Of course every work environment has its bad apples, but here that's exactly what they are- anomalies, irregularities that don't register in one's overall description of the place. I think this great energy results from how punishingly difficult and demanding the work is, and paradoxically, how satisfying it is because of that- it's work that draws a certain breed. You're either too new to go anywhere else (meaning you still have a good attitude), or you love the work (meaning you definitely have a good attitude, and are maybe a little bit crazy like me).
Even before I began driving I've enjoyed waiting around at Fourth/Fifth and Jackson. A good Service Planner friend of mine once told me that she enjoys her view of that intersection from her desk at King Street Center, because by watching that one intersection, through which such a massive percentage of the network passes, you can tell if something's brewing. You can sense it in the air.
As for myself, I like being down there because of the eclectic mixture of souls haunting the place- a hodgepodge assembly of friends and strangers, various Atlantic drivers (like myself) sitting around waiting to relieve other drivers, various street people who recognize me, and others passing through. We'll forget for a second about the people who fall asleep standing up or urinate in the corners. There's Joe's, the infamous bar and grill, around the corner, helping keep things, uh, interesting (and okay, shake-your-head bizarre); there's the sitting area by the fountain, the Tunnel entrance for a quick getaway, the beckoning tranquil space of Union Station, and the totally, completely out-of-place establishment that is FedEx Office, which has utterly no relation to anything happening out there except the fact that the owners very kindly offer Metro a bathroom for drivers inside.
Big Tony sees me on my way to work, riding the 41. He yells what he always yells to me ("BABYFACE!"), and I yell my standard reply ("BIG TONY!"). At least once a trip someone will ask me if I'm old enough to drive. Do I need to stop shaving?
I yell across the street at Roderick, on the 36; incredibly, he hears me, and we share a smile, the kind where you're both sharing an unspoken secret. I'm not even sure what ours was in that moment, but if I had to put it to words I think it was a shared understanding along the lines of "yes, this work is ridiculous, and yes, we each understand that the other totally loves it precisely the way it is." We share a passion for the work that's quite similar in outlook. I've learned many things from talking with him. He's the driver that looks like me in ten years.
Friendly Laotian appears inside my bus. I notice him in the mirror, and turn around and say the traditional Lao greeting just as he's taught me: hands together in prayer, a small head nod, and: "Sabadi!"
A big wave through the glass windows of Bed, Bath and Beyond at Roy, the Bed Bath and Beyond "bouncer." You know the guy. Always has a word for you, and for whatever young lady happens to be walking by.
Real Change Willy and I wave and yell at each other at Columbia, pretty regular occurrence;
Driving the big 7 up Third, I see 3/4 Tony (with the beret), Piano-Playing Joseph, and "Awesome Dude with Normal Name That I Always Forget"- drivers all, walking the sidewalk- and I honk and wave, overcome with enthusiasm. I'm gonna miss these guys.
Doing a difficult merge at 5th & Jackson eastbound while negotiating the three deadspots there, I wave at 211 Guy (the older fellow I see every day driving the 211). He smiles back with an expression of mild wonder, marveling at something about me or my bus- who knows. I give him a big grin every day.
Black Power Salute exchanged with Charles F.;
Dearborn "I Still Got Your Water Jug" Dude shows up again at his usual spot- Rainier and Dearborn, northwest corner. Same tattered black rags, one-armed leaning gait, and matted hair framing genuine eyes. Still smiling. Like he'd be making any other expression. It's easy for us to despise money, because we have it; but to find that awareness (of what money does) in the homeless impresses me. Depending on where you're sitting, those truths can be both easier and much harder to see. Dearborn Dude may not be in terrific physical health (it took me a while to figure out how many arms he has), but his mind can see things.
Today, it's another last-minute wave- we make eye contact at the last possible instant, through the traffic, grab bars, scratched bus windows, and construction haze- contact, for a millisecond, eliminating all else for a moment. Nothing else in the world in that brief iota of time. Just a couple guys smiling at each other.
Spur-of-the-moment wave at Chicken-Eating Dude- unwaved at as yet by me. He's the fellow who usually sits at Rainier and Plum eating chicken. After a moment of comprehension between bites of chicken, he returns the gesture. What was interesting to me about this was that he was clear on the other side of the street, five lanes of traffic away. How did he understand that I was waving for no reason?
I yell out at Hoarse Throat Man (the guy who got stuck with me at the Prentice St. accident, detailed in Orange T). He's also on the other side of Rainier, around Weller, where I'm stuck in traffic. "Hey, my friend!" I holler out. "Wha's goin' on?" He can't yell back a response, but motions in return. A few hours later he stops by inside the bus and says hey.
Cruising down Rainier past Holly ("our stop for the Senior Center"), I notice a man walking by himself; I give him the upward nod, and he responds just in time, raising two fingers and a thumb. I wonder what he's thinking. Secrets that I'll never know.
Group of kids getting off my 7 at Othello inbound, stepping out the very back door. They take their time, saying goodbyes to their friends who remain on the bus, and trying to hurry along one of their toddlers. I look at them all, wandering out, and smile at their ease. I wonder if any of them will look up or wave to the driver on their way out, and the last one does. I'm excited by the thought of whatever kernel of empathy, thankfulness, or togetherness, compelled that last fellow to throw up his arm in that lazy salute. There was something there that was real. Smiling to myself as I pull away from the zone.
Continued in the next post-