Back Door Man


A figure slips on through the back door at outbound 12th and Jackson, against the rules. Maybe he’s doing it in loving memory of the Ride Free Area. This used to irritate me, and sometimes still does.* But why? I think it’s less about the rules than simply my desire to greet everyone.

I see his eyes furtively check to see if I’ve noticed him. I lock eyes with his in the mirror, giving him a big smile– no irony, no malice, just a regular jug of a grin. He pulls his shades down to more clearly see me, confused. I give him a friendly wave. This prompts him to walk up to the front.

“My bad, my bad,” he says.
“I was sad you din’t wanna come say hi to me!” I exclaimed enthusiastically, in mock grief.
“My bad, dude, no way!” he says again, laughing, showing me the transfer he had all along.
“I’m just messin’ with you!” Fistpound. “Thanks for comin’ up. How you been?”

We catch up for a few before he returns to his seat, staking it out before the crowds can take it over. He looks around, out the window, smiling to himself. It’s a good day.

*Operators: I’m in no position to give advice, but I’d like to suggest something that works for me. If one feels compelled to say something after a passenger boards through the back, making demands that they come to the front opens up the possibility for conflict, as well as the possibility for them to say no. Instead, if one says something like, “next time try and use the front door,” or“next time come on up to the front, don’t be shy,” it eliminates the demand element. You’re not actually asking them to do anything. They can’t say no. Of course, better than all of this is to just leave it alone. Or sometimes I’ll simply say, “welcome aboard, everybody!”

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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.