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Three Bus Rides & One Train Ride

At a quiet residential corner, a young man stood on the curb offering his favorite obscene gesture on each hand to all passing vehicles. It's my favorite gesture, too, so I appreciated him holding it extra long for all the bus's passengers as we slowly rolled past.

You don't get two flipped fingers at once most days, and you don't usually get 'em unearned from a stranger as you're passing by, but it happens often enough that I wouldn't think to jot it in my notebook and write about it, if he hadn't been smiling so warm and friendly.

It was a fabulous contradiction, but he seemed so very happy I had to smile and flip a finger back at him. His gesture said fuck you, but his face and his eyes said he was having a good time and maybe hoped I was, too. We were basically saying 'good morning' to each other.

* * *

One of the routes I occasionally ride, the #560 bus, loops through the airport on its way to more interesting places, and stops at the airport's front door.

I never fly, and hate airports — they're miniature totalitarian states — so to me it's a very depressing sight.

Barely a hundred years ago, humans figured out how to lift themselves off the ground and put themselves down somewhere else, usually without dying. Now they take off and land at places like this — enormous, inhuman, ugly and depressing architecture that covers and ruins about four square miles. There must be 25,000 empty cars, parked in block after block of expensive lots and six-story gray garages, almost every space taken.

The bus goes along a series of concrete bridges, alongside cars always maneuvering across several lanes. Vehicles honk, drivers swear, and as we approach the airport's main entrance, there are always 2-4 mean-looking, muscular police vans parked at the side, to remind you that you're passing through a gulag, and that the white zone is for loading/unloading only.

Whether it's 10AM or 10PM, hundreds and hundreds of people stand in clumps of two or three or alone at the half-mile of curbside, most of them lugging luggage. Some look at their phones. Some look at traffic, hoping to see their cab or Uber or Uncle Henry's Volvo approaching. None look at each other, and none look happy. 

They wanted to come to Seattle for business or vacation or returning home, but nobody ever wanted to be in the pick-up/drop-off area at the airport. On each person's face is the same expression they'll eventually wear in a drawer at the morgue.

It's a very strange place, the airport — cold, even on the sunniest day. 

The bus pulls over, and a few people step off, a few people step on, and then onward we roll through another mile of awful airport infrastructure, and then a second airport stop. Finally the bus turns onto a freeway on-ramp.

In all my travels around Seattle, it's the only ride where merging into an ocean of slow-moving metal and glass on the freeway is more relaxing and scenic than what came before.

* * *

I did a good deed, and I'm so proud of myself!

On the #36 bus, I sat a few rows behind and opposite a scruffy old man wearing in a faded Mariners jacket and a Seahawks cap. The cap was greasy, stained, and bragging that the Seahawks had earned a berth in the 2005 Super Bowl — a very old cap atop a very old man's head.

Eventually the man rang the bell, stood up, and started amblin' toward the door before the bus had stopped. I do that too, a habit learned when I was young and spry, but old folks like me or the scruffy guy really should break the habit, and remain seated until the ride comes to a complete stop.

Instead of the smooth slow-down and stop he was expecting, the brakes jerked a bit, and the scruffy old dude very nearly went tumbling. He grabbed a grab-bar, so he didn't fall, but he dropped the bag he'd been carrying, and his cap bumped a post and got knocked off.

When the bus stopped, he picked up the stuff that had spilled from the bag (clothes and a comic book) and walked toward the bus's back door. He hadn't noticed the cap, though, so here's where I'm the hero.

“Hey, mister,” I said, but he didn't hear me, kept walking, and stepped off the bus. “Hey, mister,” I said again, much louder, and he heard me but seemed confused, looked around on the sidewalk. So I stood up and snatched his hat from the floor, walked to the still-open bus door (the driver had heard me, and was watching me in his rear-view), held out his cap and shouted, “Hey, mister!”

He finally looked at me, understand the situation, and reached for his cap, which, I then noticed, was remarkably icky — what used to be white was yellow, what used to be blue was beige, it was ripped at the back, and there was a blood stain on the bill. He said, “Thanks,” and turned and walked away.

The bus driver yelled at me, “Hey, get on or off the bus, but get out of the doorway,” and he pushed whatever button slammed the bus's back door in my face. I sat down again, and rode the rest of the way feeling so damned full of good citizenship I had to tell you about it.

* * *

Behind my KN95 mask, I belched on the train. Gave it no thought before and barely after, only because it was a louder belch than I'd expected. Usually you can't hear a burp on transit, but I'd come directly from a café cheeseburger.

Sitting in one of the sideways seats, a man in a suit looked at me. His face was under a mask, same as mine, so maybe he smiled, maybe he didn't, but his eyes didn't appear annoyed.

Since he seemed to appreciate the first one, I wanted to belch again, but I didn't have another in me and damn it, I've never learned how to burp on demand.

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