Picture 7


This guy stumbles on like a rock tumbling through an unstoppable river. An imposing physical presence. We’re somewhere at the bottom of Rainier Valley. He’s clad in a white oversized T-shirt that would be a dress on me, the shirt peeking out from under a puffy black jacket of colossal proportions. He asks if I go to Genessee, pronouncing it “Jensee.”
“Absolutely, yeah. And hey, I’d appreciate it if you kept that closed.” I’m gesturing at his paper bag, which contains a bottle of you know what–something other than pink lemonade!
“Oh, it is.”
“Thanks man, I appreciate you.”
“No probl’m.”

At Genessee, he mosies up , leaning forward, peering into the unknown distance. “I think I go one more.”
“Oh no worries,” I say. “We’ll see if somebody else wants this [bus stop]. Thanks for tellin’ me.”
“Sorry ’bout tha,'” he says after watching me greet somebody getting on.

He’s treading lightly, politely. I see him in the mirror, and in my periphery. Quarterback body, gold necklace, and a trim goatee, hints of jailhouse tats peeking out above the shirt.

“Oh, it’s all good. So kinda right up there, by Safeway?”
“Yeah. Hey, uh, thank you, for doin,’ for bein,'”
Hardcore manliness stops him short from an easy finish to the sentence, but the sentiment is no less real. I know what he means.
“Oh my pleasure man, it’s no worries. I like bein’ out here.”
“Thanks, dude.” He feels more comfortable now, more revealing: “I’m new here. Jus’ come up from California.”
“Oh wha’ part of California?”
“Dude, right on!” I exclaim, preempting the next question all Angelinos ask each other, which is, ‘what part of LA?’ “I’m from LA too, I’m from South Gate!”
To this his eyes light up, all pretense and vulnerability falling away: “WHAAAAA, no way! That’s just up from me, I’m from Lynwood!”
“No waaaayyy! Right there!”
“Oh, you right over there. You in it.”

This happens more often than one might imagine. On the 70 I took a couple toward the airport and discovered we all once lived on Firestone Boulevard in Downey. Recently on the 44 a woman overheard me discussing LA, and revealed that she’d come up from San Diego in ’96. “There’s a lot of us Californians taking refuge up here,” I marveled. “There are,” she responded. “Some folks don’t like it, us bringin’ our LA ways up here…”
“They’ll just have to deal!”

Strangers in a strange land, no longer strangers. My friend looking for Genessee leans back in his chair in a way he couldn’t before. Relaxed now. He’d felt comfortable enough in my space to share that vulnerability, that he was new here, and the payoff was worth it. We pass under the dark trees at Byron, making our own sunshine.

He seems particularly glad that we come from the same mad realm of South Central. The Jungle, as it’s called. Whatever challenges he’s up to here in the Valley, they’ll be easy compared to life in the Jungle, and he knows I know that intimately.
“Out there, you know how they do,”
“Oh yeah!”
We’re in fistpound handshake heaven.
“Be safe!” we say to each other at the end of the ride. It is not a pleasantry for us, but rather a genuine urging, a belief that the other’s life is worth some extra caution. It’s late, and dark, but we’re both glowing.

Read more at nathanvass.com.

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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.


  1. Seems unlikely that anyone would move from San Diego – one of the country’s most livable and desirable places – to Seattle to “take refuge.” Seriously…

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