Picture 2


He’s the younger guy with the fro cut to look like he’s wearing a pair of headphones.
If it was ever a fashion, it came and went quickly, but I suppose this young man wears it as well as one can. Our discussion starts by my asking if there’s another 7 right in front of us or not. It’s just so quiet on my bus; we’re deep into Saturday night and no one’s out here. The city’s unpredictable, we agree, or to use his words, “hella weird, man…”
“The weather, the people,”
“Yup. S’pos’ta be crowded, then fuhggin nobody nowhere,”
“It’s like the Twilight Zone out here. Feels like I’m doin’ somethin’ wrong!”
He laughs.

I’m trying to gauge if he wants to keep talking. What is there to lose, I think, asking him if he’s always lived in Seattle.
“Born and raised. Well, mostly rural Washington mostly. Fife, Sumner.” We discuss his background and mine, and my being part Korean.

Now he’s pontificating on girls he likes. He frames people by type, considering people in categories of race. He is to Filipino girls as Aristaeus lusted after Eurydice– hungry and filled with longing. He’s telling me how a trip to the southern United States is necessary when searching for “them rrreal black girls,” as the ones he’s encountered here don’t quite stir his fancy– or rather, “they don’t got they muhfuggin’ head right. You gotta go down souf.” If I have anything to say about it, the man has a lot more African-American women to meet in the greater Seattle area before arriving at such horrendously broad conclusions! But I’m here to listen. He waxes poetic on an earlier, simpler time involving himself and his “fitty hoes,” in a mini-narrative right out of The Arabian Nights.

An overweight Caucasian gentleman seated several rows back has been listening. As if Aristaeus has only just mentioned rural Washington, he hollers out:

“Fife! You must know Graham then!”
“Yeah, I know Graham!” says Aristaeus.
I listen as they bond over how they used to play on competing teams. They conclude with confidence that nothing surpasses playing high school sports while simultaneously smoking marijuana. For my part, I’m happy to see him conversing with a white person, as he had made some frustrated remarks on the subject earlier (read: “tired of them muthafuckin’ white folks keep sayin’ we all muthafuckin’ hustlers, all criminals.” “Perpetuatin’ the lie,” I translated. “Yeeeah,” he said, approving the translation).

At the stop underneath I-90 I notice a man outside whom I recognize, standing listless under the sodium vapor lamps. I yell out his name– “Traaan! Heeyy!”
Next to Tran is another man who also recognizes me, and yells a hello himself. Neither wants the bus, but they’re excited– two tattered, filthy, Dostoyevskian figures lurking in the shadows, wearing the most luminous smiles… I love this job, I think to myself. The second man, about twenty feet away from the doors, half-heartedly shouts a request for a transfer, to which I say, “next time, my friend, next time I gotchu!”
We all wish each other well. I drive away smiling to myself.

Aristaeus, who witnessed the interaction in silence, says, “man, you cool as fuck!”
“Just a little!” I say in response, making the relevant gesture with my thumb and forefinger.
“Naw man, you are. What are you, Colombian?”
I laugh. “Korean!”
“Oh that’s right, you said that like five times. Usually it’s a bunch a racist muhfuggas.”
“I try to make up for those guys!”
“Well. You’re doin’ it.” Two elderly African-American women seated next to him concur. “Thank you,” they say. “We appreciate that.”

However, Aristaeus is bubbling over in a way they are not. He rises, saying, “whuus yo name?”
“Nathan, Jeremiah.” We shake hands. He declares, in a voice pitched as if I were thirty feet away, “I’m ’bout to go make babies with my girlfriend tonight, and I’ma name my new baby Nathan!”
“Wow. Wow! That’s an honor!”
“I’m feelin’ you tonight, man.”
“That’s huge!”
“I’m inspired!” He steps off the bus, glowing.

Did he just say that? “Now that I have not heard before!” I quip, after he’s gone. The old ladies crack up.

Something about all this compels the overweight fellow from further back to shout, “Hey! Can you apply for McDonalds online?”
Take it all in stride– “I’m not a hundred percent sure, but yeah, I think you can! I’m gonna say yes!”
“Okay. Cool.”
“You thinkin’ about lookin’ into it?”
“Yeah, I’s thinkin’ about getting a job again. I need to do somethin’ with my life.”
“Yeah, might be all right. Little bit a extra money on the side.”
I continue gently inspiring him. Just pretend it’s normal, all of this, to be yelling between the front of the bus and the middle of the bus about McDonalds versus Jack in the Box. I propose applying while also tactfully suggesting not eating fast food every day. He’s on board with both counts.

“You got me feelin’ talkative tonight!” he yells, turning to the person next to him– a demure elderly woman– and asking how much she thinks he weighs. He stands up to give her a better picture to guess from. “I bet you think I’m two fifty.” They’re discussing nutrition and weight fluctuation now, two people who couldn’t seem less alike, deep in earnest conversation. “I used to be one seventy five, but I max out at two eighty!”

The wheels on the bus, turning ever onward…

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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.

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Gordon Werner

I’ve ridden with Nathan before … Always a hoot and always leaves other passengers with a smile. Real credit to Seattle and especially Metro.