Bashi’s talking to somebody next to him. “I would appreciate… I would appreciate it, to slumber. Not even sleep. Slumber. You,”

“Slumber means sleep.”
“I know.”
“S, L, U, M, B, E, R.” At this point he calls out to me. “Hey Nathan! How read it, S, L, U, M, B, E, R?”

Rest breaks were tight today due to a protest incident downtown. I used the five minutes at the layover for stretching and bathroom, and was then eating my sandwich in service. My philosophy: take your break while driving the route. That way you’re guaranteed to get a break! Anything else is gravy. Drive at twenty-five miles an hour, say hi to people… and enjoy yourself. Life is short. Yes, I did once drive from Rainier to the U-District with seaweed salad and chopsticks in one hand… though there’s hardly enough red lights along that distance to get a proper meal in! The Rainer Avenue kids looked at me askance. I like to think the chopsticks added a touch of class.

“Slumber,” I said, in between mouthfuls. “It’s like sleeping.”
“Like tired, yeah.”
“Slumber. Hey what about… flabber-gast?”
“That’s like very surprised.”
“Oh, yeah!”
“Man, you’re good!” we both said, incredibly, at precisely the same time.
“You’re good, smart!”
“You’re very smart!” I said.
“Flabbergast. I was flabbergasted.” Bashi is well-dressed, as he always is, and only slightly intoxicated today. He’s a father, and is testing out the word in a sentence, as I imagine he does when teaching new words to his children. “I was flabbergasted, to see Mr. Donald Trump is leading the Republican party.”
“I am flabbergasted too!” I laughed. To the incoming crowd at Edmunds, I exclaimed, “hello everybody!”
“Man Nathan, you read a lot of books,” Bashi was saying.
“He does!” replied one of the entering passengers, who knows me.
“I do read a lot of books.”

Everyone else finished boarding, and then he said, “what about guwrible?”
“How do you say it?”
“Guwrible. G, U, L, L, I,”
“Oh, gullible!”
“Gullible.” He tries out my pronunciation, stressing the first syllable.
“Yeah, that’s like when you believe anything.”
“Gullible. It’s gotta be G, U.”
“Yeah, gullible.” I spell it again. “You know it.” I announce the next stop, and as we cruise in I smile as I hear him continue trying out the word: “gullible. Gullible.”

At this point, while stopped at Genessee, another fellow about halfway back began having epileptic fits. He convulsed and screamed in tongues, arching his back toward the high heavens, his legs shooting out, pushing against the seats and walls with Sisyphean force, and continued seizing until the fire department showed up. We sat with all doors open, as people stepped outside, attended to the man on the floor, or looked out the window. Some offered to call for help, which I always appreciate.

“Okay guys, what we’re gonna do here is we’re gonna wait around for some medical assistance for the gentleman, thank you for your patience. There should be another number 7 comin’ up right behind us pretty soon, if I see him comin’ up behind us I’ll let you know. Should be just a couple minutes here, love you guys…” and so on. Help arrived in record time, and we were soon free to go. I thanked the passengers profusely for waiting around with me. Overkill on the positive? Definitely. But fellow operator Neil once wisely noted that on Rainier you can’t just kill ’em with kindness; you have to overkill them with kindness. Bashi and I got back down to the important stuff.

“It is gullible or gallible?”
“Gullible,” I said.
“Should be G, U.”
“Yeah gullible. You know like the bird, gull, seagull?”
“Gullible. Gull-ible.”
“You say it perfect.” I’m enjoying this. “Ask me another word!”
“Another word! Exuberant!”
“Exuberant, very, very excited, very happy!”
“Very confused!”
“Man, you got every word! I’m gonna ask you more next time, I’ll have more next time!”
“I’ma be ready!”

We know life is a series of highs and lows, but as a bus driver you experience that in a more extreme, much more concentrated fashion. All the highs and lows of life are happening at the same time, in a single room, during and inside of each other. I’d been thinking about how to expediently use my break time and remain relaxed on the route. For me it was a pleasant afternoon. For the man convulsing, eight PM tonight was a disaster. The medics were stressed and concerned, but not as stressed as he was, working what for them was a fairly routine call. Some passengers felt sleepy and used the extra time on the bus to rest; others bit their fingernails or cursed, trying to speed up time. A few enjoyed the chance to step out for a cigarette. And then there was Bashi and I, having our own little spelling quiz and chuckling about it. Tragedy and comedy rub shoulders in such strange proximity. As the driver, you simply marvel at it all, the level of complexity in all these lives, all happening at once. With enough context it would all make sense, but for the time being, there’s nothing to do but marvel.

Which I’m happy to do.

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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.