"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!