The View from Nathan’s Bus: Back on the 7, 6pm-9pm

Image by Nathan Vass.
Image by Nathan Vass.

This is the first in a series of three posts, all describing the same evening.

It started slowly and then all at once, not letting up for eight hours. Do you remember what it feels like, to be in love? Not with a person, nor an an idea or a place, but with the overriding and significant act of being? I’m helping a Middle Eastern family with their stroller, looking into the mother’s eyes as I would a cousin. I’m among friends now. I put very little stock in astrology, but a book on the subject once opened itself to a page which described me to a tee:

Pisces doesn’t see a particularly meaningful difference between family and strangers.

I couldn’t have found more accurate words. The partiality I feel for this woman and her children, a series of bright dark eyes framed by hijabs or open curly locks, feeds and refeeds my soul. My thirst for the present usually means the person in front of me has my genuine interest, but these folks on the 7 are fulfilling me in a way I haven’t felt at work in some time. No other route so compliments my thirst for the vitality, the verve and chaos of modern life in all its many-splendored tides. Tonight is my first day back on the 7, the busiest and most notorious route in the country’s fastest-growing city.

What’s taking me aback this evening is how many people remember me. I’ve been away from the route for an entire summer, but the amount of goodwill directed specifically because of prior experiences with me is humbling in ways I don’t know how to deal with.

“You’re the greatest,” a man says. How could I be, though, when I’m just being myself? Here’s another mother and stroller, distant on a parking lot sidewalk, screaming: “Heeeeaaay! Where you been!”
We catch up at high volume while her boyfriend looks at us askance. He’ll just have to deal.

Moving along, we have a gentleman at Mount Baker, a perennial on that block, casually wandering until he notices me. I’ve seen that hooded black sweatshirt before (the same soul as at the bottom of this post). He switches his paper-covered beer can to his left hand, in anticipation of a handshake as he bounds over to my bus, yelling to ensure I wait for him.

“Heeey, brotha!” he yells, the bus tipping ever so slightly as he jumps on, like a genteel citizen tipping his hat in greeting.
“It is you! How’s it goin,’ man!”
“How you been?” The exuberant tones in these questions are their own answers.
“I been doin’ other stuff, finally got back on the 7, this’ my favorite route as you know!”
“Man, iss good to see you.” I’ve been hearing reports from friends on the Avenue of apathetic drivers of late, and his gaze rings with meant sincerity.
“It is so good to be back! Where I belong!”
“I don’ wanna bother da people,” he says, indicating he just stepped in for a quick hello.
“Ey, I’m glad you said hey!”
“Hey! I’m your friend! I see you around!”
“I’m a be here!”

These people don’t even want to ride the bus. They aren’t even asking for transfers! Goodwill is its own reason for delight tonight. I wish the whole of our culture, all those who act as if realism and pessimism are the same thing, who with their worldview call cynicism religion, could see what I’m seeing tonight. There are moments of goodness happening they don’t have definitions for.

“Iss mah luck I get one a da bess drivers,” a man in a black kerchief skullcap says. His fistpound is made of loving steel. There are new faces, too: I hear a teenager crawling up from the back with, “this ain’t no tour bus man, you don’t gotta announce every stop!”
He hasn’t been on the Nathan train before. This is just how it is.
“Oh, I got to, man! It’s how I stay awake! Keeps me sharp, you know?”
“Fair enough!” he says, grinning. He just wanted something to say.

I jog across Henderson to the bathroom, nodding “wassup” at the skulking figures there, watching their serious faces crackle into smiles. That’s more like it. I spend my break shopping at Saar’s Market with Operator Gary, musician and night owl 7 driver extraordinaire. Kale and Mini-Wheats for me tonight. Kale is the way of the future, by the way. Throw it on the frying pan with a dash of oil and salt. Michael is the cashier, with long dreads and a beanie, and he gives me a paper bag sans charge, because, as he once explained to me, “I may need a ride someday!”

To be continued…

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

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