A sullen teenage couple sits at the very front, watching me interact with all the incoming people, and I take pleasure performing at my best in front of them. Especially the guy. It's me sending an implicit message to him: from one young person to another, you don't have to be a pissed-off badass to be respected. You can just be. In fact, you can be the opposite of a pissed-off badass, and open up to all these strangers and treat them kindly and be happy- and still be respected, often by the same guys you're trying to win over by looking pissed off.
"Alright now. There it is," I say to two thugged-out B-boys hulking beside me, preparing to deboard. We're pulling up to their stop.
"Good-lookin,'" says the first.
"Ey, thanks, man," says the second.
"You have a good night!"
The pissed-off guy looked confused, and left the bus in sullen bewilderment.
At 20th outbound a girl stepping off comes up and says, "I just wanna say, you are like the best bus driver ever." Someone seated affirms it, and this unlocks what has been a somewhat quiet ride. Voices start popping up, and there's a back-and-forth between myself and those around at the front. I try to brush off the compliments, and we're chuckling. I've already completely pulled out of the 20th zone, back on the road, when the 3 behind me honks, as if to transfer passengers.
My mood has me predisposed to feel generous, and I pull over under totally egregious circumstances, blocking everything, not even sure what's going on here; I'm thinking to myself, "would that 3 really be honking to transfer people after I'd already long left the zone? He has to know there's just a snowball's chance that I would even stop..." I ask some folks on the sidewalk if any passengers are running up to my bus- it's dark by now- and yes, someone is, here she comes-
"Heeeyyyy!" I say, recognizing the woman boarding as she recognizes me and grins, out of breath. She another bastion of the community, along with Dee and Favorite. An older woman, light-skinned, with big brown eyes and a sharp outfit and hat- as per usual for her. She's most easily identified by her bright, warm smile.
The bus laughs at my elated response, and as she settles down we, the bus, continue our conversation.
"He's so cute!" Somebody says, referring to me. I roll my eyes.
"Oh, I don't know about all that!"
"Yeah you are," she repeats. I'm a little glad I can't see who it is.
"I'm gonna let you guys decide that!" I say as they laugh. To change the subject I ask the warm-smiling older woman how she's been.
"I've been great, and how are you? You're back! Are you back?"
"I am back! I've been trying to get this route a couple times now, but it wasn't happening. I was on the 7 for a while- which I like, and then I did the 358, which I also like, but now I finally made it back here and this is beautiful..."
"That's probably what he says to everybody!" she says to the captive audience.
"No, no, no," I say, beaming. "I keep comin' back to this route over and over, that's how you know! That's how you know it's true!"
She admits there's a certain logic there.
"Why?" a woman behind me inquires. I pull up to the red light at 23rd and Jefferson.
"This is just the most fun route. There's a sense of, community, out here that other places just don't have," I say, turning around and catch the eye of an older brother with designer glasses. He smiles and nods, understanding completely. "Like this, all this conversation we're having," I continue, "people talking to each other, knowin' each other's names, you're just not gonna find that anywhere else." I look at Warm Smiling Lady: "See, I am telling the truth!"
"Food smells good," I say to a wheelchair caregiver and his bag of takeout.
"Egyptian," he says proudly.
"Where's the restaurant?"
"Lake City." He says the name, which sounds monosyllabic, but I don't catch it.*
I still do my own announcements, as many of you know; at one point the automated voice tries to start talking right before I interrupt it to do it myself. Sometimes I wonder what passengers think about this- I don't usually interrupt the robot if she's already started talking.
"See, he turns off the automatic thing," the older brother's ladyfriend says to him.
"Yeah, I like to do them myself," I say.
"It keeps me awake!"
"I know tha's right!"
"Yeah, it keeps me sharp, helps me remember what I'm doin.' Plus, man, listening to that robot lady talk for eight hours..."
They die laughing.
"She be all talkin' about 'orca card vending machines-"
"And it's like, we already know that stuff!"
A middle-class Caucasian passenger- the only one- has been smiling along the whole time, occasionally commenting, feeling right at home amongst all of this. She's in her fifties, dressed smartly, and it feels like we're in a special room, or a holiday of sorts, where race doesn't exist and there is simply the universal human culture we all build from, dressed and realized in different ways. I see her and the light-skinned Warm Smile Lady discussing something. "You've been an absolute delight," she says to me as she steps out.
Back at Harborview, a man wanders over from the Emergency Room and boards. "How are you today?" I ask.
"Hey, you and me both!"
"Yeah man, that makes two of us!"
"In order to be a bus driver, you gotta be..."
"Completely nuts. Like I am! I love this place!"
Oh, it's great to be back. It begins. See you all soon!
*Can any of you help out here? I'm at a loss to recall any Egyptian restaurants in Lake City. There's the Import Market at 12528, but I don't they cook meals. Any ideas on what he might have been referring to?