But none of that has anything on Rainier Avenue. How cute, that 49, with its spectrum we thought was diverse. The 7 explodes all that to smithereens. The left turn onto Third Avenue marks an entry point into another universe. It's several orders of magnitude more, more people, more textured grit, higher highs and lower lows, more everything.
These are my people, I intuitively think, as we pull up to a crowd of outcasts, ne'er-do-wells, workers with dirty hands and haggard brows, the great multifarious sea of life which makes up the wide base of the pyramid upon which our city sits. The air is thick and pregnant with a hum that could swing hard toward any extreme, and it's on me to offer everything I can to guide that hot energy into something wonderful. Nowhere else, among no other group of people, is positive energy more thankfully received. This is where I belong.
But I'm not driving the 7 today. I'm driving the 2. We're going through Madrona, not exactly sleepwalking here but okay, passing the time in an environment where not nearly as much is required of me. It's afternoon, and the methadone crowd is gone, without which the 2 can become rather mellow. But at 23rd, dipping into the Central District, I pop up with enthusiasm as an exhausted construction crew steps aboard. I don't know them, but I feel comfortable. My friends have arrived!
"So you graduated from the 7, huh?" one of them asks, recognizing me.
"No way, man! This is just for today, special guest appearance on the number 2. Workin' some different hours this shakeup. Variety's good, right? How are you?"
"Did you work mostly outside or mostly inside today?"
"I was outside. Flagger today."
Not the first sign-spinner I've talked with. I'm curious to hear how this gent will respond to a question I've asked before:
"Hey, I have a question. Do you get a lot of people waving thank you? I always try to wave,"
"Um, yeah. I get more waves than flippin- offs."
"Phhh, I would hope so!"
Who flips off the flagger, I think, as he says, "I just had a Porsche almost run me over. It's always the Porsches and Audis and…."
"It's the same from my perspective too. When cars are doin', uh, crazy things, it's always beamers* and Lexuses."
"Yeah, cause they think they're entitled to it."
"It's never the Honda Civics. You're not gonna get a Geo Prizm running anybody over,"
"You know, in my experience, the consistently worst driving in Seattle is in upper Queen Anne, best real estate in town–"
"Oh yeah. There was this lady on Mercer Island, on her phone, goin' past at forty miles an hour, not seeing one of our dump trucks…." He explained how he jumped in between the vehicles, banging his sign on the truck repeatedly to get attention and through a complex set of circumstances effectively saved the woman's life.
I looked at him. I could see he would do that no matter who was driving, Geo Prizm, BMW or otherwise. "That's good of you, you know, to do that for her. I mean, you saved a life."
"That's what I do."
He relayed an issue wherein he spoke up over a safety issue, regarding practices on site. His boss listened to him and then laughed dismissively, telling him, "safety's not your job! Stick to what you know!" Our friend quit in protest and wrote up his boss as well.
"I'm glad you did! That's unconscionable, him saying that. Of course safety's your job, that's the whole entire point of our types of jobs!"
"That's what I do," he said again with conviction, staring levelly at me.
"You're one of the unsung heroes, man."
"It's a thankless job."
"I know how that feels!"
"I enjoy it either way, though. I mean that. The thing is, the great trick is to figure out a way to be happy!"
He chuckled. My thoughts clustered in silence. I remember thinking that 'thankless job' was a misattribution of sorts. We both get thanked sometimes, he and I, and for myself I know I'm intermittently showered with a level of gratitude– from all class backgrounds– which I couldn't be more thankful for. I hope the service workers and others I so eagerly spend time with on the road also receive some measure of acknowledgement at their respective jobs. It feels good to be thanked, but sometimes it feels even better to fly under the radar.
Earlier today I helped a young single mom with her suitcases onto the bus behind me. The buses were so crowded she didn't even notice anyone had helped her. Her heavy luggage just somehow lumbered with her through the crowd, following close behind like magic. I ducked away and snuck back to my bus before she could realize what had happened. I don't know why, but I felt great about it.
*That's not me blowing around a snarky classist opinion, I promise! Here's the relevant research to back it up. Below are two articles discussing a recent study;
Wealthier Motorists More Likely to Drive Like Reckless Jerks
Science Confirms That BMW And Prius Drivers Are The Worst
And, if you're in the mood for exhaustive primary data, as I often am, complete with bar graphs and numbingly boring pages of stats, here is the 2013 study itself: Higher social class predicts increased unethical behavior.