There's a certain joy to conversing at the upper level of your vocabulary. I'll jump at the chance to say something like "maybe when that supervisor's looking the other way we can 'surreptitiously' throw these doors open." I recall a passenger muttering, "surreptitiously??! That's a hell of a word for a bus driver to use...." Which lead me to say something about putting that college degree to practice, "hangin' on to those three syllable words," which in turn lead someone else to point out how many syllables surreptitiously is, which then led me to recite the counting person joke ("there's three kinds of people in the world- those who can count, and those who can't," etc). As far as words unexpected from the mouths of bus drivers, I'm reminded of a moment on the 43 in the U-District, at night, when somebody showed me their transfer, and I loudly exclaimed, "it's beautiful!!!" Causing someone to immediately say that they'd never heard a driver use that word before, "beautiful." I said, "what! Good thing you're on this bus!"
A scholarly gentleman got on the 7 (shattering all kinds of stereotypes as to what sort of people use that route) and we found ourselves talking about Doris Kearns Goodwin and Tennessee Williams within 5 minutes of saying hi to each other. I'd never met the guy before in my life. Shared interests, emanating right out of you, almost of their own will. One thing leading to another. I had started off by asking about his day, and he responded by telling me about his harmonica lessons, and in the space of ten minutes our conversation had swirled and eddied into its own living thing- Everett, Abraham Lincoln, wind instruments, Bob Dylan. Charles Schultz said that talking is what kids do; 'conversing,' on the other hand, is two adults building a third thing together, and when they finish and walk away from each other, they're both slightly different from before.
Having said all that, there are also those moments that exist outside of deep conversation or fancy vocabulary, and it's in these moments that the 7 excels. After all, when half or more of your bus doesn't speak your language (English & Korean), there isn't any other way. I continue to be surprised at the universality of the smile, instantly disarming a sullen thug or exhausted service worker. It passes through the boundaries laid down by centuries of language and culture, floating above ostracism and prejudicial thoughts, existing in a shared realm where the basic makes sense, and kind eyes can show themselves.
I was concentrating on the switches on southbound 3rd at Seneca, checking to make sure my trolley bus didn't get on the 2 wire, when I heard a loud sneeze somewhere behind me. I yelled out, "bless you!!!" And upon hearing another sneeze right after it, "bless you again!!" I then had a moment to glance in the mirror to see who it was, and an older southeast Asian woman smiled at me, the upward curve of her lips both sheepish and relaxed, made comfortable by kindness, and I smile back at her, thinking, 'can't really think of anywhere else I'd rather be right now.'