At some jobs, you can have a pretty good idea of what you'll be doing this time a week from now, or a month or year from now. At this job, you don't know what'll be happening in the next five minutes.
As I pull off of Aurora to make the stop at southbound 46th, I hear a the yelling hoarseness of a loud, gruff voice. A regular commuter is standing there, in a blazer and slacks, holding a briefcase. He's listening to the gentleman standing next to him. This second gentleman is clad in an oversized- and we do mean oversized- Seahawks jersey, blue jeans that look older than I am, and items on his feet that you, long ago, could call shoes. His presence is strong, and formidable; his Adam's apple, oversized in much the way his Seahawks jersey is, adds depth and range to his gravelly voice.
His face is a few inches away from the commuters', and he froths and gesticulates at him with wild abandon. I'm reminded of the Norman Rockwell painting, "Abstract and Concrete;" except here, the commuter is the square-looking gentleman, and the frothing Adam's apple man is the Pollock-esque painting in front of him. Also boarding is a squat, nondescript woman in dark clothing, carrying a few bags of odds and ends. She's quiet.
In a rare turn of events, it's the commuter who chooses to sit further back, and Adam's Apple who sits towards the front by me. I'd never seen the guy before, but this didn't stop him from giving me a fistpound as he gruffly blared, "you're a good bus driver!"
Squat lady vanishes from view. As we cross the Aurora bridge, I listen to Adam's Apple continue to yell hoarsely. Who is he talking to? Is he bothering other passengers? I can't tell. Nor can I ascertain what he's saying- the low, rumbling frequencies of his voice line up a little too well with the dull roar of Aurora traffic. At Lynn I turn around and ask him if he's talking to me. I'm thinking to myself, this guy looks just like Jackie Earl Haley. He says no, holding up his phone, explaining in a voice that manages to be both stentorian and guttural at once-
"I'm talkin' to my girlfriend you wanna say heeyy?"
Of course I want to say hi to Jackie Earle Haley's girlfriend. "Heeyy, how's it goin," I say, pulling out of the zone. It's a relief to make contact. He's coherent. I love it when they're like that.
Less than a minute later, passing Aloha, Squat Nondescript Lady comes up from the back, stands next to the wheelchair seats, and returns to the rear of the bus. As she does so, I think to myself, why I am suddenly smelling the overpowering stench of liquid paint?
"Did somebody just spill some paint?"
Jackie Earle Haley is on it. He helpfully explains the situation to me as I try not to sideswipe cars at Mercer: "Get that bitch outta here, dogg! Hell yeah, she spilled paint everywhere, look! She be huffin' that shit back there, I see you right now, bigass bitch! Somebody get that lady off a this bus 'fore we all get hella high! That shit'll wipe out your brain cells for life!"
The man has a point.
"Plus that quiet-ass bitch has a machete! Call the cops dude, let's open some windows in this motherfucker!"
All very astute ideas. Other passengers get on board with opening windows. I throw the doors, call the coordinator, and explain the proceedings. Commuters quake in their seats as Jackie Earl Haley and myself attempt to rein in the situation. The coordinator doesn't try to avoid helping, and is proactive about sending assistance. "Let's get everybody outta there. We don't want anybody fainting," he adds, possibly more to himself than me.
The gold paint, splattered on the floor and seats, is amazing in its potent, foul odor. Overwhelming. I tie up the bus on Wall Street, calmly explaining to the passengers what needs to be done. I reflect that Jackie Earle Haley, formerly known as Adam's Apple, wasn't the problem passenger at all, as I might have worried when I first saw him haranguing people at the bus stop. He ended up being a help. We fistpounded again as he left. No, it was the regular-looking chubby gal in a hoodie who kept to herself. I watch her slinking away, machete in one hand and cans of paint in the other. As per Metro rules, I don't attempt to detain her. After all, I don't like having arguments with people carrying three-foot long razor blades. Just a preference of mine.