Rainier and Orcas. It was an afterthought. Middle aged mixed gentleman stepping out, and I had said to him my customary "have a good one," to no response. But after he steps off he returns to the present, registering my gesture. A slight turn of the head. "You have a good night too," he says, glancing back. You almost want to reach out and grab those moments, snatch them out of the air and put a lid on the bottle before they float away.
Similar but equally affecting situation happens with a thug hopping out at Holden, busy on the phone, his mind somewhere else- but enough of him is still here to hear me, and I hear his "you too" aimed at me, amongst the bustle of an ongoing dialogue.
Working man with a rake and a bucket of tools runs up at the last minute at Henderson. Often runners don't need your bus- if they did, they'll typically have been at the stop already; many's the time I've waited for a runner only to have him get off at the next stop, or somehow ignore that there's another bus right behind me. Having said that, however, there are those moments when you can tell this person would really, really benefit from making your bus, and this guy, Working Man, was one of those. It's evident he's been working long hours, and I say, "All done for the day?"
"Right on. Congratulations."
"Oh, you said it."
"You're a workin' man."
You can sense he appreciates being complimented as a working man. The solidarity of it. Of a worldview formed in hard work, in the tactile nature of most blue-collar professions, of the knowledge of performing something valuable- where you're actually doing something. Sometimes I have difficulty explaining to people that I am out here by choice. Someone on a bus once asked me,"you gonna get your GED?" "I have a four-year degree from the UW," I responded. The guy looked at me as if he just got paralyzed. He temporarily lost the power of speech, as if his brain couldn't process the implications of what he was looking at. "What?!" he said, as if someone had just insulted his family. There are essential jobs and there are non-essential jobs. Working Man and I smile. I hope he is proud of the implements of his profession.
"Wassup widdit," a young man inquires as he boards. "Not a lot," I say. As he and his ladyfriend deboard later at Henderson, I wish the line of passengers well. You can't say the same phrase to every single person. I throw out the "take it easy"s, "have a good one"s, "be safe"s and endless other variations of goodbye with abandon. I overhear the lady say to her friend, "man, he got a line for everybody!"
"Next stop is at Othello, by the gas station," I say. There's a classic Cadillac convertible blocking the exit to the gas station. Sunlight gleaming off polished surfaces, glare filling out the space between shadows. The driver and passenger of the car are exchanging places. I recognize one of them- it's Gregarious Basketball Player Man (a fun fellow; mentioned here), and I honk as I roll slowly by. His whole body lights up as he yells, to his friend's momentary consternation, "That's my guy!!! That's my guy!!"
"You are nice man," a first-generation African grandfather says. I tend not to wait for people when I'm doing a frequent route, but for him I did. I try not to be preferential, but how do you resist that smile? Lines creasing into goodness, transforming his weathered skin, an expression he's worn off and on since childhood.
"You always so nice! I love riding your bus!" They blurt it out without premeditation, two girls getting off at Rose, and it comes out with a bald honesty and enthusiasm that you couldn't replicate.
Me: "How's your night goin?"
Mid 40s, Rainier and Genessee: "Oh, not too great."
"Uh-oh! That's not good. I appreciate the truthful answer. But still."
"Yeah, I can't complain."
"What happened, if I may ask?"
"I be checking up on my daughter, she got into an altercation last night."
"That's terrible. She's okay?"
"Yeah, she's okay. She can take care of herself pretty well."
"Well, it's good of you to come out here to check up on her."
"Hey man, it's just what we do."
"Gotta look out for each other."
"I know that's right."
Beat. He lapses into silence, watching me meet and greet. He doesn't bring up his problems anymore.
"You got class, man. Keep it up."
A sense of rejuvenation in his tired voice.
"HAPPY MAN! HAPPY MAN!" greets the old Chinese man at Fisher Place. I saw him at the zone as I was pulling up, and waved big. He's been on my bus before. Both of us smile way too much.
On occasion I get to chat with "the Great Todd," as I call him. He's a newer full-timer (and highly skilled Brazilian jujitsu master) doing his tour of duty on the 7 at night for this shakeup. He rode my bus when he was just starting the 7 and I was glad at the chance to show him a few things. I really like when other drivers come hang out on my bus. Today, parked outside of Saar's Market at Henderson Street, he asks how I'm doing. I respond as I often do, with a low rumble: "eeexcellent!" He laughs. "You are one strange guy," he says.