He got on along with the great mob at 4th and Pike. Somebody in front of him was taking an extra moment to pay cash, and he’d tapped his ORCA card and snuck quietly past, but my “how’s it going” reached his ears. The man had been planning to walk further back, but after seeing the way I greeted everyone he sat down up front with a smile, grinning as one does upon coming across something at once energizing and unexpectedly familiar, like a relative you’d forgotten how much you liked.
He responded by asking how my day’s been.
“It’s been fan-tastic,” I said. He cackled with shared delight, perfect rows of teeth highlighted against his dark skin and rugged attire.
I continued. “What kind of work do you do? If I may ask.”
“Sign spinner,” he said sheepishly.
“Oh, sweet! Like ‘slow and ‘stop?'” He nodded with a rueful smile, which blew into a huge grin upon my saying, “That’s awesome!” I was thrilled at the opportunity to learn more about the job I see so often.
“Not really!” he laughed.
“Aww. Are you sure, ‘not really?'”
“This is Seattle in the wintertime!”
We burst into fits of giggling. “This is true. Minor detail! But! I would hope, ’cause that sounds like a safety sensitive job, I would hope you’re gettin’ paid. I hope they’re givin you a little somethin’ extra, standing out there. ‘Cause it’s a standing job too, and that, that, that takes a certain kinda energy!”
We talked about his job, then about mine, how nighttime is the best time for driving, how the light cycles are shorter, the people are fun, how great I think the 7 is, and so on. Through the course of all this we found ourselves using terms like ‘fortuitous’ and ‘elated,’ and it wasn’t just myself lobbing off the four-syllable words. Here was a man who shared my passion for learning, no matter his career or life circumstances.
“Now, I’m not sayin’ you have to,” I quipped, “but if you’re ever on my bus you can always lean out and wave that “slow” sign around, get some of these cars back in line!”
Then, after a pause, a new thought occurred to me. I’d been trying to imagine the job from his perspective.
“Hey, lemme ask you something. Do a lot of people wave thanks, or hi or something, as they drive past you?”
“Aaaauuuhhmm,” he said. We laughed again. “Sometimes they do. I always do. I mean, it only takes a second, to smile.”
“It only takes a, exactly. I mean, what else are you gonna do?”
“The bus drivers always, they looove me! They get so excited when they drive past….”
“Oh, yeah! I always wave, ’cause i’m thinkin,’ both of us are workin,’ here we are,”
“Yeah. it only takes a second.”
“It’s so easy. Plus, you’re gonna see each other ten more times!”
“Exactly! Oh man, I know every single bus driver, police officer, ambulance driver,”
“These are good people to know!”
“Taxi driver, Jack-in-the-Box, every single Post Office employee, every pizza delivery guy,”
“There you go! Oh, you’re set!”
“One day I’ll just be like, ‘do you have an extra one uh those?!'”
“And they’ll be like, just don’t gimme that stop sign next time!”
Another pause. One of those conversations where a silence can enter and easily be broken again later on. I said, “I tell you, ’cause when I look out at these car drivers sometimes, they just seem so depressed! They just look morose!”
We were laughing.
“Ooh, great word. That’s gotta be the word of the day, morose.”
“Love that word,” he said.
“Me too! I so rarely get an opportunity to use it in a sentence!” The giggling fits began anew….
“I love vocabulary!”
“Me too! It expands our horizons. New ways of thinking!”
“Exactly. It’s like, why not?”
“I know, man. There’s more than five four-letter words with which to express ourselves!”