So I'm driving the 3/4, southbound from Queen Anne. It's around 10am. Doing the route in this direction is fun, because it gradually gets more interesting as the route progresses. Nothing ever happens in Queen Anne (which is fine, I guess), but as we come off the hill and into Seattle Center things begin to get lively. At Broad a grizzled man in his late fifties steps on, with clear blue eyes and silvery stubble, the picture of an aging sailor, save for his tan trenchcoat, stained and torn from life spent on the street. He's off to the jail for his daily sign-in; he's on an extended probation where he has to physically clock in every weekday at an appointed time.
We chat about that, and about his love for movies- "You like films?" He asks me, enthusing further when he discovers I do. "I love films too! God, I just love the movie Jackass. D'you know Jackass, have you seen Jackass?"
I have not seen Jackass.
"Yeah, it's great. My friends and I make films, too."
"Oh, really! No way!" I'm excited at the shared interest. Or perhaps not quite so shared-
"Yeah, we make 'em just like Jackass, dude. There's this great building right off a Aurora in Green Lake, and we go behind there and get the camera out, and start doin' all this dumbass shit! Jumpin' over fences and shit..."
Such enthusiasm from a man his age and appearance excites me. Never mind that he sounds like kids I didn't hang out with in junior high school. It's the light in his eyes, the joy he feels about describing the act of creating something. I ask him how long he's been making films, how many, whether it was a tight-knit group or just something that happened. He encourages me to go there, "just behind some of the bars, next to the crazy-ass fence. We go there real late on Monday nights."
I haven't found time to check the place out.
Also at Seattle Center a young hipster gets on, dressed in a fitted red button-up sweater, bracelets, and a knit cap. White guy with a smartphone, but friendly enough, giving me a quiet smile. One of those guys you see walking around Capitol Hill.
At Bell we begin to fill up. I continue chatting with Grizzled Jackass-Loving Sailor, mostly about his probationary requirements. An extremely large man of ambiguous heritage takes the steps one at a time. When I say extremely large, I mean that he could be a capable sumo wrestler if he so chose. He seems nice enough. The section on Third from Cedar to Pine, inbound, is fun because the Queen Anne people are still on board, and they want nothing to do with the rollicking adventures of the Harborview crowd, who have begun to enter and are making their presence felt. You gotta love these guys.
Gradually the Queen Anne group filters out as we roll down Third, and the bus balloons into a standing load. We are a wayward collection of humanity, just the way I like it- a lot of conversation, not just by me but amongst the people. Lifts, walkers and questions- interaction. Feeling useful and alive.
As we rise up the hill, approaching the stop for the jail, Grizzled man stands up, but that's not what's interesting. Big sumo wrestler man is grabbing on for dear life, but that's not it either. It's the young hipster with the red sweater.
The bus is pitched uphill at what feels like 45 degrees (actually 18.3%), and slowing to a stop at the zone. I'm concentrating on keeping it smooth, braking with the power pedal and hill holder. Red hipster is inching his way forward through the crowd, searching for the front door. He climbs up to where I am, grabs onto the grab bar, leans forward a little to maintain balance, and- and-
Vomit spews out of his mouth as if gravity never existed. It looks like split pea soup mixed with urine and feces, and smells like milk from a year ago. Because of the angle of the hill, it flows downward immediately- a watery, putrid cocktail of gastric acid and bile; the kind of vomit that makes you vomit. Better hope you weren't wearing open-toed shoes or sandals today. There is confusion, and then there is pandemonium.
Thanks to a couple of inches, none of it is on me. I grasp the mic and revel in the chance to restore order. "Alright my friends, this bus is now unsanitary. We're gonna call this an unsanitary coach; let's go ahead and use that backdoor to get outta here, and shortly..."
It's a recipe for panic, but you can keep the mood if you keep them informed, and make your good attitude known. It also helps to appear competent. I look twelve, so I have to work a little harder at that.
The vomiter is probably expecting to a talking-to or a brushing-aside. I want to counter the embarrassment he probably feels, and step off the bus after everyone else to spend a few moments with him, chatting and giving him paper towels and making sure he's okay. I wait for a supervisor and laugh off the incident with a few other passengers. This is partly because its my instinct to do so, but also because there's no way I'm getting back inside that bus. Split pea soup is officially wiped from the menu for several months. In time the great Titus shows up to give me a ride to another bus.
"He really let it go in there?"
"Oh, man. It let go of him!"
"Yeah, man. It smelled...good, dude."
He laughs. "I know whatchu mean!"
It wasn't the guy going to jail, or the big unpredictable sumo guy, or the people in walkers...it was the regular, healthy-looking, well-spoken young fellow who got on in Seattle Center. There you go. In a way this was comforting. Gotta break down those stereotypes.