It's Never Over Til It's Over
She looked apprehensive.
I probably did too. The clock had just struck midnight, and angry voices boomed in our periphery. She was out there, waiting for the bus in a white and yellow summer dress, breezy, perhaps wishing there was someone around, anybody, besides this angry yelling man approaching. I was inside my darkened bus, waking up disoriented from a short nap. The shift was almost done, and it had been a breeze… but it's never over 'til it's over.
Bus drivers sometimes ride my bus to get a feel for the night 7, different ways of handling it. Certain passenger friends call a ride on my 7 "Bus Therapy," while some drivers have dubbed it "The Nathan Vass Refresher Course." I doubt it qualifies for that lofty moniker (I prefer calling it my "office hours"), but I did have an evening where three operators, unbeknownst to each other, all came out to ride the last half of my shift. I was telling them it's never over until it's completely over, 'til you've parked the bus on the lane inside the yard. You could be a hundred feet away from home base, and it could all still fall apart.
As it happened, we were about a hundred feet away from home base, these drivers and I, wrapping up the shift, when… wouldn't you know it, a woman came running out of the bushes with blood on her hands and waist, waving her arms and asking us for assistance with her boyfriend, who had been stabbing her.
It's never over 'til it's over.
We called for help and she got the assistance she needed. I try not to offer relationship advice to random strangers, but given the circumstances....
"Um. You might think about dumping this guy," I said.
"Oh God yes," she said.
It was with these thoughts I stood and stretched out of my nap. Some real angry voices out there. I sighed. It didn't matter how carefree the day had been. In its last minutes you still might have to step up, summon your better angels and steer the moment as best you can.
I opened the door and turned on the interior lights. Summer Dress and I made nervous eye contact, neither one of us quite sure what was transpiring. She was still standing out there, I was standing by the farebox, as a belligerent voice came closer….
"Hi," I said to her with kind eyes. Any friendly stranger is a friend, not a stranger, in an intense situation.
"Hey," she replied. Cute blue eyes, short, with headphones she knew not to be listening to right now.
"DON'T NOBODY TALK TO ME THAT WAY," said a tall man in dark clothes and a beanie, a bass-inflected gravel rasp to his throaty din. It sounded vaguely familiar: where've I heard that voice before? Ah, yes. I put it together right before I saw his face. Marcus loomed in out of the shadows, walking down from the bus behind me.
Boy, does it ever pay off to know a man's name.
You never know when you'll see someone again, or how. The genial history he and I have paid off in spades now. The present instantly defused, and the girl's eyes lit up with surprise, comfort, and relaxation as I said in a friendly tone just a tad quieter than normal:
"Hey, Marcus." Pause. "You don't sound too happy."
He exhaled. Calming down. "Naw, man. This guy trying to tell me to 'take my shit and get off the bus.'"
"You can always hang out on my bus..."
"Ah know. But this guy's just…"
"I'm sorry to hear it, dude. You know you can always hang in here."
The young lady was searching her purse for change. She looked up at him, saying, "oh, you go ahead."
I think Marcus realized then that he was scaring people. He looked at her now, over the rims of his wire-frame glasses, not lasciviously but how a father looks at girls his daughter's age; with caring. I love watching people think. He deflated further back to his normal self and said, "oh, no. I always let ladies go first."
He smiled and she returned the same, feeling the tension slack loose.
I said, "so he was givin' you some attitude?"
Marcus didn't even need to vent. "I'm okay," he said wearily. "It's just too hot for all that!"
"Yeah, we gotta keep it low-key!"
Tone of voice. Choice of words. I've asked hundreds of people, including Marcus himself, to step off the bus at various ends of the line. I've never told them to though, and I've definitely never used the words he quoted the other (brand new) driver as saying. If I told all those people to "take their shit and get off my bus," I don't think I would even be alive. Instead I have the respect of friends in more corners of society than I ever could have imagined, corners I never knew existed. Seeing the young lady realize she could relax, that everything was okay, that for some reason this driver knew this guy by name and they could talk things down… I didn't know that would be the highlight of my night.
It's never over 'til it's over.
8/13/2017 03:23:01 pm
Nathan you're sense of awareness, fearlessness and ultimate humanity are deeply inspired and in turn inspirational. Tons of respect. Stay safe!
