Building "Consensus" from issue 298.2

Michael Spence

In my thirty years of driving public-transit buses in and around Seattle, I've encountered all kinds of situations. The incidents related in "Consensus" are a composite from different events, some of which happened to me, some to other drivers who related the particulars to me, and some I invented.

For instance, I've had a number of riders who grouse about my not stopping where they wanted, even though they pulled the bell cord too late for me to stop the bus safely. (Much as I and they might wish otherwise, the laws of physics don't respond to our preferences.) At those times, I've wondered how violently such riders might react. Last August, a fellow driver was shot because he asked a rider to pay his fare—not what most people would consider an outrageous request. Fortunately, the driver was not seriously wounded.


Another driver told me some years ago about how, on his bus, a group of construction workers grew annoyed that some younger guy wouldn't turn off his boom-box. The driver himself had used the bus's inner mic to tell the guy to turn it down, to no effect. Then he hears the music stop. Then the guy comes up and says he wants to complain—the construction workers had grabbed his boom-box and thrown it out the window. The driver said he told the guy he should be glad they didn't throw him out, and to sit the hell down. So I "transplanted" the workers into the scene in "Consensus."

I've also carried many older passengers who aren't afraid to speak their minds, even to would-be threatening younger ones. Thus, in the poem, an elderly straight-speaker appears in the seat across from the driver's to provide backup for him.

Now that I had all my characters, my challenge was to make them behave together in an interesting, unpredictable way. So, as I wrote the piece, the movement back and forth between the kid and the driver, the kid and the older man, and the kid and the workers gave a shifting of focus that carried one action to the next.

And the ending seemed to fit, since it made a sort of bridge of companionship that connected the driver, the older man, and the workers that the driver, at the poem's beginning, would not have thought likely at all.

"Consensus" will also appear in my forthcoming book, The Bus Driver's Threnody, due for release this fall by Truman State University Press. Readers might like to know I'll be retiring this Valentine's Day—a kiss I'm giving myself—in no small part because of the potential for ugly altercations that bus-driving entails. (The final poem in Threnody deals with the fatal shooting of a bus driver and the subsequent falling of his bus off the Aurora bridge in Seattle). I've also written a one-act play about the job entitled "The Bus—A Play on Work."

Besides issue 298.2 in The North American Review, Michael Spence's poems have appeared recently in The Chariton Review, The Hopkins Review, The New Criterion, The Sewanee Review, and Tampa Review. New work is forthcoming in The Hudson Review, Measure, and The Southern Review. His latest book (thus far) is Crush Depth (Truman State University Press, 2009).