On Third Avenue we're supposed to follow a relatively simple set of rules so buses can successfully negotiate the skip stop pattern. One of the rules is to not pass buses that use the same set of stops that you, and another is to use the left lane except to service a zone. These guidelines, when adhered to, prevent situations like buses blocking zones that aren't theirs. Today I was struck by the behavior of a particularly mean-spirited driver on 3rd. She has taken the time (and energy) to yell at me out her bus window in the past, and there is something ugly about her actions. She'll try to pass me as I cross Yesler Southbound, turning right from the left turn lane, in essence trying to force me off the road; today she pulled in front of me to block one of my stops for a light cycle, then pulled back into the left lane where she had been to continue her route. What's frustrating about her driving is that it's impossible to interpret her driving approach as something other than actively malicious; unlike some other operators, she is not merely uninformed or lazy.
Now, my job is to not to let her be a joykiller. I believe that I have good defense mechanisms for not getting roused by passengers, but my ability to be bothered by other bus drivers' driving is a little more vulnerable. I haven't built it up as successfully, mainly because it's usually not necessary. I get confused when they drive poorly, because unlike cars, they don't have anywhere to be, and of course they're also getting paid. I looked at her not with resentment but with sadness- what must be going on in her life, to make her take it out this way? I let it all go. Sometimes when you just give up feeling anything about an incident, you can start over slowly, lacking energy at first, feeling empty but freed, freed from having to invest in the emotions of stress. Then you build yourself back as the minutes go by. I was in mellow Nathan mode- simply meaning a slightly lesser mode of overdrive, a toned-down hyperactivity. "This is Third and Pine," I said, in the voice of a tired but good-natured grandmother who's spent a little too much time working in the yard.
A group of teens approach- one young brother and three girls, waiting to get on at Letitia outbound. He leans into the stairs with a questioning look up at me, as in, is it clear? Can I get on? I say, "all yours!" He smiles with enthusiasm, they all do. Bright eyes. Something about their burgeoning enthusiasm- maybe they're excited at being acknowledged in a friendly way, or about seeing someone their age driving the bus- whatever it is, their bright energy is the spark I need to start it up all over again. My announcements contain the same words they always do, but the extra bounce is back, the barely contained happiness that voices itself between the consonants.
"Hey, how you been, man?" says an older guy at Rose, dragging his cart on. He recognizes me from somewhere before. The wheel of his cart is broken.
"Did that happen just now, or earlier?"
"Earlier," he says, but he's still in a good mood. "I gotta go to Federal Way."
"Oh, man, that's out there." We discuss what I call 'walkin' the walk-' if you live in Rainier Beach or spend time there, you've done it. I know I have. It's the walk from Rainier Beach light rail station to Rainier and Henderson. See, there's nothing of interest at the light rail station proper except other buses. Where everyone really wants to go is Rainier Avenue. Typically you spend a few minutes waiting for a bus that might take you the distance (only seven-ish blocks), but then decide to simply walk the walk. It's a rite of passage that all of us who move through the area must take part in. I actually kind of enjoy it- a shared experience everyone's done at least once. (If you use that corridor but haven't walked the walk, you know you want to do it. Waiting 15 minutes for a 2 minute ride on the 8 is for pushovers!).
I reflect on the man's commute to Federal Way and how long that will take him. It's no wonder some people are uptight. I spoke with another (happy) passenger who, traveling entirely by bus, was going from Burien to Everett to Columbia City to Wallingford and back to Burien in a single day (I assume he did 131-510-510-7-7-16-16/26-121/131). When people say they're "out running errands" on the bus, that can be a mammoth undertaking. I've often said that if you can do three things in three different locations using the bus in a single day, that's impressive.
A Hispanic fellow is smiling before I even get on. Sometimes you see them just light up when they recognize that it's me. "You always smiling," he says. You can tell he's been working all day. The energy is definitely back.
"Alright, we made it to Henderson," I tell the bus. "Got the Community Center on the right; Rainier Beach High School on the left; grab a 106 or 107 here. Let's make a stop at Henderson. Have a good night everyone, remember it's Friday. Have fun, be safe," I say in a voice that oddly mixes concerned parent with slightly unhinged happy tour guide.*
The group of ebullient teens from Letitia gets off here at Henderson, and the lady getting off right in front of them said something- which I can't remember- that caused me to smile and fold my hands together in prayerful supplication. She had helped me out with something earlier, and I wanted to communicate a thank you that crossed the language barrier. Anyways, the brother right behind her thought this was cool, and he imitated the gesture for his own thanks to me. I didn't know gestures of supplication were cool, but maybe they are!
They, the group of them, were so excited by my enthusiasm, which they didn't know I had partly gotten from them in the first place. Their was a light in them that was an absolute joy to see, faces rendered beautiful by their smiles and warmth. What a massive contrast to that operator on Third Avenue. A few of them asked for trades on their transfers, and they did so with such vivacity and glowing ardor that I was more than happy to help. They asked me on the right time on right day. I think I was getting more out of their energy then they could possibly get out of their transfers. "Thank you for askin' so nicely! You're a gentleman!" I say to the young brother. "Thank you so much for sayin' please! You guys are awesome!" I tell the others. In fact, I think the transfers themselves were a moot point for all of us- we were just elated at sharing the zest of the moment, generous spirits recognizing the same in each other. The Third Avenue incident has assumed its rightful place as a distant, fading memory. What even happened back there? Unnecessary details, slipping off the radar of the mind.
I want to believe that most of my positive energy emanates from within me and is therefore in my control, but I feel that's only partly true. I can't deny that the attitudes of happy people around me, especially their reactions to me, can act as a tremendous boost to how I feel. I let negative stuff bounce off me, but I like to retain the positive stuff. I'm reminded of conversations Gabrielle (who periodically shows up on the 7, mentioned in an earlier post) and I have had about the subject. I was satisfactory in "Mellow Nathan Mode" before these kids got on, but there's no denying that they in particular, along with other little things like Broken Wheel Guy and Hispanic Smiling Guy, were instrumental in buoying me back up to my best self. I remember driving the 7 every day back in 2010, and waving at Abiyu on the other side. He had the route most days as well. I would see his rich smile and wave when we crossed paths at Andover, and again at 23rd, and it was awesome. A small thing, but it put me right back up there. There's a gal driving the 7 now (what's her name?) who, every time I see her, is in a great mood, flashing a beautiful smile across the lanes of Rainier. We always give each other an unreasonably huge wave.
*I once took an official tour of Pomona, a neighborhood near Ontario, California. What was so fun about it is that there's hardly anything of traditional tourist value way out there in Pomona. It's a bunch of houses, with some restaurants and motels and okay, a few vineyards. The place is known mostly for growing Olives. The tour guide was extremely excited to share all this with us, and made the most out of the place, telling us about the ages of buildings and other marginally interesting facts with an enthusiasm that made the entire tour one of the best I've ever taken. Because of his attitude it all became riveting. Sometimes I'm reminded of him when I announce with enthusiasm things like the Men's Shelter or Center Park public housing.