Recently on the 3/4, a young man in a red beanie, huge red sweatshirt, massive gray sweatpants, and oversized basketball shoes boarded with his girlfriend. He recognized me.
“Wha’s UP, bro?” he hollered, as we bumped fists.
“Ey, good to see you!”
“Good to see you too! You’re the cooles’!”
As they left out the back door, I yelled, “thanks guys!”
“Have a good one!”
“You too,” said the girl.
The boy tarried for a moment and roared, “STAY OFF THE 7!”
“Oh, I love that thing!”
He frowned, pausing on the back door steps. “WHY?”
“I like the people!”
“Aw, SHUT UP!”
We both laughed. He laughed perhaps because he found my thought absurd. I laughed at his ebullient tone, and wondered if he thought I was sarcastic or serious. Faithful readers, you know that I really do like the people.
Some time later, I was strolling around the Henderson Street layover around 11pm. They play classical music from the loudspeakers over the Saar’s Market parking lot, which I love. There’s something so refreshingly anachronistic about hearing Tchaikovsky in the ghetto that it almost seems appropriate. The rich emotions and high drama, violins and cymbals crashing above a heated urban discussion–doesn’t it kind of make sense? The scene feels steeped in time, anchored in the universality of the ongoing human condition. Down on the ground near my feet is a sleeping figure, a regular on this stretch.* He recently thanked me for the biscuit I gave him; he’d wanted my offering of biscuit, but not of boiled eggs. Clearly the guy doesn’t know what a perfect boiled egg tastes like.
Tonight three men are in the bus shelter, passing the time. One is older. The other two are pushing their hands together as a show of strength. Garbage flutters around little circles, signs of life in your periphery. On first driving the 7 I remember being struck by the fact that people hang out at bus stops on Rainier in ways they don’t elsewhere. Not even on Aurora are bus stops destinations in their own right, the urban answer to porches and park benches. The men look at me as I walk toward them.
“Have a good night, gentlemen,” I say.
“You too,” says the old man. “Don’t work too hard, bumpity bump on those roads out there!”
“I’ll try not to!”
I’m stretching my shoulders as I walk away, one arm straightened out, pulled towards me in the crook of the other. I’m a fiend about stretching on my breaks. Keeps my body feeling happy.**
“Ey, how you do that,” one of the other guys says. I show him how and then cross Henderson street, now empty of traffic.
“Eey, my friend.” It’s the third fellow, walking out after me. I turn back. We meet in the middle of the roadway, standing on the double yellow line together. I know he’s about to ask me for a transfer. Several blocks away a building was shot up with automatic weapons a week ago. Sixty bullet holes, not counting the shattered glass windows. Sometimes you hear firing at night. Of course I give him a transfer, but I’d do so anyway, because of the dark spirited eyes, the wrinkled brow, the curly hair… don’t these describe friends of yours, of mine?
“Happy Father’s day,” I say.
“You know what? God bless you,” he says, patting me on the shoulder. I’ve never felt safer standing in the middle of Henderson Street. He thanked me again a few days later, introducing himself by name. Elbee.
“You are just the sweetest,” a pair of girls said later that night. “You deserve that paycheck!”
They’re followed by an older man who recognizes me from a long time ago. He talks about how he likes my attitude, and I tell him how I love the route.
“I know you’re telling the truth,” he says.
“Yeah? You can tell?”
“Yeah, I’ll tell you how. We, us number 7 riders out here, we see all the new drivers come through here, all the new guys who get forced onto this route. You see all these new faces. And then, after a shakeup or two goes by, they all get the hell out of here and you never see ‘em again. As soon as they can pick other routes, they’re gone. But you’ve stayed! I first saw you out here something, five years ago! And you’re still here!”
“Thanks, man! Thank you!”
“Aaaaand, and your attitude is exactly the same as when I first saw you!”
“I can’t help myself!”
*As it turns out he is no longer a regular on this stretch of cement– he was completing a probationary thirty-day stretch before being allowed back into a shelter downtown. Now he sleeps in much greater comfort. “Two more days,” he grinned at me as the thirty days were winding down.
**Is your job a sitting job? Please, for the love of all that is holy, stand up. Do it now. Standing up, even for a few seconds, makes all the difference. It gets your blood flowing again and restarts your metabolism. Standing up for thirty seconds every hour will do more good for your body than running five miles on the weekends. You don’t need to buy a bowflex machine. Just stand. There was an excellent flurry of articles in the New York Times detailing this a couple years ago. Read more here, here, here, and here.