A quick repost and expansion of what is probably the most important piece on this blog– my thoughts on how to enjoy your time as a bus driver. While I'm not qualified to sit here and pretend I've got all the answers, twelve years of driving (a decade of that downtown) has offered an insight or two, most of which I've learned from the best of my colleagues. I hope you'll find their notes useful. I have.
Of particular note is a recent addition discussing security in detail– not just what to do in certain situations, but how to think about certain issues. Hint: don't let KIRO7 succeed in their efforts at trying to scare you. They just want ratings. You've got more important things to concern yourself with.
See you on the road! I'll be waving from the 7/49...
Questions? Intrigued? Concerned? Ask me at the base. Or better yet, come out for a ride. There's more than one way to do this job, and some ways are easier than others.
"How are you tonight?"
For certain folks, that phrase means, I respect you. I acknowledge you. And that's fine. It's great, actually. I've written elsewhere on how pleasantries have valuable meanings totally separate from the words used.
But certain other people know when I ask that I'm actually asking them something. This woman boarding now got me completely. Most of us speak in half-sentences at best; she had words to get off her chest, and they flew out of her with passionate verve.
She was a thin woman in her forties, tall, blue-eyed and dressed in black, a trim figure in a jacket with tights and boots and hair tied back. She responded to my question about the same as she would, I imagine, to a friend she'd known for years. Here was a person utterly at home in her own skin.
"Well, I'm just finishing up a social experiment that went a whole lot differently than I thought it would. Let me tell you."
"I just spent three and a half hours on campus here asking different people, students, asking different students walking around if they could point me in the right direction."
"I was pretending to be lost and slightly tipsy, you know, a woman alone at night on campus, asking for help on how to get downtown. Now mind you, I know how to get downtown, 'cause I'm from here. I'm from Seattle. And I swear, maybe half of all these students have no idea that there's even buses to downtown, or that they stop over here by where I just got on."
She'd been revving up; now she had liftoff.
"But that's not it. Oh boy, lemme tell you. When I stood there pretending to be a little drunk and a little stoned, asking for help, not one single female in the entire– for three and a half hours, not one girl would dare to walk me over to 15th Avenue. There was a group of them, and one of them was thinking about it, but her friend said, 'we have to get to this bar.' Can you believe it? A woman alone at night on campus, a vulnerable woman and these girls aren't even, won't even step up for their own sisters? If anyone did talk, it was to tell me to go across campus. 'All you have to do is go across campus.' 'Walk that way.' Are you kidding me? That's how we help our sisters in need? And I'm talking male and female, not just these girls. The boys– you know what, the fucking boys were slightly better, and at the end of three and a half hours the only person, the only one single solitary lone person who helped was NOT one of my sisters in humanity, but one of my brothers. This kid Eric, from Taiwan. Bless his little heart. Because think about it, what if I actually needed help? What if I was exactly what I appeared to be? Let 'em know, they have to stumble around in the dark on their own for three plus hours before anyone under 25 will think about lending a hand. I have to get this out, mister bus driver. 'Cause I am livid."
"Oh, I completely hear you! Get it said!"
"I've just gotta vent this out. We're talking about a regular, nice, just like you and me, not threatening, woman... And I don't just mean women, I mean anybody. I'm sorry. I'm in a state of shock here."
I cleared my throat. "Well I don't blame you! You know something, I drive this bus, I drive all kinds a buses and you know the one group of people– I say hi to every single person who gets on the bus–"
"As you should!"
"Thank you! Yes! I say hi to every single person gets on my bus, I'm friendly and all this, and you know the one group who is the least responsive, the least reciprocating? College students. UW students, specifically."
"Well now, if I was taking 18 or 22 credits drowning in homework and exams like I did when I was a student here, and somebody come up on me trying to talk, I wouldn't want any of that mess. I'd say get outta my face, I got midterms. Okay, I wouldn't say that."
"Well now that makes sense. I can dig that. They're busy, they're somewhere else."
"But this is Saturday fucking night!"
"I was a student there 15 years ago, I wonder if it's changed much."
"I'm 51 years old and I graduated from this place. And I'm going back, too. Next quarter. That's why I was checking the place out. Casing the joint, so to speak. You look at the humanities, people don't get those degrees as much anymore. It's all about the money degrees."
"I went to art school. I hope people still do that."
"I did communications. Something's changed. But whether or not it's changed or not changed, there's a problem in the present and it's a whole campus of girls and boys on a Saturday night, can't even... They just walk on by. And it's not like I'm crazy. I'm not threatening, Jesus. Look at me."
