Tag Archives: Seattle

A tribute to Seattle’s best bus rider, who was also my friend

On November 19, 2019, my friend, Annie Lamb (known to me always and only as “Mrs. Lamb”), died unexpectedly. Today would have been her 80th birthday.

Annie Louise Cheatham came to Seattle an orphan. Her mother, Nina, died from an infection, which developed after an injury she sustained while washing other people’s laundry. I’m not sure how or when Annie’s father, Hiram, died.

After they lost their mother, Annie and her sister, Margaret, came to Seattle to live with their older brother, who was in the navy. In 1960, she married Thomas Lamb. In 1966, the couple bought a home on Madrona Drive, across the street from a 2 stop.* For the next 53 years, Mrs. Lamb was a 2 rider. She rode the bus everywhere—to shop for groceries and clothes and household items, to take her children to school and appointments, to work, to visit friends and family.

I met Mrs. Lamb in 2005, when I started attending Good Shepherd, the church where she’d been a member since the 60s. Over the 15 years we shared a congregation, I grew to love her. Here are some of the reasons why.

  • She kept it real.
    Mrs. Lamb rarely smiled. She would call you out in a heartbeat. To be honest, she wasn’t particularly nice. But Mrs. Lamb was kind. She showed up at my mother’s funeral when we were little more than acquaintances. She always remembered my children’s birthdays. She knew about Chicklet’s political plans and regularly brought her magazines with articles about female candidates. When my mother-in-law was suffering from a serious illness in 2018, Mrs. Lamb made her a blanket and prayed over it before she wrapped it up for me to send.
  • She became the elder she never had.
    As an orphan, Mrs. Lamb didn’t have anyone to look to for advice or help, to ask about family history or lean on in a crisis. But she became the rock for her own family. She was able to be there for her four children—Michael, Alison, Jason, and Vanessa—well into their adulthood. When they had families of their own, she become a beloved grandma, and, eventually, a great grandma. She and her sister Margaret** kept their connection throughout their lives, acting as co-matriarchs of the ever-expanding Seattle branch of Cheathams.
  • She did what needed to be done.
    Mrs. Lamb was not much for fanfare or attention. She was the person working behind the scenes, making sure things got taken care of. She was a deacon at the church and a member of the altar guild. She sewed the banners that we hung in the sanctuary. She watered the plants and made sure everyone separated their trash correctly. She decorated and cooked for almost every gathering, from big events like the annual Advent tea and Black History Month soul food dinner, to smaller gatherings like baby showers and birthday celebrations. She never expected (or wanted) recognition. She just did her part.
  • She loved the bus.
    Many members of Good Shepherd ride the bus. But Mrs. Lamb chose the bus. She called herself “Metro Annie,” because for her, the bus was more than a means to an end; it was an extension of her community.

    She got to know the drivers and the other riders. When she learned about Bus Driver Appreciation Day, she printed out transit-themed thank-you cards to pass out on the holiday. She looked out for unhoused people who found refuge in bus shelters, often bringing them water, blankets, and other necessities.

    She took care of stops, picking up trash whenever she saw it. In 2006, she organized our congregation to adopt a stop on 23rd Avenue, around the corner from the church. She faithfully picked up litter and emptied the stop’s trash can until Metro removed it—the can, that is—a couple of years later.

    She had an encyclopedic knowledge of buses and could tell you which route to take to get anywhere. She wore comfortable shoes even when she dressed up. Most days, she wore a backpack, in which, among other bus chick essentials, she carried a flare.***
Mrs. Lamb and her sister cleaning Good Shepherd's adopted stop
Mrs. Lamb with her sister and lifelong best friend, Mrs. Margaret Bell, taking care of Good Shepherd’s adopted stop

The 2 isn’t one of my family’s main routes, but pre-COVID, we rode it at least a few times a month. Sometimes, we would run into Mrs. Lamb on our rides, and it was always such a delight to see her in her element—with a shopping cart or a punch bowl or a bag of Christmas play costumes to drop off at the church.

