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The actual words spoken were not so much the meat of the exchange. It was the noises in between. You have to imagine the bubbling, incandescent laughter- perhaps giggling is a more accurate term- which emanated from both of us, for the duration of the conversation.

He came forward at southbound Union, late in the evening on a 120. One of his eyes seemed in a permanent state of half-closure, an exaggeration of the Alfie-era Michael Caine’s lidded stare, but this didn’t dim his demeanor in the slightest. His outer coat was scruffy while still being presentable, if such a thing is possible; it was a multi-purpose outfit, muted colors and ambiguous textures, a manner of dress you could reasonably get away with at a sporting event, a housewarming party, and that spiderweb network of sewers underneath UW (no need to go home and change!). Which is to say, he’d fit in just about anywhere.

I wonder now if I thought that because his ebullient presence overwhelmed one into simply ignoring his outfit, the details of which I have trouble recalling. I’d place him in his mid-forties, with an eleven o’clock shave (it was about that hour, after all), from a country of origin I couldn’t determine. He spoke English well enough.

“How far down Third do you go?” he asked.
“Um, actually just,”
“Is it just the next one?”
“Yeah.” Here he laughed, and I laughed, and for some reason we didn’t really ever stop.
“Okay!” Bubbling out. “I’m glad I asked!”
“Perfect timing! How’s your day been?”
“Good. And you?”
“Fantastic,” I said, with emphasis. He chuckled as I continued: “I’m alive; no accidents;” I clasped my hands together in a gesture of thankful supplication, adding, “everything is beautiful!”

He knew I meant it, but the statement has an added element of ridiculousness when sitting at a red light at Third and University in the middle of the night. He laughed again, we both did, skating on the frame of mind that lets you see levels, finding amusement in everything.

He says, “yeah, the stress! And plus the vehicle is so heavy!”
“I have to stay happy!”
Chortles, rising up.
“Yeah, it’ll get to you! I drive truck.”
“Oh. Excellent! You know how it is!”
“Yeah, I’m always trying to avoid accidents because we’re so wide,”
“So wide, so long,”
Our shared agreement manifests itself in gleeful merriment. I don’t know what the rest of the bus thinking. Maybe they feel it too; who knows.

At a red light I follow up on his words, saying in a serious tone, “plus you have to be careful because it’s your job too.”
“Yeah, I look at my mirrors all the time.”
Mystifyingly, this gets us cracking up again. “The mirrors, yes! constantly! I stare at them all day!”
Effervescent mirth, though we’ve got only the tiniest of ingredients to work with. The turning green light at Seneca releases us.
“So do you do cross-country, or,”
“Just local,” he responds.
“Good, that’s nice. Don’t have to drive to Florida. That’s always handy.”
You would have thought we were under the influence of something. I wave big at an operator across the street, as loud as a silent gesture can get.
“Do you like it?” I ask him. “The job?”
He pauses before replying. I start tittering. “It’s good,” he says hesitantly. We’re at it again.

Third and Spring, our last stop on Third: “Okay, here it is,” I say.
“Thank you. Have a good night, be safe!”
Okay, you be safe too!”
“You too, be safe!”

He had a slight accent, but laughter has no culture of origin. His and mine intertwined together, fluently, authentically, even after I drove away, echoing in my greetings to the incoming people.

“Welcome everyone, this is a 120,” I announce into the microphone as we approach the turn on Columbia. I’m still riding the mirthful wave, hardly able to control my happiness. Where did it come from? It colors my voice and enunciation, living in the syllables and word choice, hanging in the air of my living room full of strangers. I can see the older Latino gentlemen looking up at me, looking at each other, enjoying the sensation of being here. “Makin’ our last stop downtown here at Columbia,” I say, “by the ferry terminal. Tonight we’re gonna go out to White Center. After that we’ll go to Burien!”

I wanted to add a “hooray” at the end, but thought better of it!

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Nathan Vass is an artist, filmmaker, photographer, and author by day, and a Metro bus driver by night, where his community-building work has been showcased on TED, NPR, The Seattle Times, KING 5 and landed him a spot on Seattle Magazine’s 2018 list of the 35 Most Influential People in Seattle. He has shown in over forty photography shows is also the director of nine films, six of which have shown at festivals, and one of which premiered at Henry Art Gallery. His book, The Lines That Make Us, is a Seattle bestseller and 2019 WA State Book Awards finalist.