This was Friday morning. I'm back on the 3/4, just for that day, for the first time in months. It's difficult to contain my enthusiasm. I drift down 3rd Avenue, trying not to look to psychotically happy. One of my favorite parts of the route is making the left onto James off of Third ("making a left because we're a 4," I say into the mic), and seeing the bus zone that's there come into view. That's where the seething masses await! One of the busier zones in the system, it is never empty for more than a few seconds all day, and usually contains a veritable, unending swarm of humanity, ready and willing to somehow fit onto your already full bus. We make it happen. A multitude of "hey's" and "hows it goin's" and "welcome's" as all of us enter the vehicle, doing our best to become an American version of a sardine-packed Chinese subway. We try hard, but somehow people here just don't cram as close together as they do in the far East. An African-American man who may have been a passenger comes up the outside of the bus to the front door and faces me on the sidewalk, putting his hands together as if in prayer, and says to me, "konichiwa," with a huge smile on his face. I smile back, returning the prayerful gesture, and he strides off, waving and saying 'have a good day' to the back half of the bus through the still-open back door. I smile at the randomness of his goodwill- I'm pretty sure he didn't know anyone back there.
Long before I ever drove the 3/4, which is known for its wheelchair-bound passengers, I remember a piece of advice given me by an older operator out of Bellevue Base. "You have to condition yourself to love getting wheelchairs and walkers," he said conspiratorially. "Don't hate it. Stop thinking about how long the lift takes, or that it's annoying to strap them in. First of all, it isn't annoying. It's easy. It's not the Bataan Death March. Second of all, don't sit there and heave a huge sigh to let them know that they're an inconvenience. They already know that. All day long, people have been telling them they're an inconvenience. You need to be the one guy who doesn't do that. Who just smiles and says, 'hey, man,' like they were a normal regular person. Which, of course, they are."
Unlike Atlantic, I didn't run into too many drivers with great attitudes at Bellevue Base, but there certainly were a couple, and he was one of them. He told me a number of other things that have proved invaluable. In any event, I was reminded of his words as I pulled up to Harborview, inbound to downtown, on a 4, and noticed a familiar face leaned over a walker, waiting for the bus.
I've had this lady many times before, and she remembers me "from way back when you was a little baby bus driver," as she often reminds me. She'll tell the bus about how young I looked when I started (and how young I still look). This is okay, I suppose. Heavier gal, late 50s, dark-skinned, hair in a bandanna, always with a walker. I enjoy how happy she usually is to see me, but today, she doesn't say anything about my age. When I ask her how her morning is, she gives me the mumble.
Me: "Could be better, could be worse?"
"Yeah, my husband just died."
"What? oh, no..."
"You remember him?"
"Yeah, I do."
"It was our thirtieth anniversary," and she's struggling to hold it together. Tears welling up. We talk a bit more about that, and then she says, "somebody stole my computer. Couple a addicts,"
I say, "where was this, Third and Bell?"
"Oh, as if you had to guess!"
And she tells me how she had been jumped, how she had identified their getaway car, informed the police, who did nothing, and about how she went searching for the car herself on Third Avenue, found it, reported the license number, and so on; about how the computer, a laptop, had been a gift from her daughter, and how she'd been computer illiterate but had "picked it up like that," loving the window that it provided, to learn and explore and keep in touch with friends. It was mainly the fact that it was a gift from her daughter that brought tears to her eyes. That, in conjunction with the death of her longtime husband, was putting her in a dark pit of a mood.
I let her get it all out, and then told her how impressed I was with her for locating the car, that it was useful that she reported it, as that would show up the next time- you know there'll be a next time- those guys get pulled over and questioned by police; tellin' her, "I bet that's not the last computer you'll ever have in your lifetime."
"Oh, you know it, baby,"
"Exactly. Don't let 'em get you down."
"I'm not gonna let 'em get me down."
"You did everything you could do, and it was worth it, and here you are still in one piece-"
"Man, I'm glad I got on your bus. You make me feel better." She pauses for a moment, looking at me, and then she goes, "they still makin' fun of you about your age?"
"Oh hell yes," I say, and she laughs. She thanks me again for talking, telling me how much better she feels. I can see the fresh slit scars on her wrists, where she tried to kill herself; she had shown them to me earlier in the conversation. That's why she was coming out of the hospital. "Don't let 'em get you down," I say once again as she rides the lift down to Third and Pike. I hope I see her again.