Friends, I'll be on leave for most of January, and thus this will be my last story until I return to the States sometime in late January. I'm sure it's no surprise to faithful readers, but I try to avoid using computers and phones when traveling– you know my infatuation with being in the present. My friend Ernie told me just today to remember, regarding the internet, that "it's called the web for a reason!" He loves it as a tool, but cautioned against getting caught up in it. Can't forget to appreciate that bird flying past your window, or take in tonight's sunset.
I leave you (for now!) with a scene featuring two very different but very enjoyable voices, both of which which appeal to the different sides in me:
Sometimes I pull over like a taxi, when people are flagging me down. Other times I'll think, this is no taxi, as I drive on. The determining factor is usually how frequent the service is. Aside from the obvious considerations of safety and time, one must also consider that you might see that face again. On Rainier Avenue, where various folks spend lots of time at bus stops, you might see that face again very soon. What will the mind attached to that face think– or do– the next time he sees you?
In light of such a quandary, I pull over for this guy, a waving runner at Henderson and 52nd, some time before midnight. I appreciate his vigorous hustle.
"Thank you," he says in an East African accent, catching his breath. "You are the youngest driver I think I have ever seen."
I'll spare you the details of that portion of the conversation, which I've heard thousands of times and you've probably read dozens of times by now. He and I have the Youngest Driver Ever conversation and subsequently get over ourselves. I think what excites him is that he's speaking with someone of his generation.
"I just woke up," he says, explaining his rush for the bus.
"Do you work at night, then?"
"Yes. Well, night, or day, it's a contract work. Security."
"Wow, night or day, anytime they can call you?"
"Yes. Well, if I do night, they can't call me the next day,"
"Yes, but anytime they call, I go."
"Seems like a good job."
"Yeah, it's okay." He mentions some previous contract work with the Parks Department, which he preferred over security.
"What about you," he says. "You do school?"
I'm so used to talking to people about them, not me. I appreciate this man's balance.
"I did. All done now, graduated in 2009, from University of Washington."
"Yes, U Dub. I'm never going back!"
"I like learning, of course, but you know there's so much, pressure. It's nice to have time." Briefly we discuss photography and the hectic nature of university life.
"I don't have a degree like you, I only have high school,"
"But I want to one day go to University of Washington. It's just hard with work."
"You can do it, man. Especially there's always community college." I encourage him along that route, and we discuss price points and the merits of the local schools.
I wonder where the conversation would've taken us. As new passengers board, they shift the flavor of the room– I mean bus– much like adding ingredients to a meal. When I saw The Great Robert materialize at Cloverdale, I knew the time for wistful academic discourse was over, in favor of high-wire, lowbrow explosions of goodwill– an equally valuable contribution, if I may say so.
I shot my fist in the air as I pulled up to the zone, and he extended both arms out, as if preparing to hug an enormous invisible elephant. The Great Robert cuts a distinctive figure, thin and lanky, looking remarkably like a good friend of mine (yes Joseph S, I mean you!), except taller and African-American. The facial bone structure is uncanny. This guy's a black Joseph, aged another twenty years, and seems to have as much pep as I do. He makes the Cloverdale stop, what with its buckling cement and threateningly dingy mini-mart, light up with sunshine. I think he his looking like my friend makes him feel doubly familiar.
"Heeeeeeeeeyyy, Mister Robert! what's happening!"
"Hey man, I love you! Where your wife at tonight? You got a wife?"
"You know I don't got no wife!"
Yes, the flavor of the meal has shifted....
"You got your wife waitin' for you in Bellevue?"
"Bellevue?!" I don't live there, but even if I did, saying so in this neighborhood wouldn't be wise. "I'm never moving to Bellevue! I'm happy right here!"
"I love you, bro! I fuckin' love you!"
"Love you right back, man! Whatchoo been doin'?"
