It doesn't matter if you're almost done with your trip, and everything's been great so far. Just because you've made it all the way up the bottom of Valley to Dearborn without any problems- doesn't mean it couldn't all still blow up in your face, as it once did for me a couple years ago. I won't tell that story today though. Have you noticed how horror stories by drivers are usually about their last run? "It was my last trip of the night," they'll solemnly begin. A driver I knew drove the 7 for years, shake-up after shake-up, and never had a problem- until, of course, the last trip of the last night that he did the 7. Only then did a young kid run directly in front his bus while it was moving and smash a forty into the windshield, shattering it and leaving glass fragments everywhere. The driver telling this tale was convinced it was because he had mentally "checked out," and somehow the people and world around him could sense this. I think there's truth to the idea. I know my passengers can tell quite easily if I'm checked out vs. in, as it were, and they respond best when I take the time to be "there." I remind myself that just because I've driven the 43/44 from Third and Pike all the way to 30th and Market, there's still that one stop left at 32nd, and I still need to be at my best for that guy in the back scratching the inside of his elbow with blurry eyes.
Now, there's a wonderful flip side to all this, which is- just because your day has been heavy, or stress-inducing, or testy, doesn't mean that you're next trip won't be absolutely fantastic. It had been a mellow day, unusually so, and the bus almost felt like a commuter run, you know, like the 212 or 301, where you have a bus full of people but it's deadly silent. Here the silence was warm (unlike some commuter routes, in my opinion), and I welcomed a bit of mellowness. But it was becoming one of those days that you don't write about, that drift off into the ether of life, remembered only faintly even shortly after. Some trips were demanding but unremarkable, and others were just mellow- which is surprising in its own right on the 7. Good working people, tired from hard jobs and long hours. No 9-5 business suits here.
Mellow moments: a teen at Marion who recognizes me- "hey, wassup man," he says quietly with an eager light in his eyes; he's the one with the blue and red flat-billed baseball hat. He and his friend step out at Main and he waves a goodbye of his own accord. At Walker a mother in bright yellow steps on, looking at me for a moment after I ask about her day. She seems to slowly wake from the day's mellow haze as she says, maybe to herself, maybe to me, "wow. What a nice greeting." Later on at Brandon, I glance over at the other side of the street to see a waiting passenger, bald with magenta aviator shades. Not unlike a moment from an earlier post about Third and Yesler, I nod at him for no reason, and he nods back, just because we're both humans, sharing nothing other than this existence on this day, another Wednesday on Rainier Avenue. Wind rushes in through the driver side window.
Cruising around the curve from Brandon to Orcas, and there's a family sauntering along the sidewalk- man, woman, and stroller. I glance over to see if I know them. The woman looks at my bus for perhaps the same reason, and she recognizes me, her face creasing into a wide and natural smile- how curious that you can differentiate between a genuine smile and a fake one, though most of the same facial muscles are being used- and then she's gone, as a telephone pole passes between us. We saw each other for only a split second, but it's long enough for a smile on both ends and a wave from me. I hear her exclaiming to her boyfriend in excitement. Who knows what he thinks.
At Holden- I smile at yet another man on sidewalk; he's nowhere near a bus stop, just walking along Rainier, first-generation African. Never seen the guy. He raises his eyebrows in a friendly return, his forehead wrinkling in a kind way, corners of his mouth turning up.
These are small moments, gone past even as they happen, but they register. It only takes a split second. Almost at the end of the route, up in the Prentice Street neighborhood, there's a blocking accident that's being investigated by police. Someone had t-boned a car containing a Filipino family and driven off. I see them standing on the sidewalk now, two men and a very small baby. Incredibly, all are fine. An African-American mother and her adult son step out of their home to console the family. I have only one passenger left- a semi-regular, very friendly, with a hole in his aged throat that makes his voice deep and smoky. He'd meant to get off earlier but had fallen asleep, probably lured to rest by the mellow day. He isn't frustrated as we wait for nearly 30 minutes for a tow truck to clear the accident. I'm frankly amazed, and grateful.
To pass the time I walk outside the bus and start a conversation with the policeman on the scene, and have my very first positive interaction with an on-duty Seattle police officer. I've had great experiences with Transit police, the Sheriffs, and the Highway Patrol, but I've never once been treated kindly or professionally by regular Seattle Police. This fellow, Saurez, is the first to interact with me as if I'm human, and we have a terrific conversation, standing in the middle of the street, chatting in low tones. We spend a good 20 minutes talking and listening, sharing our thoughts about wages and benefits, crime rates in wintertime, accident details, the "pay as you leave" concept, the world of Third and Pine, how Seattle has changed recently, and the fact that both of us could write books about the things we've seen ("they'd have to be long books!"). I would always tell people, "I'm waiting to have a single positive experience with Seattle Police," and this guy is it. I know there's fine people on the force- the father of a very dear friend of mine works in the North precinct- but I'd never actually seen any of them on duty before. They are out there, and deserve the benefit of the doubt. Toughest job in the city. I hope to have another positive experience someday.
When the accident finally clears, I look again at the young baby, almond eyes gazing out curiously, still in the arms of his father. I say to my raspy-voiced friend on the bus, "I am so glad that baby is okay."
"You got that right."
"Kid could be president someday."
"You never know. You never know."
I reflect that before 2008, I wouldn't have said that.
Up until now, it's been a quiet day. These moments have been nice, but there's a softness to it all. It's pleasant enough, but that's all it is. Now, however, I'm 30 minutes late. It's getting towards 9pm, and it's time to start my next and last trip.
TO BE CONTINUED!