Photo by Tim Willis.
I'm going to hold off from posting for a week or so as I go into what some of my friends call hibernation mode– not sleeping, mind you, but preparing for my September 18th show, which promises to be different from all the ones previous! Meanwhile, I'll leave you with this, a collection of interesting moments I've had recently, which all strike me with the unexpected nature of how events sequence themselves....
What the uninitiated would call a "crazy lady" boards and sits near the front. She speaks to the air in front of her. Another woman with more regular brain function, strangely affluent for the 7 and somewhat out of place as a result, boards at Union without paying. "I owe you $2," she says by way of explanation, and sits next to the unstable speaker. She ends up earning her ride through much more useful means than paying me cash– she speaks to the rambling woman next to her and keeps her at bay, artfully engaging her and keeping the thread of decorum alive. She probably didn't know how valuable her presence would end up being on the bus, but I was very grateful. "This one's on the house," I said later.
"God bless you," says a thug at Henderson after I give his friend a transfer. He shakes my hand in the ebullient glow of acceptance. Two hours from now he will be in the Saar's parking lot, fighting another young man, smile gone and a crowd gathering.
Two young men in an unwashed beige four-door, let's call it a Honda or Nissan or somesuch, nothing fancy. They catch my eye as I jog across the street in Rainier Beach because one is black and the other is white, and both seem dressed like– well, as if they just applied to Dartmouth and both like listening to classical music and progressive talk radio. Less than twenty minutes later I'll see them again. The beige car will be smoldering and crumpled from the rear. They'll be standing outside, hands on hips and foreheads, nerves fraught and struggling for balance. But that hasn't happened yet. For now they're simply driving, laughing about something, carefree and present.
A wheelchair is rising up on the lift. One set of wheelchair seats is occupied by an older Muslim woman. The other is a white guy in a suit in his forties– the only white guy in sight, and currently the only fellow around with a suit. He remains motionless as the wheelchair enters. Seeing this, the Muslim woman offers her seat instead to the wheelchair. I stand and walk back to get the straps, and right as the Muslim woman is hesitantly moving out of the way, before I can catch myself, I've said it out loud to the Man in the Suit:
"You don't feel like movin'?"
When he stares slowly and doesn't respond I say "okay," and ask after the wheelchair lady's day. Prejudice earns my disrespect very easily, and I try to forget about it. I ought not to have said anything.
But he pipes up carefully and politely during a break in the conversation: "I actually just finished donating blood. I'm feeling, really woozy right now."
I stand there a second and take him in as an individual. He wasn't a rich white guy preening at all the colored folk around him. No, he was merely a guy, a guy working through some issues, like every single other person. How idiotic of me.
"Oh my goodness, okay. I understand. You're fine. You should relax."
"Oh yeah, let's get you home." Pause. "Listen, I didn't mean to be testy in my tone back there."
"Hey, you're okay. All you did was ask a question."
"Thanks for understanding."
He'll say the same to me when he leaves.
I'm sitting in my seat, turned completely around, elbow on the farebox, talking down two violently furious drunk men. Both have verbally assaulted myself, others, and each other, and will continue to do so with increasing intensity for much of the remaining ride. The police will prove particularly useless this afternoon, both in their failure to respond but more curiously in one officer's regrettable behavior to one of the principals as he boarded, thus instigating the debacle in the first place. I aim for that delicate mixture of asserting myself and remaining flexible, bending like reeds in the wind and never breaking.
One of the screaming men, drowning in a pathetic and ugly hostility, continually restates his former military status. I feel the heady rush of working, really working, struggling to stay on top of a situation. I wonder when I'll see this man again– probably sooner rather than later. I don't know that it'll be just a week, exactly a week, and although next Friday afternoon he will be unkind and unhappy, he will also be sober. He will sneak on the back, all rage and muscle, never mind the fare, tearing his own transfer in a rash of entitlement. But, as he deboards at Othello I'll say to him, without irony, "Thank you, Mister Navy Seal! Thank you for serving!"
And he will slow a little, disoriented and uncharacteristically appreciative, stumbling through words of gratefulness he's not used to using. His voice is an odd fit for "thank you," but he does his best. Confusion. I want to hug the guy, but as in hugging a porcupine, I have myself to consider. I hope he finds more of what is missing in his life.
