Full house in the morning. We're on the 2, going east towards Pill Hill. The 2 draws a good mixed crowd. We have our friends the methadone recovery people, on their way to the clinic at Summit for their daily appointments; we have the nurses interested in Swedish and Virginia Mason; there are youngsters headed to Seattle Central, Seattle U, the Madrona School, Seattle Academy, and so on; and then there are joyriders and freeloaders sitting in the back doing loops on the 2, riding the bus to stay warm, or just for fun (as I have).
In the chat seat today we have an older fellow headed to the Clinic. He and his compatriots are seated around him, and, all of them having been on the same bus the morning prior, feel comfortable talking to each other. I listen in for a while, and then we get a half-decent conversation going, he and I, chatting about the trolley bus, the 2 schedule (infamously tight), the free zone and so on. At Ninth, a young woman- late twenties perhaps, Caucasian with a ponytail and scuffed jeans- leans in towards me and asks quietly, "do you know where the ER is?"
I hesitate, because we're surrounded by ER's. I think about her best options, and am about to question her further.
The older gent in the chat seat says, "where she wanna go?"
I say, "she wants to find an ER."
That was a mistake.
Old guy: "You're on the wrong bus!"
The young lady turns toward him slowly. "Good thing I'm not talkin' to you," she says.
He retorts with, "lady, you're on the wrong bus. You wanna go to Harborview!"
He's trying to be helpful, but he doesn't grasp that there's been a violation in the conversation- her question to me was a private one, and not for the whole bus. I shouldn't have brought him into it. Nor does he realize he's the final straw. If anyone on the bus was drifting off, they're wide awake now-
"How the FUCK do you know where I wanna go?" She screams at the top of her lungs. "Good thing nobody FUCKIN' asked you! What the hell do you know about the shit I'm goin' through?"
She is short, but she is taller than his seated form.
"You're just an old ass piece a shit thinks he knows what the fuck is right! Stay the fuck out of my business before I fuck you up! Tryna tell me where to go. Who the fuck asked you about my personal shit?"
Pins could drop, and you'd know how many.
I tap her on the shoulder to get her attention. She turns toward me, thinking she knows what I'm about to tell her. I say in a calm voice, "let's continue our conversation. We were talking about finding an ER."
"There's three of them right around here. D'you need a specific one, or just the closest one?"
She makes an effort, directing no anger toward me. "I just need any one."
"Okay. We already passed Virginia Mason, but we still have Swedish- hold it- (stopping the interrupting old man mid-syllable)- hold it- we have Swedish, two blocks to the right, and then there's Harborview."
She and I discuss the pros and cons of those two facilities, and I keep her focused with me. I marvel at her ability to keep her fury checked. Usually when someone gets angry, they get angry at everything around them. She's angry only at the old man. Her anger is a hurting anger; there is not braggadocio or arrogant insecurity on the edges of her voice, but rather a bald, mutilated sadness. Who knows what trigger he stepped on, what open sore, what long-lost memory he scabbed open in his innocent remark. Whatever it was, it prevented her from hearing his intention- to help- and only took in the condescending tone.
We continue our quiet conversation, she and I, her standing at the front next to me. We settle on an ER for her, and she says, "thank you." Then, as she's stepping off at Boren, she turns to our older friend and hollers, "Fuck you!"
Underneath the staccato noise of hate, you can hear it- a brittle, burning pain.
You hear her trying to cover it up. "You're fuckin' lucky, dumb shit! You're lucky I'm not beating your ass with my motherfuckin' cane, cause you know I could-" in the midst of all this, she remembers to say, again, "thank you, bus driver!" as she walks away. There's no act in her thanks; that part's real, and you feel it. I hope that's the part of this incident she remembers.
Meanwhile, I need to get this bus back to its happy place. The crowd is positively stricken. They have no idea what to think. Time to hit the mic with an overzealous announcement:
"Alright folks, here we are, getting ready to make a stop at Summit. It's Summit Avenue, right by the Clinic! Time today is 7:24, just in time for a 7:30 appointment. This is also good for Swedish main campus, that's two blocks to the right. Once again, makin' a stop to Summit here. Guys, let's have a good day today, good safe day. Maybe see you on the way back!"