Editor’s note: This is one in a periodic series called Stepping Up, highlighting moments of compassion, duty and community in uncertain times. Have a story we should tell? Send it via email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject “Stepping Up.”
Lisa Anderson is an avid bus rider. Or at least she was.
Before the coronavirus pandemic forced the 60-year-old elementary school teacher into instructing lessons via Zoom video conferencing from her Magnolia home, she would take the No. 31 bus to the University District before hopping on the No. 49 to her school in Capitol Hill.
“Tell me where you want to go and I can figure it out,” Anderson said proudly. “We have two cars and they’re kind of energy efficient, but anytime you take the bus it’s better than putting one person behind an engine.
“I call it the ride of pride. And besides, I get a lot done on the bus.”
Since Washington’s stay-home order began in late March, King County Metro Transit buses have been operating at far less than capacity due in part to the agency’s rider limits and social-distancing measures.
But, as Anderson noted, “at least they’re still running.”
Several weeks ago, she decided to pay tribute to the bus operators so she stuffed Ziploc bags with hand sanitizers, disinfectant wipes, gloves, chalk, a bubble bottle and note that read “See you Fridays at Five” and dropped them off at neighbors’ doorsteps.
On a recent Friday, more than two dozen Magnolia residents lined the sidewalk along 22nd Avenue West between West Dravus Street and West Bertona Street just as they had for the past two months.
Seven-year-old Zara Rathnavelu marked spots 6 feet apart on the pavement in blue chalk, which were loosely observed by mask-wearing neighbors who gathered on the warm spring afternoon.
Anderson’s husband, Anthony, kept a sharp watch and would periodically shout “Battle stations! In position people!” whenever he spotted a bus.
Then the self-proclaimed “Bubble Brigade” hooted and hollered, waved signs of support and blew kisses and bubbles at the lumbering yellow and blue buses that rolled by and occasionally reciprocated the sidewalk salute with two loud horn honks.
“Bubbles make you happy,” said 66-year-old Julie Duncan, who has lived a quarter of a century in the house next to Anderson. “This is so much fun.”
Angela Petrucci, who grew up on the street, returned home to play the ukulele and sang a lovely rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” along with a lively medley of Beatles classics.
“I’m out here to bring joy,” said the 33-year-old music teacher at Christ the King Catholic School. “And to continue to keep having community in some kind of way.”
Petrucci’s father, Mike, who accompanied her on the melodica, which is a hybrid harmonica, added: “She’s making people smile. That’s why she’s here.”
This is life during a pandemic — Seattle style.
Most days are stagnant and mundane, but this block comes to life for two hours every Friday afternoon with music and laughter, dog walkers and baby-strolling parents, little kids kicking soccer balls and friends drinking wine as bubbles bounce along in the breeze.
“We never did this before the quarantine,” said 37-year-old Shelly Gasperine, who moved to the neighborhood five years ago. “If there’s one good thing from all of this self-isolating, it’s we’re connecting with neighbors and meeting people that you probably wouldn’t have met.
“I hope we continue this once we get back to some kind of normal.”
In addition to the Friday gathering, Anderson tried organizing “Hump Day Hat Wednesday,” and prompted neighbors to wear their wildest head coverings.
But that idea never took off.
“This was a little more organic and it’s uniting,” Anderson said. “It’s a message everyone can get behind. I think bus operators are heroes. They have to deal with situations that many of us would find quite daunting and they’re moving a vehicle that weighs a ton.
“So cheers to them. And at the same time, it’s a chance to restore a little bit of what we’ve lost in all of this sheltering in place. You can lose that connection with your community if you don’t get out of the house.”