Five minutes after a phone conversation in which I got dumped, this guy showed up and asked if I wanted any fried chicken. He was an Ezell’s employee, a squat and friendly face in the wee hours, absolutely loaded with tenders, wings, rolls, you name it.
I don’t usually eat fried chicken in the middle of the night.
Actually, I almost never eat fried chicken. I eat kale and scrambled eggs. I’m one of those. But what is it they say about rules? When a guardian angel offers you the hookup, and it isn’t drugs, alcohol, or Five-Hour Energy, it’s a sign from above the clouds, not to be ignored. The universe speaks to us in mysterious ways, and some of those ways include crispy chicken tenders, extra spicy, with a few wheat rolls thrown in for good measure.
He and I were parked at Rainier and Rose, taking advantage of an extra minute in the schedule to work out the negotiations. Take some, take some, he said. Take some rolls too.
No, no, I responded, gradually realizing that when it comes to chicken guardian angels don’t accept no for an answer. He insisted that I consume, free of charge. This is what the universe looks like when it notices you need a little help.
“You’re a nice guy,” he said.
“No, you’re a nice guy, man! This is my dinner! Thank you so much!”
It’s not all about me, though. In the range of things which will rouse the uninterested, particularly in the part of town we’re in right now, fried chicken reigns high. It belongs to more than just bewildered dumpees.
“Ay, hole up!” a voice rang out.
We’d aroused the attention of a young man seated halfway down the bus. Chicken is wafting through the air, and he is stirring. “Whatchoo doin with tha’ fried chicken?”
“What?” said the guardian angel.
“Ah see you givin’ him some.” Picture the voice, if you will: half hardcore, with gold teeth and apathy, and half hungry toddler, tentative, feeling left out. Those two ends of the spectrum are rather closer than we often think, opposing sides of a single coin.
“You want some?”
“Cost you twenny dollars!”
They worked it out. Angels don’t discriminate in their chicken distribution. But you knew that. As he swaggered back to his seat, the young man smiled to himself, genuinely, the smile you make when no one’s watching. We yearn to feel complete, if only for a moment.
“Thank you so much, again! ” I said. I have a tendency to over-thank people. Can I help it though, if I’m awed by the familiar?
“Well, you a nice guy!”
“Love that dude,” I said to the guy halfway down the bus after the Ezell’s angel had gone.
“No way he eatin’ alla dat!”
“Ooh, I think I will!”
“No, I mean him!”
“Oh, yeah, he had the hookup! That needs to happen more often!”
He chomped away quickly, burning the chicken candle at both ends. I held off, as I was driving, of course. I’ve driven through the tunnel eating an apple, and I really have gone up Rainier Avenue chomping on raw kale– it’s what you do when there’s no break time: stretching and bathroom at the terminal, then eat on the road– but a bus driver chowing down on Ezell’s and smearing grease all over the steering wheel would just be bad form. Don’t you agree? How could you trust the guy? We’re not wired to have faith in an operator who’s wolfing down pork ribs.
As such I let the fried chicken aroma waft up from the dashboard. Ah, yes. This is healthier anyway, I thought, dispatching one of the wheat rolls. The smell was all I needed. It was the scent of kindness, of gestures offered willingly, for no exchange. It was a distant and gentle wink, a reminder that planets do align, though perhaps not in the way we shortsighted earthlings might prefer… a reminder of the long view, in which life contains not just valleys but peaks, details, comforts, and mysteries, to be seen only by appreciative eyes.
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.