I don’t have the ear to discern between the sound of certain firecrackers and the sound of gunshots. Some of my passengers do, though, and plenty of both were being fired off this Tuesday past in Rainier Valley. That may be enjoyable for others, but speaking for myself, I wouldn’t call it pleasant. I’m less than thrilled by it. Just about every other post here is in some way an appreciation of Seattle’s most underserved and crime-ridden neighborhoods, and regular readers will know I have a real ardor for the Valley. I’m there often enough to consider it a second home, and know more people there than in my own neighborhood.


The sound of guns, especially automatic weapons fire, does not bring me joy. The mixture of alcohol, weapons and explosives… it’s no environment to do much of anything in, and definitely not to drive an electric bus connected to 750 volts of overhead trolley wire. As an older passenger said, “those bullets come down, too!”

The bottom two-thirds of Rainier was an unending cavalcade of pops, booms, and crackles; clusters and aberrations in the soundscape, a celebration not of an event, not history, certainly not the founding of a country, but the act of celebrating itself.

Understand, reader, how far a cry this is from the choreographed and legitimately wonderful spectacle North Seattle gets to witness at Gas Works Park. These scattered potshots and the bullets between them were never big enough to be beautiful, never elaborate enough to provoke awe. The odor of burnt flame and aggression, acrid, not quite right; sparkles booming in your periphery, up above but also in the dank side alleys, glimpses of under-controlled blazes where you normally see children and forgotten furniture.

What will I remember of this night, other than the sensation of having survived a battle upon making it out of the Valley, and entering into another upon going back down?

I’ll remember the face of a Somalian man, appropriately inebriated for the holiday but confused. It was my second time seeing him that day, and this time around he was immaculately attired. Look at that crisp royal blue three piece, tailored; an offset burgundy tie set against a white dress shirt, with matching white handkerchief peeking out of the breast pocket, just so; coiffed hair and jet black shoes, shined so slick I could almost see myself in the reflection.

“My brother,” he said, after I congratulated him on how sharp he looked. “My brother, what’s going on, I don’t understand. This holiday, what does it mean? What does it mean to you?”
“Well, we never celebrated it growing up. Korean household,”
“Okay okay, but no, but what does it mean to them?”
“Well, it’s celebrating the, the beginning of the country,”
“The flag. Crossing the river.”
“Yeah the flag, yeah,”
“It’s a holiday, people should be having out having good time, going to the club! Everything is closed! The Esquire, Royal Room… why people want to blow stuff up, fire their guns? I came to get away from that bullshit. These motherfuckers don’t know. What happened to people want to dance? It’s a holiday! They should dance and be happy! I got all dressed up like this to go out!”

He didn’t want to shoot stuff. He just wanted to dance.

Maybe one day we all will.

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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.


  1. Thanks Nathan. I just love your posts. I was saying to a friend on July 4th that I was angry because instead of spending thousands of dollars on fireworks which are really reminiscent of war, we should all be cooking gobs and gobs of food to feed our neighbors and dancing in the streets. Clearly the Somalian man knows what he’s talking about and if I ever see him I may have to ask him to dance! If I ever end up on your bus, I’ll definitely say hello! for now…just a cyber hello and hug!

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