8/15/2017 02:07:56 am
8/13/2017 07:39:42 pm
Great writing, amazing awareness. We can't make anyone do anything. We can ask, request, cajole that may work. Yell, demand, threaten, your days are numbered. That's not good for anyone. Go home in one peace.
8/15/2017 02:10:22 am
8/14/2017 08:48:47 am
Nathan, I've said it before, I'll say it again: you are a Taoist master. Thank you for your lessons on how to be a good human being.
8/15/2017 02:14:28 am
8/15/2017 08:08:29 am
Nathan, today is the first time I've read your blog; I followed the link given by the Seattle Times this morning. (8/15/17) I already know that there are angels walking around as regular people, but now I know there are also angels that drive! Thank you for your kindness and gentle outreach to everyone on your route.
8/18/2017 10:19:31 am
8/15/2017 08:57:09 am
Wow, the Times should publish your blog on a regular basis. We need your wise counsel in these days of strife and hate.
8/18/2017 10:30:14 am
Well, wouldn't that be a dream come true! I encourage you to contact the Times regarding the idea– perhaps if enough readers let them know they'd like it....
8/15/2017 09:08:30 am
What a great story! And a good lesson for everyone--that sometimes just talking to someone can make all the difference. I followed the link from the Seattle Times too and am glad I did.
8/18/2017 10:31:37 am
Thanks for making a lil' trip over here! I'm so glad these stories and interactions resonate. I love offering an armchair into my weird world of the street!
8/15/2017 09:32:38 am
Nathan, you are God's gift to the people on the 7. Your ability to connect, to realize that relationships are first and foremost, is a godsend to your riders. I have no doubt that the kindness you show has had a ripple effect on thousands of lives. You have saved people and made the world a better place. I know that what you do every night must be emotionally draining and exhausting, and someday, even when you stop driving the bus, know that YOU HAVE MADE A DIFFERENCE.
8/18/2017 10:33:50 am
8/15/2017 09:36:03 am
Wow - you are a thoughtful, kind, observant, wonderful role model. A superhero who rescues sanity every day on bus and blog!
8/18/2017 10:37:03 am
8/15/2017 10:24:02 am
What a great article about you in the Seattle Times today. It gave me such a positive thing to focus on instead of the majority of terrible news. It also made me want to ride with you although I live a few hours away. I pray people in need of a bit of compassion find themselves on your route.
8/18/2017 10:39:59 am
8/15/2017 02:15:34 pm
Wow. I just gave a training to teachers and school admin Culturally Responsive Strategies and about the importance of believing in students(people) more than they believe in themselves. I used the example about the importance of bus drivers as the first face for so many students and how bus drivers can become caring adults for students lives when they 1. Know their names. 2. identify 2-3 hidden talents that they have 3. Become a trusted adult that they can talk to. NO JOKE, there are schools that utilize their bus drivers as the first relationship. That was today at 9:30 am, then I read your article at 12:30pm during lunch, wow. I'm about to share your article and story with the rest of the teachers and admin as an amazing example. We believe that we have to teach hope through our meaningful caring adult relationships and the quote in the Seattle Times article states, “Not a way, like, oh, he jumped in a burning building or he stopped a car from hitting me,” Haigler said. “Nathan gave me hope. ” You are an amazingly gifted person and your work is going to spread :)
8/18/2017 10:42:50 am
8/15/2017 05:26:08 pm
Nathan, after reading the Seattle Times article today I absolutely wanted to know more about what happens during your "office hours." It was a great read, but your blog is an even better read. As a Seattle resident, I also see the poverty, homelessness, and mental states of people who are struggling everyday on our streets. Reading about how you help on a daily basis is incredibly inspiring. Thank you for being you and inspiring me to help the people of this city!
8/18/2017 10:48:33 am
8/15/2017 10:25:51 pm
This is so perfect an antidote to the week that I cried. Thank you for being such a good human and making space for others to be, as well.
8/18/2017 10:49:10 am
9/19/2020 01:50:07 pm
So glad your book is the Redmond Reads book. I hope many people in our community read it. The incident that you describe and the way you handled it, the empathy I can feel for each person involved - it feels like exactly the sort of thing we need in our society right now. It's been a bad week in the world this week, in a year of rough weeks, and this brought tears to my eyes. Thanks for your understanding and filling a void we seem to have in our world today.
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