Snarled is perhaps too strong a word, but I’m using it anyway. It’s what he wanted to do. Two of us 7’s had pulled up at the same moment. He snarled from outside the doors at 5th and Jackson: “so which one of you is late!”
I said, “um, neither of us.”
“Well, somebody’s late, because I’ve been waiting for fifteen…”

He looked like Albert Einstein, except angry. The nondescript dress of many a fifty-year old white male, could be a teacher, could be an accountant, with stringy hair going everywhere, only with no apparent genius to back it up; only fumes here.

Plenty of others were waiting for the bus besides him. He stepped in and sat right next to me, diligently continuing his fuming. That takes work, you know! I ignored him for the moment, brightly greeting the incoming horde. Several of them recognized me, and we excitedly exchange best wishes for the new year. What a great crew the 7 ridership is. Whatever energy you put out as a bus driver, you get back in your face multiplied by ten; on the 7, it feels like you get it back multiplied by a hundred. Another driver and I were talking about why we both like Metro’s statistically least desirable, busiest, lowest-seniority route; he summed it up by saying, “I just feel more wanted on that thing!”

I told the crowd, by way of the mic, “guys, we’re thirty seconds early, we gotta wait thirty seconds. Don’t wanna leave anyone behind.” It’s true that we’re early. I imagine the 7 behind me is late, and supposed to be our leader.

“Ha, well, according to all of us, you’re late!” That’s Einstein’s brother, piping up.
“Well, all I can tell you is, I’m here, and we’re on time.” I was turned in my chair facing him, with the bus parked as we waited out our thirty seconds. I was thinking quickly, but not well. As I looked at his smirking self-confidence, the condescension he felt he could rightfully bestow on those younger than him, I said something unintelligent: “you’re not feelin’ very well, huh?”

Before he could respond, I elbowed into his thoughts directly, with a firm and cutting tone. “Actually, you should vent. Just vent. Get it outta your system.” I realized I sounded too harsh, and lightened it by adding with a smile, “I won’t take it personal!”

He didn’t say a word.

His smirk vanished before my eyes. He was a spade being called out as such, temporarily steamrolled by a mixture of confidence and unassailable relaxedness. How do you resist encouragement? He began to realize he was out of place–not just racially, but more crucially, emotionally. The people on this bus know the driver, and everyone in here is happy. A young black American man leaving through the middle doors flashed me the westside sign, by way of thanks, almost daintily. I waved at his echo.

Einstein got up to leave just four stops later. “Thanks, man,” I said.
“Well, I’m done venting now.”
“I hope it’s a good rest of the night!”
“It will be. I’ll be perfectly on time.”
“Right on. Take care!”
“Take care!”

He sounded chagrined. I hope he took something with him from the energy my passengers and I had built. It isn’t proprietary, after all. We cook up that good feeling for anyone and everyone.

Article Author

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.