Jerome likes it when I relieve him. My afternoon shift begins with me standing around on the barren plains of Aurora Avenue, outside a drugstore next to a public storage facility and tire repair center. Aurora has a texture all to its own, a milieu unfound anywhere else in the city. The wide, 7-lane expanse, bordered by diners, used car lots, fleabag motels, detox centers, lumber stores, rehab facilities...ah, yes. I breathe the air in deeply, savoring the many-splendored scent of Club Cuckoo-Land, awaiting my 'living room'- let's make that 'bus'- that will soon arrive.
Eventually the unmistakable shape of the 358 appears over the distant horizon. It rises out of the hazy distance, gently reminding us that the world is round, and soon it is here, and Jerome, the driver, can't help but smile. It's his nature, but it's also at the spectacle of seeing me in an absurdly good mood. This is the place I most want to be right now. "Jeroooomme," I say in a low rumble, as he opens the doors.
During my first days at North Base, he would look at me with something approaching wonder: as in, who the heck is this guy, and why is he so happy? Is there something I, Jerome, need to be briefed about him? Jerome would pull up, and I, Nathan, would swagger up to the bus, backpack in one hand and seat cushion and base car keys in the other, unable to stop smiling at the "awesome pile" I was about to take over.
North Base has the least overall mileage of any base, so it gets all the old buses, and the shortage of working vehicles- and maintenance workers to fix them- is so dire that some operators can't pull out buses from the base on time anymore: there aren't any working buses on the lot. They have to wait around- 5 minutes, 90 minutes- until some driver on the road finishes his shift, returns the base, and, on the hope that that bus works, the new driver can then turn it right around and take it back on the road again. About 30 broken hybrids are sitting at North, untouched since the beginning of shakeup, unable to be repaired because of a severe lack of resources. But I'm digressing. The point is, North still has the old 2300-series artics (pictured above), and I love them. They're the Breda of diesels, and they make me happy. I specifically picked a 358 shift that uses one. Why would I want the accoutrements of a newer vehicle- low-floor, air conditioning, a ramp instead of a lift, electric assist for the engine, automated announcements, automated signage...please, no! That would be too easy!
The 2300 has a history to it. It's been around the block. It has more seats than any other Metro bus, and it has the great chat seat, enabling easy customer-driver interaction, and it has front and back doors that are the same size, which pleases me, though I have no idea why. The 2300 is not as comfortable, it has no AC, its lift is slow, but- it's been around the block, and it is awesome. I grew up riding it, and its predecessor, the 2000 series, on the 174. I suppose I am susceptible to the nostalgia bug. Plus it can make sharper turns than a hybrid coach, and it doesn't have the great and terrible "elbow thing" that the hybrids have (drivers will know what I'm talking about- I'm referring to that pesky modesty shield crap that hits your elbow all the time. I'm turning it into a bigger deal than it is, but don't tell me you don't hate that thing).
Anyways, here's Jerome, with the Awesome Pile, and he's got leftover snacks for me- a pear, plus a couple of Slim Jim pepperoni sticks. What a guy. I wish him a good afternoon, and we hit the ground running. "Put a fuckin' muzzle on it, asshole," says one passenger to another, in a discussion involving each other's dogs, who are also on board. "You need to learn how to control your shit." There was a time when I would be stricken by such an encounter, but today I am amused, without knowing why.
"Gentlemen," I say in a stern voice, as if speaking to two lovable but misbehaving nephews- but it's of minimal use.
The two dog owners are at odds with their cherished dog-rearing beliefs, and are unable to reach a common ground. "Lemme out right here, before I have to kill this motherfucker," the first dog owner loudly suggests, bringing a close to the dog-rearing discussion. I'm grateful. He's making excellent use of his fight-avoidance skills. What a guy. After he leaves, a frothing mouth of anger on the sidewalk, his choice fingers and red-faced yells receding into the distance, the other dog owner and myself begin laughing. I realize what's funny- the idea that a conversation about muzzling vs. not muzzling dogs could arouse such ludicrously outsized anger in anyone. But, even though they disagreed on "how to control your shit," the angry man was kind enough to refrain from "killing this [non-muzzle-believing] motherfucker." Talk about manners! My nephews are behaving well today.
"This'll be the one that finally wipes that happy grin off your face," a driver- definitely not Jerome- once told me upon learning that I'd picked the 358. We were standing outside the Central Base parking garage. You can't help but feel anxious when people stay stuff like that- they've been there, after all, and you haven't. But the thing is, they haven't been me. And man, these 358 passengers are only slightly less crazy than I am.
I eat the pear on my break at 5th and Jackson. I look at the remaining pepperoni stick and decide it would be better enjoyed by someone else. I've just finished my book (Tom Wolfe's latest), and am considering staying inside my bus for the remaining 10 minutes- no. I'll troll about on Jackson Street for a few. It's a feeling in my gut. "When you gettin' back on Rainier [Avenue]," a street guy asks me. We chat for a moment. Eventually Cyrus shows up, driving the 36- great guy with a great attitude- we drove the 7 together last summer- and I give him the pepperoni. It's a fine moment, though nothing earth shattering, but then- who's that, getting off his bus? It's Gabrielle, that Gabrielle, from the 7, the one with the sublime understanding of positivity. Haven't seen her for months. She's found a new living situation that she likes, and her confident, gentle happiness is radiant. Palpable. Like Julia, the woman on the plane in the prior post, hers is a presence of being that doesn't insist on itself. They're not trying to shove anything in your face, or make you change your ways- no, not at all. They are simply being themselves. This is a what, a relief, an inspiration, a sublimating uplift- a reminder.