When she joined the ancestors, I knew immediately how she needed to be honored. Just in time for her birthday, that vision become real. Thank you to the family of Beulah Dyer for the inspiration, to Mrs. Lamb’s son Mike for the photos, to Steve Tucker and Jaivier Forward for the beautiful design, and to Dale Cummings at Metro for making it happen.

Rest in peace, Annie Louise Cheatham Lamb. The bus isn’t the same without you.

Eastbound 2 stop, Union at Martin Luther King:

A bus shelter with a mural honoring Annie Lamb
A
A bus shelter with a mural honoring Annie Lamb
A bus shelter with a mural honoring Annie Lamb
A bus shelter with a mural honoring Annie Lamb

***

*Incidentally, this is the same stop where I used to wait to catch the bus home from elementary school in the 80s. There’s a good chance we waited there at the same time at least once.

**Margaret. Bell was an amazing woman as well. She was the sweet to her sister’s salty, and she was also a bus rider. She died in September of 2019 and is missed by many, including me.

***To make herself visible on dark winter evenings

A love letter to my city

What does it mean to love a place?

In 1936, my paternal grandparents moved to Seattle. They were young and Black, fleeing the poverty and various forms of terror in their home state of Kansas. They would experience both (poverty and terror, that is) in their new home, but they did not know that then.

My Grandpa Marcellus arrived first, riding the rails west and then, eventually, north. He worked as a day laborer until he earned enough money to send my Grandma Bernice a ticket. She left behind her six beloved sisters—whose names I heard almost daily growing up—and everything she knew to travel to what might as well have been the end of the world.

Marcellus and Bernice married in Seattle. My dad, their second child, was born at Harborview in 1939. He knew a Seattle before the Space Needle, before I-5, before so many of the corporate behemoths that have come to define it.

I have always been simultaneously proud of my family’s deep roots in this place and ashamed of their participation in the colonial project that made it what it is. I understand that my grandparents were also victims of white supremacist settler colonialism, doing what they could to survive. They did not have the capacity to consider the impact of their presence on the original people of this land. I grieve for the Duwamish people and for my grandparents, whose own ancestral trauma required them to make their way in someone else’s homeland.

I hate what Seattle represents: genocide, Native erasure, Earth as “property” to be bought, sold, and exploited for profit. I recoil at the stories of razed hills and inconveniently meandering rivers filled with dirt to suit commercial aims. And yet, I am grateful that my family came here, and that they had some part in building the city that is my home.

What does it mean to love a place?

Like my father, I was born here. I have lived away—two years in Morocco as a child and eight years in Houston as an adult—but I have spent 38 of my 48 years within 15 miles of my first neighborhood. My family didn’t give me much in the way of culture or community or tradition or even a sense of self. But damnit, they gave me this place.

Alki Beach and Puget Sound. The Olympics. The 54 and the ferry. The 2. The Monorail. Air that smells of saltwater. Slugs and mist and mildew. Tahoma, mother of waters. Sword ferns and Oregon grapes. Supersonics. 1250 K-Fox. Chubby and Tubby. The Monroe Fair. Madrona Park. The Market. Gloomy Junes. Dark Decembers. Husky Deli. Cottage Lake. Roger’s Thriftway. The Fun Forest. The Facts building. Tahoma, Tahoma, Tahoma, the mountain that comes out.

What does it mean to love a place?

In the summer of 1990, right before I moved away for college, the Goodwill Games came to Seattle. For the first time in my memory, there was heavy traffic at all times of day instead of just during “rush hour.” Back then, I thought all those extra cars were temporary. They never left.

When I returned to Seattle eight years later, everything was different—not in a “change is constant, don’t get set in your ways” kind of way, but in a pollution and traffic, gentrification and displacement kind of way. Every day, as I drove to work, I felt uneasy. I felt like I was contributing to something brutal, to a mindless, self-centered death making. That was when I decided to stop driving.

What does it mean to love a place?

I never love Seattle as much as when I am on the ground, walking to, riding on, or waiting for the bus. When I ride, I am part of the living, breathing organism that is my city. I am invisible, unnecessary, and irrelevant. But somehow, at the same time, I belong.

