Riding The Bus

Since it is always good to “walk your talk”, I thought I’d better start riding the bus to work, instead of driving my car.  Mostly to save on oil (gasoline) consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.  Besides, with 201,000 miles under her belt, I thought I’d better stretch what life was left in the ol’ girl (a 1986 Honda Prelude) who had served me well.

With a bus stop a block away and several times and buses to choose from, I could no longer justify NOT riding the bus.  Granted, it meant that I would have to allow a little more time for getting to work (ahh, discipline).  I was in a bad habit of flying out the door with enough time to zoom downtown if the traffic lights were blessing me.  Yes, this would take some shifting.

But one day, I took that step; I rode the bus.

I really enjoy riding the bus!  Besides the benefit of experiencing a cross-section of humanity, I also get a chance to relax before and after work.  I read or look out the window or chat with people.  I think about my day, or look forward to spending time with my son or my horse.  All that in the span of about 10 or 15 minutes!  Who knew?

I still remember the Latino girl and her young son who were at the bus stop that first day.  She told me, yes it was where I could get Bus 5, and how it became Bus 6 at the downtown depot and continued to “southtown”, where she lived.  Meanwhile, Bus 6 would arrive at the depot (usually a few minutes late) and switch to Bus 5, which I could catch home at quarter past or quarter ‘til.  Other Buses stayed the same number and had longer routes.  Yes, Bus 7 also stopped at my neighborhood post.  I thanked her and waved goodbye as I disembarked at the depot!

Such a variety of people ride my buses!  Being a university town, there are students of many nationalities.  Sometimes I close my eyes and listen: Spanish, Asian, Middle Eastern, European.  It is like being on the Disneyland “Small World” ride for real!  One woman had the unique and beautiful eyes, and 3 lovely children who looked just like her; where was she from?   Young girls with veils get on the bus.  I smile at them: “as-salamu ‘alayukum” (peace be unto you), as an old Pakistani friend taught me to say.  Yes, may we all live in peace.

There are elderly people; the driver lowers the bus for them to step on and off.  Some have shopping bags.  Others just seem to ride for fun.  Occasionally, someone is in a wheel chair; the passengers fold up the side seat and help the person secure his wheels.  There are lots of young people.  Young boys (age 10?) going to the library by themselves.  There are mothers with children, and sometimes both parents.  Let’s sit here, Dad! – in the seats that face each other near the back.  Such an adventure to be had!  I find myself smiling.

Teens: all flavors from geek to Goth, singles and groups.  Fashion clothes, black tees and chains, or whatever’s clean even if it doesn’t match.  Some with ear buds in and world out.  One day I sat and chatted with a teen I recognized.  She is going to be senior, and is worried that she won’t have friends at school since some took the GED route and others don’t like each other.  Ah, yes, the days of identity chaos – be unique, but find a place to belong.  Actually, those seem to be the two bookends of my life even now!  But I worry less about it and choose to welcome all who would like to ‘belong’ in my world.

I find it fascinating to discover who people are beneath the surface.  Like my African-American friend whom I met that first day.  An older student in forestry management, but so much more, too.  She is working for women’s rights, an end to poverty, and respect for the land.  She is a voice of Divine Love for all people.

There are folks who are clearly around the poverty line and probably can’t afford a car.  I at least have a choice about riding the bus.  There are people who talk to themselves, or have some form of mental challenge.  Their lack of social restrictions is actually a bit refreshing – they are more like inquisitive children than stuffy adults!  There was the young man who bummed bus fare from me and asked if I knew any single girls.  Plenty ride the bus, so maybe he will find what he is looking for.  Most bus riders smile and make eye contact; they thank the driver as they leave the bus.  Have a good day! Others, for what ever reason, keep to themselves.  When I’m tired, I can understand their desire for solitude.

Sometimes I meet people as I walk the blocks to and from my downtown work.  Like the angry young hippie who fell into step with me and proceeded to tell me why he hated America, how his girl left him and broke his heart, how people didn’t understand him and sometimes spit on him, how they were kinder to his kitten (that rode harnessed on his backpack in front of his guitar) than to him, that he didn’t do drugs and knew lots about rocks and gems and spiritual stuff, and so on… for several blocks.  Even if I could have thought of some good advice, I wouldn’t have been able to interject it into his tirade.  So I just listened.  Finally, nearing the bus depot, I simply asked him his name.  He stopped, a bit stunned, and then shook my hand as he introduced himself as Nate.  Nice to meet you, I’m Becky.  I don’t think he knew how to respond to someone who treated him with respect, because after we chatted a few more seconds, he turned and headed back up the street.  I have thought of the kid many times.  He was just passing through town; I wish him well as he finds his way through life.

I walk those blocks at various hours, when the town is sleepy and when the streets are flowing with impatient cars.  I, too, used to zip along, eyes front to avoid rear-ending someone.  As I walk, I randomly choose my path, gazing in the windows of shops and restaurants I have frequented, and those I haven’t.  Few have a name recognized across the country; most are family-owned businesses.  Some are new and some have stood the test of time and generations.  As everywhere, the economy has been challenging, to say the least.  A few businesses have faltered and quietly passed away.  Others are kept afloat by the age-old principles of loyalty and community.  They are friends and family, we greet each other by name.   All understand the interdependence of our lives.

I have always admired trees, but hadn’t noticed just how many grow in town.  They are everywhere!  I heard the city even employs an urban forester to look after them. From the back seats of the bus, I am eye level with their curving branches.  When it is hot, I walk along under their shade.  I look up through the canopy (and hope I don’t trip on the sidewalk).  I stop to feel the texture of their bark.  Some I recognize from long-ago Botany class.  Instead of a forest floor, they are surrounded by concrete or asphalt.  Yet they grow, sometimes pushing the man-made ground out the way with their mighty roots.  They have observed decades of transition.  A few old ones probably carry the memories of Native Americans who lived in this area, before settlers arrived in 1845 and changed everything.

I have been surprised by the fact that I almost always leave the house with time to spare.  One day I was even ready fifteen minutes early, so I caught a different bus.  This gave me time to browse through the gathering of artists displaying their amazing creations on the courthouse lawn.  I purchased a magical little print from an artist friend there, and every day I delight in its colorful strokes of sun, moon, earth and sea.  Have I missed other treasures in my fast-paced life?  Hmmm.

Though most of the time the buses run true to the clock on the nearby courthouse tower, there are exceptions.  I call them lessons in patience and flexibility.  When I drive, I get irked if I have to sit through two rounds of the traffic light.  But the other day, when the Bus 5 mysteriously never appeared, I shrugged my shoulders, dug out my book and prepared to wait another half hour.  Meanwhile, Bus 4 appeared, running 15 minutes late.  I hadn’t taken it before as the nearest stop is about a 7 block hike from my house.  Hmmm, take a sure thing or gamble on Bus 5?  I hopped on Bus 4.  Be flexible!  Besides, what are a few more blocks of walking?  My sister lives on a ranch; her motto is, why walk when you can ride a horse.  Well, yes, but my horse doesn’t live in town with me!  And the extra walking, from bus to work and back, has paid dividends: my clothes fit looser.

I look forward to more days spent floating along in the “aquarium on wheels”, a microcosm of the larger sea of humanity.  Riding the bus reminds me to not only tolerate differences, but to celebrate them.  That diversity brings a richness to life.  That people are vastly more complex than the simple categories my rapidly assessing mind files them into.  That strangers can sometimes be kinder than friends or family.  I see bits of myself in all of my traveling companions and I smile with understanding.  I feel part of a community and it feels good.

Comments are closed.