I rushed in, looking for the cheap stuff. My shift (or "piece") was about to start, and I needed food. This was unusual. I usually bring lunch. There was the banh mi, the soy sauce noodles, here was the layout of sushi and bento... what was cheap? I resolved upon going full time to never open my paychecks, and continue living as if on a part-time budget. A way of staying happy.
There they were. Tofu spring rolls, "$3.99 only." Cheap. Protein. Vegetables. Perfect. I paid and ran out the door to the great and towering 7/49.
There are short routes, and there are long ones. I prefer longer ones because you're not repeating yourself so many times. Leave those ten-minute Mercer Island loops to whoever likes that stuff. The 7/49 is gigantic, serves as broad a spectrum of humanity as there exists in the city, with ons and offs the whole way. Many people use the through-route, riding for a while.*
You can guess the drawback of driving long routes, however. If nature calls, it may be another hour or more before you can use a restroom. In theory, you could pull over and find one, but are you really going to? What if there's a line at the gas station? Will the restaurant let you use it? Will this place even have– and meanwhile there's a crowd waiting on the bus, and more waiting down the street....
This was precisely the predicament I found myself in, several hours after eating the world's least digestible tofu spring rolls. It's different than being at the end of the line, wherein I believe religiously in taking the time for restrooms and exercise. More pressure. At Broadway and Roy I decided to hold it all the way to Rainier and Henderson, about 70 minutes away. I could do this. John Coltrane kicked his heroin habit through sheer force of will. This oughta be cake.
No one on the bus knew why, but my normal driving style, not slow but definitely not fast, suddenly became extremely urgent. Gone was the Nathan Approach of attempting to drive exactly the same whether on time or late, expeditious but not rushing– nope, none of that now. Too sensible. It was time to burn some rubber. "Let's get outta here, " I said into the PA as left a zone. We were hauling.
As it happens, driving like this doesn't really affect what time you get there. People think it does. Have you ever noticed when you drive home at 70 mph instead of 55, all those cars you spent so much energy passing just end up right behind you on the exit ramp? The effect is amplified on a bus, what with all the starts and stops. Rushing on a bus is generally pretty useless, not to mention rougher on the joints, and incredibly dangerous– wait, all that is too logical! I'm trying to use the bathroom here! Rational thought can wait. We flew through town like a jealous tornado, disappointing runners left and right, tearing wildly across the arterials and giving the left lane a reason to exist. My hello's and thank you's acquired a clipped roboticism that gave Kate (the automated voice) a run for her money.
After making it out to Rainier in what felt like record time but was probably only a minute or three faster, I raced over to the comfort station and used it, and used it, and used it. Oh, how lovely. How enchanting. What a beautiful world it is.
I spent the remainder of my break wandering around Saar's Market. A Muslim woman was seated on the floor, looking over the choices of pots and pans. A regular passenger greeted me in the bread aisle. The checker gave me a free paper bag, saying, "I may need a ride one day!"
On the return trip into town, I discovered I was still in urgent mode. Why? I don't know. There's something addicting about it. Once you lock in, it's a little hard to jump back into relaxation. I pressed harder than necessary on the gas, and could feel my heart racing as we took a yellow light. If you drive the bus like I normally do, you'll know this type of stress doesn't really figure in your day. I was discovering how much it changed me.
A girl got on at Genessee asking for free transfers. "Next time," I said to her and her man. "Next time?!" they muttered, accepting but nonplussed. They know me as the accommodating happy Nathan driver. Everyone down there does. "This guy's cool," I'll hear them say as they board. This girl hadn't paid, but she had acknowledged me– what more could you ask for? I need to slow down, I thought, flooring it to the next zone.
At 8th and Pike, a middle-aged man with glasses stepped aboard. "I just got off Sound Transit," he said, "and I don't have an Orca card and I'm trying to go to Wallingford. Could I ride?"
"Yeah, that sounds fine."
"Could I have a transfer?"