What does it mean to love a place?

In November of 2015, our little family volunteered to plant trees in a wooded area near the kids’ school. I didn’t expect to enjoy it. (I suffer from Raynaud’s and am generally cold-natured, so I rarely schedule compulsory outdoor time on November weekends.) But I was hoping to connect my children to their community. I wanted them to put their hands in the dirt—to plant something that they could watch grow over the years.

Though I wouldn’t say I had a good time, I found moments of joy on that day. And my children had a blast. They named every single tree they planted. They remembered their locations and checked on them at least once a week. During the dry summer months, they hauled buckets of water from the faucet at the front of their school a full quarter of mile into the woods to keep the baby trees alive.

Years—and many trees—later, they still know all the names of those first babies, and they still check on them regularly. If my children are granted the gift of old age, and if the trees (and our species) manage to survive that long, I hope they will bring their grandchildren to admire them.

What does it mean to love a place?

We’re told that Seattleites love nature. After all, they’re always outside, hiking and boating and skiing and climbing and camping. What I see is a professed love that manifests as a need to consume, commodify, and conquer, not as reverence or gratitude or stewardship. “Nature” as entertainment, adrenaline, escape, instead of the source of our very lives.

What if loving this part of Earth meant that, instead of asking what it could do for us, we asked what we owed back? What if it meant accountability and not unfettered access?

What does it mean to love a place?

For at least 15 summers, I have felt uneasy. I don’t need scientists to tell me the climate is changing; I can see it with my eyes and feel it in my bones. Summers are hotter and longer. Mountains are barer. Madrone trees are stressed. Salamanders and slugs are a rare—instead of regular—sighting.

Other people celebrate the warmer summers, as if weather is some sort of ambiance that exists to please humans. But I feel every degree like a diagnosis. Seattle is dying, and not because privileged people can no longer make it through the day without being reminded of suffering. Seattle is dying because we have finally asked too much of the land that supports us.

The smoke that at this very moment surrounds us is our invitation to see clearly. What are we going to do about it?

Chicklet and Busling at Lincoln Park
Fourth-generation Seattleites, loving on Lincoln Park (August, 2019)
Chicklet and Busling at Lincoln Park
Chicklet and Busling at Lincoln Park

Shelter and safety for everyone

I met my friend Lawrence* because he lives in my neighborhood, and I know—at least by sight—most people who live in my neighborhood. Lawrence and I frequent the same bus stops and walk many of the same routes. After crossing paths numerous times, we officially introduced ourselves. Eventually, we became friends.

Lawrence has lived in Seattle for his entire life. Because he can no longer afford housing, he now lives in his van, which, as far as I can tell, isn’t running. The front windshield is smashed, and at least one of the tires is flat. Lawrence often needs money for propane, so he can keep warm at night. Like me, he suffers from a condition called Raynaud’s Syndrome, which causes pain and numbness in the hands and feet during even mildly cold weather. He also has arthritis.

I worry about everyone in our city who is houseless. I especially worry for those people whose faces and names I know, people I have formed bonds with. Every single night, I worry about Lawrence.

Shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Lawrence and I exchanged numbers. I told him to call me in case of emergency, like if he was out of propane, or just needed someone to help him problem-solve. About a week later (around the same time our region was beginning to understand the seriousness of coronavirus), I decided I could no longer live with the idea of him suffering on the floor of his van night after night. I texted to ask if he’d like to spend a few days in a hotel. He said yes.

I chose the Best Western Pioneer Square because I know someone who has stayed there several times and liked it. It is a fairly short bus ride from our neighborhood, is clean and comfortable, and includes a hearty breakfast. I called to make a reservation, then took the 27 to the hotel to provide my credit card and give them Lawrence’s information.

As I waited in line, the hotel staff were very busy, answering calls from people canceling reservations and helping guests check out early. It occurred to me that the fallout from this pandemic had created an opportunity for an emergent strategy of sorts. Hotels were losing business and would soon be empty. Houseless people are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. What if we, concerned citizens of Seattle (and every city), pooled our resources to rent newly cheap hotel rooms for our houseless neighbors?