"This guy, this guy, this, you know what," he says to the young African security man, towering over him and managing to maintain balance, leering almost, "this, my buddy over here gon' be GUY O' DA YEAR. He gonna get GUY UH DA YEAR!"
The man is overwhelmed by Robert's energy. And volume. "I know, I voted for him already," he says.
"We're gonna make him GUY A DUH YEAR!"
"Aawwwww naawww," I say.
"I voted for him already, yeah yeah, he's," says the seated man, trying to placate the wildly ebullient Robert, to no avail. The correct terminology, "Operator of the Year," is either unknown or else entirely unsuitable for Robert's purposes tonight. "GUY UH DUH YEAR," he howls again, with wild abandon. "We're gonna get this nigger's PICTURE up on the wall!"
He points at the wall in question, doubled over with joy, and I laugh with pleasure. "You're too kind! I love you guys!"
"Man, Jason, what's your name?"
"Nathan, not Jason, my bad,"
"Oh it's all the same, it rhymes,"
"I fuckin' love you, dogg. Shit. When we gonna– dude!" Eyes lighting up. "We need to have a BARBECUE!"
I adore Robert, but I have a hard enough time seeing my friends as it is. How do you politely turn down invitations to barbecues? I'm not good at this.
"Uh," I say.
"When we gonna have BARBECUE?"
"Uh, uh, right here on the bus!"
"Aw hell no, we gotta smoke out! They'll fire your ass!"
"You know I gotta keep it squeaky clean!"
"We'll set up the grill in the middle turning part,"
"No, I want the grill up by you where you can SMELL that shit...."
Robert settles into a nearby chair, expounding on hypothetical barbecue (or rather, BARBECUE) scenarios. With him is a quieter woman about his age. Meanwhile, the would-be student gets up to leave at Othello.
"Hey, it was good talking to you," I tell him.
"Thank you, bro."
"What's your name?"
"Hey, I understand. He's right, you're a good guy. I do social work. Physically I'm a darkass dude, but mentally I'm right there with you."
"You're awesome." Internally I'm thinking, what a fascinating statement.
I blaze past Orcas, parsing out the possible implications and ramifications of the sentence. What a bizarre thing to say. When you're on the road, there's lots of time to think. My mind wanders: there's the dichotomy between his interior mindset and exterior choice of presentation; resolving oppositional appearance with compassion; concepts of blackness; his need to express shared latent components he feels may not be visible–
"She didn't ring it?"
That's Robert, waking me from my reverie.
"Naw, nobody rang..."
"Go 'head, go ahead we'll get the next one."
"Oh yeah, go to the next one."
"Ooohh, now I feel bad!"
"Nooo, it's cool! Listen, what time you off?"
"About one or so tonight." They're standing up, him and his lady, coming to the very front.
"Oh, tight," Robert replies. "Then you gon' go home to your wife?"
"You know I got nothin' at home!"
"Check out my girl's teeth!"
I glance at her mouth. "Looks good! You guys look good together!"
"How about you," she says, speaking for the first time. "Lemme see your teeth!"
She looks mine over carefully. We're stopped at Brandon Street at 12:18 AM. At some jobs, you can predict what will happen in the course of a day. I didn't think I'd get a cosmetic midnight dental checkup when I woke up this morning. Finally she approves, nodding: "you got good teeth."
"You got great teeth," I say, actually paying attention to them this time. Those really are a stunningly matched set of incisors.
"Are you married?" she asks.
"No, huh uh."
"I GOT CHOO," says Robert. "I got choo."
I make sounds of hesitation. "Um."
He understands. You can't marry just anyone, after all. "DA RIGHT WUN," he says, cracking a million-dollar smile. Some people grin in the most infectious way– you know, where it's like you're both in on some inside joke, the lips going up and getting cheeky, dimples and eyes twinkling.... Oh, you've just got to smile back to that. How could anyone not?
"DA RIGHT WUN," he says, pointing a finger at me.
"The right one!" I say, pointing a finger in response. Fistpound.
The right one!