He is known among passengers, co-workers and friends as a charismatic storyteller who can defuse tough situations that come with a nighttime bus route traversing Seattle’s urban core.
LeRoy Haigler first rode Metro Transit’s No. 7 bus after a one-way train ride from his home in Philadelphia to start over in Seattle.
Homeless and fleeing family trauma, the 19-year-old had little money, few belongings and no place to go. He boarded the downtown-bound bus on Rainier Avenue round midnight, finding a seat in the back after swapping a quick greeting with the driver, Nathan Vass.
That was Sept. 13, 2014. Haigler remembers it as the day Vass saved his life.
“Not a way, like, oh, he jumped in a burning building or he stopped a car from hitting me,” Haigler said. “Nathan gave me hope. ”
At the route’s end, Vass listened to Haigler’s story, explained temporary shelter options in Seattle and gave the teen $20 before the two parted ways. The conversation and cash, Haigler said recently, was what he needed to get through the night and eventually start applying for jobs.
Vass, 31, a Metro driver for the past 10 years, is known among passengers, co-workers and friends for his ability to connect with people, suggest help if it’s needed and defuse those tough situations that come with a nighttime bus route traversing Seattle’s urban core.
He greets each rider who boards “the 7,” a route with a reputation among drivers for trouble. He personally calls out each of his route’s 126 stops — from Rainier Beach to the University District — rather than relying on the recorded announcements most drivers use.
Regular riders often find space near him to talk, and he knows hundreds of passengers by name.
“One of the things you’ll notice about Nathan is every person who gets on the bus, nobody gets ignored,” said Celia Berk, 20, of Capitol Hill, who first rode Vass’ bus about five years ago.
Born in Los Angeles, Vass’ fascination with public transit began young. He grew up in Seattle, where he began riding buses at age 12 to people-watch and take pictures.
That’s when working for Metro became a goal.
Now, Vass documents his experiences as a driver through words and pictures in a blog, The View From Nathan’s Bus, which he hopes one day will become a book.
“If we’re going to anthropomorphize buses, they’ve become, like, the friendly uncle who loves everyone, who doesn’t judge,” Vass said. “The bus is rare in that it brings together all class groups and my route, specifically, everyone. ”
Vass makes Route 7 his own
Route 7 is one of Metro’s busiest bus lines, shuttling about 11,000 people each day through diverse and more affordable South Seattle neighborhoods and into a city center being transformed by wealth from the tech boom.
Considering its high ridership and wide geographic sweep, the 7 ranks among Metro’s highest for safety threats.
Bus operators across the transit agency’s roughly 185-route system deal with people in distress, acting inappropriately or being threatening. Eighty-six bus operators were assaulted last year, Metro reports.
Read more at The Seattle Times. Image courtesy of The Seattle Times.