I’m on Paul’s bus. Friends ride other friends’ buses, and it’s Paul’s last night on the 7, ever, before going into supervision. I had ridden a quick loop already, but in light of the finality of this night, I decided to hang around a little longer. You’re going to laugh, but I have to be honest: I was actually already driving home when a thought occurred to me. Why am I going home? What am I going home to do now that’s more valuable than spending time with my good friend, on the last night of his driving our favorite route? What carries more meaning for me besides human connection?Nothing, that’s what. I turned around and found him again, leaped out of my car and back on board. We cackled with delight at the ridiculous brilliance of it all. Both of us are very busy people. What with my endless cavalcade of art projects, and his as well, we don’t see each other nearly as often as I’d like, and the idea of spending my off day riding the 7 for eight hours quickly went from an absurd notion to an entirely and gleefully justifiable matter. Part of this involved me jumping out a couple times and driving my car to a new parking space further ahead on the route, before jumping on again, something we both found highly amusing.

All of which is to say, yeah, we go there. Time is valuable, and it’s ticking away. Why not spend it on what we value most?

Now we’re at Graham Street, having a terrific time, chatting the night away, holding for time here, catching up to schedule.

From behind us, in the first set of forward-facing seats, a woman’s voice yells, “hello, it’s a green light! You can go now!”
Paul replies calmly. “Oh, we’re just a little bit early. We’re gonna wait here about twenty seconds.”

Details matter. I’ve learned more from riding Paul and Brian Jobe’s buses than I can possibly express. His starting with “oh” sets the whole sentence as non-confrontational, and reinforces his friendly tone.
I turn to her and add in jest, “drivin’ too fast!”
“When you’re a real bus driver, come talk to me.”

I look at her and then turn to Paul, saying, “that must have made the videos all the more interesting, the fact that they were lo-fi.” We’re continuing a discussion about electronic harp performances on YouTube. Don’t ask me how we got to that. I want to steer him attention away from her negative energy, though he isn’t the sort to be swayed by such things.

During a lull in our conversation, I hear her voice again in my periphery: “Hey. I’m sorry. I was rude. I’m sorry.”
She didn’t rush the words out. You can tell she’d been stewing on it a while.
“Oh, it’s all cool,” I say.
“I’m sorry.”
“Thank you. I appreciate you sayin’ that.”
“That was rude of me.” She’s really processing this.
“How’s your night goin’?”
“Not good.”
“I’m sorry. I appreciate the truthful answer, but I’m sorry!” That’s becoming a go-to line of mine. “You goin’ home?”
“Good. That’s always a good feeling, walkin’ through the door, you finally made it home.”
“I’m searchin’ for my man.”
“That’s why I was rude.”
“I hope he hasn’t been givin’ you a hard time!”
“That’s why. I shouldn’a done that,” she says, looking down with shaking head, in a voice threatening to crack. She’s really letting herself feel it, and the regret is palpable. It’s as if we’ve traded places: she started by trying to make me feel better, and now the reverse seems to be the case.

“Hope he hasn’t been givin’ you trouble,” I continue.
“I’m sorry. That was mean.” More to herself, she adds in reflection, “it’s not good to be mean.”
“Oh, it’s all cool. I can see you’re a nice person.”
“That was rude. That was rude.”
“Oh, it’s no problem.”
“You guys are just bein’ nice….” She looks at me, at Paul and I, with tears welling up. Wavering, that space where emotion is louder than volume: “you’re gonna be… you’re cool. And he’s cool too.”
“You’re awesome. Thank you.”

It’s her stop now, and she walks toward me. “I’m sorry.” In a half laugh, half breaking cry, all at once frustrated with herself and deeply thankful for the forgiving space we’ve made, she says, “you guys are gonna make me cry! Can I….”

A real, tight hug. She hugs both of us. You know the difference between a perfunctory hug and a real one, where two fellow beings grasp each other and themselves, no longer strangers, deriving something tangible from the proximity, the gesture of love, their shoulder blades, the small of their back familiar, reminding you how alike we all are.

After she left, I exclaimed to Paul, “That was beautiful. Oh my goodness, that was great!”
He mentions how if I hadn’t chosen to stick around, I would’ve completely missed out on the experience. How right he is.
“Oh, that was lovely.” I grab the nearest piece of scrap paper, a Fare Alert brochure. “Hang on, I gotta write this down!”

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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.