"I'm just stunned. I'm in shock. All of those kids.. I was raised to help people, look out for people. Hold the door open for folks."
"I don't know what just happened. I have no idea what just happened. Not a single woman was... They were so busy with themselves. They weren't..."
I knew the word on the tip of her tongue. "They weren't empathetic."
"Empathetic, that's right."
"We gotta stay optimistic though, right? I try to do my part."
"You're right. 'Cause the glass is never half empty."
"'Cause at least we've got Eric from Taiwan."
"Thank fucking God. Thank God for that sweet man. He's studying some kind a engineering. He's not brainwashed by whatever stuff we got in our country. He's happy to be here. He says in Taiwan we can't express ourselves. And here he is. He walked me all the way across campus. He cared."
"Human to human."
"Not like these girls, shit. If I was their boyfriend I'd be like biiiitch, don't you care about other women? What're you gonna do when we have daughters? That's breakup material right there. Let me tell you, at the high school I went to on Missoula, Montana, there used to be this beautiful man on the football team. And I don't just mean he looked good or could play ball. He was majoring in dance and law. And then he starts going out with this stttttttttttttupid, ignorant– I'll say ignorant 'cause you can teach stupid– girl, who gets all worked up over a stupid nothing and decides to pretend he raped her, she cried fake rape, and just because of the color of his skin and the color of her the whole world decided to believe her without a second thought, and he went straight to prison and stayed there. And if people had looked out for each other and listened to each other instead of freaking out, we'd have a dancer lawyer from Montana instead of an innocent man in prison. I care about campus safety. I was raped by a bunch of frat guys and I'm never gonna let that happen again, to myself or to anyone else– man or woman. But tonight has got me rethinking my application. I'm serious. The deadline's Tuesday. I'm optimistic, but... Still!"
"Eric from Taiwan."
"Eric from Taiwan. Thank God almighty."
What she was talking about isn't exclusive to any one age or other demographic bracket. It's too easy to say that common manners are the exclusive province of those who are older, who don't work in tech, who come from small towns, who are female... But I don't buy it. I can't buy it. Within the absurdly vast cross-section of humanity I interact with, I see too many counterexamples to believe any of the boxes we, in our attempt to understand people, set up.
Eric from Taiwan isn't an small-town older woman artist. He's a youthful male engineer from a giant metropolis. You just never know where caring goodness will stem from. But it lives, and every time you do it you set an example for the others around, and though they may not react right then, you'll have given them something to stew on. I could feel the gears ticking in the minds of the other passengers who'd been listening.
I found myself recalling a conversation from my past, about stewardship. I was told seven years ago it would become the buzzword of our times. That people, especially young people, would look out for each other, care for common causes and usher in a new habit of considering others. That never ended up happening, sure, but I like to behave as if it has.
Because you build these things one interaction at a time.
When you're the person in front of them, you're all people. If they're a tourist, you represent the entire city of Seattle. You have an opportunity to expand and rewrite their estimation of what all Seattleites do. If you're a young Asian man or middle-aged brunette woman, in their mind in that moment and for better or worse, you're every young Asian man or middle-aged brunette who ever lived. Or at least, you're the latest in a long line, and you're expanding their definitions.
Look at you go.
Just a quick clarification on what's going on in terms of Nathan book events:
1. The video below is of an event that already happened. It's a Q&A I did with a lovely (and lively!) group at a senior center in Greenwood.
2. Also in Greenwood is the Holiday Bookfest (click here for details). That has not happened yet. It's a short, quick event this Saturday afternoon with a lot of authors. I'm only presenting for fifteen minutes (at 3:30pm!). If you're in the neighborhood, great. I'll be at my table and would love to chat it up with you. If not, it's really no big deal! Because–
3. Friday evening, December 6th, is the big event. That's up in Lake Forest Park, where there's free parking and minimal traffic. If you come to one event of mine this year, make it this one. Because I'll be there, and because Susanna Ryan will be there. Her illustrations and book share in common with mine the idea of deciding to look at things in a positive light. It's about the intention. Third Place Books (and everywhere else, for that matter) doesn't often do double-header author events like this, and it's going to be special.
We'll be diving deep and exploring more than just our respective books; it's about the bigger questions we carry with us these days, how to go about existing and treating others during dark times. What to hang onto. I don't have all the answers, but spending an evening sharing stories and talking about these things can't be the worst way to go. Third Place in Lake Forest Park has plenty of parking (thought I'd throw that in there again...) and plenty of convenient bus service; I promise this one will be worth the trek.
