Last trip of the night. I lose a pole at Holden inbound, which doesn't make sense. It's straight wire on a smooth roadway with no bumps. Nothing to do but run out there and put the pole back up. Immediately I sense something amiss. Your brain puts things together in pieces in an unexpected situation like that, like the way the evidence that your car's been broken into sinks in slowly, bit by bit, with resistance. I look at the back of the bus.
There's no glass where the back window should be.
Instead there's a few faces of the African-American high-schoolers sitting the back, peering out at me with confusion.
"What happened?" I say.
"I don't know, man," one boy says. "I just tapped with my elbow and the whole window fell off. I was just leaning back a little, like this."
They're worried. They're expecting me to be angry, and they carry the look of one who knows he's in trouble now. I know they're telling the truth based on their tone and attitude; puppy dog eyes that can still see. Clearly good kids.
I say, "I think this bus is older and than both you and me!"
Relief and laughter. "It's fine, you guys are cool. It's all good." I put up the thrown pole, forcing the cars to move, staring them down with a benevolent but firm hand. I can hear one of the kids saying, "Damn, he's walking right out into traffic." Standing out there for an extra second I look at the back window, which itself is lying on the pavement about a hundred feet behind the bus. I'm wondering if I should try to grab that beast and haul it back onto the coach. Lying there in the roadway, I realize that it's massive. Definitely can't reattach it in the proper place. I decide to retrieve it- it hasn't shattered, being laminated plastic, and some girls sitting on the side of the road say, "I think you need a newer bus," and I laugh as I pick up the window, saying, "I think you're right!" I run the window back up to the front of the bus, stash it on the wheelchair seats, and continue.
A few of us at front marvel at the absurdity of it all. "We must be in a recession," I say. If ever there was a sign that we need new trolleys, this would be it. Parts of buses falling into the roadway, leaving a literal trail up Rainier Avenue. Great. A little while later I decide to walk back there and inspect the bus from the inside. The youngsters are still sitting back there, along with some others. "That's crazy," I say, watching them sitting next to the huge open space right behind them, the trolley ropes near enough to touch. Thank goodness I've got these kids on my side, or they could yank those ropes and disable the bus at their leisure. "I kinda wish I could sit back here just to see what it feels like!" Laughter. "It's awesome," one of them affirms. The kids love the ride, spending most of the trip staring out the back window, watching the fluctuating ropes and the world receding into the night.
"COME ON!" A woman yells at her friend, waiting to get on at Brandon. She's maybe 25, quite heavy, and her friend is older, male, and drunk. I say to her in a friendly sing-song, "hey!" She turns her head. I say, "How's it goin'?" She doesn't respond but her eyes register a softening, which becomes moreso when I tell her there's no rush. The two of them and a third fellow get on, and they make some serious noise in the back, standing, yelling, continually changing seats. Hardly a sober cell in their brains tonight. I feel bad for the regular kids back there who have to listen to the ruckus of this trio, which is not profane but merely loud. As far as I can tell.
The trio comes up to the front, preparing to get off, but the light at Jackson is red. They're not gone just yet. I ask the drunk one how it's going, and he says good. I like it when people are coherent and responsive. As long as you can talk to someone, and they can listen to you, you can influence the situation. The woman tells me he's her husband, and the other guy is, well, her second husband. "He's sexy," she notes, referring to the second husband. I ask her how she's doin,' and if she's enjoying her Friday night. She is. Pretty soon they're all over each other, Husband One sitting on the chat seat, and she's sitting on top of- more like crushing- him, while Husband Two slaps her behind repeatedly. She laughs, enjoying it and kisses Husband One. Passengers less than a yard away look on; they're in view of the entire bus. I can't allow it. I get Husband Two's attention: "hey, man."
You can feel the tennis ball teetering on the brink of the net; during this minute, this exchange, the atmosphere could all tumble into badness. But not yet. They're still on my side. "Hey, man, could I ask you a special favor?"
"Could you guys...maybe wait till you step outside the bus to do that?"
He laughs behind dark sunglasses. "Sure."
The girl hears this and resists another slap, yelling, "he said wait!"
They step off, and we wish each other well. Husband Two says, "you're one of the coolest, man," with a hint of an accent.
I see Ernie driving the 1 and I pull up alongside him. We're always excited to see each other. I got on his 7 one evening and was thrilled- He greeted every passenger, looking them in the eye as I do! He explained to me his take on it: "it doesn't matter if they respond. What matters is that I put myself out there. I accomplished that." His happiness truly originates from within himself. He isn't depending on the passengers for good times. I'm not quite at that level. I deeply enjoy when my goodwill is received by them, or when it reflects back through them onto me. I mention something Roderick told me- "you put yourself all the way out there, and on these routes, you get a lot back." He agrees. We continue in this vein, and I share with him the definition of optimism I mentioned earlier (Purple J), and he eats it up. "Whoa, man. I need to sit with that for a moment. Let that sink in." He closed his eyes at the red light at Third and Main to more easily process. What a guy, I remember thinking.
Anyways, tonight I pull up alongside his route 1 and he asks about my night. "Fantastic," I say. In the nanosecond I say that I consider the yelling, the inappropriate behavior, and I know Ernie would agree- those things have no ability to make my night anything other than fantastic. They don't even register in my answer. "Hey, Ernie. The back window of my bus fell off."
"Yeah. Totally crazy. They barely touched it, and bam. Lying out on the road somewhere. I went back and got it."
"You know, it was it's time."
"It had reached it's time."
"Yeah. It had made it to the end."
"Today was it's day."
When I get to the last stop, I see the three kids in the back preparing to get off the bus. I blink and realize I can now only see two of them. Did that other kid just do what I think he did? "Hey, did he just climb out the back window?"
"Yeah," his friend answers.
What else would you do, I think. You're riding the only bus you'll ever ride that has no back window. Then, you get the only chance you'll ever have to climb out of a bus through a gigantic hole in its back. You don't want to miss out on that unique and once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Obviously. I'm not going to say if I did the same when I got back to the base, but I will say that I wasn't about to let a fantastic and unrepeatable one-time-offer of excitement go to waste.