Triangle Park, across from the Frye– the very same "it's-not-the-Frye-unless-there's-an-ambulance-out-front–" right in the heart of upper Pioneer Square, is not known for harboring commuters with an urgent need to catch specific buses to outlying destinations. Especially not at midnight. Nevertheless, tonight a runner streaks out of its dark recesses toward my stop at Prefontaine, right as that famously short light turns green. As I've said before, I've noticed many runners are "impulse riders" who don't actually need your specific route. They just need something going up a few blocks. But you just never know. His eager smile and hustle convince me to tarry– African-American man, bald, in a huge black sweatshirt with some sort of red lettering.
After some pleasantries, we're rolling. I'm curious. "Did you need the 49, or are you jus' goin' up the street?"
"I needed the 49. I just missed the 66."
"Well shoot, I'm glad you made it."
This man didn't just need the 49, as it turns out, he needed it clear to the end of the line! And, would you believe it, he ended up being a Metro employee! He cleans the buses every night, and we talked shop and life for the rest of the ride. I never would've guessed, him flying out of Triangle Park like that. Today was a double shift for him, and he mentioned in a complaining tone that upon arriving home, he won't be able to get to sleep instantly.
"'Cause my kids, man, they gon' ask how my day was...."
He says it in a tone indicating he knows he shouldn't be complaining, buuuutttt....
I cut in, exclaiming, "that's 'cause they love you, man!"
He grins, relaxing.
"Yeah, dude!" I continue. "They're gonna say how was your day, they gonna ask whatchoo did, you're gonna ask what they did, they'll probably show you some stuff, and it'll all be beautiful! It's the great human condition! You know!"
The girl sitting behind us, with the wavy auburn hair, smiles as she listens.
I won't be there, but my work will! You might see me on a 7/49 going by. This show is unique in that the art is amazingly, stunningly affordable! Information above. Stay tuned for an exciting new upcoming show at KAG as well!
They get on at inbound Campus Parkway, having just passed up a 71. "So I'm just goin' to Capitol Hill, not Downtown," I explain. We're a short 49, merely going down Broadway and eventually back to Base.
"What?" says the first man.
"That's fine, Capitol Hill perfect," says the other. "You go down Broadway, right?"
"See, Broadway," says the second fellow to his friend. "Perfect."
I hear the second man muttering. They're the only people on the bus– it's my last trip, a late-night short 49 to close out the evening. The pair strike me as first-generation African versions of the Odd Couple, or maybe Laurel & Hardy, except this time Hardy's not tall and heavy, but the short squat fellow. Just as self-serious though. Laurel in this case is the second guy, taller than in those classic films, lanky and very fit this evening, one of those folks you sense feels pretty jolly regardless of the circumstance. Hardy over here, not so much. He's muttering darkly. "Well, that 71 stops at Convention Place, which is closer. Had we known."
"Hey," Laurel pipes up. "Where you go on Broadway?"
"I go south on, I go all the way down Broadway to Jackson."
"See?" he says to Hardy. "That's perfect!"
"Excellent!" I say. "Where do you want to go?"
"On Pine, close to Broadway, but a little bit...."
I think he's about to say 'west,' so I cut in with, "like down by Belmont, Summit? Bellevue?"
"Yeah, over there."
"Oh, yeah. I'd say its about equidistant between the 71 and me. And this way you get to walk downhill!"
Stan Laurel smiles, revealing rows of shiny, spotless white teeth. In an East African accent he says, "my friend just don't want to walk! I'm blue collar, he is white collar!"
He and I laugh in solidarity.
"He's the bossman," Laurel continues. "Me, I got my running shoes,"
"You ready for anything!"
"You guys going home?"
"Yeah. Well, not yet. We make a stop first, my friend he wants to see some music." I can't get over the deep fearless baritone of his voice. One of those men whom you have no idea what their past life consisted of, but you better believe it required confidence.
"Excellent! Yeah, don't go home yet!"
"Yeah, is' just a small band, one of our friends, underground, but they're good, you know?"
"Sometimes that's the best!"
We fly up Harvard, approaching Roanoke, making that wire sing. Nobody's out here. I think about not inquiring further about their friends' show, in the name of respectfulness... but how lame that would be! "What are they called, what's the band's name?"
"Yeah, Third World."
