I’m on the 3 heading up James. It’s real steep and we are fully loaded, standing room only. It’s rush hour on a hot summer Thursday afternoon in Seattle. James goes straight up a steep grade under I-5 toward Boren Ave with a stop light and heavy cross traffic at each intersection. The bus is so weighed down that it struggles to get moving on this hill, and it takes almost the whole length of each green light to finally push through every intersection. Every start and stop sends us passengers jostling into one another we are all jammed so close.
We finally crest the hill at the intersection of 9th and James and are headed to our next stop just around the corner at Harborview where a good number of people, including a couple wheelchair users will typically get off. The driver goes wide to our left, taking up both forward lanes of James, then swings the front around right into the narrow entrance to 9th between the number 4 heading opposite us the way we’ve just come, and an illegally parked 80’s era convertible Chrysler on the inside of our turn on the right. It’s parked too close to the intersection, crowding our passage leaving only a very narrow gap. Slowly our driver threads the needle between the 4 and the Chrysler and as the rear of the bus follows through the tight turn, all of us passengers in the right side windows can see the center of the bus swinging dangerously close to the convertible, so close that we all gasp at once, loud enough to signal to the driver to come to a sudden stop. We’re pressed up to the windows now, craning our necks to see how close we are to the rear driver side of the car. I spy a handful of cassettes on its stained burgundy velour passenger seat. One of them is Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall. The normally noisy bus is still and quiet, everyone exchanges a similar wide-eyed look. The bus suddenly lurches backward, quickly comes again to a sudden stop, throwing most of us passengers into each other as we grab the nearest handhold. The bus pauses for a moment, then it creeps forward again and it’s leaning way to the right now because of all the passengers crowding for a look at the very small and disappearing gap between us and that convertible Chrysler. We all gasp at once as the bus continues forward and we come closer still to the rear corner of that car and then finally, and cleanly make the turn.
When it’s apparent we’ve made it around, the entire bus applauds and cheers, and we all trade smiles and in doing so everyone acknowledges that for a moment there all of us are together. Those of us coming home from work, or heading to Harborview, or escaping the heat, or carrying all our possessions, or in a hurry, or holding a transfer, or still working on their phone, or playing a game, or obsessing over an upcoming conversation, or tweaking and yearning for relief of any kind, or privileged, or worried, or in love, we all in that momentary exchange of glances acknowledge that we are united, if only so fleetingly.