The 107 frequency is better than it used to be, but at the time of this story it was catastrophically awful. Hourly after seven or eight p.m., depending on the day of the week? What gives? The 7, which is fifteen-minute service 'til midnight, blows it out of the water. North of Henderson street, where the 7 terminates, receives amazing bus service; south of this fairly arbitrary line, the service plunged to abysmal levels, regardless of the fact that just as many folks live south of it. The issue has since been addressed with a realignment and doubling of frequency on the 106 (which used to be hourly after ten p.m.- intolerable for the buzzing, transit-dependent hive of Rainier Valley), and more trips on the 107– half-hourly until eleven thirty or so. Not bad at all.
But until two weeks ago, "Waiting the Wait" was what needed to be done. Sitting around on your way home for forty-five minutes at Rainier & Henderson– no one's idea of a great place to spend that amount of time at night– was par for the course. These two were Waiting the Wait, having just left my 7, now "doing their time," as it were, sitting out the remaining fifty-odd minutes until their last leg home arrived.
The driver bathroom (called a Comfort Station! Bus lingo lesson for the day!) was immediately adjacent to the old 107 bus stop, and I had to walk past the zone to get to it. There have been times when this required a deep breath and a game-for-anything attitude, but it always turned out, and tonight was easy. They were a young couple I recognized from many trips before, travelling tonight without their child. I nodded and greeted them. She, a mixed-race woman in her late teens, looked up from her phone and said something clever. I've since forgotten her remark, but we both laughed. Her male companion was the young black american man with the friendly face, the quiet face, who'd expressed grateful surprise when I once gave him a free ride. Tonight he was doubled over himself on the bench, resting, his hooded head cradled in his arms and resting on his knees. Sometimes there's nothing to do but wait.
Upon exiting the comfort station and I said, "guys have a good night!"
She responded in kind.
He remained seated and silent, with his face in his arms. I imagined he perhaps had headphones in to pass the time, and that he hadn't heard me. Which would be fine.
But no, he had heard me. I saw a hand extending out from one of the overlong sleeves, a small motion and one you might miss, especially as it was not accompanied by speech; but there from this cloaked and resting figure was a hand, formed in the universal gesture of peace, two fingers.
I smiled deeply, rich in the equivalence of his gesture, the acknowledgment of it, three accepted members of the community sharing kindness, cognizant of our equal part in the twenty-first century human endeavor.
A companion was telling me recently of her friend group, people in her field who are meaningful to her. I reflected on my own circles. I adore them all, from the fellow filmmakers, photographers, childhood and college friends, film buffs, writers, painters, actors, gallerists, operators, planners and others… but what really humbles me is the degree to which the People of the Street (do I really need to define this? You know what I mean. Just read the half-thousand or so blog stories here!) have welcomed me into their fold. To be driving down the far reaches of Rainier Valley, buried out there in the dark night, or rumbling through the untamed wilderness of Aurora Avenue, and feel… loved? By what madness did this happen? I look, sound, and dress nothing like most of these guys, and yet… and yet….
Nobody told me it would turn out like this. Within the circle of drivers and supervisors I knew when I started, the idea didn't exist yet. I remember the first second of the first moment it all began, more than a year into my bus driving career. Sometime in 2008 I was pulling up to a bus stop near the Airport Way methadone clinic. I'd never stopped there before. It was populated by folks with descriptions I'd been encouraged to fear. I was very nearly a college graduate then, but in that moment felt like an amateur. In about two seconds I'm going to be out of my depth, I thought. I'd never talked, for more than an instant, to folks like this before. How should I behave toward this ragtag crew? How can I best navigate this? It felt almost like an experiment at the time, as the thought of something else I'd been encouraged towards came to mind: if you treat people kindly, they'll generally be kind in return. I wondered how far that rule went.
I opened the doors and gave it a try.
At the now-defunct 107 bus stop, in the middle of the night at the most notorious intersection of Seattle's most dangerous neighborhood, his blink-and-you'll-miss it gesture was the sum, and the confirmation, of years of a lesson well learned: ninety-nine times out of a hundred, people will be kind in return, no matter who they are. Some of my favorite souls are People of the Street. I feel lucky to know them, honored by their willing acceptance. The motley gathering at that 2008 bus stop would be the friendliest passengers I'd ever had up to that point in my career.
Peace, two fingers, indeed.