Picture 17


Nathan Vass is a photographer/filmmaker who drives for Metro. Learn more at nathanvass.com.


There are times when I can’t tell if it’s the world opening up, or just myself. You feel exhilaration coursing through your arteries, the kind you felt as a child, when it was okay to be silly. I’m running back to the base after a day on the 12. I’m always running around on the lot- from the coach to the base, from the base to the parking garage, from the garage to the… you get the picture. Why? I think what everyone supposes is that I’m always late to sign in. “You’re gonna make it,” they’ll yell, in encouragement.

I’m not late. I’m just excited. I began the routine after noticing an ex-military crewcut of a man hustling across the lot, his shoulder bags and other gear bouncing uncermoniously off his sides. He had a lot of gear, but he was moving.

Why do you do that, I asked. Run across every day.
Well, he said, if I run this short distance every day, I’ll know I can at least do this. I may not have time to exericse, but at least I’ll know I can do this every day.
That’s a great idea, I said. I did it the day after and every day since, probably looking totally ridiculous. The only people who heedlessly run into the base are drivers desparate to sign in on time… and me, grinning wide and high from all the endorphins. Have you ever noticed how runners for the bus are almost always smiling- even before they make the bus?

I tear through the base today, dropping off my leftover transfers and timetables, putting my runcard away. “Hello, friends!” I say to Vickie and Ashish, deep in conversation, other drivers who went through full-time class with me. Great people. I fly through the restroom, washing my filthy trolley hands. Two other operators in there. On my way banging out the door I realize they’re discussing LSBW. “She started yelling this song about abortions…” yup, I thought, chuckling. That’s definitely her.

I grab my bicycle and meander up the street. There’s time before my bus home. I loop aimlessly through the 505 Union Station plaza, and drift over to Jackson Street. A 14 pulls up and I ask the driver, Nebiyat, how his night is. It’s going well. We talk up the good points of the 14, and with the green light he’s off. I nod a hello to the Sheriff watching the bus stop. His night’s going well also. Nothing’s happened, he says. This is a good thing. Continuing my aimless loops, here’s a man outside Starbucks, setting a single padlock down on the center of each of the outdoor seating tables.

“What’s the story here?” I ask, slowing down on my bicycle.
I thought it was some sort of art installation. But no, the real story isn’t as exciting: he’s simply the security man, locking up the chairs and tables for the night. Of course. He laughs at my idea, having likely never considered the mundane task in such a light. I wish him a good evening, and as I turn away there’s George, a regular from the 358. I’m excited- more than he is, I think; never seen him here before. Across the way a Metro maintenance truck ambles by. It’s a guy who helped me earlier. We wave. He’d come out to check the carbon inserts (shoes) on my poles. He was happy to follow me for a bit as I did my route, while we tested a new shoe. “Are you the guy who runs?” he’d asked. Apparently that’s how they know me at the base!

I got home and put the bike away, and then began driving my car around on errands. At 145th I’m stopped in the left lane, reflecting on the day, when a bus pulls up alongside and the driver’s motioning, pulling on my peripheral vision. I turn to look, and it’s Sonum driving, waving wildly at me, both of us waving now in shock and glee- our faces are maps which read, what are the odds of this? I couldn’t get over him recognizing me in a car and civvies.

What confluence of airs had led to these little mini-reunions and moments of warm exchange? Was the burgeoning glow coming from me, or was I standing in a passing shaft of light and time, the planets already fading out of alignment? Neither seemed plausible. Luck is a poor excuse for explaining most things, and it’d be silly for me to take credit for such great vibes. No, it felt like a mystery greater than myself. That surging, airy well-being that flows, built in part by you, sure, but also by whatever it is that holds us all together. That’s the universe, glinting out from all those eyes. I’m thankful for whatever the reasons are. I just keep running through it all, trying to feel, to reach out and touch something real in this life. It gives me the heady, impossibly light sensation of feeling whole.

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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.