Riding downtown to Seattle on the #99 bus, I seated myself behind two 30-something women speaking Swahili or something, and their young kids in strollers. Behind me sat a white or lightly ethnic man, folded over, moaning, holding his head as if giant invisible tweezers were squeezing it.
Seemed like an ordinary ride on the city bus.
The driver had, perhaps accidentally, patched communications with Dispatch onto the bus's public address speakers, so we listened to an unseen voice above us:
“Attention all northbound #21, 99, 131, and 132 drivers. Due to police activity near the stadiums, we have reroute instructions.”
We'd be turning left onto Royal Brougham, then right on Airport Way, which the voice told us becomes Seattle Boulevard after a few blocks, and then merges with northbound Stadium Street, where the bus usually runs.
The voice then gave similar but reversed instructions for the southbound #21, 99, 131, and 132.
So, this would not be an ordinary ride — there'd new twists and turns. Cool!
Looking backward, I studied the bent-over bum behind me, still seated but with his hurtin' head only inches from the floor. From there, he couldn't see me, so why shouldn't I stare?
I ain't mocking the guy, though. We all have unfortunate circumstances or make stupid choices, and whether it takes you down is mostly luck. I've had better luck than that bum, that's all.
The detour instructions were kinda complicated, so after a mile of radio silence, the voice from Dispatch repeated herself over our heads, with reroute info first for northbound drivers, then for southbound.
#99 is my most common route, because it runs by my house. By bus standards, it would be slightly exciting when we got near the stadiums, and made a few different turns. Almost an adventure.
Meanwhile, I was people-watching the immigrants in front of me — two black ladies with toddlers or babies in strollers. The women were having an ordinary conversation, probably about their kids, or perhaps their dreams, in a language unknown to me.
I wondered, were they friends on an outing with one child each, or were they a lesbian Zulu-speaking couple with two kids? There's no knowing without asking, and I wasn't asking, so there's no knowing.
After another few miles, Dispatch re-announced the detour instructions, but the driver must've had it memorized, and I certainly did — right on Royal Brougham, left on Airport Way, which becomes the Boulevard, and takes us back to Stadium Street. Got it. I was mildly looking forward to all the glorious new sights on three different roads, but tired of hearing about it.
Twenty blocks before the detour, an attractive white woman stepped onto the bus. She was 30 or so — half my age, but even an old man notices a pretty woman. Most noticeable was her facial expression, a combustible combination of boredom, anger, and the urge to vomit. She looked like she'd smack anyone who spoke to her, and also she was quietly mumbling to herself.
Is this dame mental, I wondered? Homeless? It was a mystery, so let's collect the clues: She wore neat, clean clothes, her hair was in place, and a lunchbag was on her lap. So, not homeless, not mental.
My theory? She was on her way to work, and doing what I'd do, were I a young, pretty woman, endlessly interrupted by men saying, “Why, hellloo there.” She's heard every line 10,000 times, so she wears a face that says “Shut up and stay away.” And everybody on the bus obeyed the face. Kinda brilliant of her, yes?
Dispatch came crackling on the air, telling the driver again about the detour, but then the voice stopped and said, “A moment please.” The moment came and went, and the voice returned, saying, “Attention all north and southbound #21, 99, 131, and 132 drivers. The police situation on Stadium Street has been cleared, so please disregard my earlier instructions and proceed on your normal routes.”
Aw, man! I'd been looking forward to seeing scenic Royal Brougham, Airport Way, and Seattle Boulevard, but all that had been snatched away. Instead the bus rolled along the same route it always rolls, past the same buildings and intersections and stops.
Approaching my destination, I rang the bell to step off, and as the bus slowed, I glanced again at the African family, the bum holding his head, the pretty woman you don't want to talk to, and also at forty other riders I haven't described.
Oh, the places we'd almost gone, my fellow passengers. We'd nearly taken the road less traveled, but instead it had been a bus ride like every other.