Here's a tall fellow, love child of Kristofferson and John Wayne, his disheveled hair cascading out so jauntily it's downright dapper. This is inebriated bedhead done right. There are bloody wounds on his face, only recently healed, but he's working his way up and down the aisle like a renegade pastor, grinning despite the blood and his gravelly voice, saying emphatically to each passenger: "God bless you. Hey. God bless you too. Oh hey there hi, God bless…."
I call the stops out with fearless friendliness. Another man is standing alongside, watching me perform. A grin slowly forming on his face, wider and wider: he can't take it. "Yo," he finally blurts, unable to contain his enthusiasm. "Yo, I like your STYLE, bro. Keep it UP!"
A moment later, from another: "you are too SMOOTH, muhfugguh! This bus ride' the best birthday present ever! Jus' a lil' too SMOOOOTH, unh!"
Be yourself. This is the only weapon I have. Be your good self, and offer it to others without imposing it on them.
The Earth turned today, and you could feel its joy, spilling out of all these beautiful people. Look at the spirit in their eyes. Springtime came early, not in nature, but in the heady bounce of every person's step, a careening delicacy of ebullience, washing over all. The happy were happier, and the heavier souls walked as though they weighed a little less, a mystery, gifts from somewhere far away.
The night had a snap to it.
I've barely started, still loitering around the plaza bus stop, waiting for my shift to arrive… and here's a man with flowers bounding over. He is Mason the flower seller, I learn, and he knows me even if I don't in return; "you're the best damn driver in this whole city put together," he exclaims, unwittingly echoing The Great Gatsby.
His scruffy denim, the nine o'clock shadow, the immaculate daffodils offsetting it all… I wish I had my camera. "Normally I'd charge a love donation of one dollar, but these are free for you! Presto!" he declares, with a flourish.
Not a minute later and here's a young lady from Starbucks holding out a croissant with my name on it. Look at her big eyes, wavy hair framed by the nondescript Starbucks uniform. Everybody looks better in black. Am I really worth the trouble? Walking a croissant all the way down here, taking the effort to make sure it isn't squished? What a sweetheart.
Another friend stepping in, with a smile representing years. My first notes from ages ago describe her as "Genessee Lady With Cool Walking Stick." I daresay we know each other a touch better now. Rainier Avenue has room for every personality type, and hers is at the upper end of generosity; tonight she brings ginger udon noodles and tofu cold noodle salad from PCC, with a message of hello from one of their staff who knows me. To say "thank you," as an indicator of the overflowing gratitude I feel, seems paltry by comparison. How can people be so kind? When I tell people this job makes me love humanity, I think they think I'm being sarcastic. Faithful reader, you know otherwise.
Mason's daffodils get passed on to the "Lovely Ladies," my term for the group that heads up to St. Mark's for the women's homeless night shelter there. I call them that with loving irony from earlier experiences, when they were always uniformly angry. Yes, I know they have plenty to be frustrated about, but their resolute commitment to bickering was something I couldn't help smiling at. It was predictable to the point of being endearing. Having them onboard is a production: regular passengers know what they're in for, as we spend light cycle after light cycle deploying the lift and situating everybody with their bags and materials. It's a zoo.
Personally, I love it.
I don't know if it's me who's gotten better at setting the mood, or if they've mellowed, but my original appellation is starting to have non-ironic meaning. I really enjoy picking them up, and they seem to feel that now. Or maybe they're just happier in the evening than at six A.M., when they get unceremoniously booted out of St. Mark's and left on the curb for twenty minutes. Tonight I call out a handful of farewells ("thanks for hangin' out with me!") as they– half the bus, easily– mobilize to get off. "I love you all," I holler, adding to one of them, "here, you should have these flowers. It's for all you guys." They're as thrilled as I.
"You're a lovely lady," an elderly gent says to one of the Lovely Ladies, before they all left. He's no flirt; just a complimenter. "What's your name?"
"Todd," she replies. "Short for Harry."
He waits until she leaves before waxing wistfully with his friend. "She said she was sixty-five! Are you kidding me? She was beautiful."
"Women don't age like they used to." They sigh longingly at each other as I try not to giggle. A man calls out from the sidewalk, "I loved the most recent blog story!" Now it's my turn for my heart to melt….
The doors open and close and open again, and I recognize yet another grin. Last year I wrote of Tran, the scrappy Vietnamese auto mechanic, thusly: "Certain people, in the impression they make on you, overwhelm their own physical appearance with sheer magnetic force of personality. His scrappy, frankly vagrant look doesn't register nearly as much to me as his beaming disposition."
Nobody's ever given me ice cream before. "Are you sure, Tran? Thank you, gosh!"
"Don't thank me! I have another one fo' myself!"
"Tran! You're so awesome!"
It's one of those tiny Häagen-Dazs samplers. It's delectable, but… how am I supposed to eat this stuff? Good thing the roads are empty. Although I have driven up Rainier with seaweed salad and chopsticks in one hand, vainly hoping for red lights, ice cream is another matter. I struggle valiantly until Yesler Way, where I jump out to perch it atop a solar-powered garbage can, plastic mini-spoon and all. It should go to someone with the stress-free luxury of being able to use two hands at once. "Ice cream, everybody," I bellow excitedly at shifting figures in the darkness. "Finders keepers!"
They're confused. Who is this boy, who jumps out of his bus to leave ice cream on garbage cans in Pioneer Square and yells about it? In the receding view of my mirror I notice an intrepid soul taking up the offer. I smile to myself. This vivacious pulse of flowing life is a gift, and I must keep it alive, breathe on the flame of it, that we might feel its verve a touch longer. It is worth it.
Too much fun for one blog post– this story continues here!