When it was my turn to register, I attempted to provide the hotel with some information about Lawrence, who, not surprisingly, isn’t as clean or neatly dressed as someone with access to shelter. I struggled with whether I should say something; I didn’t want to violate his privacy. On the other hand, as a person of color, I know for sure that disparate treatment happens. Lawrence is both houseless and a person of color, so I wanted to make sure that he didn’t experience any hassles when he arrived to check in.

I said, “This room is for my neighbor. He’s fallen on some hard times and is living in his van, and I just want to ensure that he will be treated with dignity.”

The person who was helping me leaned forward and widened her eyes. “Are you saying that he’s HOMELESS?”

I said, yes, that’s what I was saying. She said that the hotel doesn’t “do” homeless.

I should have left immediately, but I felt pressed. I had already given Lawrence the hotel’s information, and it wasn’t always easy to reach him. I had to help another neighbor with childcare (back when we were still allowed to do that) in less than an hour.

So, I pushed back. I said the room was paid for, Lawrence was a human being, and the hotel’s policy amounted to discrimination. She doubled down on the discrimination and asked me to assure her that there wouldn’t be any drug use.

Finally, after conferring with a coworker, she agreed to let Lawrence stay. I reserved the room for three nights.

On the third night, I decided that I could probably swing at least one more. Nighttime lows were still in the 30s, and I hated to imagine Lawrence back in his van under those conditions. I called the hotel to extend. The person who answered the phone cheerfully looked up my reservation. But as soon as her computer retrieved it, she said, “I’m sorry. I’m not going to be able to extend this reservation.”

I asked if I needed to come in and present my credit card again. She put me on hold. A moment later, a manager picked up. “We’re not going to extend this reservation,” he snapped. “If the guest can’t afford the room, then he shouldn’t be staying here.”

Lawrence is now back in his van. Everything is closed—libraries, community centers, coffee shops, every public space—so his van is the only place for him to be. I don’t see him very often these days, because I rarely leave my home. But sometimes, when I am out for fresh air, I see him walking to the store to buy water; he has no access to plumbing. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about how likely it is that he’s able to wash his hands at all—let alone frequently.

Even though we had a bad experience with the Best Western Pioneer Square, I’m still convinced that the idea—to provide guests for empty hotels and safe housing for those in our community who are most vulnerable right now—is a good one. Certainly, there are independently owned hotels that are on the verge of closing completely that would welcome a steady source of income.

All of us are threatened by this virus, and all of us are suffering from the havoc it has wreaked on our communities. Think about how you’re feeling right now—how lonely, fearful, and uncertain. Imagine spending every hour of every day uncomfortable, with no distractions, no people out on the street to help you with a few dollars, feeling abandoned and desperate AND scared of getting sick.

As we do everything we can to keep ourselves healthy and financially afloat, we can’t forget our houseless neighbors. We as a community need to offer them more than “socially distanced” mass shelters. One obvious, short-term solution is for the city to rent rooms in empty hotels (owned by compassionate, openminded people) so that everyone, especially the most vulnerable among us, can stay safe—and as comfortable as possible—during this challenging time.

Can we find the will and focus to make this happen?

Image description: people holding a sign that says, “Housing is a human right.”


*Not his real name, which is much more awesome

Remember, Episode 8 – Elmer Dixon: All Power to the People

This month marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Seattle Chapter of the Black Panther Party. I recently interviewed Elmer Dixon, one of the founding members of the Seattle Panthers, about the party’s work in the community and as a community — and about how his experience as a Black Panther continues to inform his life today. I hope you enjoy our conversation, and if you’re in Seattle, I hope you attend one (or more) of the many commemorative events happening this week.

All power to the people!

Remember, Episode 4 – Estela Ortega: Housing by the People, for the People

Happy holiday, everyone! As I’ve mentioned many times, Martin Luther King Day is my absolute favorite holiday, because it’s all about celebrating justice and equality and community. So today is the perfect day for me to share my interview with Estela Ortega, a woman who has spent her life fighting for justice and building community. Estela is the executive director of El Centro de la Raza (“the center for people of all races”), a revered institution that has been serving the Latinx community — and many others — in Seattle for over 45 years.


