Hands down, the best part about riding the bus--other than low-carbon brownie points--is eavesdropping. Seattle is pretty passive aggressive, so most of the time you have to pay close attention. (A friend from Chicago declares we are passive-passive, and she may have a point.)
I rode the 31 today and sat, as usual, in the back; it's not as crowded, but it's also where the troublemakers ride (coinkidink?) so things can get lively.
A guy got on at the last U-district stop, and ran down the aisle to the back. Like half the other riders, he wore headphones, an iPod, sunglasses. Then, a couple blocks later, he moved to the back bench, wedging himself in between a girl by the window, and a very tall guy in scrubs sitting in the middle.
Now, seating etiquette--unspoken but elaborate and hierarchical in a Louis XIV-meets-State dinner kind of way--dictates that if the bus isn't crowded, you don't sit thigh-to-thigh with another rider. This bus was maybe 1/2 full. I watched headphone guy's seatmates. They stared off into middle space, not making eye contact. If I ignore him, maybe he'll move.
Headphone guy started to sing. The kid opposite me, in a knit cap and low-rider jeans, smirked. The guy in scrubs frowned even harder. The girl by the window got up and left. Out of nowhere, low-rider started singing too. They sang together. Sing it, bitch, headphone guy enthused.
When the song was over, headphone guy peeled off his sunglasses and headphones. You got a pot pipe, he asked low-rider. Cause I got some weed.
Laughing, low-rider said No, nope, no way.
Two girls were giggling in a nearby seat. Headphone guy asked them to sell him some weed. You should have stayed in the U-district, they laughed. It's all over the place there.
I tried, he said, rueful. They called me a faggot.
Silence. It was one of those moments where things can go sideways, fast.
I am a faggot, he said, putting his sunglasses back on. He turned his attention back to low-rider. You're a good looking dude, man.
I'm not gay, low-rider said easily.
Headphone guy nodded. That's okay. You're still hot. And you know it.
He got off the bus at my stop, laughing and talking to a passing dog. It's a miracle he didn't start a fight. On another bus, on another day, he might have. But, not today.