Picture 8

I was riding the 7 one night, going out to Orcas to meet a friend. Rain peeled down from all corners of the globe and splashed against the laminated glass windows. Outside, cars of all stripes and nations roared by in the dimming evening light, streaks of illuminated red and white, railing past in defiance of the wet blue darkness all around. I sat just in front of the back lounge area, on those high-seats above the rear wheel. Looking out the window to see the front half of the bus make turns, that great behemoth with its angled front wheel, negotiating the dotted lines and wet pavement. I shivered with pleasure inside my jacket, smiling to myself at the cozy thrill of being indoors.

I’ve sat in the back of a lot 7s, but this one felt different. What was it? I looked around. The bus was maybe three-fourths full, a population whose figure bubbled and eddied with each stop. A laundry list of languages permeated the air, lively, stories gleaming out from under hoods, veils, caps and more, bright eyes of every shade peering out. Here were most of the world’s continents, relaxing for a time, just hanging out together in a sixty-by-eight foot rec room.

Something linked all this disparity though, made it feel united. I couldn’t put my finger on it. Was it the rain? The fading thrill of the last light of day? I looked down the aisle at the grooved non-slip flooring, stained and starched from decades of use. I marveled at all the noise- traffic, conversations, the occasional clink of the poles hitting the switches, the patter of raindrops hitting the fabric of the articulated section….

More after the jump.

It was the driver’s voice. Every now and then she, a heavyset black woman in youthful middle age, would come on the microphone and say something. I had absolutely no idea what she was trying to tell us, and nor did anyone else; what with the white hiss of rain and car wheels, people talking, the compressor, all on top of an ancient microphone, comprehending her words was impossible.

We didn’t need to, though, because she was getting across something more important than any literal communication about streets or transfer points: her voice was in a good mood. The only discernible element was that, way up there at the front, the woman heading this ship is happy to be here, and she cares about us because she’s trying to tell us something. Her warm, kind tone came through clearly, and that energy, all at once gentle and strong, managed to eclipse the value of whatever the quantitative element of her announcements were. Hers was a motherly lullaby, subliminally taking part in every interaction on the bus, seeping its way into the goodness in ourselves. I was glad to be there.


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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.