I'm a passenger, riding the 41 home after work. The evening runs are always packed; oddly, Metro only runs the service every half hour after 8pm, creating overloads and passengers turned away every night besides Monday. As we pull up to Westlake Station, the seething masses await- people of every stripe, ready to go home to the North End. These aren't the 9-to-5ers; this is the rest of the world, us folk who work funny hours or have multiple-transfer commutes home.
I'm sitting where I always sit when I ride the 41 home after work: first forward facing seat pair, door side. It's the Nathan seat. I have the picture window on my right, I have the front right windshield to look out of, I'm close to the front of the bus so I can get off easily, and I'm part of the front "lounge" area- I kind of like being in that open section where people sometimes talk. Plus there's a place to put your right foot that's comfortable but hard to explain. If you've sat there, you know what I'm talking about. As the seething masses board, I often glance up out of curiosity.
Right now there's a young Caucasian boy walking on, early twenties, underweight, with thick glasses and pale skin- the type that doesn't see daylight often. Before technology became the prevailing currency of our lives, he'd be the type begging to made fun of (have you noticed how "geek" and "nerd" have largely lost their derogatory overtones over the past 10 years?).
And, just behind him, is a dark-skinned fellow of similar age, well-proportioned, dressed in dark layered clothing. Headphone paraphernalia hangs from his neck, and he swaggers on in what Tom Wolfe famously calls the "pimp roll." He brushes past the young white boy, saying "watch out," not quite knocking him off balance.
Thick Glasses stands for a moment unfazed. The other guy, bent on getting to the back lounge, had vanished into the crowd in a flash, but our friend at the front says after him, in the voice of an ornery schoolteacher, "the proper word is excuse me!" Then he sits down in one of the side-facing wheelchair seats, right in front of me.
Seated across from Thick Glasses is a middle-aged Filipino man, with a physique verging on Samoan. He has an intimidating, authoritative physical presence, and, were he an actor, could play a pretty terrific tribal leader/samurai patriarch/aging bouncer. You get the picture. Anyways, he stares down at Thick Glasses for a long time. No one else has responded or commented on Glasses' passive-aggressive truculence. Glasses feels the stare, and glances up from time to time. There is the feeling that a verdict is about to be given in the front lounge; either the youth's comment will be laughed out, or his attitude will be criticized, or maybe just ignored.
Finally Samoan Leader says, in a reflective voice, "that's true."
Thick Glasses looks up again, vindicated. It's a strange moment. Enough time had passed in the Samoan's silence that Thick Glasses looked like he felt ignored or silly. To have confirmation from the intimidating tribal bouncer created a synergy between the two of them that was special. They were no longer "antiquated-old-guy-that's-both-cultural-outsider-and-past-his-prime" and "future-billionaire-nerd-that's-too-geeky-even-for-the-Geek-Squad;" no. No, that wasn't it. The walls collapse, and they're two people, friends by default of the fact that they share the experience of living this life; friends with appearances that don't matter, born worlds and generations apart but who are now here, yes, on the same plane, agreeing about standards of basic human decency, something they both think about. They talked a bit more. I lost their conversation in the darkening roar of the express lanes, but you read the important stuff on their faces. Woefully different superficially, but whatever, we're here now, sharing ideas together, seeing this stranger not as "the other" but just another voice, not so different from my own.
This is one of my favorite things about the bus. It is the great leveling plane. In no other space in society do all classes, especially here in Seattle, where the full 99% rides the bus- nowhere else is the vast, all-singing, all-dancing spectrum of humanity existing together, without preference, talking together, and- more often than we give credit for- getting along together.