The Beauty of the Bus
I used to ride my 12-speed bike to school... to the pool in the summer... to my friends' houses.
When I turned 16, my mother made a point to tell me I would not be allowed to have a car "You'll spend all your time working to make the payments, your grades will go down and you'll lose track of what's important... I'll drive you." (I have an older brother, by the way, who led by the aforementioned example).
I carpooled to school with friends. My mom carpooled to work, so did my dad. We were in a very small river town in northern Illinois and were perhaps not driven by environmental savvy as much as practicality.
I went to college in a town where we walked a mile and a half to the local grocery to grab the week's worth of ramen and we talked and laughed the entire way--never thinking twice about the trouble of being pedestrian (our transportation mode, not our insights).
I went to graduate school in a community with three separate public transportation entities, all linked together. My car died and I spent five weeks with nothing but the bus to get me where I needed to go--and it was the holiday season. I struggled with large bags of gifts and two transfers to get to the mall and back via bus and I lived to tell about it. Hell, I even loved the freedom the ability to handle public transportation AND shopping at a mall in the same day granted me.
Recently, I've lived in a large southern community with no public transportation. I watched as cars of people would travel from the one industrial hub to the most populated suburb--nearly all turning from the same work parking space into the same driveways--each car with only one passenger. One day, for fun, we counted. We got up to fifty cars with only one passenger --in a row--before we finally saw a vehicle carrying more than one body.
I am an advocate of public transportation because it's easy, makes sense, is environmentally savvy and cheap. But lately, I'm an advocate because it really makes my day. I ride the bus to and from work and it's only about 15 minutes each way, but it always promises a positive and thoughtful experience.
I have watched more people come together in unity on a bus than anywhere else.
Yesterday, a three-year-old was admiring a young high school man's hand-held game device. The young man was forced to sit near the child and his mother because the bus was crowded and the child took an active interest in the device.
This young, obviously very cool boy engaged the child in a friendly way and even laughed and smiled at the child's determination to try and take the game from the older boy. Smiles were all around, including from the folks seated near the activity. Everyone had had a long day at work, yet, we all relaxed a little together and learned a lesson in determination and youthfulness as we watched these two kids interact. Looking around, I saw all seated near were grinning at the child and his determined attempts to not only be really really cute, but to secure the video game.
People came together on the bus just yesterday (wow, a lot of positive things to notice in just 15 minutes, that's the beauty of the bus) when a young mother and her children got on the crowded vessel and she had to fit her stroller through the aisle. People from front to back hollered to one another to help the mother, seemingly uncomfortable at putting people out, find her way to a safe seat near her children. The teamwork involved in seating this one family was great to watch.
And that was at the END of the day.
Mornings are just as enlightening on the bus. I sat next to an older woman one day and we watched as a group of high school students took up the seats in the front reserved for the elderly and those with physical needs. When an older man with a cane boarded, a young boy stood to release his seat and instead of simply moving out of the way, he helped the gentleman to the seat, stabilizing him on the bumpy ride.
The older woman next to me, like me, was beaming with pride for this young man who she didn't even know. She couldn't contain herself and turned to me, a total stranger, patted my knee and said "well, now, that was nice." I agreed. She struck up conversation about her granddaughter and manners and we shared a simple few words before our busy days began. I was grateful for the stranger who looked at me, my demeanor and my expression and knew I was friendly enough to speak to, to share the moment with.
It's nice to have human contact every now and then. It's nice to speak to, see, WITNESS people you might not normally seek out. When the news of the shootings and beatings on local busses reached my friends in Chicago, they called, knowing I was an advocate of public busing. I said I was fine, it wasn't my route and it wouldn't keep me from the bus. They were proud.
Another friend of mine said he was amazed I take the bus. I live in what some in town may consider a "rough" neighborhood and I am a minority when I board my bus. He said "I can't ride my bus! I am a white guy who wears expensive suits and watches! I'll get mugged!" I was ashamed of his comment and retorted "I'm a white woman in expensive suits and watches and I ride the bus and sometimes even get compliments on my shoes while I'm there!" It's important to note, he lives in a fairly prestigious place in town where many of the bus riders are also white guys in fancy suits.
When bus routes, which are many people's primary mode of transportation, are being cut so frequently and opportunities for this sometimes silent, sometimes touch-on-the-knee community building are being squelched, it's important to remember, we can all learn something on the bus, we are all able to be a part of that community.
Riding the bus is the best part of my day. It's how I explore the city--from the inside. Who gets on, who they're with, how they share their space with others, what they're reading, if they smile and say hello... these are all indicative of the character and culture of the parts of town I'm riding in.
I'm very proud of my route--we're a friendly group, we'll stand to give you a seat and we'll help you and your family get to yours. We will laugh with your child and share a few moments together, that's the beauty of the bus. It's the best $2.00 community you can ever build.