The Ride Free Area died tonight not with a bang, but with a whisper. I have no tumultuous stories involving its demise, which took place at 6:59pm today, ending a 38-year tradition. Like many large events in one's life, it was defined not by a cataclysmic parting of the seas but rather by the simple and pleasant banality of everyday existence. I drove down Third Avenue, and all was as it always is, me throwing open all three doors and welcoming the whirling masses, glancing in the mirror as my friends the service workers, thugs, nurses, students, janitors, bankers, managers, grandmothers, engineers and freeloaders stepped on, slinking through the back doors and looking this way and that, ascertaining which was the best seat for them. It was just like any other day on the street- only there was the thought inside me, and perhaps in others too, that it won't ever be like this again.
Some have defined the sublime as the intersection between the mundane and the transcendent. I'm not about to say that the end of the Ride Free zone was sublime, but many of the great moments on the bus fulfill that definition.
I was driving the last trip on my 7, and a middle-aged African-American man was thanking me profusely, ostensibly for the transfer I gave him, but that wasn't really it; I think what impressed him more was this warm, shared spirit we had built, lighting up the darkness of a dimly lit bus on Rainier Avenue. Some of those old Bredas are dark inside, as not all the interior lights work (drivers: you know, where the switch goes both ways but neither turns on all the lights, only half), and that, combined with the ever-present litter on the 7, odd smells, stained floors and knife-scratched windows and seats- all this combines to form an atmosphere that could easily tip into a very unpleasant realm. In fact, it almost seems ideally suited for that.
But here we are, having built the happy bus, what with friendly hellos and waves and announcements- it isn't important that they understand what I'm saying into the mic so much as they hear the tone of the driver's voice- that the guy in charge of this thing is happy, kind, welcoming, whatever label we want to give it. He's in a good mood. That's what I'm really saying when I say that the next stop is Andover Street, close to Safeway.
The most unlikely people say thank you, and the timbre of their voices carry a strength of meaning that humbles me. A hispanic man, always dressed in black, with an interesting face, a face you'd want to photograph, quietly saying, "you have a wonderful evening, bro." Self-proclaimed ghetto boys taking a moment to be genuine. "You have a good rest of your shift." To hear such a thing blows my mind. Kindness towards another, for no gain. I know they have that in them, of course, but the surprise is that they choose to show it. A young African man, thirties, speaks softly, with an unexpectedly clear accent, thanks me and wishes me a good evening with an earnestness that bespeaks tremendous mutual respect. It's an honor to be counted as an equal among these people.
After the fellow who was profusely thankful for the transfer and the goodwill stepped off, the man getting off right behind him turned to me and said, "you're rare." He's tall, thin, forties, black American, with shades and clean athletic sweats. Something about this fleeting exchange hits me, and I remember the moment lasting longer than it did. His bald head and shades catch what little light there is, this tall human form lurking in the half-light above me, kindness, and respect for kindness making themselves known in the dark. "You're rare," he says again. Maybe he wants to make sure I heard him. "Keep it up."
It's these small, fleeting moments that live on in your memory. The details. Today was my last day on the 7, and on the wire in general, for a while- you probably know that I was forced out to North Base for Winter shake-up- and I've been savoring these last days for the great life experience that they are. Being out there, amongst people who know me, a city I've become part of. I unfortunately can't write about something that happened earlier this week, but for those of you who were there, that was fantastic. You live for moments like that- small and unremarkable when retold, but massive in a personal way.
Today was no more or less different than a typical day on the 7 for me. It was lighter than usual, and there was minimal Friday night madness in the Valley. As I said earlier, there were no monumental climaxes to be had. And yet- there were, as there always are, those moments, which tonight took on a pathos of things ending, color drifting away in the fading light. A couple street perennials and I on the sidewalk at inbound McClellan, joking around together as I wait for my schedule to catch up. Me, interrupting the automatic talking lady to do my own announcements. Turning right onto 7th from Virginia, making sure I have enough momentum to clear that deadspot. A young man and his Caucasian girlfriend at Holden, standing at the front, listening and talking with me briefly but eagerly, happy to be a part of it all.
Ah, yes. Not a bad way to pass the time.