Boys Keep Diaries, Too




Photo by Victoria Holt.

I think “journal” is the accepted unisex term which allows the menfolk to save face while writing what is basically a diary. There’s also the more decidedly masculine “notebook.” My diary/journal/insert-other-phrase-here is rather disorganized, usually consisting of scraps of transfers and haphazardly jotted notes in various notebooks friends have given me. Friends are always giving me notebooks. I find writing intensely useful, that sense of finding structure in your thoughts thoughts, organizing the swirling haze of ideas. Here are observations from a night, a day, and the following night. These notes are usually the first step toward what end up as blog posts. I wanted to share with you what the first inklings are like, the infancy stage of the process. I’ve added a phrase here and there for clarity.

On the 7. Chinese man Jack’s wife lost her purse on the Prentice loop at 9:35. I call coordinator, who thinks it’s the 9:40 trip, but I know that it’s actually 7/2, the 9:00 trip which always runs late. Coordinator doesn’t think it is, but I insist he call 7/2 as well– and the purse is there! Jack and I standing around together, waiting for the confirmation. He asks what I’m reading (director interviews). We shake hands at the end. Been through something together. He’s thrilled. He has a car– we explore the 7 timetable, deciding if it’s better for him to “chase” the 7 that has his purse, or to wait for the bus to come back around. Something exciting in a old-fashioned manly way about this. Planning a mission, considering the odds. Guys standing around a map of West Germany.

On the 12, going to Trader Joe’s (ate all of Kate’s ginger snaps!). Roderick’s driving. We dive so quickly, as always, into the deepest probing depths of life philosophy. With some people this happens easily. Finding purpose gives us peace. The act of what it means to be a father. In the way that lovers think no one else is ever around them, our conversation takes turns sharing secrets and unbarred truths as though the bus were empty, though it isn’t. What a guy.

Riding Fikre’s 12, now coming back from Trader Joe’s. Resisted the urge to get the vegan chocolate chip cookies, but didn’t resist the free sample! Fikre and I, talking at the front. I’m standing. Sunlight through the left windows. A young-ish, very pale hipster-looking fellow with stretched earring holes is angry at us as he deboards. For the Masai and Mursi people, ear gauging represents status ascension or womanhood; in Myanmar, it’s because the ear is considered sacred. For this guy, it’s a fashion statement. He thinks about how it goes with his beard and shirt. Am I judging him because he’s angry at me?

He’s yelling at both of us because he feels unsafe that Fikre, the driver, is talking to someone. I mention that it’s a customer service job, and that I’m a driver too; [he] doesn’t care. He notes the coach number and references cell-phone driving. I’m impressed with Fikre’s attitude: unscathed, professional, a listener, a defuser. I apologize to him, but he won’t hear it.

Hipster’s cell phone analogy is not quite correct. More accurate would be the comparison of driving a car and talking with the person in the passenger seat. Completely legal. [The] operator’s job is to multitask.

On my 49. Somebody reading Mason & Dixon, by Pynchon. Hope he comes back to the front so I can ask him about it. [I just finished Inherent Vice, by the same author].

On [the] same bus, somebody named V– a lady named V, just like the titular character of Pynchon’s first book. It’s the Thomas Pynchon train apparently. V is Amy the bus driver’s girlfriend. They’re moving to Vermont. We talk lifestyle changes, getting a car, more.

A couple in Columbia City is excited about Ricky’s, [where they’ve just come from]– “just really good American diner food.” We talk about Charlie’s, and Wabi Sabi. I don’t recommend that one too highly because I know a passenger who worked there and was mistreated by the manager…. Different stories, different levels of lives, taking place in the same spaces, unbeknownst to each other.

Love the five-minute downtown late-night layovers. Hangin’ out at Third and Union, getting ready for the midnight 7. Quiet crew, mostly service workers, restaurant people. I stroll outside, fistbumping with familiar faces. I listen to the scruffy guys up front, occasionally chiming in. They explain to me what rhubarb is. Now they’re talking about livered onion soup. It’s hard to make, and easy to overcook. They move on to the finer points of Philly cheese steaks. Growing up in a Korean household, this is all new to me. I often feel like an outsider, observing the great goings-on. Grateful for the willing inclusiveness of so many. Woolworth’s used to be downtown, they’re saying now, couple of oldsters reminiscing. Leaning against the window, scratching their chins. Different chicken places. We all start talking about Goodwill as we drive by it. I love the place, I tell them. They alphabetize their used books there! A cut above Value Village, clearly. “People with money go to goodwill too,” a voice says. I tell them about my jacket.

Eastbound Pine– child in a sullen mood asks if there’s a child abuse number, some kind of hotline. Sad eyes, glassy, pinpoints reflecting the light. I tell him about Safe Place. [He’s allowed to stay on the bus, even on the breaks, until the Safe Place people arrive]. He’s restless, moving from one seat to the next. I want him to feel comfortable. [He] starts to leave at the end of the line, but I yell back, “you can hang! You don’t have to leave. They’re almost here.”

[He’s quiet, so] I monologue on for a bit, trying to offer a neutral zone, something that feels safe. “Thanks for hangin’ out for so long on my bus, they’ll be here soon. I know this is the loud bus, thanks for putting up with it.” [Referring to my announcements, greetings, yelled-thank-you’s, etc]. He smiles a little. “It helps me stay happy, talkin’ to people. Keepin’ the energy up,” I say. He’s from Florida. Something about hurricanes. I can’t imagine hurricanes. “All I know is movies where everything’s flying around. You got friends down there?”

We talk about the Everglades, how I love to photograph, how America’s diverse and Korea isn’t, how I love driving the bus, the sensation of feeling useful. He gradually opens up. I ask what his ideal living place would be, and he speaks of one day returning to Florida. I’m happy he has good memories.

I ask, “you like to ride the bus?”

We laugh.

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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.