On my last night at Atlantic, after I ran back to the base following another glorious night on the 7, an operator came up to me and said, "You're Nathan, right? Nathan Vass? You drive the 7?"
"Yeah, that's right. How did you know my name?"
This guy's brand new. Somehow you can tell when people are brand new- by how they try to hide it, by how they don't- no matter. They're new. And that's fine. He continues-
"They tell stories about you. I've heard them talk about you, over at Ryerson Base."
"Yeah, they talk about there's this driver looks like a teenager, and he only picks the worst routes, but he loves doing them, and does them over and over again..."
"Yup, that's definitely me!" I said, laughing. It turns out he was a passenger on my route 5 two years ago, and was one of those passengers who asks how to become a bus driver, who loves buses and knows about them, and would love to give the job a try, and so on- it's a story that you, as a driver, hear often. But this was the first time I've ever seen one of those fellows pull through. It was good to see him again.
I offer that story by way of prelude. On Tuesday of this week, first week on the great 358, I pulled up alongside Fred on Third Avenue. He was doing a 70. He knows me, and would sometimes ride my 7 back to base. He'd watch me interacting with the passengers, and at the base ask me, "so, you really pick that 7 all the time?"
And I'd say, "yeah, man, that one really does it for me. I just, I don't know. I really like the people."
He'd shake his head and smile. He has a good attitude. We'd wave out big when we both had the 7.
Anyways, here is today on the 70, at Third and Marion. I notice that it's Fred, so I pull alongside, open my doors, and say, "FREEEDDD!"
He responds in kind and is momentarily surprised to see me in a diesel bus. "What are you drivin' now?"
Of course. Fred bursts out laughing, and laughing, and laughing. He can't handle it. That this kid would not only actually pick this 'garbage,' but genuinely love it. It's a gleeful hysteria, laughing with my madness, as in, "of course you are, you crazy boy!"
"How is it?"
I say, "it's fantaaastic!"
He smiles in wonder, saying, "you really are fucked up!"
He means it in a loving way. Sometimes people can't tell if I'm being sarcastic or not when I say I love the 4, etc, but he knows.
I'm reminded of a time when, on a 7 stopped at Third and Union, driver Alan noticed me across the street. He was off work. Alan likes easy commuter routes like the 212. We'd had conversations before where we acknowledge each other's radical differences in route preferences. I like routes that he can't stand, and he likes routes that make me fall asleep. He would say, "Nathan, do you realize that there are routes that are ten times easier than what you're doing? This guy," he would continue, gesturing to me while talking to others at the base, "has the seniority to be driving the easiest work in the system (East Base commuter routes), and he drives the what? The 7? I don't get it! Nathan, you are one seriously sick bleep!"
I burst out laughing. I love Alan. We get along well despite our complete differences.
Anyways, that day at Third and Union, he yelled across the street, hands cupped megaphone style: "Nathan! You're a sick fuck!"
There were maybe 200 people within hearing distance, and they all heard him, and him and me laughing, but only the two of us understood what he was talking about, or that the statement was- what? Intended with kindness!?!
So, how is the 358? My immediate answer is, it's too early to tell. It's only been three days. However, commenting on those three days themselves, what I can say is that they were all fantastic. I just love this stuff. I'm not sure I want to quantify why, either- sometimes it feels like the magic of it would then be gone. Maybe I'm as crazy as the crazy people I like to spend time with. Maybe I feel more valuable, doing a difficult route and making people feel better on it, making them feel better in the darker corners of the city, where they're not expecting it. Maybe I like the anachronism of a happy bus driver liking god-awful routes, and am drawn to that dichotomy. Maybe I feel like I'm accomplishing more than if I was doing something easy. We have to scrape the ceiling of what we're capable of. Maybe I love the camaraderie built out of doing tough work with my coworkers.
All of these are suppositions after the fact, though. They're all true to an extent, but none of them are the single reason. I can say with confidence only that, well, I love this type of stuff. I genuinely like the people on the routes. At East sometimes drivers would tell me, "you'll be dealing mostly with commuters," when they're telling me about a new route I'm about to go do. I think they were trying to reassure me, and I can understand where they're coming from. There's just one thing.
The thing is, I don't want to deal mostly with commuters.
In my experience, upper-class and upper-middle class commuters are the most unpleasant passengers in the system. The snobby, snappish, entitled, bristling, insecure attitudes some of them bring onboard is just too much for me. Not all of them (not even close), but some of them. Hopefully I've had disproportionately bad experiences with them and that such is not always the case (Commuters out there- please, reverse my opinion!). My worst shakeup ever was a commuter route (the 229, my first picked shake-up) that had a daily passenger who fit all of the above adjectives, and my desire to get away from that attitude has not ceased. To this day I go for routes that don't have commuters or regulars, or stay mostly in working or lower class areas. To be blunt, the people are nicer. You get to have a great time.
Looking forward to tomorrow,