Smart Man

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Jun01#50-1

 

“Next one is Aurora,” I announce from the 44 route. “Aurora Avenue, where you can get the E Line. That’s the old 358.”
People get on, and people get off. As we pull away, I say, “here we go!”
I always say something like that. Variations on a theme: “Hang on tight;” “We’re movin’ out;” “Off we go;” and on occasion, generally upon leaving somewhere like 3rd and Pike, “let’s get outta here!”

“Here we go” was never intended by me to be funny or endearing or light-hearted, although I’m happy many people read it that way. I started saying this stuff when I began trolleys, and noticed the incredible amount of torque they have. I said “here we go” because I was terrified of people completely collapsing as soon as the bus moved. There’s nothing better- not even most cars- at getting up Seattle’s steep hills than our trolley buses, and they can fly. I announced “here we go” and the like to let people know they were on a different type of vehicle, which moved differently. I’ve since realized people fall down on all coach types, and thus announce regardless of what type of bus I’m driving.

On the 44 now, and older man comes forward, maybe late fifties but still lithe, gray hair and tanned, hanging on the stanchions.
“So I’m on a 747, right?”
“Yeah,” I say, phrased as a question, hoping for more explanation. Sometimes I say “yeah” when I have no idea what people are talking about.
“I’m on a 747 from Anchorage to Seattle, when the pilot comes on– engine’s died. Lost the engine.”
“Whoa! Were you losing altitude?”
“Oh yeah! We’re in freefall. No thrust. He restarted the engine in flight.”
“Wow!”
“Yeah, but the pilot came on, and said all the stuff you’re sayin,’ ‘hang on,’ here we go,’ all the same stuff you’re sayin.’ It made me think of it.”
“Oh, right on.”
“But yeah, I’m thinkin,’ hang on, hold on tight, this is no problem! I fished in the Bering Sea for twenty-one years!”
“Must have pretty good sea legs!”
“Yeah, when you’ve worked the Aleutian Islands…” I look at his brown eyes and see generations of time. He tells me briefly of a life at sea. Then he says, “I’m sixty-three years old, and I’m goin’ up again.”
“You must like it!”
He shakes his head ruefully.
“Why then?”
I see him rubbing his thumb and forefinger together and it’s my turn to shake my head. “Yeah, that’ll do it,” I reply. “Money has a way of talking.”
“I got colon cancer. I’m goin’ up this time and stayin’ up there. This’ my last time in Seattle.”
“Well, shoot! I’m glad you got on my bus!”
“Hey, life is good,” he said, as we approached his stop (“Here’s Fremont Avenue, by the zoo”).
“Have a good rest of the time in Seattle!”
“Stay happy!”

The last statement was a surprise. There was an unaffected genuineness to his well-wishing. He didn’t wait  for a response, already walking away now, carrying on with the unstoppable business of living life. I watched him for a moment, reflecting. He had every justification, as it were, to be miserable. But he wasn’t. I closed the doors and began rolling away. My mind was still on him as I said into the microphone, “that’s Phinney Avenue coming up, Phinney, for the route 5.”

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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.