There are many things I could have talked to Estela about, but the focus of this interview was El Centro’s recent success building affordable housing — across the street from a light rail station — in a city that is rapidly becoming the exclusive domain of the rich. Without access to housing, there can be no community. And, in the absence of a government response our city’s housing crisis, we will need more organizations to learn from El Centro’s example and extend their service to the community by providing quality, affordable homes in every neighborhood.

***

To learn more about El Centro’s founding, listen to Episode 2 of Remember, my interview with Larry Gossett.

Summer of parks

Discovery Park
One of the key reasons our family has been able to make the car-free life work is that we stay local. By that I mean, the places we go regularly—school, work, church, grocery store, doctor, library, community center—are a walk or short bus ride away. (If we had to deal with long commutes, transfers, and crosstown kid-schlepping on a regular basis, I would have long since lost my mind.) But the fact that we keep our lives local does not mean that we never get around.

Au contraire.

We do our getting around when it counts: on adventures!

Seattle is a city of great parks, and this summer, we took full advantage of these fantastic public resources. Here’s a taste of some of the non-neighborhood* parks we visited in July and August–either to meet up with family and friends, or just because we felt like it. (Bold means we visited more than once.)

Ballard Commons Park: 27 + 40
Cal Anderson Park: 8

Carkeek Park: Zipcar (We had one for our annual pilgrimage to The Mountain and decided to make it a two-fer.)
Carkeek

 

 

 

 

 

Coulon Park: 48 + Link + 560
We made it!

 

 

 

 

 

Discovery Park: 27 + 33**
Taking the trail to Daybreak Star

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hiawatha Playfield: 27 + Water Taxi + 775 (aka Water Taxi shuttle)
Heading to Hiawatha

 

 

 

 

 

Jefferson Park: 27 + 36
Zipline!

 

 

 

 

 

Lincoln Park: 27 + Rapid Ride C
Waiting for wading at Lincoln Park

 

 

 

 

 

Madison Park: 48 + 11
Madison Park w/ lifelong friends

 

 

 

 

 

Madrona Park: 8 + 2 or 27 + walk (On nice days, when we had time, we walked the entire way–and back–using our secret path through the woods as a shortcut.)
The Mountain from Madrona Park

 

 

 

 

 

Rainier Beach Community Center/Pool: 8
Baby birthday/pool party

 

 

 

 

 

Seacrest Park: 27 + Water Taxi
Godsiblings at Seacrest

 

 

 

 

 

Come September, as the obligations of the school year take over, our adventures become less frequent. (Of course we do have a visit to the gigantic park known as the Puyallup Fairgrounds to look forward to later this month.) By the time winter rolls around, and the weather saps our motivation, they are rare.

I am so grateful for the summer of memories we have created.

***

* We also frequented many nearby parks, including: Powell Barnett, Pratt, Flo Ware, Peppi’s, Spruce, Judkins, and Leschi.
** These days, the 27 turns into the 33 (it used to turn into the 17, and before that it was the 25), so we didn’t even have to transfer.

A memorial for Memorial Day (repost)

I originally posted this in May of 2010, but it’s been on my mind lately, for a number of reasons. Wishing peace and comfort to all who have lost loved ones to violence, including (and especially) the violence of war.

On a recent Wednesday, I got to talking with the man in line in front of me at the grocery store. He was an older man, probably a good decade older than my father, and he showed a lot of interest in Busling. His eyes lingered long after the initial “Look at the baby!”, and he asked lots of questions–the kind asked by people who are missing the days when their own were still tiny. So, to keep the conversation from being completely one-sided, I asked the man if he had children.

“Yes, two grandchildren,” he said, “a boy and a girl.” He paused a moment, then added, “My son was murdered on a Metro bus in 1987.”

He told me a few of the details–that it was a robbery, that his son had been counting his recently cashed paycheck in the back and then had refused to surrender the money to the gunman who demanded it. That it was the first ever murder on a Metro bus.

