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In Relation to the Bus

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Last week, I intended to write about the bus.

I had it in my calendar and everything. The bus, the bus. Write about the bus. Instead I wrote about the mountain and the ferry and pages of unwritten writing that I eventually wrote. I wrote about metaphors. And I didn’t mention the bus once.

I've fallen in love with two bus rides in my life.

The first was in Washington, DC on the 80 bus from the Kennedy Center to my apartment in Fort Totten. I just checked my email to see when this was (because I care about facts, apparently) and it was both longer ago and exactly when I thought it was: April 2013. J and I moved in together a few months later, escaping lackluster roommates and long commutes for a cohabitation adventure that, frankly, I did not adjust well to; not at first.

But this bus ride was before that. Before the confirmation that my roommate had indeed been stealing from me, before the real conversation of “wouldn’t it be fun/practical/better for both of us if we just shared an apartment?” Back when it was a too soon joke to him and a daydream to me. I hated commuting just to catch a glimpse. I hated the Metro-bus-walk combination. In fact, I hated the bus.

I spend a lot of time in my head repeating the too specific Tony Kushner joke “I Hate the Bus.” In Caroline, Or Change, it’s not a joke at all. It’s a lament about the too real dangers of being black in America. “Got magical bracelets so bullets bounce away.” But in my solo brain (and now, I suppose, publicly in this blog post) those first four words bounce and bounce and bounce around in my brain: I hate the bus.

I didn’t even care about the next sentiment of the song: I want my own car. I didn’t drive in 2013 and while I started driving again almost exactly a year ago, I still don’t have any desire to have my own car. J and I share the vehicle in a way that I thought would be reluctant, but has become pretty acrimonious. I wanted to create a calendar, proving once again that I’m Johnny Rose from Schitt’s Creek. The idea was shot down immediately, gently. I don’t know if I’ll ever want my own car. But even now with a car at my disposal — even with “I hate the bus” ringing in my ears — I wait for its arrival, I tap my fare card, I sit with so many other Seattle residents who are all heading in the same direction.

It was strange to fall in love with the one thing I thought I hated.

The one thing, most days, I still think I hate. But as I boarded that door to door convenience in 2013 — truly, nothing else picks up right at the Kennedy Center, at least nothing else that could take me to my apartment transfer-free — I felt a lightness. I felt calm. I watched the city lights shine, oddly unobtrusive, oddly not reflecting off my glasses and my window and my vision of what this city really was. It didn’t hurt that I was listening to In An Aeroplane Over the Sea on my iPod, that I was two full years away from a smartphone, that I was trying to find a way to sink right into Washington, DC — a way to justify the two character play I’d just started writing, a way to fall in love with my play’s setting.

The way I tell the story of my life, the way I told that story to myself even then, was that I slowly fell in love with Washington, DC, over the course of my 2011-12 apprenticeship at The Studio Theatre. That was the reason I stayed in town. That is why I stayed for so long. But looking back, I stayed for a job. I stayed for friends. I stayed for the magic of my first fully produced play. I stayed for a writers group at Arena fucking Stage. I stayed because I started dating a guy who I really liked, who wasn’t embarrassed of me, who didn’t spend every moment of our togetherness trying to figure out what to do with me. It wasn’t until that bus ride — a full two years into living in DC — that I actually truly fell in love with that city.

Last week, I fell in love with a bus route.

A bus route I take several times a week. A bus route I dread because, while it is fast, it isn’t particularly inspiring. During rush hour, it’s full of young professionals on their smartphones and their sometimes Kindles; folks who want just enough quiet to live in Ballard, but not so much that they move to the east side. During the afternoon, it’s not full at all, but the folks who do ride this bus make their presence known. I’ve witnessed anger, aggression, a mental health system that doesn’t take care of all who need it. I’ve stepped in indistinguishable liquids, some sticky, some fluid. I’ve sat next to a man selling a pair of pants to another man, both acting like this route from Ballard to Downtown was a perfectly normal place to exchange goods for cash.

Last week, it wasn’t rush hour or the middle of the afternoon. It wasn’t even my normal pickup spot; I’d waited three stops earlier because I was arriving from the Bainbridge Island ferry rather than work. And it was Sunday. And I can’t remember what I was listening to, but it felt important. It was important to me in that second.

I stepped off the ferry and then too many minutes later, I stepped onto the bus. I sat on the waterfront side, I sat in the window. No one was hitting me with their backpacks as they passed me on the aisle. No one was touching me at all. And then I felt light. I felt calm. I felt fortunate to be viewing the same water that had transported me to an island earlier that day — the same water that carried me home. And when I was a few blocks away from my own home, I spotted that water again. Boats and boats and too early for sailing, but the optimism that one day — soon — it won’t be. And in that moment, I loved the bus.

Danielle MohlmanComment