"Cool! Thank you!"
"Yes, they play at the Baltic Room, on Monday nights."
"The Baltic Room yes, right over there,"
"Yes. Monday nights. Nowadays the interesting genres they play on weeknights. Reggae, International, this type of thing. And then the hip-hop, R&B takes over all the weekend."
Hardy's too busy sulking to take part in the conversation. He gets some good alone time peering out the window. Laurel and I, though, we could be anywhere– a ship's hold, back of a kitchen, janitor's closet, folding hotel laundry– all the nooks and crannies where the working folk air their opinions, listening and making hand gestures in forgotten rooms, all over the back sides of the city. Populations choosing to spend the in-between moments talking together, sharing something– life– in common. Wiping your forehead with a rolled-up sleeve. Aren't you glad to be alive in this world?
I'm nodding. "Friday Saturday, more normal,"
"More normal, yeah." Slightly pejorative and okay, just a little delectable tones from both us, as in, we both know there's more than just that type of music, and we feel snobbishly good about this.
"Well, that makes me feel good, because I have weekdays off."
"Perfect. Yes, lot of Somali musicians play here around town. Like Fatima [unintelligible] was just here in Seattle, she just played here."
"Fatima Djari...?" Who? What? I lose it in the noise.
"Yes, Fatima [unintelligible]. She's terrific, getting very popular. In huh twenties. The international music is great,"
"Expanding your horizons!"
"Exactly!" He leans forward and back, elbows on legs spread apart, too charismatic, too enthusiastic to fit in one passenger seat. We build on each other's energy.
"Yes," I agree, "because the world is so much bigger than just the, United States,"
"Yes! I tell my friend here–" heeah– "sometimes you have to listen outside your comfort zone!"
"Yes, and discover new things! I say, if you only ever listen to stuff you already like, you may never find things you absolutely love! Things you never would have guessed!"
We dissolve in a joyful ball of agreement, nodding furiously. Hardy looks out the window. He rolls his eyes when Laurel slaps him on the shoulder, trying not to smile.
Tenth Avenue and Newton. After a pause: "hey. How do you spell that name? Fatima I know, but the last name?"
"Oh yes." He spells it. Diawara. "She's great! Very fresh!"
"And then Third World, that will be easy for me to remember. Thank you! Now I have something new to listen to!"
"Yes, you will like it. They ah very different from each other."
Hardy speaks. "Hey, could you let us know the closest stop for Broadway and Pine?"
"It'll be this next one."
"Just if you could let us know the closest,"
"Why are you worried?" Laurel speaking. "Everything is fine! It is a short walk."
Good-naturedly: "Stop trying to make it seem like a far distance! We ah already here, I could get off now even and be right there already!"
It's clear now it's really the Laurel who wants to see the music, not his friend, as he first intimated. But no mind. They are a regular comedy duo, one forever happy, the other forever the opposite, an odd couple, griping and laughing their way through a good time. The second man reminds me of myself as a child. Remember those moments when your mother was doing everything she could to get you interested in trying this meal, or getting in the water, maybe taking off those training wheels? And then you discovered how much you loved it? We don't know at that age what lies beyond the comfort zone. I hope Mr. Hardy has a similarly and unexpectedly good time at the show tonight.
"Hey, wha's happening." That's me, greeting the OG's stepping on at Othello. The Valero gas station there is a 24-hour institution, a cultural fixture on Rainier, an landmark of commerce and questionable exchange as necessary to announce as Chase Bank and the Columbia Tower. It's never a question of whether there will be anyone at the zone, as there always are, even at 1am; it's a question of how many want to get on. Tonight we have a few takers. The last, a mixed African-American man with the wispy grey beard of a kung-fu master, stops and stares at me without responding to my greeting. Then, in a tone of incredulity, he says, "holy shit! Wha's goin on here? Ain't no way this is for real. I got to be checkin' for your license, 'cause ain't no way you old enough!"
It's a song I've heard before, and I respond with the line about the learner's permit. But this version of the conversation feels amped up to eleven. Certainly it's the first time he's seen me, and his emotions feel new.
Staring at me from the chat seat, thinking it out for a second: "and I know I ain't the first to say that shit either. But damn!" Daayumn. "You look younger than my youngest!"
