What I like
Why can't we both be right?
-Brittany Howard, Alabama Shakes
I'm wandering around outside my bus at the Rainier and Henderson terminal. There's another 7 parked in front of me. The general idea at terminals is that the bus parked in front pulls forward, creating more room for other coaches coming in behind. The 7 at the head of the line ought to have left a few minutes ago, but the driver's nowhere to be seen. As a third 7 pulls in behind me, it's now become an issue, as we're running out of space on the block. While I was wondering if perhaps the guy in front is new, the operator behind me hopped out of his bus, yelling, "what's goin' on?"
He's a buddy of mine, salt of the earth American, a little older, with a booming baritone.
"Hey!" I yelled back, as we walked towards each other. The block was deserted.
"These things are pieces a shit," he grumbled, in full salty dog mode, growling in the tone you use when you love complaining. He's referring to the new 4500-series trolley buses, which have quickly developed a legendary reputation for coming off the wire. You'll spend an entire shift putting your poles back up. I don't think anyone could've guessed the old trolley buses (Bredas) these replace would ever be considered rock-solid and predictable, but compared to the new purple bus, they most certainly are. The old Bredas broke down constantly, were physically painful to drive, impossible to keep smooth, hated by most operators, and often had upwards of 600,000 miles on them… but they could make the wire sing. You would never lose your poles on straight wire. They worked. There's still a few left, and for the first time drivers want them, awful ergonomics be damned; at least they actually move in a forward motion! I for one always loved driving those behemoths. The "Breda Monster," as I call it: so big they look like they should be illegal everywhere except Russia or Eastern Europe, and the gloriously unstreamlined '80s body style which takes me back to childhood… not to mention the torn, stained, cut, molding, half-lit interiors, which are perfect for atmosphere. That might just be me though.
The purple 4500's are another matter. Everyone's got a different theory for why their poles can't stay on the wire, but I chalk it up to growing pains. Every new vehicle has kinks to be worked out. I'd like to discuss this with Mr. Salty Dog here, but I'm more concerned about getting the 7 in front of us out of our way. Any minute now a fourth bus will pull in and be forced to block the intersection behind us, because this guy (or gal) hasn't pulled forward.
"I don't know where this guy is!" I howled into the empty block. "Supposed to've left a few minutes ago!"
"Oh my God," Salty Dog said as he walked closer. "He's supposed to left already and fucker's not even at his bus? I'm'onna pull it forward myself. Fuck this…." He reached down for the toggle switch at the front of the bus to open the doors and get in– a trick I'm pretty sure every teenager in King County knows, though they so rarely act on it– and then he paused.
From my angle I couldn't see whatever he was seeing. He peered inside, looking down the main aisle, and then relented. He didn't open the doors.
"Oh, he's prayin'," he said.
Just then the operator within stood up and began rolling up his Muslim prayer rug. He didn't know we were there. I could just make out the rug's intricate decorative weave in the dim evening light, and remember thinking this would be a perfect place for him to pray, since the bus is already facing east, toward Mecca; no need to awkwardly squeeze yourself perpendicularly between seats.
"I'm not gonna mess with that," Salty Dog said. "He's gotta do his thing."
"Yeah, you gotta do whatcha gotta do."
"I'm gonna let him do his thing. Don't wanna interrupt that."
"Yeah, its important."
It didn't occur for a second to my salt of the earth colleague to otherize what he'd seen, poke fun, or express any sort of ethnocentrism or prejudice whatsoever. He innately knew the meaning of equivalence, and though that operator in the bus wasn't praying in the manner Mr. Salty is likely accustomed, that didn't matter. All he saw was a man praying. We walked back to our coaches together.
"Yeah so these fuckin' buses," he continued, reverting to the original subject without a second thought.
"Okay, here's my strategy," I said. "Split the lanes like a crazy insane person."
"Like an asshole."
"Right, like a huge asshole, and then floor it."
"Well here's what I do. Twenty miles an hour, doo do doo do doo,"
"And they still pop off!"
"–then when poles come off, hit ESS [battery mode] and then BAM! Floor it until battery hits forty percent, then go out and put poles up!"
"Ha! Hey, that works too!"
My heart swelled with pride for my fellow people. The fact that Salty went back to complaining about equipment so quickly was something I actually found deeply optimistic. It struck me as only a further sign of his respect toward our Muslim friend within– as in, he is who he is, he's doin' what he's gotta do, and there's no need for us to go on about it. What is there to talk about? We'll just take it right in stride–
and this was the night after Orlando.
No Islamophobia here. Salty Dog, a middle-aged white man and self-described conservative, nevertheless seeing right past the outer trappings of different religions and simply respecting the core which stood beyond those trappings. This is something important to that fellow in there, kind of like other things which are important to us, and we're going to give him the space we ourselves wish for. These notions came so naturally to Salty he hardly needed to articulate them. He said it all in his tone. Some people just fundamentally get it.
We all have more in common than we don't.