A year and a half ago, I somehow found myself on the 212 Express commuter bus, traversing Lake Washington via the floating I-90 bridge from Bellevue, hurtling towards Seattle, the Pacific Coast, and the center of the e-commerce universe.
I had just moved my wife, two children, large dog, and (almost) all my worldly possessions from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada to Bellevue, Washington, USA. The move had been . . . eventful, which incidentally is the worst quality one might hope for in a move.
(Uneventful is greatly preferred, particularly when immigration is involved, I can assure you.)
I was excited for my fancy new job and the fancy paycheck that came along with it. “Not bad for an English major from Saskatoon,” I thought, that sentiment packed with roughly 25% calm self-assured confidence and 75% bone-bending terror that I would soon be caught out for what I clearly was: a fraud, an imposter and a bush-leaguer in the land of the Ivy League.
But at this particular moment, on the King County Metro 212 Express, halfway between the Eastgate Park & Ride and Seattle’s International District station, none of that mattered.
I looked out the window as we crossed Lake Washington. The effect of the floating bridge, with its complete lack of overhead structure, not only offers an unobstructed view, but also makes it feel a bit like you’re really ON the water, disarming and comforting all at once.
And what I saw when I looked out the bus window was big and bright and beautiful.
The expansive Lake Washington, ringed in the lush, colorful, dominant foliage that defines this state, rising to misty hills, with gleaming towers of commerce and invention gazing down impressively, (but not oppressively), and off in the distance . . . the regal and striking Mount Rainier, snow-capped and dominant and truly, completely beautiful.
Rainier is a big mountain. She’s a fourteen-thousand-footer. But what makes it particularly gasp-worthy is how it dwarfs everything around it. Unlike the big peaks in the Rockies, Rainier utterly overwhelms the landscape, towering far above all.
I’ve been drawn to the mountains my entire life and I was transfixed.
This was the reason we had moved – the reason we were willing to be separated from our family, our beloved Canada, the job I loved and the home we knew – weekends at the lake, Rider Pride, pints of Great Western Pil around a campfire and walking the Meewasin River Valley with slurpees in hand – what we had moved to was the ocean, the mountains, the rainforest, the culture and the bright promise of Seattle, innovation artery to the world.
And in that moment, it was worth it.
The powerful landscape, the terrifying joy of taking a risk, the glistening possibility of strapping in and taking a ride on the mighty icebreaker American Commerce.
It was all making sense.
And it was exciting.
There was something else I noticed, though.
It was a packed double-length commuter bus – probably 100 or 150 passengers.
Here I was, slack-jawed and grinning out the window, perfectly playing the part of clichéd wide-eyed small-town yokel, mesmerized by the urban landscape and the oh gawsh bigness of it all.
But what I noticed as I tried to snap my mouth shut and pretend like I belonged was that I was the only one.
We were bouncing across the lake on a dazzlingly clear day (I would later learn just how rare these are in Seattle) in the middle of a scene well worthy of being painted, and I was the only one even bothering to look at it.
My 100+ fellow riders were, without exception, looking down.
They were looking down at phones, mostly. But also at Kindles, old-fashioned books, tablets, laptops and newspapers. Some had nothing shiny nor printed to look at, and so they just looked at the backs of the seats in front of them.
Nobody was looking up.
It was just another commute, another Monday, another day for us to quickly get down to the most important business at hand: surviving long enough to put another Monday behind us.
In that moment the uncertainty of the move, the ambiguity of our timeline, the intangibility of our family’s future faded away, a little bit, and became more certain.
Because then I knew – I knew that at some indeterminate point in the future, I too would find myself too preoccupied with the demands of the day ahead to think about anything else, too acclimated to the scenery around me to consider pausing to take an extra look at it, too strapped in at the rudder (or at least the bailing bucket) of the good ship American Commerce, boilers fed to bursting and steaming at too full a speed to consider the fanciful (if not unimaginable) possibility of pausing for a sightseeing expedition.
I knew that when I found myself making my morning commute, answering emails and checking my calendar and the mobile traffic numbers and the markets without so much as looking up as we crossed Lake Washington, it would be time to reconsider a few things.
I knew that, when I stopped looking at the mountain, it would be time to go home.