"Usually, yeah. Hopefully!"
"Yeah, 'cause if you think about it, it's a great route to fall asleep on. The route's so long. You get a full hour of nap time and at the end there's another bus to bring you right back, and the service is frequent enough that you don't have to wait too long. Plus there's Costco up there, and they have pizza."
It is true that the 358 is sleeper heaven in a way that many other routes are not. You, the sleeper, want a nice long route that takes you somewhere that's either interesting, or that you can come back from. The Owls are great, because they do giant loops around the city and bring you right back to where you started. There's an art to it, and new homeless people can learn the ropes on how to "do" the Owls from more seasoned sleeper veterans. Sleeping takes skill when you've hit bottom.
During the day, the 522 is good and comfortable, but it drops you off in the middle of nowhere; the 150 used to be a good option but those new South Base vehicles have seats that you can't sleep in- instead of a seat cushion where your head goes there's a skinny metal bar. Forget that. The RapidRide downtown would be a killer sleeping vehicle (long, frequent, good end points) if it weren't for the same reason- annoying antisleeping seat design. The 358, on the other hand, is out of North Base, where the old buses go, and old buses still have the comfortable seats.
I take it as a compliment when someone falls asleep on my bus, because it means that I've been driving smoothly. However, it's no one's favorite task to have to wake these guys up. Usually you and the sleeper are the only ones on the bus at this point, and you're not supposed to touch people, because people can react violently when woken. Boy, do they ever. Once on a 7 (at 8am!), as I was taking the bus back to base, I noticed a strange dark shape in the middle of the bus that moved slightly during hard turns and stops.
It was a young gentleman who was completely and utterly unconscious. Nothing I did could rouse him, and I actually wondered if he was still alive. I asked for some police to come wake him up, and three King County Sheriffs, together, were almost unable to get this fellow off the bus because of how berserk he went upon waking. He flailed and punched and screamed and wailed, filled with animalistic raging power as he attempted to destroy the officers, the seat, and the bus all around him. Must have been one really bad dream.
In my earlier Metro days, I didn't have any idea how to wake people up. I would walk to the back, where they were, and clap my hands, or make some kind of noise, and then yell, "last stop!"
This is not good. Nobody wants the first thing they hear upon waking to be someone yelling "last stop" at them. It's annoying. I remember a drunk teenage girl in the back of the 252 just staring at me after hearing that. She slouched in her seat a little further. She got off the bus at the next stop, but I could tell she didn't want someone yelling at her- this instinctively makes you want to disobey. On another occasion, a large, sweaty man on the 245 layover in Factoria could barely hear my entreaties. As a newbie, I was nervous, and I wonder if he could sense that. I called for assistance and learned something valuable from the Bellevue Police Officer who showed up:
This guy didn't yell at all. As I watched, he, the officer, walked back to where this (huge) guy was, and said to him in a normal speaking voice, "how's it going?"
The guy looked up and said, "uugh-uuhhhh-uhh."
That was all it took. The officer then said something kind and helpful, explaining about how this was the last stop, and if he knew where he was, and so on. He ended by wishing the swarthy gentleman a good day.
You glean things from the most unlikely sources.
The officer had treated the guy like he was a friend of his. He'd asked after his well-being. He hadn't condescendingly yelled at him like he was a drunk teenage girl. I felt like an idiot. Afterwards, I've approached every sleeper in the same way. I still clap loudly, or bang on the back of their seat, but I always speak in a normal tone and make requests instead of demands. It works a thousand times better. I'm amazed at how they can almost always hear my calmly-voiced "hey, how's it goin," which is what I ask even before I make any loud noises.
Anyways, today I walk to the back of my 358 at 5th and Main to check for bodies and iPhones, and I smile and think of Mathieu Amalric and his comment about ten sleepers on any given 358- in the back today we have not one sleeper but two, both out cold, doing the same thing on either side of the bus. Both would make great portrait subjects, so detailed and many-layered is their filth and grime. One had gotten on at 115th, drunk but quiet, and here he was in a stupor, complete with drool, matted, greasy, overgrown hair, with a dirty, torn, pockmarked jacket, kleenex and paper falling out of his pockets. Sprawled out. A living monument, a resting giant, a sleeping tiger- call him what you will.
