I’m talking with somebody about how Rainier and Kenyon, where he lives, is like Watts. We’re both from South Central LA. We’re talking about South Gate, talking about how if you really think about it–
“Well, I don’t believe it!!! To what do I owe this GREAT HONOR!”
It’s Carlos, stepping on and into the conversation like a jolt of energy never before seen at 0700 hours.
“As I live and breathe! Carlos!” I reach out for a firm handshake. “Where you been all my life?”
“Nathan, shit, man! What’s goin’ on? You on this one now?” Referring to the route we’re doing this morning, the 13.
“Naw, special guest appearance, one day only.”
“Well, iss a honor for this route to have you, only the best.”
I can see he means it. “Aw man, thank you!”
“Don’t you work nights?” For some reason everybody remembers me from the 7. “Doin’ what, 7’s and 49’s?”
“Exactly, that’s my baby. Love that stuff. I’ll be back soon enough! Now tell me ’bout you, where you been?”
“Well, actually, I got this injury.”
“I’m sorry! on the job or off the job?”
“Good. I would hope it’s on the job, I mean if you’re gonna get injured. So they pay.”
“Yeah. I slipped on this chain in the warehouse…” He explains the details. “I go in for an MRI on Monday.”
“I hope it goes well. Shoot, Carlos. I’m sorry this happened, it’s a bummer this happened.”
“Yeah. But it’s off-shore maritime, so I’ve had the last three months off,”
“Yeah, still gettin’ paid,”
“Oh great. There you go,” I say.
“I still gotta show up every day though, you know how they do it, the rules and everything. Sit around for seven hours.”
“Oh man. Bring a good book!”
“Or, bring some sleeping pills and sleep the whole time!”
“I did that yesterday.”
I offer to help a middle-aged woman with her suitcase down the stairs. “Oh, wow,” she says.
“Yeah, it gets me outta the seat, gets the old blood flowing,”
“Your butt must be numb! What’s your normal route?
“Oh! Oh.” Her grin turns into a look of respect. “You got your work cut out for you!”
“Listen,” Carlos is saying after she’s left. “I wanted to tell you about this. So I’m on the 131 goin’ home late at night, real late, midnight somethin’. I have two ones and a twenty, so I put in the two one-dollar bills.”
“Okay yeah uh huh,”
“Yeah. I put in two ones, but I don’t have–”
“The remaining fifty cents.”
“Yeah– actually, I had $2.25. So it’s just,”
“Just the twenty-five cents left,”
“Yeah. But the driver won’t give me a transfer!”
“Oooh my gaash!”
“And it’s midnight!”
“You gotta get home!”
“Yeah! I’ve gotta get this transfer. So the whole bus chips in, they all put in together like twenty-five pennies,”
“Oh cool. That’s impressive. Sometimes it takes a village!”
“We gotta look out for each other!”
“And still he doesn’t wanna give me a transfer!”
“He says, it don’t matter that everyone else–”
“That’s ridiculous! Okay. That’s ridiculous. And you know what, okay. People talk about you gotta pay the full fare because in McDonalds if you only pay partial they’re not gonna give you a whole hamburger, but that analogy doesn’t make sense here because at McDonalds they have the ability to return the money you’ve already given them! Here, that’s not possible. He has to give you a ride. He has an obligation to give you a transfer, ’cause you’ve already put money down! Plus, it’s the middle of the night!
The 131 is hourly by that time.”
“It’s the middle of the night!”
“You gotta get home! We gotta look out for each other!”
“Maybe he hates his life.” He says it in a sympathetic tone. “Or hates people.”
“This is a people person job!”
“Exactly. You know, you hear about these drivers gettin’ skateboards thrown at ’em, and I hope you don’t mind me sayin’ this,”
“I think I know what you’re about to say, and I agree.”
“Half of ’em bring it on themselves! Course I’m not saying every situation,”
“Oh of course,”
“But honestly, when you’re,”
“What are they exactly, how are they expecting people to react?”
I add, “’cause I gotta think about if I’m treating this person a certain way, I may see him again in an hour! Or maybe, he may have five brothers!”
“Haha, yeah! You’re thinkin’ ahead.”
“Whatever energy I put out, I’m gonna get back in my face multiplied by ten.”
“Totally. Totally. That’s how it works. Man, lemme know what. Of all these bus drivers. You’re my favorite, Nathan.”
“Man, Carlos, thank you. There’s some good guys out there. Good drivers.”
“Yeah, there’s some good guys out there.”
I don’t think my way is the best way. There are many good ways to do this gig. But those “good guys out there,” as we put it, they can make one world of a difference.
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.