Making it work: a consummate bus driver who really cares whether his passengers make their connections.
The other night the Route 72 bus was late arriving at the last stop in the U District on the way downtown, which wasn’t unusual. The driver apologized to the riders who boarded, which was.
They were all white and mostly young. He was black, with a shaved head, a linebacker’s build, and a quarterback’s alertness. He looked like the actor Ving Rhames, only taller and livelier. He wore a sleeveless shirt and black leather racing gloves, and he drove like a racing driver — not fast but attentive and precise, totally engaged.
As each stop approached he called it out: “Hamlin Street….Boston Street….” When passengers exited he wished them good night. One, a young man in an old-fashioned overcoat, stood anxiously at the front as the bus approached the corner of Eastlake and Denny. “That's my bus right behind us,” he said. “The last one to Federal Way.” The driver flashed his taillights to signal the following bus to stop. The passenger stepped off to change buses — and his ride roared past.
The driver flashed again. He lowered his window and hollered, “Hey, you got a passenger here!” — evidently shocked that a member of the fraternity would pass a passenger buy. But the Sound Transit bus kept going. “Hop in,” he driver called. “Maybe we’ll catch it.”
But there was no catching the Federal Way bus. It made no stops.
The young man in the overcoat was shocked. “OneBusAway said it stops there!”
“No, that’s not their stop,” said the driver, but he was disappointed too. “She could have stopped,” he muttered.
“Where does it go?” he asked his spurned passenger.
“It turns up on Fourth and then heads back down Second Avenue.”
“So it stops at Jackson Street. What time?”
The rider, stirred to action by the idea he might make his bus after all, scrolled down his phone. “At 9:06.”
The driver whipped a printed schedule back over his shoulder. “Check and see what time I get to Jackson Street.”
“It’s 9:01 now,” he said as he approached the transit tunnel’s north entry. “We might make it.”
Not just the driver but the remaining passengers were now taut in their seats. The chase was on.
Time slowed, and it seemed to take forever for the tunnel’s gate to open. The driver wasted no seconds but cut no corners, “I have to wait for the green light,” he said. “And now I have to stop at every station.” A bicyclist who was about to deboard at Westlake — and waste a precious minute or two removing his bike from the rack in front — sat back down. “I can transfer just as well at Jackson Street,” he explained.
At Jackson Street — the International District Station — the driver stopped early and pointed to some nearby stairs. “That’s the quickest way to your stop. You should make it. It’s 9:04.” The rider dashed, and the bus rolled on to its official stop. The other passengers smiled and relaxed, as when any chase scene reaches a happy conclusion. It was a real-life feel-good movie, with Ving Rhames playing a man who, as the trailer might say, beat the odds and made the system work. For a brief moment we were all in this together.
“Good work,” the bicyclist said as he stepped toward the door.
“Just doing my job, brother,” the driver replied.
“You should teach a few other drivers how to do theirs.”
The driver shrugged and murmured something to the effect, You can’t blame them, they’ve been doing this a long time.
“Anyway, I bet you have a lot more fun doing your job than they have doing theirs.”
Ving Rhames’ bus-driver brother broke into a grin. “I love this job!”
“Love and work, work and love, that’s all there is,” Freud supposedly said. This man had found both, driving a bus.