Sometimes, an afternoon on the Valley’s busiest bus route plays out like an episode of “Seinfeld.” Other times, the East Sprague No. 9 seems more like an episode of “Cops.”
“East Sprague is considered the most colorful, the busiest and the most unsought after by the drivers,” Spokane Transit Authority driver Katie Youngren said. “Unless you’re nuts, like me.”
Youngren has had drunks lead a cargo of business-suit commuters in rounds of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” She’s had a guy confess to “murdering” the family dog.
More often, whoever drives the route makes friends and lends an ear to those who are down on their luck. Some don’t really want to go anywhere, they just need to be someplace warm.
Youngren is like a bartender who never serves drinks. She has even written dozens of country gospel songs about the bus.
Saturday afternoon, the No. 9 pulled away from the Valley Transit Center with a full cargo. Some riders were bored, some were chatty. All sank back into the velour seats.
Toddlers looked out the windows, teenage girls folded up the strollers that brought them. Boys with baseball caps turned backwards sat in the back.
The side-facing seats near the front are marked with signs noting that they’re reserved for the elderly. More often, they’re occupied by people wanting to talk to the driver. Saturday, they were two overbundled, middle-aged men talking about the Mental Health Center.
The one wearing a stocking cap talked in quick, short bursts. The other, a scraggly haired, bearded man, just nodded.
Youngren smiled. Then a car cut her off. Her new friends asked what was wrong.
“Oh nothing,” she said. “I just talk to myself.”
At Barker, she stopped for a break.
It was the longest 15 minutes in recorded history.
Then the bus started again to complete its Greenacres loop. “Does it take patience?” Youngren asked. “Hahahaha!”
But it’s not the passengers that peeve her, it’s drivers. She’s been “waved” at, one-finger-style, too many times.
But Youngren gets along with just about everyone. She calls mentally-ill passengers “angels in disguise.”
There are lots of tough guys, too. Saturday, a teenage couple boarded in Greenacres. The Birkenstock-wearing boy told the girl “they shouldn’t have let me out of jail.” Later, two boys heading for University City Shopping Center talked loudly and swore.
“I was gonna get (expletive for ‘wasted’) tonight!” one boy said.
“I thought we were gonna get searched, dude,” said the friend. Others looked away and fidgeted.
Youngren said most of those kids aren’t really so tough. One 13-year-old “gangsta” who came on board ended up in a song. “Outside, he had a tough veneer, but inside he just wanted his mommy … it just tears you up,” she said.
Of course, bus riders aren’t a bunch of thugs. A young woman boarded, smiling. “It’s the bee lady!” she greeted Youngren. “Buzzz!” The driver was stung during a summer shift. Someone came to the rescue with a cup of ice.
“It was kind of like ‘Speed,”’ the passenger joked.
Youngren and her bus driver husband plan to write a book next. She plans to call it “My Life as a Bus Driver” or “Ralph Cramden You Ain’t.”
Watch out, Seinfeld.