The Glow II



At Letitia I put the lift out, saying goodbye to a couple I haven’t seen in some years. He’s a Vietnam vet with a summer job transporting convicts between different prisons cross-country. She remembers me from the 5 and likes my attitude. They’re on their way to the hospital and the bank.

“Good luck with everything,”
“Oh, it’ll be easy. All I gotta do is activate an ATM card.”
“Oh.” I thought it was some sort of trying experience they were heading into. “Piece of cake!” To her I say, in reference to an earlier conversation, “and I hope your infection’s gone next time I see ya!”

A woman’s been watching from the chat seat. “Is the next one Mount Baker,” she asks. She had moved up to the front at Genessee, calmly, no rush. A rare Caucasian passenger on this corridor, I’m thinking thirties, some sort of European descent, dressed in a ponytail and women’s business casual, a trim collection of grays and tailored lines. Demure.

“We’re dangerously close!” I reply. “It’s three more stops, if I’m not mistaken.”
“Are you going, let’s see. To the airport?”
“No, I’m just getting the 48.”
“Oh. Goin’ up to the U District?”
She nods. “I’m going to UW.”
“That’s my school!”
“Oh, great. I’m going in for an ultrasound today!”

I can see how excited she is. She’s brightening up by the moment, opening and lightening up, relaxing into the space. I can’t place her accent. Her eyes sparkle with the joy of getting to be herself–we censor ourselves in public sometimes, and she’s realizing with me she doesn’t have to.”I’m so excited to see my baby. He’s already six months old–well, inside, I mean!”
“That’s wonderful. So much to think about. Names, colors… do you know if it’s a boy or a,”
“I do.”
“Have you started thinking about names?”
“Oh, we already have a name. My husband is good with names. He reads a lot!”
“Oh, terrific!”
“I can’t wait to see what he looks like!”I hesitate a millisecond before speaking, but then I think, why not share. She’s sharing. “Yeah, my mom is Korean and my dad is white, and people often say I look either like a boy version of my mom, or an Asian version of my dad.”
She smiles, her laugh rippling into the morning sunshine. “That sounds great! You got the best of both!”
“Oh, I dont know! I hope so!”
“Speaking of, I have a friend who is also half-Korean, actually half-Korean and half Jewish. He’s from Eastern Europe.”
“Very nice. My friend just went to Romania, the Ukraine, Moscow,”
“Oh, wonderful.” She seems excited to hear about someone traveling to parts of Europe other than Paris and Rome. “I’m from there. Well, nearby, the Baltic States.”
“Oh, excellent. My training is in photography, so I get very excited about traveling!”
“You should definitely go to the Baltic States!”
“I will!” I say, pulling up to Martin Luther King Way.
It occurs to me as I slow for the red light that I have every intention of doing so.

“Congratulations again,” I say as she’s getting off. “You have the glow!” I emphasize the line with a hand gesture, hoping she knows what I mean.
She looked at me for a moment. In a few short minutes we had reached a space where it felt comfortable to say such things. “Oh, thank you! You too, you do too!”

I suppose I meant the glow of being pregnant. Sometimes we find people who absolutely radiate vitality–it seems almost reductive to call it positive energy, though I guess that’s what it is. They might be pregnant, or engaged, or children, or just those rare souls whose well-being explodes out of them for reasons too large to decipher.

A young man once got on my 70 so overwhelmed with joy he rode to the terminal just so we could finish talking about it, parsing it out in words, attempting to solve the mystery. He’d been torn up over the loss of his girlfriend for six months, and today he had a conversation at a “combination tanning salon slash video store,” chatting with the owner about the history of the establishment. The owner was pragmatic in a humorous way: people like suntans, and they also like videos. There you go.

Something about that conversation, in combination with the act of stepping back outside to the sun shining down on him, had filled the young man with an ecstatic, tangible elation which suffused his entire being, and he felt strangely, randomly freed from his grief, as if alerted for the first time to all the greatness going on around him. The rest of the world had been taking place for the past six months, and now he could see it again. We spent the ride and my break at the terminal trying to capture its reasons for happening now, today. Could we bottle it and summon it at will in the future? Could we live in it always? The answers to such queries were outside the scope of our comprehension.

Suffice it to say it was great to live amidst the Glow, talking to Mrs. Baltic States, to live and learn in its presence, coaxing something new out of both of us. She walked over to the 48 stop and I drove up Rainier, spreading the good feeling one person at a time.


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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.