"It's all for real, I promise! All on the level,"
"Ain't no fuckin way!" His tone is one who's witnessing something too good to be true, like he hesitates to believe. "I got a nephew who's eleven, and you dont look a day... man, where the camera crew at, 'cause I know this shit is a setup! People must be sayin' this shit to you all the time!"
"At least a couple times a day," I say, realizing it happens way more often than that.
"I'm surprised it ain't all day!"
"I guess it's about once a trip...."
"I'm 'bout to pull out some Doogie Howser shit, you know that, right?"
"Oh, I do!"
"How they HIRE you, bro?"
We're starting to come down off the initial high, and glimmers of reality enter the conversation–
"I remember thinkin', during the interview, there ain't no way they gonna hire me, 'cause I dont look like any of the other bus drivers! But they did!"
"Man, but man, you got a, honestly, you got a good thing– and hold up, you only half Asian, right?"
"Wow, you know me! Yeah, exactly!"
"Hey, it's the genes. Black don't... hold up." He pauses, then pronounces, "BLACK DON'T CRACK, BUT ASIAN AIN'T PLAYIN'." Authoritatively: "That's my new sayin'. I'm a roll with that. Black don't crack, but Asian ain't playin'. I knew a half-white guy once and he well, he weren't playin' cuz he wasn't Asian, but he definitely cracked. But you, holy shit, you got a double dose o' the good stuff...."
"Guess we got the genes,"
"I know you been down to the Caribbean, 'cause that's where they say the Fountain of Youth is. You really got that shit. I know some white women who would KILL you."
"I'm just tryin' to grow up and be like you guys!" Referring to him and one remaining passenger, an older black man who desperately wants to go Auto Zone. "I know that's right," Auto Zone says. I say something about how I love the job, that I started seven years ago but I still–"
"The– what? Am I believin' in what I just heard? Do mah ears deceive me? Did I just hear you say–"
The old guy interrupts with, "how long you been doin' the 7?"
"On and off since '09."
Our friend turns to the older gent. "Man, this guy got it goin' on. You'll be doin' somethin' else before long. I see you got some serious shit together. And man, when you turn sixty, dude, everyone gon' think you thirty."
I downplay his praise, and he downplays my modesty. I never thought about mortality so much until I started this job.
"Sometimes I wonder it'll happen overnight, I'll wake up look in the mirror have a bunch of grey hairs."
"Fuck that. You're good. How do you DO it? What the hell do you eat?"
"I'm just tryin to hit them fruits and vegetables!"
"No man, you be hittin' some BLACK shit, seriously...."
The older gentleman gets off, absolutely reeking of marijuana, and our friend good-naturedly ribs him for it: "Damn, I know where to come for the good shit. I know you got the good stuff, 'cause ain't nobody else left on the bus. And I know it ain't the muhfuggin' bus driver!"
Alone on the bus, he and I continue chatting as we go up the Prentice loop at the end of the route. His word choice is very street, but his enunciation and general air (plus that refined goatee) connote a formal education and more importantly, a wisdom gained from multiple fronts of life. I feel comfortable speaking what's on my mind.
"I had two fights today."
"Only two?" he says.
"See, you got a good attitude!"
"How did that, I mean how did it affect the running of your bus?"
"You know, it was okay. Everybody else was heeeeellla nice, and I think they appreciated, uh, me tryin' to level everything out, balance out the situation, you know?"
"Aw yeah, people appreciate that no doubt. You tryna keep it movin'. Motherfuckers out here don't like to put up with that bullshit. I smoke my weed, maybe drink a little too much sometimes, but I don't interefere with the commerce, you know? And dude, dudes out here got your back. For a dude like you, I'll fuck up anybody, man. I got your back. Anybody tries ackin some stupid shit, I be right there." Quite a few other brothers have told me this before, and there have been times when they have followed through with aplomb. "I'll give 'em the double elbow, send 'em flyin through the window for you if you need it. But we gotta be workin' in concert. You gotta have that door open just the right second–"
"Ezzactly. Send 'em flyin' out there, close the doors we be movin' right on away, we gone, ain't nobody gettin on the back doors,"
He's carried away in his daydream, and continues to explain hypothetical details. I'm thinking about how I like his use of the phrase "in concert." Not really the parlance one hears in fictional ghetto dialogue. Out loud I say, "you know what I like about the 7 is, is that respect goes a loooong way out here."
