I walk out to the parking garage, or to the bus stop home as the case may be, feeling the sensations of the day as tactile, lived-in memories resolving in the act of heading homeward; a collective cacophony fading out into the night. It was the present moment, so recently, a thousand times over.
A baseball player hears the bat-crack echo of the game in the empty stillness following. I, too, hear the intensity of multitudinous present action receding, shaking itself off my form, as it must. Most nights I breathe a sigh of satisfied exhaustion, coming down off the high, searching for a gentle landing. A few evenings out of the year are spectacularly difficult, but those are not the norm.
The norm is me looking up at the vast indigo dome, thankful for whatever has taught me to be, well, so thankful. Years of habit-forming tendencies have me savoring the good moments, and they are always myriad:
- A fashionable father pushing the smallest of strollers, his deep voice in the register normally used for grumbling, instead telling me “there needs to be mo’ drivers like you;”
- Sitting in the lobby of the old Deca Hotel on break, an activity I find strangely captivating for reasons detailed here;
- A clean-cut boy with a clipped accent, sounds like West Africa, telling me he likes how I drive the bus, how I call out the stops;
- A gaunt fellow with hollow eyes, cloaked in a huge jacket, beckoning me in the late-night bowels of the Valley, to tell me much the same in a low rumble: “ey, bruh, I wanna tell you something. I like how you do it. Caring about th’ people.”
- A young nurse from somewhere far away, tired, embarrassed that she fell asleep on the route;
- Making the right turn off third onto Pike, through-routed as a 49. Or making the left off Pine onto southbound 3rd, through-routed as a 7. Because only this giant route makes those particular turns, and making them you feel the joy and hugeness of combining North Seattle and South Seattle into a single gesture. You feel the size of awesome history, the reminder that this was and is the flagship route, an echo of the days when the 7 always went to Broadway and the U District, when these two turns were always made and not just at night, when it was the only 10-minute route. I feel in those moments the way I felt bringing a 358 into town: heady, present, part of what fits me best.
- A gangly, grateful couple, young, all hands and straps and bags and pizza boxes, and they still have time for politeness, a plentitude of “sirs” and “thank yous” that has me impressed;
- The sounds of young people happy together, mock fright and laughter from the back, mingling with the bumps in the road.
My shoulders ache. I’m sweaty in my uniform, sticky with dirt on my trolley-driving hands, and my face in the base’s bathroom mirror is sleepier than I feel; but I am here, and I feel deeply and truly good.
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.