The chat seat is instantly replaced by a fellow in his thirties, dressed in muted colors, dark shaved head, fashionably crisp black denim and a silver chain necklace. We start off with the weather as our entry point- "finally got them clouds out the way-" before moving on to discussing the 4. I love it when I can get this route, except when I can't.
"This gotta be pretty low seniority though, right?"
"Oh yeah," we laugh. "Nobody wanna touch this!" Just myself and several other intrepid souls.
"How about the express routes?"
"You know, they're really easy," I say as we negotiate the traffic circle at Norman, "but they can also get kinda repetitive. You got the same group every single day, sometimes it'll literally be exactly the same sixty people, good people, but they all been working, they're quiet, they got their earphones in,"
He's nodding. The crowd is starting to thin out. We're no longer the center of attention; we're in the corner of someone's house party, conversing in low tones.
"Out here," I continue, gesturing at the Judkins neighborhood surrounding us, "people talk to each other, they know each other's names, it's a different universe..."
I haven't brought up the status, race, or income differences between the two types of demographics we're talking about. I've been tiptoeing around it, but he feels comfortable enough to mention it, adding, "there's the attitude thing."
"Exactly, the Bellevue thing."
"They'll be lookin' down on me like I'm the help! Like I was furniture! And I'll be like, in my head, 'man, you don't need to do that!'"
The laughter this elicits from him is a sound closer to rueful understanding than any appreciation of rich humor. He's been there. We tentatively explore the issue together, big black man and skinny Asian kid, opening up more and more as we go along;
"You know, some of it might be, I bet a lot a these guys ain't never worked no public service jobs, so they just ain't never had the experience of talkin to strangers. They may just not know what it's like, not be comfortable,"
"But man, that high-up thing, sometimes it's just like, wow,"
"And it don't matter what color they are neither."
"I got three kids, athletes, growed up in Issaquah, and man, you can tell the pressure they be up against, the pressure to be concerned about status, conforming to societal norms,"
"Shoot. I love it when kids talk to strangers. We don't really raise 'em to do that, but it's great to see them get comfortable with their surroundings, willing to interact with people that's not their friends or parents...to see them try to get ahead in a good way, you know?"
"I do know!"
"'Cause the pressure to not do that can be pretty strong."
"My fifteen-year old is just like that. He be talkin' to everyone, whoever standing next to him, he'll strike up a conversation."
"Sounds beautiful." Stewardship. I'm excited for the future that lives in that boy's head. Global community starts with nodding at the person walking by.
"Hey man, it was a pleasure talkin' to you."
Later on, I, along with two young teen girls, are honored with a conversation of a slightly different substance:
I'm en route to Base, picking up stragglers on Rainier. I enjoy doing this because it makes things easier for the in-service routes, along with of course saving the passengers time. The two girls were way out of their depth, abandoned by their ride and anxious to get out of the ghettofabulous Valley and back to safety in West Seattle.
Enter a man in his forties, dressed in stained blue coveralls, crumbs around his mouth, sticking to the bristles in his swarthy, weather-beaten skin. They lean away from him as he swaggers onto the bus, and look bewildered when I greet him as a friend.
"How you been?"
"Is' been okay," he says, directing his attention to the girls with great focus. Out comes the following monologue:
"I been busy paintin.' I love boats. I love cats, too. I painted my boat the other day, got it out in the sunshine, put a new coat a primer all over, all set to go. I set it out for several hours, gave it time to cure. You know what my cat did? I tell you what my cat did. She done walked all over that brand new primer, leavin' paw prints every which where. We talkin' all over. Walkin' around like it wasn't no big thing, without a care in the world. I love her to death, though. Ain't no rats or scorpions up in my houseboat. All them other houseboats be infested, bugs crawlin' everywhere, you know haa' it is. You know what I call my cat, what name I got my cat? I tell you. I call her Fathead. I call her Fathead, 'cause she bring me all the rats and mice. She take care a everything, when you got a cat, they keep the place clean, don't matter no paw prints all up in the primer. End a the day that don't matter. You can sleep easy at night, don't gotta worry about no bed bugs and shit. Check this out. She bring me these little mice, right before she kills 'em, little clumps of fur writhing around, and then BAM! She END those mothers. You two girls have a nice evening now."