Filmmaker, writer, photographer, and King County Metro Transit bus driver Nathan Vass.
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Filmmaker, writer, photographer, and King County Metro Transit bus driver Nathan Vass.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Bond Huberman

This Seattle bus driver decided to be extra nice to his passengers. Here's how it went

Nathan Vass, 33, has driven a bus for King County Metro Transit, mostly in Seattle, for 12 years. This essay is adapted from an interview in May 2018 with KUOW’s Ross Reynolds.

I was raised on the idea that if you're nice to other people, they'll be nice to you in return. I wanted to know how far you can push that: Is it always true? Mostly true? A falsehood?

I was driving this bus route where the very first stop was outside this methadone clinic on Airport Way in south Seattle. This was a segment of the population I hadn’t spent a lot of time with, and I decided, okay, let’s just see what happens here.

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They were by far the most responsive, appreciative-of-kindness passengers of that whole route.

I like driving the 7 and the 49 buses because those routes focus on Broadway and Rainier Avenue — neither of which have the Seattle Freeze, by and large. Very lively, high energy group of folks out there. If I'm driving in Leschi or upper Queen Anne, the folks there aren't quite as prone to interact with each other or with me. They’re a little more withdrawn.

I used to drive the route through Microsoft campus to transport those passengers back into Seattle where they live, and the crowd was disproportionately extremely withdrawn. It was three months of driving that before I finally start to break these guys in, but by the end of that period, they were all saying thank you.

There's a study that says unsafe neighborhoods generally have the strongest sense of community because people have to rely on each other to be safe and to survive. When I'm driving through working class and low-income neighborhoods, I notice a lot more people talking on the bus.

If I say hi to people on the 7, they will say something in response. I don't drive that route because it's more cool, or more dangerous, or something like that, but because the people are more friendly. If I'm going to spend eight hours in one neighborhood, I want it to be somewhere where there's a lot of back and forth.

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Bus drivers hate the 7. Nobody wants to do the E line. The 7 and the 49 at night, no one likes because the passengers are more high maintenance.

Sometimes people will act entitled because they're not. Or they will behave in a way that indicates minimal experience in terms of having a good parent figure looking out for them, or positive role models.

They may be choosing not to solve or address large problems in their lives by turning to Band-Aid solutions like drugs and alcohol.

Sometimes you'll encounter folks who are on the down and outside of things, and they feel invisible, and they're trying not to be. They're loud. They're trying to just get a response. You can give them a response, and it can be a positive one.

I believe when you have felt wronged by society, or disregarded by it, you may feel less of a need to follow its rules. You may take that frustration out on others or yourself.

I was thinking about people who look a bit disheveled — they might be homeless — I've seen them start walking across the street against traffic, against the light. Littering is another example. It's one of the few ways to exert agency over the space you're in if you don't have any other control of your space; if you don't have a place that you can call home.

I try to stay on good terms with those folks for a couple of reasons. One is for my own benefit: It makes my day more pleasant. Another is that I'm reminded of something I was told very early on in training at this job: You've got to respect everyone, especially the people you think deserve it the least, because they are probably not getting a lot in the way of respect.

Produced for the Web by Brie Ripley & Isolde Raftery