"Oooh yeah. And a long time."
"People remember stuff."
"My Uncle was for thirty years a Metro driver,"
"Well, but he was an asshole."
"And that shit just really don't work out here."
I think I like the 7 in part because it forces discipline. It's like balancing on a knife edge. My Father and I were recently discussing a certain 554 driver's unconscionable behavior toward a passenger, and we agreed that with his attitude he wouldn't last a second on the 7. The tolerance level for condescension and judgment out here is extraordinarily low. But if I'm patient and generous and capable, the rewards are tremendous. The gratitude is palpable.
"Birthday on the 25th," Isaac is saying, referring to himself. Isaac is in a work-release program at Burger King, and sometimes he pays me with food instead of fare. Why can't it be like that all the time?
"Twenty-fifth a coupla days ago, or next–"
"Next month, August. And my daughter turnin' sixteen on the 24th of August."
"Whoa, wow! Excellent. Sixteen. She'll be drivin' soon."
"She live in the area?"
We talk a bit more. I mention my birthday being in March, and the lively Filipino woman behind us inquires further: "March what?"
"Ooohhhh! My nephew, it's the 13th! And then my daughter-in-law, March 17th! Plus two others in my family, I'm surrounded by fishes!"
"That's good, right?"
"Well, my nephew, I told him if he turned out like the others I'd kill him with my bare hands!"
She's joking, of course. I think.
"Oh my goodness!"
"He turned out well. He's a good provider. Maybe too good."
"I don't have a family," I muse aloud. "Maybe one day."
"Oh why not?" asks the Filipino lady. She's very interested.
Oh dear, I think. Why did I say that? No time to get into it all. I give them the short answer: "I haven't found the right young lady yet!"
"That's because you work at night!"
A working-class Latino man sitting further back, halfway down, is listening and smiling. Filipino lady and I rib each other good-naturedly as she continues holding forth: "How can you expect to find a girl when you work at night? Of course you're single! Even a nice cute handsome guy like you–"
"But I like driving at night!" This gets a rich smile from the listening Latino man, who looks to work odd hours himself. Filipino lady's not having it, though–
"Then you need to meet a nice girl who works at a hospital! That's what you need to do. I know them. All you have to do is go to Virginia Mason. Seventh Floor."
"Oh, is that right? Is that where all the ladies are hiding?"
"I know everything."
"I'm telling you, Virginia Mason, there's plenty of wonderful nurses, very bright,"
"Up on the seventh floor, you said?"
"The seventh floor."
"Well, I guess if I ever wanted to meet someone, now I know where to go... the seventh floor?"
"Not the sixth floor?"
"I'm serious! You have no excuse now! I'm the matchmaker! I know where all the girls are. I have to look out for my grandsons when they come of age!"
"My parents will have you to thank if they have grandchildren!"
"Or at you know, Fourth and Seneca? I know where all the young women go–"
"Fourth and Seneca?? What's at Fourth and Seneca?"
"I'm telling you, I know these things. Hey. Isn't this weekend the big, the big you know, the fair,"
"Yeah, Seafair. So many women go to that. Everyone goes. All you have to do is go. What are you doing this weekend?"
Of course! Everyone– she, me, Isaac, the listening guy, burst out laughing. But I really am happy to be here. I enjoy hearing her silliness. In truth, I didn't say what would have ended our pleasant conversation– I love driving at night. I do the things I like to do, and trust in the universe to provide. It's worked out so far.
I'm helping a young black American family with the wheelchair seat at Fifth and Jackson. He's carrying laundry in tattered oversized Target plastic shopping bags. She's got her baby in one arm and a stroller in the other. I get out of the seat and make room for them, lifting up a chair or two in the front area. They're my buddies. I'm used to such textures on the 7, of life lived check to check, dirty clothes and smiles, relaxed standards for rules and language– it's a vernacular one gets comfortable with, but from the outside I imagine it can seem pretty uninviting. As I walk back up a young Chinese man by the front doors asks if I go downtown.
"We are downtown," I say. "Where downtown do you want to go?"
"Um. Uh." He motions for a young woman of thirty and her father to come over, at which point he vanishes.
