I’ve had more than my fair share of running into strange people on my commute to and from school that I’ve developed the habit of racing past everyone and ignoring any shouts that nag at my back. If it’s not the homeless panhandler asking for change, it’s the mentally unstable psychopath babbling about the woes of the government. I always blared my headphones or immersed myself in a book each time I stepped foot in a bus to avoid most of these bothersome people.
One rainy Monday afternoon, it was the same routine. Wait at the bus stop in Westlake Center for the perpetually late 550, step on as it screeches to a halt, sit, and stare out the window until I got to the sane(er) turf of Bellevue. As with anyone else, I try to leave my belongings in the seat next to me so that I can have a chance at having the seat to myself.
“Hey…” a middle-aged woman nervously called out to me from across the aisle. I ignored her.
Seattle has a wonderful public transportation system. I’m not being sarcastic, either, it’s really a very fine public transportation system, as public transportation systems go. The buses are pretty clean, they’re mostly electric, they’re usually on time. They’re so good that I don’t even bother to use my car to drive to work – I just take the bus. Makes me feel like I’m helping the environment or something.
Quite possibly the only problem with the buses is that, in the downtown area, they are absolutely free. “But Steve,” you say, “that’s a good thing.” Alas, it is not so. For one thing, I live outside the downtown area, so I don’t get the advantage of the free-ness. For another, lots of very peculiar people do live in the downtown area.
I’m sure you know the type – public transit philosophers. This particular group is noted for their constant state of inebriation, and their knowledge of everything there is to know about everything. They’ll tell you everything they think you need to hear, whether you want to hear it or not.
In the downtown Seattle library several years ago, I saw two very peculiar women. They were wearing complicated head coverings — cloth veils that went from the forehead, back over the shoulders, in front of which was a layer of bangles that seemed to be comprised of many pieces of jewelry — rings and broaches — linked together. I didn’t want to be rude, or incur their wrath, by staring, so I just got the briefest of glances of them. Nonetheless, I could see that they looked pretty odd. I was intimidated.
A few months later, I saw the women on a Number 10 bus, going to North Capitol Hill late at night. When I got off the bus, they were the only passengers left, and I watched the veiled women, dressed in black this time, ride away in a fully lighted Metro bus, like eerie sentinels in a post-apocalyptic landscape. Read More
On the morning of the second day of my second visit to Seattle, many years ago, I sat in the small park north of Pike Place Market on a chilly autumn morning. I savored the crisp air, a cup of hot coffee, a Camel straight (when I could shamelessly indulge such pleasures) and a fat, pulpy copy of the New York Times (when the same day copy was a rarity in most of the Western US). This was a rich pleasure, considering how I’d spent the previous few days.
Four days earlier I’d boarded a Greyhound bus in Boston, bound west for Seattle. The one thing I remember about that node of the trip was standing in line at the Burger King inside the Boston Greyhound terminal. It was a Friday evening, and the young black women behind the counter were cutting up in between taking orders (“Whoppa…two Whalas…”). A guy in line was carrying a six-pack of Michelob, and one of the women teased him about his plans for the evening. He offered her a beer and she actually took and put it behind the counter. Read More
I sat and watched the boats as they pushed across the clear blue water, a perfect reflection of the cloudless sky above. The seabirds chattered along the pier, flying up in a flurry of flapping wings when another got too close. They fought over the remains of food scraps scattered across the ground. It was 8 o’clock. My warm breath hung in the icy morning air like smoke clouds and I blew into my hands to keep them warm. Behind me, the city was alive with the humming of traffic winding in from the highways to the city.
I walked along the edge of the water for what felt like an hour but I could not be sure. I had no wristwatch. I stopped at a coffee shop. In front of me in line was a well dressed old man. His back was arched from old age and his skin stretched across his skeleton face his arms and legs were very thin. He snapped his order to the woman behind the counter and counted out the exact change from the pile of coins in his shaking palm. He hobbled out the door.