Amman, driving the 36, and we're excited to see each other. As he drives past me he turns his head completely to gesture and wave, cutting an unintentionally dashing figure in his hip sunglasses. Milan Kundera once wrote that your memories tend to be still images more often than moving scene with beginnings and ends; the glimpse of Amman with his head tilted and his two finger wave is one of those images that hangs in the air after it's already gone by.
At the Henderson layover, I lean out the door, bellowing out at Danielle, one of the other perennially happy Atlantic drivers. "Have a good night," I holler. "You too," she yells from across the Saar's parking lot.
Jermain's friend (who surfaced recently) shows up without Jermain, and I greet him as a friend, though I've never actually talked to him. African-American, high-school age, in a big white tee, gray sweats and basketball shoes. We chat for a bit about school starting, and then I hear him talking to another passenger. Sometimes I like "kickstarting" a conversation- getting it going, and then stepping out to let it grow into its own thing amongst the passengers while I merely listen. When our friend steps out at Walden he lingers on the sidewalk as a couple of east Asian grandmothers deboard.
What's he doing? Standing there, with a big bag of takeout in his arm. It turns out he had volunteered to carry out one of the grannies' bags for her. Mentally I want to selfishly take credit for that gesture of kindness, in that I fostered a positive example and environment for it to happen, but really, he deserves all the credit. What a guy. Not sure if he would've done that if a pack of his buddies were with him, but this is him too, big as life. Helping out for no personal gain.
Later Jermain himself stops by with another friend of his. I hear him telling his friend about me as they step on. "As-Salamu Alaykum," says Jermain. It takes me a split second to summon the response- there's so much going on in your head when you're driving the bus- but I'm there for him with a hearty "Wa' alaykum a-salam!" His towering friend laughs approvingly. Jermain goes for the classic bone-crushing handshake. Interestingly his other friend from earlier prefers the three-pound fistbump (up, down, head-on), which I don't see too often anymore.
Grizzly Tony, beer-guzzling panhandler extraordinaire, who first met me on the 4, now logs serious hours at Rainier and McClellan. He rides my last round trip with me. His life is a storied one. He mentions his 21 years in the military, and then we laugh about a little kid who recently tried to jump him with a penknife on Rainier. "Put that piece a shit away," he'd muttered to the boy. "I've shot down helicopters." The youngster had retorted with, "what if I start stabbing you?" Tony: "I probably wouldn't give a shit. Now go on, get outta here." Which is exactly what the bewildered would-be robber did. Lesson: bluster and experience with helicopters count for something.
I pull alongside Abdul on Stewart Street. He's on the 70 today, and with his sunglasses he looks like Jean Reno, except happy. He opens the doors and says, "we're gonna miss you at Atlantic!" Yet another of the greats at that Base.
On Third Avenue. Red-Haired Operator of the Month, a part-timer like me; she's out of North Base, but got forced to East for next shakeup. I tell about how I wanted Atlantic, but got forced to North. We continue our conversation while skip-stopping up Third- she'll pull alongside me at a red light, we'll exchange a few sentences, and then I'll pull alongside her at the next zone, and exchange a few more. Interesting way to carry on a dialogue.
It's nighttime now, inbound at Rose. I step outside to help out someone with their groceries. Grizzly Tony is still sitting around on the bus, killing time, and watching me he says to a genteel lady passenger, "isn't he great?" She responds with a look of incredulity and says in a tone of comically unpleasant shock, "I know. I was gonna say, what planet is this guy from?"
The last wave of the night is a double-whammie; the first part of it is between Dawna and myself. Dawna drives the 14. Maybe you've had her before. She's yet another one of the greats, smile beaming out of her bus at all hours of the night. I don't know how she does it. You get the impression that rather than life happening to her, she happens to life. She's possessing of a kindness unflappable, a worldview cemented in stone- an attitude that she and other great figures of our time project. Something I aspire toward.
In the moment that I wave at her, I notice an amorphous white shape on the other side of the bus, to my right. It's a stranger in the night, but he or she knows me, because (s)he's waving at me in a big way, with the same kind of extended arm salute that I often throw out at people. All I can see of this person is the white shirt waving and white teeth gleaming in the night, that universal expression of what ought be regular human existence- what we call happiness.
I'm reminded of an earlier moment in the day. At 07:00am, I was doing the 70 myself, laying over at University Heights. I was sitting on the grass reading my Tolstoy (just cracked the 700-page mark of Anna K!), and a crusty older street guy walked past. On impulse I greeted him. He responded warmly, and paid it forward to a "regular" woman walking toward him. She was pleased at the hello from him, and responded in kind, and when she got to where I was sitting, I said hi to her as well, mostly because the street fellow had done so. She looked mildly surprised as she continued past me, glowing in a temporary bubble where everyone says hello. I felt secretly excited at hopefully making her wonder, "why is everyone saying hi to me?" Later on this day as I was walking to the bus stop to go home, and a middle-aged black American guy strolled past me in the twilight. I said "hey," and he said, "how's it goin.' Good seein' you again."
I've never seen the guy before. Is this what John Travolta feels like? When people come up to him and go, "I loved you in Phenomenon?" Who knows. What I do know is that it feels good to be building something; a rickety, perhaps easily destroyed, perhaps temporary, but still real structure, an imaginary house where people are kind to each other, out here on the open streets, where such a house of kindness might not be expected. Ephemeral, yes, but present for now. What else is there, after all?