"Hey! I got my Orca card…."
"I remember you guys, it's all good," I said.
"You seen us already. Well, you haven't seen him I guess, in the mask." It was a costume-store job, rubbery plastic, depicting a skull.
"You're all set to rob a bank!" I exclaimed. "Looks excellent!"
"Yeah!" the skull replied. "I'm like Hollywood Undead! Are you familiar with Hollywood Undead?"
"I am!" That's only barely true.
"Dude, you are the friendliest and kindest bus driver in the whole city. And you're like that every single time! He never changes. That's what's so cool about you."
I blow off the compliments, as I always do. Deflect, for the sake of sanity!
The be-skullled one chimed in: "Have you ever been, you should be driver of the year!"
"Dude, no! I'm too young! They only give that to older folks!"
"Age discrimination! Just because you're young doesn't mean you suck!"
At this moment, in his brain, it somehow made sense to start quoting from the Book of Revelation. He had entire passages down pat, and he wasn't letting up. He was a lost preacher in the bowels of the inner city, holding forth despite his short stature and rubbery Hollywood Undead mask, which entirely covered his face.
"In his right hand he had seven stars," he muttered darkly, his voice rising. Given what they'd been discussing earlier that night (see above-linked post), this new angle was decidedly unexpected. Ah, but the world contains multitudes. "And out of his mouth went a sharp two edged sword," he informed his highly captive audience, not loudly, but then again, not silently, either. He slurred the words from time to time, ramping out quickly: "and when I saw him I fell at his feet as dead and he laid his right hand upon me saying unto me, fear not; I am the first and the last, I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, amen–"
Mr. Tall interrupted. Great voice of reason, that Mr. Tall. I'm glad he was there. "Dude," he said to his friend. "Sometimes people get mad at that stuff. I know you don't ca–"
"I don't care!" replied Hollywood Undead.
"I know you don't care."
"I don't care. I'm a true believer, and only true believers–"
"Is that Revelation?" asked Tall, trying to distract him. Anything but more quotes!
"No. That was Revelation. This is John. And God so loved…"
It all ended well. Later on a twenty-something light-skinned African-American man with glasses came forward. He'd watched the proceedings. He said, "man, you should be driver of the year." His voice was quiet but potent. "You're the only one who like actually talks to people, cares about everybody. Really."
"Thank you! That brings me up!"
It's an accolade I don't feel I deserve. I'll take Rainer Avenue denizen Robert's less lofty, but infinitely more amusing "GUY UH DUH YEAR." I can see Robert's contagious smile now. Give Operator of the Year to the real giants– Greg, Brian, Nasir, Dawna, Jessie, Tony, Abdi, Ernie, Catherine, Sonum, Margolis, Joni, Abiyu, Billie, Aaron, Martha… I could go on. The faces who keep smiling, who keep caring night after night and year after year.
The job can indeed wear on you. The driving component eventually becomes very easy; it's the customer service element which never stops demanding the best from you, a continued mental effort as to how best to react, what to say, and how to think. Unless you make that effort, daily, the Fall will start to take place. The Fall is when you, slowly and without your realizing it, begin turning away from your better self and toward apathy. All customer service employees will understand this. It starts with you being quiet. Then you start being snarky, and later you start being ugly.
The scariest thing about the Fall is its insidiousness. Some of the operators above have gone through the Fall and come out of it as even better operators, but rising out of the Fall is tough, and frankly, rare. When something bothers you, and it's only a meager one on a scale of one to ten, you should still work on it. As in all of life: either change it or get rid of it, or barring those, rewire your thinking so it doesn't bother you anymore. The goal is getting along.
There are times when I feel the Fall pulling on me– generally when I've slept poorly or skipped a meal! The names above help me back, their waves and smiles from across the street. Those people, I think to myself. It's worth requoting Nietzsche: “It is not the strength, but the duration, of great sentiments that makes great men.”
As a public bus driver, your job is to try to be a saint. We can't actually be saints, of course, but– in the same way it's still good for you to try to touch your toes even if you can't, it certainly makes a difference to try to be a saint. You don't have to get all the way there.
It's just about getting further.