Bus driver Kathy Maddux cares about her riders. She wants them to enjoy the time on board her bus as they drive together around the city. In late December 2016 she used a car window marker to make them feel especially welcome, by writing write fun messages to her riders on the windows.
Just an afterthought after finding the non-permanent marker in her daughter’s backpack, the messages Kathy wrote were simple and thoughtful.
“The first day I did it, I wrote ‘Happy January’ facing the inside of the bus, and ‘Feliz Enero,’ written backwards, facing outside for the people in the cars to see,” she said.
“People kind of got a kick out of it and commented on the ‘graffiti’ on my bus.”
Kathy quickly realized how during such a dark, dreary season, this exciting little gesture brightened people’s day. She then reached out to her riders who spoke a different language and asked for their input.
“I thought about how dismal the month of January is. It’s the biggest time for SADD – seasonal affective depressive disorder – in this area,” she said. “I thought, what could I do to help lift people’s spirits, if only a little bit?”
“I decided on a phrase, and asked that riders write that phrase in their native tongues on paper for me to put on the windows at some time in January.”
That first day, she had three responses in Chinese, Japanese and Indonesian. With a route that included foreign exchange students attending North Seattle and Shoreline Community Colleges and the UW, as well as many diverse riders, soon the writing became “Happy New Year,” and other phrases, in a multitude of languages.
“I decided to do a foreign language per day, two or three on Tuesdays, when I drive a 60 foot bus,” she said. “A longer bus means more languages.”
Kathy, who has been with King County Metro for 17 years, shares that not only were people excited to participate, but riders were eager to see and guess the languages on the windows each day. She began to receive contributions from riders, many times writing three or four new phrases each day. She noticed that riders would enter the bus, looking for the writing, to see if it was their “turn” yet. Cell phones were put away and real conversations between passengers happened as people spoke to each other about their cultures, how long they had lived in the United States, their future plans and even small details such as food likes and dislikes.
She saw tears over the month, from passengers surprised that someone would take the time to learn about their culture, along with tears of pride.
“I remember an older gentleman who came from the rear of the bus, excitedly telling me ‘I know what that says!’” she said. “I speak that language, it is from my homeland. It is Swahili.”
At times, Kathy worried about writing out phrases in different languages and not getting them right. She would then ask her passengers for help to make sure it was correct, and many greatly appreciated being asked.
“One Arabic gentleman and one Russian young lady were both ecstatic I let them write the phrase on the windows for me,” she said. “Made their days and I made permanent friends.”
With this ongoing interest, Kathy has continued writing her “graffiti” project. In February, she shared short positive messages, in English. Phrases like “You are perfect just as you are”, “Your smile lights up my day,” and other expressions of goodwill.
The overall experience has brought her closer to her passengers, and made the bus ride a moment of joy in people’s lives as they get around the County. Kathy sees how little moments like these are important in connecting with others.
“I cannot tell you how many people this small gesture of mine touched, me more than anyone else,” she said. “People were happy to catch the bus and would look for the one with writing on the windows.”
Kathy explains how people didn’t just smile, they laughed. Riders came from across parking lots to read the writing on her bus window. They even dragged their friends over to read what was written. Riders continue to thank her for lifting their spirits, and talk or laugh together.
She is happy to be a part of brightening someone’s day, even for a brief time.
“If I can make someone’s five minutes better and ease their spirit for even just a short moment, I’ve done my job,” she said. “To offer them a smile or a nod – I may be the only positive person that person sees in their day.”
“People are busy, there’s never enough time in the day, so little notes to remind us all to take a moment to breathe are important.”
Bus driver Kathy Maddux began writing on her bus windows while operating routes 331, 345, 348 and 372. She currently serves five nights a week on route 372, and has continued to write positive messages for her passengers.
Bus operator Kathy Maddux in festive St. Patrick’s Day gear.