonna stop at Macy's?"
"It will indeed. There'd be riots in the streets if they took away the Macy's stop."
"How will I know it's the RapidRide?"
"It'll be big and red and say RapidRide."
"But it won't stop at Macy's?"
"It's good that you ask. Actually, it will stop at Macy's."
"How about at 180th?"
This conversation continued in this vein from- no exaggeration- from 180th to 75th!! We spent more than a hundred blocks talking about how the RapidRide will stop at both Deseret Industries and at Macy's! I was in heaven. Inwardly, I was laughing endlessly- not at her, but with her- at the total absurdity of continuing a conversation like this, in respectful, gentle tones, for a full forty minutes. It's totally ridiculous, which makes it great. It was also a great exercise of patience, a terrific source of humor, and of course a chance to quell an old lady's intense, deep-seated fears about bus stops at Deseret Industries and Macy's. I can only wonder what all the passengers sitting around us were thinking. Maybe that we were both totally, certifiably insane in our own special ways. That sounds fine by me.
How's the 358?
On my last night at Atlantic, after I ran back to the base following another glorious night on the 7, an operator came up to me and said, "You're Nathan, right? Nathan Vass? You drive the 7?"
"Yeah, that's right. How did you know my name?"
This guy's brand new. Somehow you can tell when people are brand new- by how they try to hide it, by how they don't- no matter. They're new. And that's fine. He continues-
"They tell stories about you. I've heard them talk about you, over at Ryerson Base."
"Yeah, they talk about there's this driver looks like a teenager, and he only picks the worst routes, but he loves doing them, and does them over and over again..."
"Yup, that's definitely me!" I said, laughing. It turns out he was a passenger on my route 5 two years ago, and was one of those passengers who asks how to become a bus driver, who loves buses and knows about them, and would love to give the job a try, and so on- it's a story that you, as a driver, hear often. But this was the first time I've ever seen one of those fellows pull through. It was good to see him again.
I offer that story by way of prelude. On Tuesday of this week, first week on the great 358, I pulled up alongside Fred on Third Avenue. He was doing a 70. He knows me, and would sometimes ride my 7 back to base. He'd watch me interacting with the passengers, and at the base ask me, "so, you really pick that 7 all the time?"
And I'd say, "yeah, man, that one really does it for me. I just, I don't know. I really like the people."
He'd shake his head and smile. He has a good attitude. We'd wave out big when we both had the 7.
Anyways, here is today on the 70, at Third and Marion. I notice that it's Fred, so I pull alongside, open my doors, and say, "FREEEDDD!"
He responds in kind and is momentarily surprised to see me in a diesel bus. "What are you drivin' now?"
Of course. Fred bursts out laughing, and laughing, and laughing. He can't handle it. That this kid would not only actually pick this 'garbage,' but genuinely love it. It's a gleeful hysteria, laughing with my madness, as in, "of course you are, you crazy boy!"
"How is it?"
I say, "it's fantaaastic!"
He smiles in wonder, saying, "you really are fucked up!"
He means it in a loving way. Sometimes people can't tell if I'm being sarcastic or not when I say I love the 4, etc, but he knows.
I'm reminded of a time when, on a 7 stopped at Third and Union, driver Alan noticed me across the street. He was off work. Alan likes easy commuter routes like the 212. We'd had conversations before where we acknowledge each other's radical differences in route preferences. I like routes that he can't stand, and he likes routes that make me fall asleep. He would say, "Nathan, do you realize that there are routes that are ten times easier than what you're doing? This guy," he would continue, gesturing to me while talking to others at the base, "has the seniority to be driving the easiest work in the system (East Base commuter routes), and he drives the what? The 7? I don't get it! Nathan, you are one seriously sick bleep!"
I burst out laughing. I love Alan. We get along well despite our complete differences.
Anyways, that day at Third and Union, he yelled across the street, hands cupped megaphone style: "Nathan! You're a sick fuck!"
There were maybe 200 people within hearing distance, and they all heard him, and him and me laughing, but only the two of us understood what he was talking about, or that the statement was- what? Intended with kindness!?!
So, how is the 358? My immediate answer is, it's too early to tell. It's only been three days. However, commenting on those three days themselves, what I can say is that they were all fantastic. I just love this stuff. I'm not sure I want to quantify why, either- sometimes it feels like the magic of it would then be gone. Maybe I'm as crazy as the crazy people I like to spend time with. Maybe I feel more valuable, doing a difficult route and making people feel better on it, making them feel better in the darker corners of the city, where they're not expecting it. Maybe I like the anachronism of a happy bus driver liking god-awful routes, and am drawn to that dichotomy. Maybe I feel like I'm accomplishing more than if I was doing something easy. We have to scrape the ceiling of what we're capable of. Maybe I love the camaraderie built out of doing tough work with my coworkers.
All of these are suppositions after the fact, though. They're all true to an extent, but none of them are the single reason. I can say with confidence only that, well, I love this type of stuff. I genuinely like the people on the routes. At East sometimes drivers would tell me, "you'll be dealing mostly with commuters," when they're telling me about a new route I'm about to go do. I think they were trying to reassure me, and I can understand where they're coming from. There's just one thing.
The thing is, I don't want to deal mostly with commuters.
In my experience, upper-class and upper-middle class commuters are the most unpleasant passengers in the system. The snobby, snappish, entitled, bristling, insecure attitudes some of them bring onboard is just too much for me. Not all of them (not even close), but some of them. Hopefully I've had disproportionately bad experiences with them and that such is not always the case (Commuters out there- please, reverse my opinion!). My worst shakeup ever was a commuter route (the 229, my first picked shake-up) that had a daily passenger who fit all of the above adjectives, and my desire to get away from that attitude has not ceased. To this day I go for routes that don't have commuters or regulars, or stay mostly in working or lower class areas. To be blunt, the people are nicer. You get to have a great time.
Looking forward to tomorrow,