“With a smile and a profile!” – That’s how my bus driver greeted passengers at the start of his mid-day shift. Our ebullient leader assured us that his goal on the trip was “to extinguish the problem before the problem exists.’ Shoppers loaded with Target totes, moms with toddlers, students headed for class, even the suits on board relaxed just a bit. We were in good hands.
By chance I had just been idly pondering life as a committed bus rider – with a focus on the benefits. The muse struck as I realized that the driver’s attitude IS the joy – the element of surprise, the shared joy of an adventure (in this case the driver’s new shift) and the delight of children who saw the ride as a grand escapade with a spirited leader who actually would be driving OUR bus.
For the moment I chose to ignore the fact that there are grumpy drivers, surly passengers, unruly toddlers, an occasional inebriate, a kid with no volume control on his CD, and oaf who sprawls over three coveted seats. They’re the exception.
When stuff happens seasoned riders and driver take it in stride. The committed busser focuses instead on the benefits of camaraderie and safety, dependability, protecting the environment and cost savings. In truth, bus catastrophes are exceptions much beloved by rookie reporters and proponents of highway construction.
And so the pause that refreshed morphed into a delightful ride home as I continued to count the blessings known but to the bus rider with a positive mental attitude. Concerned that I might be delusional I did a quick search, a due diligence reality check to learn of others’ bus riding experiences. Under the term “bus riding” I discovered a profusion of pedantic how-to guides – boring tomes devoid of the spirit of adventure I sought.
Still, I found a few hearty and literarily inclined folks who shared my enthusiasm for the joi de bussing. To wit:
v You get to know the regulars – the nattily dressed man who always sports a bowler hat, the weary woman who spends the trip on the cell phone discussing her late rent with the landlord, the shopping bag lady, the teens who’ve graduated from the school bus to Metro Transit, the all night cook who always needs a nudge to wake him at his stop.
v For those inclined, there’s a precious opportunity to read. For me it’s the newspaper – others pull out serious tomes bearing library labels, some sequester more lurid paperbacks in their jacket pockets, for many their book of choice is the Bible of the Koran.
v Then there’s the voyeuristic opportunity to probe into people’s lives by checking the book jackets or the magazines they are reading. Kindles are no fun for the intellectually curious transit rider. An alternative visual exercise is to try to decipher the hieroglyphics that adorn the panoply of t-shirts and leather jackets. And then there are the inscrutable tattoos…
v The congenial morning bussers who saunter to their regular transit stops, chat with co-riders, relax in the certitude that the bus will arrive on time, then hop aboard and grab their regular spot. Road rage is not an issue. At the end of the day, these same riders allow each other the space and quiet to mull over the slings and allows of the workplace. Everyone is focused on home, dinner and a quiet evening.
v Though the consequences of boarding the LRT without a fare card are extreme embarrassment and a healthy fine, bussers are their brother’s keepers. If you come up short on bus fare, a friendly rider will find the change to bail you out.
v The same holds true for newcomers who are clearly not bus schedule readers and have only a vague sense of their destination. As soon as the bus driver starts his or her patient explanation of options a half dozen caretaker-types join in with helpful advice on routes, stops, alternatives, local landmarks and more.
v With notable exceptions bussers are genial folk who patiently wait for the individual in the wheelchair to ascend to the main floor, pull into the vacated seat and wait while the PCA or driver secures the locks. Admiration, not impatience, shows on the faces of waiting travelers.
v Likewise, age is not so much a challenge but rather a ticket to comfort and safety as weary riders inevitably vie to give up their seat.
v For some, the bus ride offers a few quiet moments conducive to the fine art of make-up application. Generous stashes of cosmetics, ranging from eye lash extenders to manicure products, remain buried in tote bags until the propitious moment at a traffic jam or during longer stretches of open road.
v When the bus windows aren’t covered by ice there’s ample opportunity to observe and critique construction and leased property along the route – the new restaurant, the vacant building, the unidentified excavation, can spark serious conjecture, even controversy, particularly when the critics have not been properly informed of the intended consequences.
v Patrolling the bus is left to the driver and, at times, to the riders. Though some fret about the safety implications it does relieve the stress of constantly surveillance by the Authorities. Besides, virtually ever bus carries a sort of bus monitor who thrives on the opportunity to take command.
As we switch the clocks we necessarily alter the day’s routines. Walking and biking are less an option. Winter driving is a menace. This might be a good time to give public transit another chance. Get yourself a Go-To card and see just how far it will take you!