Picture 4


Jim is waiting at Walker Street, the first stop on the route 4. Normally he prefers to walk off his workday by strolling over to the light rail station, but today’s been a day of days. He’s exhausted. The last ten minutes of his day as a Seattle Housing Authority property manager ramped into overdrive, dealing with a pysochotic ward release. He needs the peace and relaxation of a nice ride into town. Jim has an excellent sense of humor. We chat about his day, which sounds like a tough one. The ward release lost her keys; Jim had new ones prepared; but she shows up just after he’s clocked out, there’s a problem, and he’s not supposed to work overtime but she’s already asking questions, she’s asking and answering in a nonsensical, patternless back and forth, something about the keys, something’s not working, Jim’s trying to figure out what the issue is… ah, but he made it out alive. Time to relax.

It’s all over, for now. We talk about the book he’s going to read. From my library years I always zero in on what people are reading, and today Jim has a copy of J.D. Robb, the pseudonym Nora Roberts uses when she’s not writing those fluffy romance bestsellers.

“What’s it called?”
“This one’s called Conspiracy in Death,” he says, holding back a smile. He’d be the first to admit this isn’t first-rate literature.
“That’s outstanding,” I say.
He laughs. “There’s this whole series. It’s all about death. Everything’s in death. Naked in Death. Rapture in Death. Vengeance in Death. Betrayal in Death, Judgment in Death, Indulgence in Death,”
“Wow. He’s really into,”
“Yeah he is. Did you say Indulgence in Death?”
His short salt-and-pepper beard spreads into laughter. “You better believe it! Holiday in Death!
“There we go!”
“It gets me by.”
“Oh, yeah. Some good death books. Passes the time.”

Jim sits back to enjoy some good Conspiracy in Death, but peace and relaxation are not forthcoming. Julie’s here today, sitting at the front as always, bless her heart, and she’s making business calls on her phone (“Now if I remember correctly, we agreed on…”). Jim and I are talking over her (Creation in Death, Divided in Death, and the best yet: New York to Dallas (In Death)), Julie’s talking over us, and he and I laugh at the building hum. A family ambles on in at Jackson which small children, and they raise a racket- Jim moving a little further back to accomodate their massive stroller. I see him in the mirror, amused. What can you do but throw up your hands and smile?

I hear Julie explaining over her phone, clearly responding to a query along the lines of, where on earth are you? Certainly no bus is this loud! There’s the screaming kids, there’s me blabbing about the upcoming stops (“Let’s make a stop at 12th, by the Youth Detention Center…”), there’s Julie discussing matters of pressing importance, and there’s Jim and I talking about J.D. Robb, Janet Evanovich, and others (Delusion in Death; Calculated in Death)…

I’m lovin’ it. This bus is a back porch, an office, and a preschool playground all rolled into one, and we haven’t even hit Cherry Hill.

At 17th we have a mob of hospital workers- larger than usual, since we’re late. This particular run, a piece I picked repeatedly for years, is one that gets slightly more mobbed than the trip before or after it, coming in at the perfect time for those folks who get off at five sharp. I’m thankful for the extra attention. If you’re jonesing for excitement, it’ll be here. Many of my 3/4 stories come from this piece of work, which sadly no longer exists (or I’d be driving it!).

One of the nurses offers me strawberries with cream and streusel- “how wonderful!” I exclaim. Despite my minimal-sugar proclivity, I can’t turn it down. Streusel on a strawberry- who knew? My ebullience reaches new heights. Harborview is usually where we fill up, but today we’re already brimming as Harborview looms in the nearing distance. I try not to laugh as I announce the stop, because I see yet another mob- a much larger one. The giddiness surfaces in my tone, bubbling through the cracks of the microphone. Chaos makes me smile. I feel in my element.

The toddlers are doing something I don’t understand, just barely managing to keep out of the aisles, the nurses are commiserating, Julie arranging a conference for later this week, Jim silent now, I think he’s chuckling, watching me surf the center of the maelstrom. I’m greeting the onslaught, eye contact, eye contact, a sentence for each person incoming, the tear of transfers and maneuvering on the steps becoming a blur. I look at the masses outside, marveling at how this is all going to work. Thankfully a 3 pulls up behind me. Together we inch down the hill, a convivial, bubbling cauldron of tongues and attitudes.
“Alright, friends,” I say as the bus begins to move. “Hang on tight.”
“I don’t think we need to today, man!” Somebody quips. “It’s so many of us in here, there ain’t nowhere to fall!”
“This is the safest bus in town!”

Later, Julie ends her business call and says, “wow, Nathan! What a ride!”
She’s blind, and I can only imagine the multitudinous details her ears were picking up.
“I know! Hope that wasn’t too loud for your call there!”
“No, of course. They were like, where are you?”
“You shoulda told ’em you were at an amusement park! That’s pretty much what this is!”

The sun is shining. I find Jim in the mirror and we share a huge grin. This is no time for Conspiracy in Death! He’s given up on reading. Peace will find him at home. For now there is the jubilant, howling merriment known as the 3/4, and there is nowhere else to be but the present.

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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.