Down and back on the 7, Thursday:
3rd and Union: Miranda. Thirty, with a bright face ready to smile. She's ridden before, out to Wendy's, where she works. We talk about how long of a shift she has- tonight it's easy, only five hours. She's going for the Assistant Manager position there, and certainly seems qualified- perhaps overqualified. She asks about bus driving, and we talk about ways of dealing- maybe interacting is a better term- with people. Traffic is ridiculous; the president is in town. He may not have been on Rainier Avenue, but his presence was certainly felt in the amount of stop and go traffic; we spend an hour getting from Pine to Bayview, a distance that should comfortably only take 30 minutes. There's time to talk. Miranda's attitude is invigorating in a quiet way- she has three children, works all the time, and you can wonder at the stress that must be brought upon her, but what you read in her face is the expression of someone who is both weighed down by a busy life but also made stronger because of it; her resilience is a rejuvenating one, and you sense the outlines of a character you want to be around, or at least emulate. Her smile is a real one. Sitting next to her is Ha'la, a Somalian woman, and they talk about food, motherhood, the challenges of working with or raising mentally disabled children, the rate at which the brain develops versus the body, and I wish I'd had a chance to tell them about Jack, an acquaintance of mine who once told me he couldn't believe how lucky he was, that he got away with having the children that he did. That one of them had Down syndrome didn't even occur to his universe as being something that might be negative or some kind of lost opportunity. Thank goodness for such people.
Rainier and Walker: Older Asian man: "You are having fun!" Me: "How can you tell?" Him: a knowing smiling cackle.
Rainier and MLK: Franklin kids getting off. "Gentlemen, good morning!" I say, before catching myself. It's 5pm. They smile. I get excited when teenagers acknowledge people outside their social circles.
Rainier and Walden: Two middle-aged ladies of ambiguous heritage, hands filled with groceries.: "hey, young man! I like you," one says, simplifying what is probably a more complex thought with the second language of English. As they sit down I hear them muttering to each other, in an accent I can't place,"he's a good driver. He says 'hang on,' 'how are you,'" etc.
Rainier and Alaska: A girl at the stop: "Can we get on the back door?" I say, "gimme one second, it's only one person [getting off]." She looks exasperated, and her dark hooded eyes send that message. She's probably been waiting out there for a while. As she steps on, I say, "how's it goin?" And suddenly there's this shift in her face, as she sees me as not "the other" but as one of her own. A friend. Her whole countenance changes. "Fine," she responds, coyly.
Rainier and Edmunds: "Keep up the enthusiasm," a quiet Caucasian gentleman says, with an unintended hint of menace.
Rainier and Orcas: Another passenger says it again: "you're havin' fun out here." A busty young mother gives me the classic line, which I hear at least once a day: "Man, are you even old enough to be drivin' this bus?" I offer the classic response: "no."
Rainier and Graham: a young, pale-skinned teenager with a striking face. I smile at her in the mirror as she and other passengers get off. You can ride the wave of a smile like that for some time, like it was all you needed, and nothing more, to complete your day.
Rainier and Holly: Younger lady with a lot of makeup, getting on by the senior center: "It's my birthday!" "Happy Birthday!"
Rainier and Othello: An senior-age east Asian man comes up with his family. In English he says to me, "I'm 19!" I look at him and we both burst out laughing.
Henderson Street: I'm doing upside down push-ups on the ceiling of the bus. A dude and his lady walk by. He leans into the bus- I have a habit of leaving the door open at terminals- and asks me what kind of exercise I was doing. He tells me how they're on their way to the beach. I tell him to enjoy the water for me, and he tells me to drive safe tonight.
Rainier and 52nd: Two teenagers dressed in loose-fitting dark basketball clothing. The one smiles before he even gets on, recognizing me. We give each other the upward nod. His friend warmly introduces himself, saying only his name as we shake hands: "Jamal." With that they go running to the back.
