Two years ago I posted the first of these stories, which now number in the hundreds and stem from seven years of bus driving. The story was from a page in a journal which I never intended to share, but there was something about the exchange I very much wanted to preserve. The feeling of joy I knew in those moments was real, and perhaps by writing that paragraph down I might more easily recall an echo of the sensation. Once again, thanks to the good people–that would be you, Erin Lodi and Michelle Dirkse and Virginia Eader, among others–who urged me to share these stories instead of holing them up, and giving me the push for my blog to become what it has! And a further thanks to Owen Pickford and Ben Schiendelman for inviting me into the fold here at The Urbanist, bringing my stories to an ever-growing audience.
Bus driving is a whirlwind. It’s the feeling of dipping one’s feet into a myriad different worlds, watching and taking part in so many lives and spaces, finding new ways to consider and grow and learn. Here is a collection of days, in celebration of the blogversary, and in an attempt to offer up the experience of multitudes we operators get in just several hours… but most of all I offer the following as a celebration of the people. My stories are ultimately not about me, but about the folks, about how we interact, about ways of thinking.
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Rainier at Walker Street, by the Center Park housing facilities and the 2100 building. A runner sprints up the bus, teenage Latino with aviators and camo pants, slick, he’s streaking through time to make it, but wait; he pauses on the second step, body like a dancer, agile, hopping back off the coach to blow out pot smoke before boarding. He stubs out his joint on the cement, and I’m laughing, thanking him for doing that. The eyebrows above the shades smile, his easy grin revealing two rows of small and friendly teeth.
A dark-skinned immigrant man leaves quietly. Does he speak English? Is his world close to mine? Yes. In his hand is a book by the recently deceased Maya Angelou.
A butch girl and her lady, kissing under the orange sodium lamps at Seneca, bodies held tightly, close together.
A man in a wife beater, slapping back at a man attacking him, two men who seem to know each other, fighting amongst the new landscaping on Maynard Avenue, their shouts muffled by the summer leaves.
I’m passing by the Iglesia La Luz Del Mundo at Rainier and Oregon, cruising toward the zone at Alaska. There’s a Latino woman running, no way will she make it, but she’s running anyway, moving pretty quickly. I stop for her, feeling generous tonight. Her smile is oceans wide, breathing heavy and happy, raising the space inside another notch.
In my notes I simply described him as “Red G Playa;” a quarterback-sized man dressed in red walking up from the back at Rainier and Andover. He’d been listening to me discuss my love for driving the 7. He adds to the conversation as he steps out, saying, “I always love it when you do the 7.”
I roll gently down 14th Avenue in Beacon Hill, passing by the International School. A few blocks south and there they are, at home on the overgrown lawn adjacent to the sidewalk– a few Native Americans and others, drunk and high and drifting, behind the tall grass, paraphernalia littered all about them. One of them is Jackie, over there in the wheelchair, and I wave from my passing 36, not sure if I’m making it through their drugged-out haze. In a month or so she’ll be in dramatically better shape, on her way to Peters Place on the 7, happy to finally have a roof and a bed.
Senior East Asian ladies sitting midway back, spelling out the word Safeway together in english. Some giggling is involved.
Phil, always in the corner of my eye, the guy just shows up everywhere and nowhere, a younger man who panhandles near Pike Place. He showed me photos of his childhood days once. Today he squawks to get my attention, practically a bird call, and we wave large.
Arana Wang, local artist, is on the sidewalk. “Arana Wang??” I call out. Yes, it is her! We hug and chat for a red light.
Myself and a man on the 10, discussing the biography of Douglas Adams, author of the Hitchhiker’s Guide series. Adams was a drunk and died young, in his fifties. We’re discussing the authorship controversies of the closing book in the series.
Anna B on the sidewalk, out of nowhere, another good friend at the 70 bus stop, smiling that smile! Evocative and fresh; imagine the Mona Lisa a few seconds later. Hers is a gaze which has seen many things, but stills revels in the beauty of small moments.
“Playing Tetris” on the 36– that is, trying to figure out ways of arranging passengers and their walkers, bags, and wheelchairs such that we can all fit in. I’m standing there with my chin on my hand, looking at a wheelchair and some luggage, doing some mental calculations. I’d hauled the suitcase up the stairs, joking, “this thing weighs more than I do!” The man in the wheelchair has a sleek, terrific-looking new vehicle, called the Luggie, I learn. It looks to be the Lexus of mobility devices.
A lady on the 120: “You’re a hero to the planet and the people, every day!”
A man on the 120: “I like the way you drive, bro. ‘Ppreciate it.”
A thoughtful hipster on the 70, discussing a band he used to be in, Meese, and the perils of working in the entertainment industry. We share horror stories of living in Hollywood. With someone else I expound on the long-lasting nature of the trolleys.
An Islamic family in traditional dress is asking me questions. I’m explaining where to get an Orca card, inwardly marveling at their wonderful faces, so many bright eyes ready to smile.
11:42 at night on Capitol Hill, and things are pulsing. A full house this evening, lively and ready for the scene. I’m turning onto Pine on an outbound 49, waiting for the people crossing in the crosswalk. Two of them, a couple, suddenly become animated: it’s Kristina and Adam, dear friends, out on the town on Friday night! What are the odds? I open the doors and beam at them. Kristina asks if they can hop on for a moment. Of course they can. I’m overjoyed. We ride several blocks together, chatting up the space, sculpting new sides to our respective evenings, connections and smiles livening up the space even further. Several minutes after they leave a woman will come forward with a cupcake, offered by way of thanks for the joyous ride.
Me, walking by myself, basking in the sunshine at Volunteer Park on a layover, sitting under a tree for nine precious minutes.
“Shit is deterioratin’,” said a man walking by to his lady. I can’t agree.
Editor’s Note: We are so thankful for the stories that Nathan brings. It’s unbelievable how heartwarming and brilliant they are. There’s rarely one that doesn’t bring a smile to our faces. We thank him for showing us all how much community there is on buses, working to dispel stereotypes and communicating the human nature of operators and passengers.