Milan Kundera wrote that our memories are more like glimpses or brief ‘scenes’ than stories with beginnings or ends. They’re closer to photographs than movies. You’ve heard the phrase about life flashing before your eyes in the final estimation; or perhaps you experience something similar, as I do, prior to falling asleep. A montage not of stories but moments, slices of existence better defined by feeling than plot. On other occasions the fleeting beauty of passing seconds stills the moment in time for me even as it’s happening, as I realize this will be one of those fragments I’ll hang onto. As my blog winds to a close, here are a few from across the past year.
– Northbound Rainier and Rose, a gaggle of incoming faces at the front. Some of them tarry to chat with me; a middle-aged gent with a comic touch pushes through, mock-grumbling while secretly loving this clutter of community, “Everybody wanna talk to the driver! Man, sit your asses down! It’s a po’ black man tryna get through!”
– Another night at the same zone, just one passenger and myself now; he’d asked about the schedule frequency. “I got some schedules right here behind me,” I said.
“Aw naw, your word is good enough for me,” he said, with a good-natured grin, a hint of the giving pride one feels at showing respect.
– Three young boys celebrating the feast night that closes out Ramadan. They were taking a huge box of medjool dates to their family, and offered me a generous handful. I was surprised by how much they were gifting me with, given their special nature. I felt honored. They asked me how my night was, and I mirrored their glowing jubilation.
– Gordon, one half of “The Camera Crew,” a duo of bus photographer enthusiasts who remind me of my younger self, stepping in on New Year’s with, I think, his family. I greet him with pleasure and they smile in happy surprise.
– “Maybe that can be the theme,” my friend Jaesun would tell me that same night. “For the New Year.” He was feeling optimistic.
I repeated his earlier words: “Better than expected?”
“Better than expected.”
I almost didn’t say it, for fear it was too tall of an order. But shouldn’t our reach exceed our grasp? And reflecting back now, how right he was. He would release a record and play the Showbox, and I would at long last finish my film. Better than expected indeed.
– Kevin talking about how when he first worked at what would later become Puget Sound Energy, there was one president and six vice presidents. Which we agreed was silly enough. But when Kevin left, there was one president, one senior VP, and seventeen vice presidents. The two of us guffawed as we crossed John Street on Broadway, joking: “If it was hard to make decisions with six… I don’t see how that would be any better!!”
– A handshake hug with my colleague Asfaw at the Henderson terminal. You know the gesture: the manly one-armed embrace building on a handshake. It feels so good to do. He has a sleeper sitting on his bus, awake now; a fellow I’ve found threatening in the past. I feel joy course through me as I yell a hello and corresponding salute in his direction. He nods.
– “I hear so many guys talk about you, man.”
“What do they say?” I asked.
He whistled, pointing to the sky. “Pretty soon you gon’ need your own publicist!”
– A young woman I’d almost passed by, whom I didn’t know would later become a friend—Jot, before I knew her name. The long silence between her boarding and when we began conversing, as I pictured to myself her experience and subsequently apologized for nearly leaving her behind. The pleasant growing warmth of discussing life. Her parents were going to the US Embassy in India tomorrow for something critical, and she sounded hopeful.
– There have been several sleepers named James over the years. This James sags his pants indiscriminately, comically, in curious contrast to his gently-natured quietude. He dribbles mucus and saliva with abandon, and there’s a pathos in his attempts to hide in the back of the bus when we reach the terminal, a desperate attempt to get a few more minutes of rest. I’ll confess to being annoyed by him on occasion, because he’s difficult to wake and can fall asleep on me several times in one night; but tonight as he was leaving he said, in his quiet voice, “God bless you, man. You’re a good guy.”
Gosh. Talk about resetting me to goodness instantly.
– Learning who it was who’d threatened to punch the driver of the leading bus: that guy? I’ve only ever had good interactions with him. I have no idea how lucky I am. The quiet smiling guy who speaks rarely, but clearly, and who’s only ever been respectful to me. Maybe he would say I’ve only been respectful to him.
– A muscular bulky heft of a man who inspired fear in me, who at the end of the ride came forward to ask where’s the trash bag. A regular voice, respectful, like any other human. I like to think my positive demeanor throughout had something to do with it, guiding the space toward an easy kindness. I don’t think he’d have spoken as he did had I glared at everyone, stomping on the brakes and speaking rudely. So much of how they respond is in my control. Not all of it, but so much of it.
– At the 49 terminal in the U District. Several sleepers have just deboarded my bus and are ambling up to the leading bus, which will leave first. I see something on the bench and call out, “Hey, anybody want some gloves?”
Marcus says, “Yeah!”
“Yeah, it’s cold. Finders keepers!”
They laughed appreciatively. I feel warm in their inclusive embrace as I walk back to my coach. Many drivers don’t like sleepers, and you know these guys can feel it. Sometimes I’m aggravated by the extra work and time they take from me, but I’m working on it. Tonight I bask in the warm glow of knowing what they know, and exude: this guy’s nice. He likes us.The joy that comes from letting others feel they belong.
– Walking with sleeper Benjamin out of my bus, the two of us strolling nonchalantly down the sidewalk together to my leader, Haitender, in the days when he drove the Owl. I wanted to say hello to him. He didn’t like that shift; few do. I don’t do it myself. Something demoralizing about going home to sleep right at sunrise. I needed to give him a big smile, let him know I support him, I’m here, right behind ya for at least the first two-thirds of your shift. A smile will turn my whole day around; I hope it’s the same for other people, and act accordingly.
– John and Valerie, back again. John’s always ribbing me about my hair. He loves my long locks, because they look like his, and mock-collapses whenever I get them trimmed. “You got it cut? Again? Man, why you do keep doin’ me like that?”
“I don’t know what’s wrong with me! Somebody just came up outta nowhere, cut it all off!”
“Hey, I saw you walking. You know how to walk? I only seen you drive!”
– Two dear friends from private life coming out for a joyride with me, each not knowing the other had made similar plans—and not just similar plans, but identical plans! There they are, both waiting at outbound 8th, a twice-grinning miracle in the after-dinner sunset. For comparable reasons both friends had been drawn to the quiet attitude of 8th and Jackson. Birds of a feather.
– The satisfaction of having negotiated the left turn onto northbound Broadway from Pine: you have to go deep to keep the poles over the back of the bus, and the wire’s complicated there. Don’t challenging things feel so good to do well? I wave at the 49 on the opposite side, peering at the passengers as well. Still riding the small high of that turn, I see Rudy sitting in the back, his black hoodie pulled over his slumping head as usual… and also as usual, a massive grin beaming out from his face. A smile makes anyone beautiful. Incredibly, he recognizes me through the layers of glass and street. We wave excitedly: strangers as friends, passing in the night.
What did it mean? What does life add up to? In this collection of moments is for me an echo of the sublime, a sameness in everyone’s beautiful glinting eyes, hinting at an answer we have no names for. I remembered the old adage, which I can never be told too many times: life is an experience to be lived, not a problem to be solved.