"Tell you what, why don't you ride my bus for free, and then pay the next bus."
"Yeah but could I have a transfer?"
I raised my hands to my head in exasperation but stopped mid-motion, my hands frozen in front of me before reaching my face. I paused for a moment. Everything was still, and I could feel the crowd– other folks getting on, him, guys sitting behind us– watching. Most of all I felt myself, watching my own behavior.
My first two years driving bus were spent at Bellevue Base and East Base. When I went straight from that to driving not just a downtown route but a trolley, every driver at Bellevue had advice for me. Much of it was very helpful (Angle into zones! Use 4-ways when doing the unexpected! Know your headways!). I remember veteran Terry nodding sagely, thinking it all over, on one of our last days relieving each other on the 245. He trained me on my very first day driving live service. We went back a bit.
"There will be days," he said finally, "when your patience will be pushed to the limit." He enunciated the phrase with a weight made real by memory and hardship. To the limit. That's all he said. He didn't offer a solution.
"Hmm," I said. I had no idea he was talking about.
In films we see protagonists reacting to high stress situations with alertness and brilliant precision, when they're at their best. You don't see them when they're not at their best. When people are chasing Matt Damon, it's never when he's underslept or has a headache or diarrhea. Life, however, is different.
I broke the electric pause by saying, "I'm having a rough night and I shouldn't be taking it out on you. I'm sorry."
"You're the shit," he said, accepting the transfer I offered, then quickly getting out of my way, perhaps thinking I might regress.
"I hope you have a better night," a man who'd been watching said as he stepped out.
Let yourself receive it, I thought. "Thank you! Thanks for saying that!"
Driving up East Pine I reflected. How had this loss of perspective happened? Wasn't I strong enough to get out of this addictive headspace, which had been entirely of my own making? It'd been a terrific night, all things considered. It hadn't been a rough night at all. Bring me back to myself, I silently asked of the passengers and the world around me. I need your help.
In moments like this I throw myself out there even further than normal. The reasoning being, if I put more of myself out there, I'll get more back. It always works. Eventually someone responds, and it helps me climb the ladder back to being myself. I'd like to get to the point of doing this independently, but sometimes you need a little push.
Into the PA, approaching John and Olive Streets: "Comin' up is Johhhhhn Street, John or Olive, depending on which way you roll... John, where you can get a 43, or an 8."
"John, where you can get a john," said the man with glasses, coming forward.
"There you go!"
"Hey, out in the U District, is the 44 still running every fifteen minutes?"
"Yeah! Well, the 44 is every fifteen till midnight,"
"But the 43 is only every half right now."
"Oh okay. So I can probably hop out here, score some drugs and then be on my way!"
I laughed. It sounded absurd, and yet somehow in tune with the zany, hopping madness of the neighborhood around us. "Just another Sunday night!" I said.
"Well, I hope it's a great evening!"
"Thanks! Y'ave a good night!"
Right after he left a girl with dreads and a pitbull got on, perhaps one of the heroin set that lounges outside Dick's. The dreads were tinged with red, and her face was lively and present.
"How are you tonight," she asked, preempting what I usually say to the passengers.
"My night is great! And yours?"
She winked at me discreetly and smiled, affirming that yes, it had indeed been a great night. She was so right.
Later I'd see him again, two nights later. He suffers from severe insomnia. In fact, he hadn't slept in the time between now and since we last spoke. We extolled the virtues of various parks. We like Cal Anderson, we decided, because of its community park vibe. When it's nice out, everyone in the neighborhood seems to come out. It always reminds me of Seurat's 1884 Un dimanche après-midi à l'Île de la Grande Jatte, come to life. He agreed. "Gas Works is great too," he said. "Like Cal but without the drugs."
*Service planners, please keep the through-route. There's no question I'm asked more often than, "do you turn into the 7?," and nothing more pleasing than to be able to say yes and see them smile in relief. Transferring, especially at night, is not fun.