She’s repeating. We had this exact same exchange five minutes ago. “I’m a little tipsy,” she’d said upon boarding, a woeful understatement.

“Yeah you are,” I’d said.

“Happy New Year, Mister Bus driver,” she saying again now.
“Happy New Year to you too!”
“How was your New Year’s?”
“It was pretty good, how was yours?”
“Quiet.”
“That sounds nice.”
“Yup!”

“Aaaa,” yells a staggering runner. There is much intoxication happening tonight, New Year’s Day. It’s one giant dorm room out here. Just last trip at this very intersection a man was bodily dragging another (large) man out of the street, struggling to haul his unconscious carcass over the curb. Now there’s a guy saying, “aaaa,” and trying not to run into the side of the bus. After a mental coin flip I open the doors.

“Hey! Uuggh.”
“Hey, how you doin’? You feelin’ alright?”
“Yeah.”
Calm him down, in case he isn’t. “Happy New Year.”
He looks up at me. “Oh, hey! My brother! You remember me?”
“Yeah, how you been?” He looks familiar but gaunt today, wild eyed, man as hyena.
“Good, how you been.”
“Happy New Year!”
“I’m twenty-nine,” he says.
“You’re twenty-nine? Did you say you’re twenty-nine? I’m twenty-nine!” This is excellent. He’s wildly unstable, and we need to make friends. Steer them toward their good side.

“I’m twenty-nine!”
“Me too!”
“When you were born?”
“1986,” I reply.
“When?”
“March. And you?”
“January!” he says, still standing up front.
“Nice.”
“Siddown,” says Repeating Lady to him.
“Fuck you!” he replies sharply. So much for gentle steering and similar birthdays!
“Shut up,” she slurs.
“Fuck you, fucking bitch!”

Fights are never about anything important. She’s a heavyset black American woman in her fifties, eyes half-closed and speaking in slow motion. He’s a rail-thin black African man in a flannel and knit cap, much older than he looks. Neither one is particularly intimidating; in their verbal parrying they seem to be just going through the motions. As in, it’s late at night in Pioneer Square, and we’re supposed to be drunk and fighting. All right. Let’s get on with it.

“Oh she’s alright, she’s nice,” I inform him.
“Fuck you,” he says to her again.
“Stay away from me, stranger.”
“Get the fuck away from me, lady. I know you?”

Her lines are the type generally used to repel unwanted and scary advances; his are normally reserved for intense hate felt personally. Instead they sound like bad actors, sighing after being asked to say the same lines again a hundredth time. Maybe that’s why I find it so amusing. She’s practically falling asleep, definitely not afraid, and slurring out the dialogue as if it’s because there’s nothing else to say. He seems to be searching for a reason to be as angry as his lines require, and failing.

“Get outta my face and outta my life, smelly old man!”
“Fuck smelly!”
“All right young lady,” I say to her, though she’s definitely pushing sixty. She’d asked for this stop earlier. “Here we are. You need to jump out?”
“Huh.”
“You said you wanted the Mission, this is it.”
“I wanna go downtown.”
“Okay. I’ll take you there. Gotta be nice though, alright?”
“You siddown like I told you,” she continues to the twenty-nine year old.
“Fuck you, get the fuck out. This is the Mission,” he replies, offering his own creative paraphrase of my comment.
“Get away from me.”
“Fuck you. Stay away from me.”
“I don’t have to do anything you say!”
“Okay, okay,” I said.
“Fucker fuck. Why you wanna go to the Mission, lady? That’s a men’s shelter. You some kind a lady?”
“Okay guys let’s be nice.” I’m using my Mom voice. I don’t get to be a Mom very often. I’m enjoying this. “It’s New Year’s, we need to be friendly on the holidays. Everybody supposed to be friendly on New Year’s!”
“Fuck.”
“Okay.”
“Fuck you,” he tells her again.
“Everything’s okay.” A young man further back had taken off his headphones to observe. I caught him smiling. Furthering the holiday spirit, I lean into the mic and say in a friendly and exciting voice, “our next stop is! Columbia! Cherry! By the ferry terminal! Columbia Tower. Dexter Horton Building. Next stop after this is! Seneca!”

You know, balance it out a little, yin and yang. At Columbia my angry twin staggers up and out.

“Oh, you’re getting off here?” That’s fine with me. I’m not stopping the guy. “Okay, have a good night!”
“Okay!”

She chimes in once again, as if nothing at all had happened:
“Happy New Year, Mister Bus driver.”
“Happy New Year to you too!”
“How was your New Year’s?”
“It was pretty good, how was yours?”
“Quiet.”
“That sounds nice.”
“Yup!”

Ah, yes. Everything in its right place.

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Nathan Vass has had work displayed in over twenty photography shows, designed a book and three album covers, including two for Neil Welch. His “My Favorite Things” tour at Seattle Art Museum was the highest-attended such tour there. Nathan is also the director of eight films, four of which have shown at festivals, and one of which premiered at Henry Art Gallery. He owns a photography business, Two Photography, with Larry Huang, and has photographed a dozen-plus weddings. Born in South Central LA, he holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Washington, and is also a prolific writer and sometime painter. Formerly a Hollywood resident, he still contributes film reviews to Erik Samdahl's site, Filmjabber. In addition, he holds a side job as a public bus driver, which he enjoys almost as much as directing films- if not slightly more so! He is a two-time winner of Metro’s Operator of the Month award and holds a record number of commendations.