"We're gonna roll out," I announce. I'm too excited to say "please hang on."
A husky female voice behind me echoes the sentiment, calling out: "Rollin'!"
"Oh yeah. We got places to be!"
"You got that right."
"Mus' be pay day!" says another woman nearby, watching me greet the customers with almost unreasonable glee.
"No, I just can't help myself!"
"That's good." I sense a little serious reflection underneath her jokesy exterior.
Her friend, the one with places to go, suddenly has an idea: "let's get downtown in fifteen minutes!"
There are a couple of ways to react to passengers who try to unreasonably rush you. One is to get worked up about it. Another is to drive faster. I opt for neither, choosing instead to respond as tall grass responds to a breeze. Why flow against the passengers, when you can flow with them?
"I can't make no promises, but I can do what I can!" It's a non-statement if there ever was one, but the acknowledgement in it calms her temporarily.
"Tha's coo', as long as you're tryin.'"
We're inbound, and make the right turn on Winona to do the Linden Avenue deviation. It's the only portion of the 358 that's not on Aurora, and is about to be deleted to further expedite the route. Into the mic: "here we are, goin' through the Green Lake neighborhood. This next one is 73rd, at Linden...okay, how about 68th Street..." At this time of day people rarely get on at these stops. "Comin' up around the bend is 64th, by Green Lake..."
Lady With Places to Go: "Where the freeway??"
"You don't wanna keep hangin' out in Green Lake?"
"Naw, get us outta here!"
Together she and I utter phrases of mock terror: "Please! Please!"
She's a heavyset middle-aged woman with fancy hair, long fake nails, and personality to burn. Far from being annoyed, I'm actually starting to enjoy this.
Back on the main drag. "Here's 46th, where you can get on a 44 to Ballard, or the U District. Transfer to a 44 downstairs. Have a good day," I tell people over the speakers.
She has further suggestions for me: "keep it movin'!" We gots to fly 'cross dis bridge!"
"Aw, you know I got my foot on the floor!" Somehow this gets a laugh from everyone. Maybe it's because we're doing an ungodly three miles an hour, pulling away from the zone.
"Don't make no stops t' downtown!"
"I'ma just let you take over!"
"Yeah, lemme go 'cross the street, grab a bite," I continue. "You can hit me on the way back!"
"Next one is Lynn. Lynn has an underpass that'll take you to Dexter.... Here's Crocket, by the Aloha Inn."
She pipes up: "they took this stop out!"
"Oh, it's still there," I laugh in response.
"You guys are a bad influence!" I say with a huge grin. I don't know if she was joking, but I'm going to pretend she was. "S'pposed to be raisin' me right!"
I announce Wall. "After this we'll go to Bell Street."
She corrects me with, "after this take us to Pioneer Square!"
"Since you say so, I'm a do it. I wasn't gonna go to Pioneer Square, but since you suggest it so nicely..."
She laughs. She's humoring my mood, but she really is in a hurry. At Bell she comes up and speaks in quiet, confidential tones. Her boisterous facade falls away.
"Listen. I really have to use the bathroom. I wondering if I could ask if you'd be willing to let me out at Third and James, across from the courthouse."
That's not one of the 358's stops. Stopping at the wrong zones in the CBD during the PM rush would interfere with far too much service. Third is overloaded with transit, and the balance is delicate.
"I understand you're in a hurry," I say, looking in her eyes with a correspondingly quiet voice, "but I've actually gotten in trouble for doin' just that. So I got to play it cool."
"I appreciate you understanding." I can see she's telling the truth. I add, "maybe if we hit a red light, we could work something out, but if it's a green, I got to keep rollin.'"
"Okay. Okay. Thank you."
I'm grateful that behind her bluster, she's willing to respectfully accede to my needs. As we near Cherry Street, my last stop on Third, we begin discussing strategy.
"Aw, I don't think it's gonna be a red," she says.
"Go slow through this one!" her friend yells.
"Wait, you want me to go slow?" What a change of tune! Then I understand. She's playing chess, watching the light cycles, one step ahead of the game.
"We got this! Oh, piece of cake," I say as we sandbag it to nearside James, letting that yellow light turn red. I've had urine on the bus before, and it's low on my list of favorites; we find a safe compromise that's far enough within the rules to work for everyone.
I exhale after it's all over. There's a thousand different directions the mood could've taken. I'm grateful for every particular that allowed it all to work. The mood lives in the loaded mysteries of the ever-evolving moment- her day before she found my bus, my disposition before she entered, her willingness to play along with me, the light and traffic cycles, the smiles on other passengers' faces, the energy and acknowledgement made possible by all, in so many minute and burgeoning ways.
Glad she chose my bus.