She rides every Sunday night, on her way to church. Her love of God and music overtakes her body as she gives in to the rhythms of her headphones, her body shuddering as if in outright control of the beat. We might call it foolhardy for those of us with eyesight to plug ourselves into the voluntary deafness of earbuds, but for her, doing so is even more unwise. She nevertheless manages things every time, tapping out her environs with the red and white cane, gyrating to her music and simultaneously carrying on conversation with anyone who wants to listen and a few who don’t. I imagine her sense of hearing dwarfs my own. Tonight she, a colorful cacophony of bright clothing and bags, her eyes permanently screwed shut and body forever dancing, came aboard with seconds to spare.

“I’m so glad I made your bus!”
“Oh, excellent!”
“I like taking your bus ’cause the one after you is driven by a foreigner!”

Such statements rub differently in our weaker moments. At the end of a shift, tired and hungry, being our best takes effort. It’s easier to laze into reactionism. I flashed to my uncles, scrubbing restaurant floors for a pittance just so their children might have a future in this country. I thought of my Grandfather, opening a market in South Central LA, barely able to speak English, surrounded by strangers who knew nothing of his prior accomplishments, his significant past life and culture an invisible memory. My Mother, looking out at the new world. When all that was familiar is suddenly absent, and those around you don’t notice or care, the words humility and perseverance gain traction as no one besides can understand.

“I bet he got you there just fine, with no problems at all,” I said aloud.
“Well yeah, but I just don’t trust them. What if he forgets where I’m going?”

Is there a word worse than ‘them?’ Her use of it grates. I’m still stuck on immigrants. An accent should be recognized by more people for what it is: a badge of honor. It means that person or their relatives, had the courage, the sheer gall, to drop everything and completely restart their entire life in a strange and different place where they would noticeably stick out, be hampered by significant handicaps like language and knowledge, and bizarrely, be expected to keep up to the standards met by those with lifetimes of experience in said country.

Fifteenth and Campus Parkway, while the glowing red light gives time for these thoughts to pervade my vision. There’s a ‘foreigner’ on the bus just now, a young olive-skinned man my generation. Wonder what he’s thinking. I thought of dinners with my family.

I should not have said what said next. I turned around in my seat, a pointless gesture since she couldn’t see me, and said, “okay. So if you say another word about foreigners I’m gonna ask you to leave this bus, alright? They’re people just the same as you and me, and we’re not gonna talk about other people in that way.”

Wait a minute. I can’t be kicking old blind ladies off the bus just because they have different opinions than me! In the middle of the night? Talk about ridiculous. But life has no undo button. What’s done is done. I’m reminding myself that religion on the bus is always a terrible idea, and how it’s probably not a bright concept to dig myself any deeper holes, like bringing up the obvious contradiction between her attitude and her destination….

“Well,” she said, “it’s just that I can’t trust them, they can’t hear me as good, they might not hear me when I want to get off!”
“Okay, so I’m a foreigner, and–”
“What? Are you Canadian?”
“–and because of the way you’ve been talking we’re not gonna talk anymore about this, okay? I’m happy to talk about to you about all kinds of other things, but not this.”
“Hey, I’m takin’ my Mom to the Neil Diamond concert!”
“Oh, that sounds excellent! Where’s he gonna be playing?”

And just like that, we were able to bring it back. She closed that door with ease and I followed suit, and we found ourselves as fellow humans once again. She waxed rapturous on The Jewish Elvis to myself and those around her as if they naturally loved The Diamond as much or more than she. I admired her utter lack of self-consciousness. Sometimes her brash self-absorption chafes on me, but the positives of such extrovertedness outweigh the negatives. Such bravery, going forth into the world as she does, into the crosswalks and into the silences, taking on the uncertainties of an ocean of noise and impatient voices, the multitude of beings quick to judge her, and those who may simply just not know her story. Like myself.

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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.