Patricia and I were talking about something, at the end of the Prentice loop, out there at the end of the 7 line. She’s a semi-regular. Tonight our conversation is interrupted by this gent, who other drivers and I have taken to calling “mista driva,” since that’s what he calls all of us. He’s described here, and one day, I’ll actually see him not drunk. Yes, I believe in miracles. But today is not that day. He’s a new face on Rainier, and given how he runs his body he wont last too long– though there are those who, like Denise or the Rolling Stones, have a resilience that quite simply defies logic.
“Do you have eyes?” he says, stumbling into a seat next to Patricia.
“What’s that?” she says, politely, in her refined way. I don’t think she has conversations like this very often.
“I cannot see your eyes.”
“Oh, no.” She says, stepping out right when things are getting interesting, leaving just the two of us.
“Hey, mista bus driva.”
“Hey! How are you?”
“I’m okay. But I cannot see the eyes.”
There was a watershed moment I had on my first city route, the 70. I had come from two years of suburban work on the Eastside and didn’t know how to talk to unstable people, or as I like to say, the mentally wandering. A man was monologuing about his job as a leprechaun bounty hunter. Joe Biden was in town, and the going rate for a leprechaun was higher than usual. Two hundred dollars. They’re harder to catch these days, he explained. I listened but didn’t engage, not knowing what to say.
“So that’s why you can get more for them now, a hundred dollars.”
“Hang on,” I said, as something clicked inside me. “I thought it was two hundred!”
Talk to them as if what they’re saying makes complete sense.
Why am I ignoring a chance to take part in a conversation about leprechaun head price fluctuation as affected by vice presidential visits? Am I going to have a more interesting conversation today? Um, no. In my then woefully undeveloped street sense, I had actually been considering asking him to stop talking. What was I thinking? Bend like tall grass in the wind. You’ll last longer.
“Bus driva, I cannot see your eyes.”
“That’s a bummer, man. Are you feelin’ all right?”
“I’m o-kay. I am sad that I cannot see your eyes.”
“Shoot, that’s too bad.” I’d feel the same way!
“I can’t see the eyes!”
“Mista bus driva!”
“I can’t see your eyes!”
Let’s really get down to business and solve this, I thought. Let’s talk about it. “Well, I can see your eyes, so you must be able to see my eyes, right?”
“Can you see my eyes?”
He rises up and stands close to my face. After thinking about it for a while: “Bus Driva. I cannot see your eyes.”
“I can see your eyes. Can you see my eyes?”
“Mista bus driva, where are your eyes? I can’t see them.”
“Oh, they’re right over here. Can you see my eyes?”
“I am looking for your eyes.”
“Can you see my eyes?”
He was maybe two feet away from me. The red light at 57th and Rainier is a very long one, and he needed every second. Finally, his glassy, completely dilated orbs blinked, and again slowly, and he said,
“Your eyes are. Brown.”
“My eyes are brown! You can see my eyes!”
“I can see your eyes! Bus driva, I can see your eyes!”
“Everything is okay! You can see my 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.