Picture 7


People often ask me what “the most craziest thing” I’ve ever experienced on the bus is. Naturally there are far too many such incidents to single out as an answer. Also, frankly speaking, such incidents are not as interesting to me as the moments of positivity and human interaction I recount here. A man pulling down his pants in an attempt to defecate in the articulated section of the bus but having his feces accidentally miss their aim and end up inside his pants is definitely unusual, but is it thought-provoking? Such stories also run the risk of exoticizing their subjects as the incomprehensible “other,” which is not at all the thought pathway I’d like to travel on. More like the opposite. I do enjoy reveling in the bizarro atmospheres that live out here every day, but I search for the common ground.

I recall a man once approaching me on the 3/4. He was tall and thin, dressed in a conglomeration of undershirts and jackets, the sort of garb that becomes colorless when you spend enough time outside. He looked at me and said, “Hey, driver. What state are we in?”
“This is Washington State,” I said, in a neutral and helpful tone.
“Oh. Thanks,” he replied, returning to his seat.

Of course it was tempting to make some sort of play on “state of mind,” or laughing, or in some other way acknowledging the complete absurdity of the question. However, there was a very, very small but still possible chance that he actually needed that information, and it’s the sort of query which is strangely hard to get an answer for. Beyond that, what could be more awesome– is there another word for it?- than the rare, golden, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to answer such a question with a straight face! What a luxurious thrill! He appeared to be genuinely unclear as to which of the contiguous states he was in. “I love this job,” I thought to myself as I drove ahead.

Recently I had an interaction which, in its own special way, is for me one of the all-time unfathomables for me.

I pull into Third and Virginia northbound. Standing in the crosswalk on Virginia is an arguing couple. Rows of T-shirts and other items are on display, hanging off the top of the chain-link fence and arrayed on the cement below. A trio on both sides of the roadway engage in conversation, using their sixty-foot voices. Afternoon light glances across the scene at an angle. It is a tableaux of reds, blues, and blacks, clothing cuts of every manner, filthy and refined, set against the pale gray of newly finished concrete. I’m reminded of the benevolent chaos in Carracci’s 1602 painting The Triumph of Bacchus and Ariadne, or maybe the background of Perugino’s 1482 fresco Christ Giving the Keys to St. Peter–  unrelated clumps of characters populating the same space, mingling in and out of each other.

There, in the RapidRide bus stop, directly in front of my open doors, a seated figure speaks to me.
“Remember me?” she asks.
“Of course! How’s it goin’?”
“You don’t drive the 3 and 4 no more!”
“Oh yeah, I do somethin’ different every day now! I kinda like to get around.”
“Oh,” she says. Friendly.
“Well, good to see you again. Have a good one!”

What’s so bizarre about that, you might ask. Let me tell you. The woman speaking was- was- does anything other than italicized all caps with exclamation points suffice?- yes, she was the one, and the only, LIGHT SKINNED BLACK WOMAN!

Where were the disparaging racial epithets and songs about abortion? Why no mention of miscarriages and masturbation? Were my ears deceiving me? Don’t let me down here, my friend!

I closed the doors and drove away in awe. I had seen the Niagara Falls. I had heard evidence of extraterrestrial life, and made it to the jungle retreats of northern Laos. She was simply the better side of herself, chomping down on fried chicken, catching up with an acquaintance one sunny Friday afternoon. How incomprehensibly abstruse, and how terrific. I didn’t understand any of it, but I was happy to be that acquaintance.

Newer readers: read a primer on the great LSB-Dub, everyone’s favorite passenger, here. Watch a speech of mine recounting her adventures here.

Article Author

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.