The View from Nathan’s Bus: Back on the 7; Late Night, 11pm – 2am

[media-credit name=”Nathan Vass” align=”aligncenter” width=”640″]VfNB_Late-Night[/media-credit]Third in a series of three posts detailing the same night. See the previous entries here.

A woman from Hawai’i asks for a free ride before stepping on, explaining which shelter she’s going to.
“Yeah. Hey, thanks for asking to get on beforehand, that was nice.” And risky. For her sake I’m glad I was driving.
“Are you goin’ up to Nightwatch?”
“I am!”
“Awesome, come on in. It’s a good program.”
“Did you volunteer there?”
“No, but I take a lotta folks over there, and they always say good things about it. There’s food until I think eleven.” We’ll make it.
“Is it a women’s, or women’s and men’s…?”
“They’ll probably send you out to a women’s. What happens is you go there with a ticket, and then they find a spot for you somewhere else that you then go to.”
“Okay.”

She’s been on the street two weeks and already has three job offers on the table. She lists them. “Security,”
“Okay,”
“Walmart,”
“Uh-huh,”
“Or down at Sea-Tac, cleaning or loading, for fifteen bucks an hour. I think I gotta go with that one.”
“Oh, totally! I mean, Walmart, forget about it!”
“Ha!”
“I love that you’re, um. Stayin’ motivated and pushing it forward during this hard time. ‘Cause you’re doin’ the hardest thing, keepin’ up the energy and tryna move forward when the you’ve got the least energy, the odds are stacked against you. I find that extremely impressive.”
“Thank you!”
“So, you said Hawai’i. I hear they have the best kimchi in the world over there.”
“They do!”
“Man! I’m Korean, so I’m super interested…”

And we’re off, talking like a couple of regular people. I could see how much that meant to her.

Not much later I had a similar conversation with another woman, who for years I’d see around the Paramount with a cardboard sign. “Long time no see,” I said. She had sad blue eyes and a frail, wizened figure. I used to give her the free treats they hand out on Trader Joe’s Silent Movie Mondays. “You look good, you look healthy!”
“Thanks! I got into a program finally.”
“Oh, that’s excellent!”
“Thanks! Yeah, it’ll be eight months comin’ up.”
“Wow. Wow! Congratulations.” Drug addiction and homelessness. Are there challenges more difficult to surmount than these two? I earnestly share with her similar words as with the Hawaiian woman, my admiration and sheer respect for her dedication. These are heroes as big as any other.
“Thanks. I’m still out here to try to cover rent. My rent’s only forty-nine a month, but you know, I’m not getting a paycheck, and I still owe the nineteen dollar late fee from last month!”
“Shoot! ” This is the in-between time, the hardest part, waiting and treading water. But her course is good, and she’s still moving forward. I wish her the best of luck.

Bashi drinks too much, and tonight’s no exception. Some things never change. A well-dressed father going out for the evening, he staggers on board, barely able to keep balance. He kisses my hand upon recognizing me. Not necessary!
“I love you,” he slurs out, vocal cords struggling through uncooperative lips. “Anybody try to bother you, I fuck him up. I, fuck. I fuck. Him. Up. I love you. You’re family, you know that?”
“Same! That’s an honor, to hear you say!”
“I love you, I’m a good guy, I know you don’t think that,”
“Oh but I do! I know you are. You always lookin’ sharp, gettin’ on dressed nice.” I mean that without irony. Nobody else at Rainier and Rose gets on this late in slacks, polishable shoes, and a tucked-in button-up. “That’s an honor, what you’re saying. How’s your daughter?”
“She’s fantastic. Anybody bother you, I fuck him up….”

Everyone’s falling down tonight. A young man stepping out the door leaves the bus, walks a few steps, then collapses on the asphalt, as though a switch enabling him to live had just been flicked off. I stepped out to inquire after his well-being. At first I thought he’s just a drunk who needs to sleep off the effects, but I couldn’t just drive away. No one’s gonna stop and ask this black thug-looking kid sprawled out on the cement if he’s okay.

“Dogg, are you okay? You cool?”
He nodded from his prone position, as if nothing out of place was occurring. It bordered on being comical, actually. Just collapsing to the ground for a quick nap on Pike Street.
“Right on. Stay safe!”
He nodded again.

A woman slightly older than me is overjoyed by the concert she’s just gotten out of. She’s still riding the wave. “My boyfriend bought the tickets. They were fucking expensive,” she says. “I’d totally make out with you,” she whispers a minute later.
“Um, uh. You’re very kind!”

As I pull away from Roanoke, my periphery catches a familiar shape, just in time for a last minute wave. She’s still there, the old stalwart, a neighborhood fixture who enjoys sitting on that one particular bench and watching the evening drift past. I marvel at her reflexes, noticing me and returning the wave just in time. It’s been months since I’ve driven past there, but we still somehow know to look for each other. Oh, how I love life!

My good friend, Celia, came out to ride my last round. I sometimes joke that my friends can be considered in two categories– those who’ve ridden my bus and those who don’t. It’s a time commitment, coming out for a ride. I’m immensely grateful. Some people get a lot out of it. I know I do. Celia chats with me, or with whomever’s next to her. We share in our love for humankind. Or in the passing moments she would just watch, listening to the world go by. I’m reminded of a favorite line of mine, from La Grande Bellezza*:

“How come he [the poet] never talks?”
“He’s listening.”

The day turned to night, and then to morning. Neither of us wanted to close out the night just yet. All the stirring cacophony, the multiplicity of voices and details, gradually funneled down, the evening echoing into memory, boiling down to a pinpoint, coalescing into Celia and myself standing in her family kitchen after my shift. We sampled homemade applesauce, still earnestly discussing life. We whispered, that we might not wake her cousins in the next rooms.

There is always so much to talk about.


*If you watch one film made in the last five years, let it be this one. More thoughts of mine on it here.


This entry has been re-printed, with the author’s permission, from the author’s blog.