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THE FLOATING BRIDGE and other bus driver stories

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Blunder caused floating bridge to collapse in 1990 storm, photo courtesy WSDOT.

THE FLOATING BRIDGE and other bus driver stories

I have been retired since 2009; memories float and flash with the changing seasons. Before I was a bus driver, I don’t remember ever noticing who drove the bus, or what soap opera event was happening in the travelling theater of the absurd. I just wanted to get on, not be bothered and get off, then go about my business. As a bus driver, every move I made, every word I said, could be called in as a complaint, so most of the time I tried to be careful not to make waves with edgy, anxious passengers.

The bus was equipped with a handy dandy phone that, at times, I did need to use to call the coordinator for help from the police. The rule was to park the bus, wait for officers to arrive, and have them take the disruptors off the bus. The bus sat parked in the zone, doors wide-open, as the passengers waited for flashing blue lights. Trouble-making teenagers also waited. When the cars arrived, they stepped off the bus, and ran like track stars away from the out of shape, over thirty-year-old officers. Oh, it was a sad game to get attention, and a highlight when the police caught and handcuffed a “runner.” Older trouble-makers sometimes made the smart decision to exit before the peace keeping blue-lights arrived. I then needed to call the coordinator back to cancel the police and then continue driving. Sometimes I faked a call, which was okay, when it worked—even while they swore at me, flashing one finger, and stepping off the bus. My hand shook while shutting the door fast, driving onward, trying to act cool as a cucumber.

I drove the route 48 from Ballard to the south end at Rainier and Henderson. The University District was in the middle, driving on 15th, turning past the hospital and stadium, up 23rd by Garfield High School, to Martin Luther King Way. A long route, with odd end-of-the-line breaks—short with little bathroom time, or leisurely with enough time to eat dinner—depending on tight schedules and seniority. At 23rd and Union, I regularly picked up an elderly man, whose pants zipper was always in the down position. I couldn’t think of a way to say, “Hey, Bub, zip it up,” without sounding unsympathetic or snarky. I did watch where he sat, usually alone, or with other older men. Then came my chance, in a heavy rain, the old guy soaking-wet, stood by the fare box, stating, “It’s raining on my parade.”

Smiling, I answered, “If you zipped-up your pants, your parade would be dry.” We both laughed. From that day on, his zipper was up, and “How’s your day?” was communicated, thanks to that right moment, at the right time—a little Seattle raindrop magic.

I was driving an articulated bus, abbreviated to “artic,” a sixty-foot-long bending bus, south on 15th Avenue, a few days after the Fourth of July. The bus was a special summer school trip, full of Roosevelt High School students. The University of Washington was on the left, a true inspiration of higher learning. Hearing a high-pitched noise, I slowed down as a bottle-rocket whizzed past me, hitting the front windshield, ear-pounding firecrackers bang, bang, banged, booming in the back. Smoke filled the bus. I pulled into the nearest zone, opening the doors, announcing in the handy microphone, “Everyone please exit slowly, do not run down the aisle. Stay calm.” The students started to laugh.