I grew up in one of the oldest neighborhoods of Spokane, Washington. For my family, it was a compelling community that also had a river, and glorious sunsets over that river’s steep banks, and just a two-mile walk to the downtown library. For the rest of the city, it was Felony Flats. Perhaps there was cause for that neighborhood nickname, but it doesn’t match my memories of the place.
I rode the city bus to high school. There was a stop right out the door of our kitchen, which encouraged a sort of casual approach to arriving there on time. I was a friendly kid, and nearly all the bus drivers were friendly enough to toot the horn right before they made the turn to my house, which saved me nine mornings out of ten. On the tenth, I had to run like mad to catch the bus seven blocks up, when it doubled back from its U-shaped route.
I liked to sit up front on the bus, close to the driver and the horizontal rows reserved for people who needed some consideration, and I had a lot of friends in that part of the bus, none of whom was a kid and none of whom had ever caught a bus to go to a private Catholic school. In those NIMBY days, every halfway house in the city was located in my neighborhood, and my 2 North A bus was a college education on wheels.
I don’t remember putting particular labels to my friends on the bus, though those labels pop into mind now: a reverse-time categorization. Oh, so that’s who she was. So that’s what he did. Back then, I didn’t notice their bodies or their clothes: the missing teeth, the tattoos, the slippers instead of shoes, the lisped voices, the odd tics and unusual shakes. It’s only looking back, seeing them from the perspective of a different life, that these traits reveal themselves.
The bus driver’s contract allowed him a four-minute break on a certain block each morning. For years, he would give me a quarter, and I would hop off the bus at a donut shop so that I could buy him a cup of coffee and run back before his break ended. On special days, my ragtag collection of bus friends and I would pool our change to buy donuts, and then we would break however many I could get into an even number of crumbly, powdery pieces, and eat them all the way to my stop.
Every morning, I set off to school with a chorus of voices – some rough, many accented – wishing me goodbye, and telling me to hurry, and calling out that we would see each other tomorrow. I wasn’t a cool kid, but I think I was a lucky one.