Picture 4


As I woke a scruffy older sleeper at the U District terminal, he grumbled out something I think he intended to be derogatory. Something about “you know what you and your coworker, buhuuuh uuh,” a remnant from that zone between dreams and wakefulness. I couldn’t understand his slurred speech though, and wished him well as he stood up. I got a few stretches in as he gathered himself into the present and stumbled away. Several minutes later when I started the bus back up again, he reappeared, and I said happily, “back for more! Awesome, dude!”

He smiled, seeing no more need for the antagonism from his dreams.

Another passenger got on some time later, also an older male. He looked like Elton John with a sunburn and twenty extra pounds, and he staggered into the chat seat and began regaling me with a story from earlier. “So I found a wallet the other day. In the street. A wallet.”
“That’s pretty cool,” I said.

You can tell when someone’s been drinking, and then you can tell when they’ve been drinking all day. This was the latter.

“I opened it up the wallet, and there was a cocaine straw,” he yelled.
“There you go.”
“So I thought, cool! And then there was a twenty. Right there, inside the wallet. So I had a cocaine straw and a twenty, right there off the street.”

He paused for dramatic effect before continuing. Other people were listening now. I feel like I’m on a stage of sorts in situations like this. The sleeper from earlier was now awake, sitting nearby. More refined types and Capitol HIll hipsters fill out the rest of the bus. Was I going to tell him to stop talking? Nope. Mister Elton the Cocaine Strawman is my buddy too.

He continued holding forth: “And the wallet had a you know, a secret pocket. And guess what was in it?”
“What was in the secret pocket?”
“Seventy dollars!”
“Well now, that sounds excellent!”
“Yeah it was,” he blurted in agreement. “And it was rainy and dark outside, and the wallet was black, the wallet, the ground was black, you understand?”
“It was all black!”

The juxtaposition of the serious concentration necessary for watching the lanes, anticipating the moves of other cars, and checking the wire– all that in combination with a dialogue like this, is something I find highly amusing. Just the balance I need. Call it brain tickling. I’m maintaining three feet of clearance for the parked cars while being mindful of passing cars on the left– oh and yes, there was a cocaine straw and the wallet was black.

“It’s amazing I FOUND it. But but but. There was no cocaine though.” He sounded disappointed.
“No cocaine, just a whole bunch a cash?”
“Uh-huh,” he said dejectedly. The sleeper barked out a sardonic laugh. I give voice to his thoughts, saying, “I don’t know, man, that still sounds like a jackpot to me!”
“Yeah, really,” grumbled Sleeper Man.

“I’ll take ninety dollars,” I continue as two teenage girls get on. They’re done up Just So, as it’s Saturday night. One’s having trouble finding money, and the other pays for her. “Such a good friend!” I say. She bats her lashes, and they sit down near Elton the wallet finder, who stares at them goggle-eyed.

Finally he says, “you guys look reeeeally pretty!”
Pause containing deafening awkward silence. “Are you guys teeeenagers?”
They nod patiently.
“You look like you’re about SEVENTEEN, is that right?”

Pretty soon it will be time to steer the conversation in a healthier direction. While I’m thinking about how to do this diplomatically, Sleeper Man butts in on my behalf and that of the girls, saying to Elton: “well, you look like you’re about SEVENTY, so why don’t you shut up?”

Everyone within earshot collapses in laughter.

Elton the Wallet Finder’s a good sport. “No, I’m sixty, I’m sixty! Okay, I’ll leave you girls alone.” Thank goodness for friendly drunks.

Sleeper Man gets off at Union. His first words to me may have been negative, but his last are positive. Out of nowhere he says, “hey! Did you know UPS and FedEx are merging?”
“What? No way!”
“Yeah, I heard it on the news!”
“This is madness!”

I felt like he wanted to balance out whatever negative energy he was belching out when I woke him up. It wasn’t because he thought I might be interested in company acquisitions. The attitude from earlier wasn’t big enough to warrant an apology, but he seemed to feel a need to reach across the empty spaces. The UPS news seemed offered out of a desire to what, find that wonderful meeting point, questing for equilibrium, the need to lay claim to that shared territory which proves we all have something in common.

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.