Back to our regularly scheduled program:
Everyone else has left. Just a few souls remain, scattered throughout the big articulated coach as we continue toward up to Prentice Street, the neighborhood loop which concludes the 7 route in Rainier Beach. This middle-aged gentleman creeps up front, seemingly hesitant as to whether or not to engage with me until I brightly ask him how he's doing. He happily responds in the affirmative and adds,
"Man. Every time I been on your bus I feel like a tourist."
"I hope tha's a good thing!"
"It is. I remember twenty-seven, twenty-eight years ago I come here. I'm from (unintelligible), Texas, where there's no public transportation."
"Okay, a small town,"
"And ah remember comin' here the first time, list'nin' to the black bus driver tellin' us all, on your right we have Othello Street, on our left we have Seattle Center, an' I felt so loved, so at home, in this new place,"
"That sound's beautiful! I want it to feel welcoming. Make the folks feel comfortable."
"Oh yeah. Absolutely. Think I'll stop at KFC."
"KFC sounds good."
"Yeah, I'll just cross the street."
Sometimes a line like that is our last.
"I'm goin' to tha store," he says.
"Takin' care o' business!"
"Das all I been doin'! I been on my feet all day long." Awl. "I din' even get to watch the game!"
"Look at you, stayin' busy on a Sunday!"
"Yeah! But I be there for the next game!"
And so he went, still visible behind me in the blind-spot mirror, a tiny figure crossing the street unharmed, making it hour by hour through another ordinary day.
My body is tired, but more than that, my soul is exhausted from travelling. It's been a whirlwind, this year: New Years Day started off with me on a plane to Milan, for three weeks in Italy; then a quick trip out to Philadelphia (a good friend) and Washington, DC (a killer art show); numerous trips down to LA, for a variety of reasons filling out the highs and the very lows of the emotional spectrum; Mexico (my Aunt!) and Cuba, which had it's own element of challenge (read/images below); and now, Paris in the Autumn, for two weeks, one week right before the attacks and the other immediately following. Perhaps you've read the post just below detailing some of my experiences out there.
Not that I'm complaining. I count myself unimaginably fortunate, not simply to have had the opportunity to take all these wonderful journeys, but to have made it back alive from each of them. I've always felt it a welcome surprise to return in one piece from an international expedition, while simultaneously finding the thought a bit silly; after all, driving a bus is more dangerous than going on vacation, and driving a car is more dangerous than driving a bus. But such logic stands feebly in light of my recent experiences.
I recall nights standing on Wilshire Boulevard in LA, waiting for the bus home, and witnessing a lot of car accidents. I remember thinking, it is such an unimaginable stroke of good fortune that nearly every single one of the twelve million people living in the LA Metro area are going to make it home tonight through all this madness, completely unscathed. One person not making it is still a tragedy, but that many people getting home safely in this madhouse is definitely still a miracle.
What do we do? Do we shut ourselves off from everything? Do we stay indoors, avoiding the slippery bathtub, never turning on the oven, never going out… complete safety is impossible. We simply have to continue, taking cues from what the universe seems to suggest, putting some trust in it, aware but not afraid, and go about our lives doing things which are meaningful to us.
This is the beauty of the human organism, that we keep getting up. It's how we step outside of fear.
So, I imagine I will travel again, and I will enjoy doing so.* But not for a while. I'm taking a good long break from listening to countless announcements about how Delta Airlines wishes me a pleasant stay, or how the seat-backs and tray tables need to be returned to their upright and locked position, or about how Seattle Tacoma International Airport welcomes me, and is a non-smoking facility. I like airports, and find them one of the better metaphors for life at large, but I'm ready to relax and burrow into Seattle with detail: I compare it to taking a 400-level class in one place, rather than skimming the surface of the globe in a 101 course.
The most surprising thing about all this for me has been the tidal wave of concern for my whereabouts during the ~72 hours I was unaccounted for. I honestly never imagined so many people would've given my absence much thought, or taken such effort to find me. To hear the lengths taken by my family and friends, many of them working together for the first time, involving the US Embassy, French Police, CNN and other news networks, and much more humbles me beyond words. I travel without electronics and didn't tell people of my plans or location, and the networking they (you!) did to find me is impressive.
For me, it was just a sleepy interruption in the wee hours, somebody waking me up from the bottom of a bunk bed in a dark room on the third floor of a nondescript building off of Rue d'Atlas, some guy from CNN explaining things to me as I wriggled out of grogginess, asking me questions to confirm I was alive, that I was indeed myself. I had no idea that moment was built out of a huge multitude of friends and entities working together, or that my sleepy mutterings of a response meant so much to so many. Any words I of thanks I can summon up now will fall awfully short of how I feel.
I'm excited to share a few specific bus stories with you over the next week with some more substance than the brief encounter outlined above. Paris pictures and thoughts will need time to process (that's both mental processing and film developing I'm talking about!). For now, please understand as I wade through several hundred unread emails and notifications and calls, each of which I count myself lucky to have received, let alone be able to receive. Thank you again.
And now, off to my first night-shift on the 7 since I got back! Ah yes, that's the ticket….
*Please don't be cowed into not travelling by an overenthusiastic newsmedia. Says Mark Twain, from Innocents Abroad: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”