Yes, these are all in the north end. I know. But that's temporary, I promise! I'm in the process of working something out with the Seward Park Third Place Books (where my book is also on sale!), for a possible talk there later next year.
Thanks again to all of you, each of you, for your support and enthusiasm.
See you soon.
Look at these authors. It's like the book award nomination all over again– what am I doing here? How did I manage to get in with this vaunted crowd?
Who knows. I sure don't. It's called the Holiday Bookfest, and it happens every year in the wonderful Phinney/Greenwood neighbourhood. They're a swell bunch, Phinney Books and related local companies, and they always get a killer lineup of authors.
This year, which marks the event's tenth anniversary, they've kindly included me, but come by for the others too– who wouldn't want to come listen to Garth Stein, Elizabeth George, Kevin O'Brien and all these other lauded bestsellers talking it up during a short, fun, free stretch of a Saturday afternoon?
Squeeze us authors into your day's other plans. It's conveniently timed from 3pm to 5; I'll be there until 4:43, as I've got plans of my own: driving a cute lil' metro bus into the wee hours (no time off for good behavior...). Stop in and ask me a bunch if bus questions. I love that stuff.
I'll be reading onstage at 3:30.
If you can't make this, don't fret– I've got a big one coming up on December 6, at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park. That's gonna be huge, and if you only have time for one of these, go to that one. But, if you're in the Greenwood neighbourhood a couple Saturdays from now...
Nov 23rd, 3-5pm. I go on at 3:30. Details and directions here.
We've all been there. You're standing over here, and they're over there, not too far from you. It's a public space. They're screaming. You aren't. Maybe it's awkward, because there are only a few people around, or because for whatever similar reason you don't blend in. Or maybe it's crowded. They're usually not addressing you, and eye contact feels dicey. Perhaps they're getting arrested, or they're railing against the world as though no one can hear them, giving thundering voice to an anger you too have felt, though probably for different reasons.
Whatever the circumstances, the person yelling is almost always of a different class group, race, level of mental health or medication than you, the listener. It just seems to turn out that way. You have to reach a little (or a lot) to get around to grasping where this person's coming from, and sometimes it's impossible.
For myself, I have on more than one occasion been the witness to various black American men expressing their rage at feeling helpless. Most of the time it's a scene involving arrest, with handcuffs and batons and other such stark symbols of agency stifled. Other times it's between two folks fighting or a few, talking big, puffed-out with veins bulging, young people pretending they've never known fear, with no idea how better to express themselves or solve their travails.
When confronted with these scenes I find myself thinking about legacies. How for much of our nation's history, blacks were not allowed to buy homes, because that's a way of accumulating wealth and passing it on to your children.* How blacks were not allowed to learn to read, have access to the same schools, banks, or transportation, or all the other insidious ways an entire people has been handicapped in plain sight. These carefully manufactured designs toward suppression are the causes, and they're often hidden (as best as possible), but the final effect is crystallized in the rude and tragic poetry of one man's inarticulate roar.
"I'm supposed to have smarts, and stuff," a fellow told me years ago on the 13. I still think about that line. We were joking around about a whole host of topics, but he was dead serious for that brief sentence, and I remember the pause that hung in the air following his words. He knew there is supposed to be more, should be more that he can touch, and the reasons why have been kept from him... but he could sense it nonetheless. We have the capacity to imagine a better world, even if we have never seen it.
In a word, what I'm trying to say here is that angry yelling black guys tend to put me in a state of somber reflection. Go figure. I'm not sure what this says about me, and right now I'm not sure I care; my focus is on the fact that I've seen people deprived of agency and driven to incoherent displays of aggressiveness rather more than should be ideal.
Which is why I was taken aback when I comprehended the words this guy was yelling.
I was on my break at Rainier and Henderson, shoveling down kale salad with chopsticks and bent over Tolstoy's War and Peace (so good!). Across the street was football practice, the high school stadium's high-beam halogens and cries of victory and defeat illuminating the night. Parents and others stood about the fringes on either side of the fence. Somebody was calling out to another, a friend by the sound of it, and they must have been far apart in distance because this guy, who didn't exactly look like he was living easy, was hollering. Except his hollering was not the kind that makes me sad.
"I'M FORTY-EIGHT YEARS OLD AND WE AIN'T GOT THAT MUCH TIME LEFT ON THIS URF! LE'S BE CIVIL TO EACH OTHER AND ENJOOOOOY THA AIR WE BREATHE! THA'S WHY I DON'T SMOKE, THAT'S WHY I DON'T DRINK. YOU SNAP YO' FINGERS IT COULD ALL BE OVER LIKE THAT! LE'S BE GOOOD TO ONE ANOTHER, BRUH! PEACE AND LOVE, 2019!!!"
