It’s only a few minutes of faces I don’t recognize, and then we have Andrew. Andrew’s on his way to practice mountain climbing. Albert, whose name I won’t know ’til the end of the trip, keeps butting in with tidbits on football and weather, but that’s okay. Andrew’s a young man with a job; Albert’s an older man without one. They respect each other anyway. I met Andrew on a recent break, as I was eating dinner in the middle of the bus with all doors open, gabbing away at someone else. He and I are just getting into our recurring mountain climbing discussion when a young lady I recognize steps aboard. It’s Celia.

I’m bubbling over. I distractedly yell hello at some Pioneer Square regulars walking by– bus driving is nothing if not multitasking– after which the three of us carry on our big reunion. Celia is one of those bright, happy faces upon which you see the best of life writ large, a reminder of the good things we so easily know on our better days (you may recall her from here, wrapping up the night here, talking tough stuff here, or especially here).

We three fill the air with enthusiastic music, using rock climbing, Amazon, and corporate bureaucracy as starting points. We somehow manage to laugh about rising house prices, of which we are all victim, and together hope we don’t have to move to Renton to stay near this glorious city. I comment on something I noticed in Los Angeles—when the minimum-wage working class is priced out to the point it has to own cars, you’ve just lost the functionality of the city.

Andrew leaves, and Celia and I soar ever higher. The conversation on this little bus is our great construction for the day, our living art piece. We zig-zag between cars and bounce ideas, emotions, memories off each other. People around us smile. A sampling of our lineup: telling each other our separate Y2K experiences; politics at the Center School; politics at Columbia City Bakery; how age disparities recede with age; declining notions of coolness; how this is the time for our generation to shine and assert itself as something other than “millennial” (a term I abhor! I was born in the eighties, for heaven’s sake!); ways of routing the 7 over to light rail that would still include the Prentice loop; how well Goethe’s letters hold up through the centuries.

Do these details matter? I want you to know what it was to be there, as we turned Tuesday afternoon into something glorious, rich with the benevolent surge of excited life, how we built that grace out of nothing more than banalities. And they say there’s no magic in the world! I think you know the feeling, friend, where you and your conversation-mate spar back and forth with joy, well-oiled and symphonic, English being the music of the street.

She leaves us for now, but the wheels keep turning. Rory, a vet and father, tells me of his recently deceased relative, how he used to sell tires, how his sister’s doing. These are the essential matters on his plate and the center of his day; I’m here to listen, partly mind-boggled at the density of human experience on this universe. His world is just as big as Celia’s, yet features none of the same highlights. How is there room for all this on our tiny globe? Everyone, with their urgent dreams and sorrows, hardly known by those right next to them. No wonder people always have something to say.

After him there was Kathy, or Katherine, or somesuch, with her own highs and lows: her last day working at PCC before gearing up for classes at Seattle Central. We talked western philosophy, how a bus system that forces transfers has an inadequate understanding of people’s travel patterns, and the brilliance of the connected 7/49 routing. Another man and I expounded on how we love the older coach types—the Americanas, this Breda we were driving, and the German M.A.N. coaches which preceded it. The bus would’ve blushed furiously were it able to hear our unabashed praise.

Some exchanges are short: A man named Al tells me I should be an airline pilot. That’s all.

Others are long. Here’s Ahmed, fresh from a long day working at Taylor Shellfish. We have a real discussion. He’s about my age, and as gregarious. The topics reel in and out of our flywheel, and we’re able to discuss matters more personal, more complex as the bus thins out—getting on in the evening now. Girls, restaurants, business strategy, chicken, relationships, divorce, kids, the value of creativity in one’s life perspective, nurturing a creative environment for children, being kind, honesty, finding peace and respect in divorce- “no reason to hate,” he says, referring to his ex-wife.
“Exactly. She’s not all bad. There was a reason you got together.”

The last lines stuck. No relationship is a failure just because it ends. Everything ends. The trick is enjoying it while we can. His was a conversation you hang onto, or try to, as it flits into the ether, fading away already, living on only in your memory, and hopefully your actions. There are dialogues where you walk away a better person.

That doesn’t exactly describe the next conversation, which unlike the rest I was able to jot down, not because it was profound (it definitely wasn’t!), but just because it happened to be the last one in this long, exhilarating four-hour string of Nathanbabble….

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.