He was a strapping young man in his forties, built, the kind you don’t want to mess with. Those construction boots looked steel-toed, and his muscles gave heft and shape to his weathered letterman. Evenly spaced cornrows stretching his dark scalp tight. Although he wasn’t giving me the dead eyes, you know he had the look down, practiced to a withering tee. I asked him how he was doing. He reached into a back pocket.

“Hol’ up. I got it somewhere. I’ma find it right quick.”
“It’s all cool.”
“Naw, I got it.”

He was sitting behind me now, across from another man I recognize as one of the regular fixtures at the Rainier/MLK interchange. That man, a dealer clad in a dilapidated down jacket and black beanie, watched our friend across the aisle.

“Man, where I put that thing,” the first fellow muttered, searching for his fare. “I had it. Ah know I had it.”
“He don’t care, dude.”
“Naw, man.”
“This bus driver don’t care,” said Mr. Beanie, trying to de-stress his neighbor.
“Naw, man. It ain’t about that. I bet he hear a thousand excuses a day. I want him to know I’m for real.”

The other man responded with chagrined silence. Most of us are in a position to both survive and be principled, simultaneously. But….

We wander about in our lives, and our priorities lean and grow, circumstances and decisions exerting a subtle pressure. Did we always make the decisions we make now? Have we compromised ourselves, somewhere along this gradual journey? The day-to-day has a way of hiding things. Have we exchanged integrity for convenience unbeknownst to ourselves, or will the child within still recognize itself in the mirror?

Whatever the first man, Mr. Cornrows, has going on in his life, principles still figure largely in his value system, and I imagine he’s all the better for it.


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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.