In any event, we were sitting toward the front of the long room that formed Pho 900. To access the bathroom, you'd have to walk down the length of the room, past all the other tables, to the very back, where the bathrooms were. Midway through the dinner I did so.
As I walked through the restaurant, past the tables, I glanced out among the people. It would not do to have one's head bowed. One must wear the uniform with pride. Directly in front of me, in my line of travel, was a table occupied by a man in his 40s and two women, perhaps in their 30s. The man, who happened to look exactly like an American version of the great French actor Mathieu Amalric, watched me with a half smile. I nodded a friendly return as I walked past.
It is easy to forget exactly how public the job is. If I walk through downtown Seattle, someone will recognize me. I'll no doubt see at least one person I know, probably more. The wonderful thing about this fame, unlike most fame, is that it derives from first-person experience only. They know me only because they've hung out on my bus before, not through secondary or tertiary evidence like newspapers and magazines. It is therefore free from most of the drawbacks that come with widespread recognition. For me, it's an honor to be known amongst these denizens of the street, these working people, these walks of life. I would prefer no other group of humanity to be a part of.
As I returned from the bathroom, and am now walking back to my table, way up there, where my former lady-friend is waiting, I see that table again- Mathieu Amalric and his women are looking at me. I decide to say hello, and we get to talking. It turns out Amalric rides my 43 on occasion, and he was telling his ladyfriends how much he enjoys my service, and continues explaining the experience to them- "he says where everything is, and he says hi to everyone- no, I mean, everyone-" and so on. They ask some questions, and we get into an enjoyable discussion about the specifics of security, of kindness, of routes, coach types- but more than anything we were simply making sounds of friendliness, souls bumping into each other in this rainy city, finding solace in acceptance and generosity. It was a warm feeling, and I bade them all a great rest of the evening as I returned to my table, apologizing to my date for keeping her waiting.
Former Ladyfriend and I resumed our amiable shared space together, and were slowly finishing out our meal as Mathieu Amalric and his women left the restaurant. I had told her about the conversation I'd just had with them, and we all smiled at each other. "You have a great night," he said, putting on his hat and walking out the door.
The rest of the dinner went smoothly, and she and I sat around for another half an hour, spending a good amount of time talking about Mathieu, about the impact we can have on others, the pros and cons of wearing the uniform, and so on. We sipped our tea, we talked about her job, we talked about movies. The staff cleared our table and wished us a good night.
Reading this, you may have already guessed what happened next, but I certainly didn't.
I went up to pay the check, and discovered that I didn't need to- Amalric had already done so, long before! I couldn't believe it! I couldn't believe it! And he hadn't said two words about it. That crafty fellow! I was floored. He had paid for our entire table. I just couldn't handle it. I ran outside to see if he still nearby- no dice. No way to thank the guy, no way to find him, nothing to do but enjoy it- the gesture, the appreciation, the sheer notion that somebody would even want to extend such selfless kindness your way. It was humbling.
I never saw him on the 43 again.
Almost two years later, however, he did show up on the 5. I recognized him instantly, and vice versa. I thanked him, thanked him, and thanked him again. I told him how I ran out into the street looking for him right afterwards, and how I'd hoped I would one day get a chance to thank the guy, and here we were. He brushed it off, laughing, saying that my service on the bus counts for so much more. I went right on as if I hadn't heard him. Somehow I just can't get over stuff like this. I can't. It's the gesture. It isn't the issue of money so much as it is the intent behind it, that reaches me so. Little does he know, if I ever see him in a restaurant again, his meal's paid for.