The other fellow, 55 perhaps, seated on the other side and a row of seats closer, was pitched forward against the seat in front of him, so I couldn't initially make out his face. The back of his head and neck was interesting enough, though, what with the curly, unwashed hair, some silver strands reflecting in the light- age finds us all- and a green jacket covering layers of other clothing, sweatshirts and undershirts, all with drenched and sodden collars. Crusty. If you have nowhere to put your wardrobe, you have to wear it all. He was still wearing his massive backpack, which was splitting at the seams, and newspapers were all around him, packages of condiments littering the floor, spilled drinks and scraps of food filling out the picture.
It was positively baroque.
I remember riding the 174 as a child, as I often did, and noticing that the street guys occupied a lot of space, what with their bags and jackets and paraphernalia. I've always thought it would make a great painting. Here, I thought, there's so much detail. You would want Jacques Louis David to paint this, or maybe Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. Those paintings where the closer you go to the painted surface, the more details you notice.
Anyways, I did my usual thing.
"How's it goin,' guys." CLAP CLAP.
"Yeah, we made it to the end. Can you hear me okay?"
"Yeah, we made it to the last stop."
I didn't even have to ask if I could ask them to step outside for me.
"Thank you," Drunk Quiet Man says, stirring from his position in the imaginary David painting I had situated him in. The other guy, Pitched-Forward Guy, took longer. I gave him a second to get his things together. I left both doors open and went back to the front to prepare the coach for the next trip.
"Hey," he said after a moment. "Thank you, I'm sorry about that."
"I'm not in very good shape. I huuh-huuhhh-huu."
"It's all good."
"I left a bunch a condiments back there, dude. And some other stuff on the floor. I'm sorry about that."
"Oh, that's fine." Mainly I was just excited about how he was awake. Ketchup and mustard packages on the floor are the type of thing you complain about if you drive the 238. On the 358, they're not even on your radar. "Have a good day now, be safe."
"Yeah, I will. Thank you." He said it with sincerity. Oh, things like that warm my heart.
I walk back to the bus to see exactly what he means by "a bunch a condiments and other stuff." It's actually a pretty accurate description- no live fluids, just newspapers, junk mail, and little packages of honey mustard, sweet and sour, and barbeque ("extra spicy").
I also see a wallet. It clearly belongs to him- the reduced fare permit, the orca card, the tattered condition. I grab it and run out the door, down the block, around the corner, searching. Where's the guy dropping litter everywhere who would look good in a Jacques Louis David painting? There he is, mingling with the masses at 5th and Jackson. I was just about to lose him. I sprint up to him and offer him the wallet, breathlessly, saying only, "hey."
He recognizes it instantly and beams. Life courses through his veins and out his crisp blue eyes, probably the only crisp thing about the guy, but there they are. He musters a "thank you" that carries a verve and force no actor could replicate.
"All better now," I say.
"Man, I'd hug you, dude," he says, pausing mid-sentence. The unspoken end of the sentence is, "if I wasn't covered in filth that makes me look perfect for an Andrea Arnold movie."
"It's all good, man. I'm glad you got it back!"
"You're glad! I'm glad!"
We wish each other well. No commuter has ever looked at me with the kindness that emanates so naturally from him. I go back to my bus and check the bus one last time and- there's something else down there, by all the sweet and sour packages. It's his medical card. Medical cards take forever to replace, and they cost money. I run out the door once again, sprinting down the block, tearing around the corner, hoping he's not another bus yet-
"Thaaannnkkk you," he says, seeing me run up again and understanding what I'm holding out to him. "Thank you" doesn't even cover it. He's overjoyed, not in an ebullient way, but in a quiet, heaving sigh of thankfulness. Something good happened today. He offers his hand, which I enthusiastically shake.
"My friend, my best friend's wife's friend, just died in Afghanistan, and I haven't been taking it too well."
He and I exchange a few more words between ourselves. These are the small moments that life is made of. Two men, one young, one old, from different planets, standing in the cold sunlight, both casting the same sort of shadow as they talk, sharing in the goodness that they've made, united in the idea that they're both doing the very best they can at this challenging and difficult and complex thing called living life.