"Come on in, come on in," I say to them in an impatient tone, thoughtlessly, hurrying them up. Why was I so concerned about making the light? What an unnecessary way to think!
"Hi," I say to her. "Where do you want to go?"
She and her father are Chinese too, very clean-cut. They're both crisply dressed, she in shades of cream, he in gray and blue, and they possess that distinctly Asian quality of demure, professional politeness. I'm reminded of my relatives. Not only are these two definitely not from around here, and lost on top of that, but they're clearly very much out of their depth on this bus and its distinctive milieu.
In a labored accent she asks, "do you go to 6th Street?"
"I go to 6th Avenue...where on 6th Avenue do you want?"
"Um, the Sheraton?"
"Come on in," I say in a friendlier voice, trying to mitigate my tone from earlier. "Do you know where on 6th Avenue that is?"
"It's on 6th avenue...."
"Do you have an address? It's a long street."
"Yes. I'm sorry."
She's stressed but quiet, looking it up on her phone. "It's so hard to take a cab here."
"Yes." I feel bad for rushing them– for how it makes them feel, but also for how it makes me feel. Out of character.
"I'm sorry," she says again as she waits for her phone.
"Maig wun tshee," I reply. No problem.
"You speak Chinese!"
"Just a little!" Pause. "How is your day today?"
"It's fine. We are just lost."
We sort out where it is, and I tell them I'll let them know when we get there. Meanwhile, the bus fills up while emptying out, that glorious sensation you get on through-routes, where as you traverse downtown, there's a double load on the same bus: the crowd getting off from riding the 7, and the crowd getting on for the 49. A humming bustle of activity. I think about how they must be seeing all this, taking it in for the first time. This will live as part of their memory of Seattle. This crowd, and myself, represent Seattle for them right now. I should've been nicer when they got on, I'm thinking. We visited Seattle and were lost and uncomfortable, and the bus driver was in a hurry and didn't seem to want to help.... How boring. How predictable. I make a point of making it a good ride through town. Throw all your energy into it, and don't worry about having energy for later– that'll come of its own accord, compounded on the good time you're having now. Do it like there's nothing between you and death except this ride. Shouldn't I at least try to make this the best bus trip they'll ever have in Seattle?
I put an extra pizzazz into the announcements, letting the enthusiasm grow and build, greeting everyone with focus, waving big at the other drivers, feeding off their energetic responses. Leave the stress behind. There's more to you than that. We weave up Third Avenue, smooth, and I use the mic to keep people informed of the locations, the time, the turns, and underneath it all, my gratitude and enthusiasm at being here. Hyper-present.
At 4th & Pike I stand up, blocking the incoming masses, getting their attention again– "So this'll be the one for you!"
"Oh, thank you," she says. "Let's go out the back," she motions to her father.
"Oh, come on up it's okay, I'll show you which way to go."
After explaining how to get to the Sheraton, I say, "welcome to Seattle!"
"Thank you! Tsai-chiyen!" Goodbye!
Her demure smile expands richly, ebulliently, eyes lighting with recognition at hearing her native language. There she is. I miss the traffic light and am glad for it. A few more runners make the bus, and this is good. Let me flow with the people, not against them. I watch the pair cross the street, daughter and father. They're looking up now, in a direction I can't see, marveling at the city. No longer lost, they can pay attention to their surroundings in a different way. They tarry on their walk without a care, taking everything in, feeling comfortable now that they know where they're going. Acceptance. I tap the horn as I drive past. She looks over just in time to see my big wave.
They stand together and apart, in amiable silence. Looming off to the side, a benevolent spectre at the far end of the field, are the banner years, stenciled proudly on the side wall. Home of the Vikings, it reads, in a font from another time.
On the astroturf the players run and run again, combinations of yellow and orange ever circling, hot uniform colors against deep green, pushing that ball up the yard lines, pushing and following it, teenage boys moving in and out of focus. They rest with hands on hips during the corner kicks.
I'm watching from the sidewalk. The spectators, players, their families and the rest make up the half-full crowd, mostly here for each other, a low-stakes game early in the season. I feel transported, looking about at the vivid primary colors; everyone here is East African. The African-Americans and Asians walk by, uninterested. Clearly they don't know what they're missing. When I'm in countries new to me, it's the commonalities underneath the superficial differences which warm my heart. A friend once told me, "no matter who's in front of you, whatever emotional state they're in, you have felt the seed of that emotion also."
Today I'm drawn in by the atmosphere. They say French films are consistently good because they so ably capture and explore the commonplace, and it's the relaxed, ordinary-day ambience of this game which grabs me. Somebody else's normalcy- what could be more interesting?
Fathers and their friends stand on the sidelines, dressed in kanzus or Ethiopian dashikis. Dad's wearing sunglasses, talking business on the phone, like you or me. Here's the security guard making his rounds, trying to be serious. Scattered respectful clapping from the audience. Players on the bench watch the field, tracking the ball with steady eyes. The bench has several risers, and the boys sprawl out on different levels, some sitting back on the ground, sharing time in comfortable, focused silence, speaking English when they feel like it. You get the sense of skill being casually celebrated, taken in stride, weeks of hard practice finding voice in that one block or kick, acknowledged by your peers with a respectful upward nod. The gesture is small, but means a lot.
Sideline chat builds and subsides till the whistle blows, marking the end of first half. The water bottles and phones come out, spit on the field, girlfriends and friends descending from the stands. Toddlers on the track, players practicing for fun, somebody jogging in place on the sidelines; little mini-worlds all over the field. Sounds carry further in the summertime.
Dad is off the phone now. Several feet away, behind him, are two of his friends, slightly older. He sees them and does a little victory dance, hands in the air and hips swinging, with some serious western-style booty-shaking to close it off. Really getting into it. In his traditional clothing and refined appearance this hedonistic display is totally unexpected. His friends laugh hard, one making a dismissive but affectionate hand wave, as in, "get outta here!"
Soon it's time to resume the game. The players come together for the huddle, breaking after a team shout containing multiple languages. They argue over an offsides call; they cheer for an exceptional kick; lighthearted grey clouds watch from overhead all the while. Somebody trips and falls. A player from the opposing team helps him up. There's a nod of thanks between the two, and they're casually moving on now, part of it all. The gesture is small, but it means a lot.
A Native man, older, moves up to the front as the crowd thins out.
"How's your day goin'?"
"Oh, great," he says as he plops down in the chat seat. "I saw the parade last night."
"Yeah? How was it?"
"It was beautiful. So much to look at, so much to see. I saw the people with their tricks and floats, the cops with their trick horses. People doin' their tricks. Fire, bowling pins."
"But you know what I really saw, was I saw the people, watching the performers, and for a minute there, no matter what race, or color, or age, or background, they were all one people, watching together. Whether they were black, white, or native, we were one people." A wistful edge to his voice. Sounds right up my alley.
"I'm so glad you got to see that, and you put it very well. You describe it perfectly." I'm reminded of Norman Rockwell's later work, the socially conscious stuff art critics often forget he did. "I didnt get to see it myself, but I drove them home, and it was just as you say, everyone united in feelin' good, kids with balloons, you know."
"Yeah, I really love this city." Earlier he'd explained how he's new here, exploring, down from Alaska. "My wife and I are thinking about moving here for a year. I want to explore all this city has to offer."
"Oh yeah do it! I love this place. the longer I'm here, the more I like it. I'm from California." The neighborhoods are so distinct from one another, I tell him enthusiastically. I talk about how Seattle seems to reveal itself in phases, layers peeling away to reveal people and places you didn't realize were always there. I remember doing a project at school on Rainier Valley, and none of the educated college hipsters in my class had ever even heard of the place, despite its prodigious size and its bustling labyrinth of ever-churning life. And they felt they were generally well-versed in knowing Seattle. I hope they learn of its treasures in time. There's more to the city than Capitol HIll and the U-District!
"So this is sort of the main drag, and then over here is where you can catch the 44," I say as we arrive at 45th and the Ave. He'd been looking for a place to catch the 44 that was conducive to people-watching. The stops on 15th were "way too boring," and this seemed like a better bet. We shake hands. He is Glen. "Nathan, that's a nice name. What is that, Old Testament, or New?"
"I think Old."
"Yeah, he was friends with who, King Solomon, right?"
"Yeah, his advisor, something..."
"Yeah. Well, I might see you later. How late are you out?"
"Midnight or so."
"Be careful drivin' tonight." With a wink he adds, "some of these guys drive like they're from California!"