I wish I had caught the rest. It was beautiful, friend. Magical. He doesn't know how he inspired me so. Change can start one person at a time, one step at a time, simply in the act of being our best selves. When the chips are stacked against us there are still decisions to be made, choices, for which we nonetheless bear responsibility. Of course, it's not in my purview to critique the rage I describe above. Every response to being black in America is a valid response.
But this guy.
"She took life as it came, and made the best of it," reads a line I've forgotten the source of, but which I treasure. On this night, he was the example to follow. In the face of everything, all of it, it is a mistake to turn away from the generative and rejuvenating possibility of Joy. There is always joy. You might feel I'm not qualified to say so, and you would would be entitled to that perspective. But tonight I didn't say so.
*It's difficult to overstate the vastness of ramifications this has had. I'm referring both to the "whites only" housing rules pre-1968, as well as the subsequent rampant lack of enforcement of LBJ's otherwise well-intentioned Fair Housing Act. By now we all know the impact of withheld education; but housing discrimination fans out to all aspects life just as pervasively, reinforcing segregation on the commercial, industrial, and personal levels, affecting access to everything from schools to hospitals to nutritious food, zoning lines for voting, the ability to save, invest or inherit land, as well as the fallout ghettos have in their proximity to crime, disease, statistical tendency toward single parenting, limitations on public spending, a decreased tax base and so much more. In their now-legendary 1988 study, sociologists Nancy Danton and Douglas Massey argue, extremely persuasively, that the fundamental cause of poverty among African-Americans is residential segregation. Interested? Yes, there's a book about it.
What has it felt like, returning to the 7?
I stepped away from the chaos to focus on art and school. Those twin pursuits continue, but I'm back to where I most feel the immediate pulsing beat of life. It may not be a surprise that much of these first days back feel like welcoming parades, but that hardly detracts from the gratitude these happy people engender in me. How did they remember me, ask about me, register not merely my presence now but my absence then, as they went about their preoccupations? I'm just the bus driver. But here they are now, returning my well-being with a cavalcade of fistbumps, grins, upward nods. It's a reunion, and as ever, I couldn't be happier to be accepted by (okay, most of) the community. It isn't that they know me; it's that they share in the value of a positive outlook. What are they not getting when I'm away?
"You make it personal," said one when I asked. Or another from just last night, a man my age who took off his massive earphones as he came forward:
"How's it goin'?"
"Ah jus' wanna say thank you for doin' like you do. Not all the other bus drivers is like you."
I tried to deflect the compliment, as I always do. "Dude, thank you! For sayin' hey, and bein' cool!"
But he continued on as if he hadn't heard me, overwhelmed by the import of what he wanted to express: "Not all of them is nice like you. And it hurts, man. It hurts."
It was the tone of his hurts. He made the moment still, way past serious, and he reminded me how much a cruel gesture can ripple out into a person's psyche. I was reminded of the days when Paul Margolis, Paul Cook, Big Tony and myself all drove the night 7 together. We had such a blast. The folks were in good hands then. Great hands. I hope the same is still true now.
As for my own personal joy in doing the route, I can think of one moment that encapsulates it all. I've made it into the parking garage after a full night, jogging in, warming up my car now. You have no idea how exhausting bus driving is. Imagine taking an eight-hour road trip everyday.
The music in my car came alive– a CD of Vivaldi string concertos. I forget specifically which Vivaldi it was (possibly La Stravaganza for you aficionados), but you know his style– rich with melody, usually at an energetic tempo, and lots of violins. You've heard it even if you think haven't. I swear the villain in every Bond movie has a soirée where Spring from The Four Seasons is playing. Anyways.
Just then another operator drove past me in the parking garage, also playing music from his car– a rap artist I couldn't recognize, but Dre-like in its high-treble piano and deep, tight bass-line, melody flowing from the lower thumping frequencies. My body began smiling before my brain even knew why:
Both of our songs had the exact same beats per minute.
For a moment the whole world came together– centuries, oceans, races, concepts. Piano and bass beatbox sang in rhythm with a tight violin section, Vivaldi's intricate melodies supplemented by a snare and bass kick right where you'd put a beat. The similarities, not the differences, of human expression became highlighted; what we have in common, the night coming alive with a wordless reminder of the unity of the human experience. Some call it harmony; solidarity; brotherhood. All good words. But I call it what it is for me: