Ode to the 7 (Cascade of a Thousand Colors)


Rainier and Forest, southbound. A mild-mannered Caucasian man in his twenties noticed I was the driver upon my pulling up and opening the doors. “Oh fuck yeah,” he said to himself.

I’ve been driving the 7 at night, five nights a week, for an entire year straight. I love it. I loved it when I started driving it on and off in 2009, and I love it even more now, to the point that at the past several shake-ups I could see no reason to pick anything else, though I could easily do so, when instead I could be driving the one and only 7. To everyone– and this ‘everyone’ is one huge number of people– who has offered discouragement over the years, who has thrown barbs at the workplace, explained away my happiness with trite excuses, done their best to belittle me bit by bit, day after day, to this great sea of naysayers I believe I’ve earned the right to say the following in a respectful but okay, entirely dismissive tone:


I can recall riding the 7 shortly after I’d started at Metro and chatting with the driver. In my later childhood I’d grown up using the route, and felt energized as always by its hive-like microcosm of humanity, the earthly globe in all its glorious and terrible wonder compacted into a single vehicle.

“I can’t wait to get to drive this,” I said to the operator.
“Well, be careful what you say,” he murmured. “Give it a try before you say stuff like that.” His trepidation was unfounded, as we now know, but he was right to express it. Nobody loves the 7. He had no way of knowing where I was coming from.

The great sea of naysaying bus drivers has subsided over the years. Now people just know I’m crazy. I’m crazier than the passengers I pick up. I get excited when we turn the corner at Pike and a big mob is waiting. I feel humbled and honored to drive alongside so many operators who accept and tolerate my attitude, my enthusiasm which hardly makes sense, but which keeps bubbling out. Thank you for waving at me, for taking me in despite my gleeful malady of happiness. I don’t pretend to understand it, except to say the joy I feel while out here in the vortex is completely real, and utterly soul-satisfying. We yearn to feel whole in this life. And for fleeting moments when directing films, or clicking the shutter, or taking the S-curves at Andover, greeting this new set of eyes and watching them fold into a smile…

A good friend recently rode much of my shift, which was the 7 and the 49 combined (my heart will crumble a little when these routes eventually get split), and she commented on how much more visibly excited I got once we turned into the 7 and the 7 passengers started getting on. I had never realized a change was visible!

One late night we were at the southbound zone underneath I-90. I was outside the bus, helping a man who was carrying a few upholstered armchairs. We were lifting them on through the back doors of the coach. While we were both back there he gave me his fare, which I took up to the front and paid, bringing him back a transfer.

As I walked up and down the aisle to do this, I had to resist the urge to just sit down next to all the people and ask how they were doing. Dim fluorescents illuminating a cascade of a thousand colors, different moods and tones, lives on their way, the tired and disenfranchised, those who have suffered but hide their bruises, those who recognize kindness and those who don’t, a motley marginalized crew of society’s unloved, speaking in their native tongues.

These are the people I most wish to spend time with while I’m at work.

All of which is to say, you youngsters, if your heart is set on something and the old guard tries to dissuade you, consider their opinions, but listen also to yourself. Remember they can only offer their own experience and perspective, which aren’t the same as yours. You might be on to something.

That was the ecstatic section. Now for the bummer paragraph: It is with some sadness I write that I’ll be on different routes for the summer. I’m taking reduced hours to focus on writing, filmmaking, and artmaking, which necessitated being on call. Find me on any trolley route (quite possibly the 7 itself) during the midweek rush hours. All this will have no real impact on the stories I post here, which will generally continue to be stories from the evening 7, as there’s currently a huge backlog of such. Naturally I’m excited to see faces new and old on the other routes (especially the 3/4, another baby of mine I’ve been away from for too long), but you know me well enough to know it goes without saying I’ll be back on the great one and only before we can say, “next stop, Henderson Street!”

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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.