Rainier and Rose: A guy on the other side of the street yells out a falsetto "haayy!" I shoot my hand out the window, waving in response.
Rainier and Myrtle: A guy by the car wash yells out a greeting as well- "Aaauuuu!" Once again I wave in return.
Rainier and Holly: "Hey, Doogie. You hijack this mother?" I laugh and say, of course I did. "Props to ya, man." "One day they'll maybe even give me a license!"
Rainier and Orcas: "Heeeyyyy, man. Good to ride witchoo again." A big guy with a deep bass voice and his lady friend. "Welcome back," I say, "always a pleasure;" they go sit in the back.
Rainier and Edmunds: A pleasant older lady with a nice hat and I take pleasure in conversing in grammatically correct and complete sentences, like "I'm having a splendid afternoon, thank you, and how about yourself?"
Rainier and I-90: Younger guy with dreads says: "cool hair." Service worker behind him: "Yeah man, looks good." Prior to I-90 I had thought I was having a bad hair day, but what do I know.
Rainier and Charles: "Hey," she says, taking me in. She's thin, shoulder length dirty blond hair, maybe fifty, or prematurely aged from a life on the street, her once-white skin deeply and irreversibly tanned and roughened. She has a few teeth left, and tells me about how good the food is at the bowling alley. "The best American food, that is. The best Chinese food is up here [at Toshios, on Massachusetts], and the best Vietnamese food is [I forget]," she tells me.
"How's your day been," I ask.
"Oh, it's been alright. My back hurts. Your hair looks good."
[trying to get away from conversations about my hair-]
"Uh-oh. It hurts just when you're walking, or when you're sitting?"
"All the time. Only about a third of the time is it bearable."
"Oh, no. How long has it been hurting?"
"Ever since this guy hit me over a table,"
"Oh no. Oh, no. I'm sorry. Was that recently?"
"Eight years ago."
[trying to bring it back to something positive-]
"Oh, I'm sorry. That's terrible. I gotta try that place out," I tell her. "The bowling alley. I never been in that bowling alley before."
"Oh, yeah. How old are you?"
A burst of life in her cackle of laughter- "you lie!"
"Oh yeah, twelve. Thirteen maybe,"
"You lie. You're cute though."
[trying to get away from the "cute" stuff-]
"Tell me more about that bowling alley. You said American food?"
"Yeah. I'll be your date!" she says hopefully. Sometimes I just want to hug everyone. Sometimes I don't. Maybe it wouldn't be the best idea.
Rainier and Weller: "Big Guy" from Orcas comes up to the front of the bus and sits behind me, cursing his ladyfriend to himself, something about arthritis, apologies, and motherfuckers; he's trying to contain his anger, distancing himself from her for a moment. She's still sitting in the back. He's making an effort to control himself, and I let him get it out of his system. After a string of staccato phrases he calms down and goes back again.
Jackson and 14th: "Big Guy" gets off through the back door. Into the mic I say, "have a good night," and he yells in kind- "have a good day bus driver!" Contained in his tone is an implied apology for the profanity at Weller.
Jackson and 12th: Bowling Alley Food Lady is having trouble deciding where to get off. She thought about 14th, but settles for 12th, before noticing a man across the street: "I'll stay on another stop. Don't let that guy on the bus. Keep me away from him."
"Sure. What's the deal with that guy?"
"Oh, he raped me once."
My attempt to offer condolences after that sentence grates in my ears. There just isn't enough I can say. I'm back to wanting to give everyone a hug.
Jackson and 8th: She does decide to get off here. She leans a little closer, revealing her upper tooth with a smile. "What do you think of what I'm wearing?"
"You look good," I say. Her flirtatious attitude makes me uncomfortable. I don't want her to get raped, but I also don't want to go out with her. I've had bowling alley food before. I didn't pay too much attention to her outfit, but as I drive away I notice that it is indeed a pretty good one- dark women's slacks with a vest over a collared shirt. Not bad.