We talked a bit longer–about his grandchildren (who live in Portland but visit him often), and about how he wished his son had used better judgment on that April afternoon 23 years ago–and then went our separate ways.

Our encounter didn’t last longer than five minutes, but I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. About all the hours and days and years that kind man had spent loving his child, watching him learn to smile and laugh and roll over and crawl; discovering his preferences, his quirks, his weaknesses, his gifts; attending games and graduations; giving advice about important tests and first dates.

I felt compelled to honor his loss by learning all I could about his son–not about the way he was killed, but about who he was, what he cared about, and who would miss him. Here’s what I know:

His name was Larry Curtis Walker. He was 30 when he was killed, an employee at The Plush Pippin at Southcenter. According to his boss, David Jensen, he was wonderful to work with.

“Larry sparkled with integrity and loyalty,” he said in a PI interview a couple of weeks after the murder. “[He was] the best employee I’ve ever had.”

Larry left behind two children, a son and a daughter. His son was six when he died. His daughter, from what I could gather, was younger. Many people knew and cared about Larry, including parents, students, and staff at his son’s school. They started a memorial fund (administered by David Jensen) for his children.

And he had a father who loved him dearly.

A perfect bus storm

This is how my fiance, Adam, referred to his commute yesterday. His first morning bus, a route that runs every 10-15 minutes, was 30 minutes late (the result of a rare combination of frequent lift use and an abundance of school children). Of course, this meant that he missed his transfer at Montlake–a few times–and was later than he wanted to be to work.

He left his office in Redmond at 8:10 (yeah, tell me about it), but thanks to last night’s 520 closure, his 8:17 bus didn’t arrive until well after 9:00. The rerouted bus got him downtown at an off time (when none of his preferred buses was expected), so he took one that dropped him off almost half a mile from his house and walked the rest of the way.

He finally arrived home at 10:35, at which time he me called to say, “I’ve got something good for your blog.”

So he did.

The world, according to Bus Chick

In April of 2003, I made a choice to sell my car and use the bus as my primary form of transportation. (To find out why, read my first Real Change column.)

In these first three “car-free” years, I have come to the following conclusions:

1. Seattle has one of the best bus systems in the country.
Though there is certainly room for improvement, having ridden the bus in many other cities (including Houston, Detroit, San Francisco, Boston, and Aspen), I can honestly say that King County Metro leads the pack.

2. It is possible (if not always convenient) to live here without a car.
Of course, it is not possible for everyone (delivery drivers, for example), but for most who are willing to make a few small changes to the way they live–and one big change to the way they think–it is a viable option. And now that Seattle has a car-sharing program (for those dog food/fertilizer/Costco runs) there is almost no risk to try it.

3) Future development of our city should focus on accommodating public transportation–not cars.
Part of the reason people are so shocked when I tell them I don’t have a car is because the cities and neighborhoods in our region were not constructed with the car-free individual in mind. From now on, they need to be. We must grow more efficiently and create an infrastructure that accommodates walking and riding–that is, unless we’d rather see more cars on the road.

4) Seattle really, really needs rapid transit.
Buses are good–certainly far better than the alternative of everyone driving alone–but let’s face it: They’re only part of the solution. A truly successful system integrates buses with a mode of transportation that is both nonpolluting and independent of traffic.

If you ride the bus in this region, want to ride the bus in this region, or just want to know what it’s like to ride the bus in this region, this blog is for you. You will find resources and information about our current bus system (for example how to get started, get around, or find the best solution to a transportation problem).

If you are interested in the future of public transportation or the future of this (beautiful but rapidly changing) city, this blog is for you. You will find information about current and upcoming transit projects, regular analyses of the gaps in service, and information about development projects that will influence the viability of a long-term transit solution.

Finally, if you are interested in your fellow citizens, this blog is definitely for you. You will find regular stories about all of the brilliant, insane, angry, kind, confused, beautiful people I encounter and observe every day.

If you’ve gotten this far, I hope it is because you are at least somewhat interested in coming back. I hope you will do so often.

Happy reading!