I have been riding the bus a lot lately, experiencing the epitome of strangers merging and inhabiting the same place short of a rock concert. But the only catch is that there is not a famous performer sanding on stage up front- and you still have to pay (for me, I pay by far the most of transit than anything else in my budget short of rent.)
Though the essence of public transit is paying someone else to carry you to the place you want to go and encountering up to hundreds of strangers per ride, this is exactly why it is so worthwhile. First of all, it’s nice to just sit back and let the fate of the bus carry me to my next destination. By now, I know the 24 line well enough that I can anticipate exactly when I will need to get ready for my stop and check my watch to see if I’m on time. I have time to read, to write, to listen to music, to notice my surroundings with an attentive brain more than any other time in the day.
I’m also able to take time to notice other humans while en route. Strangers are the most interesting people I have come across- more so than people I’ve met or come to know. I think it’s their mystery that’s so intriguing…or maybe it’s the possibility of seeing them again on the street, in a store, or on the same bus the next day.
It’s also their unexplained quirks that make them so interesting. There’s an older lady who stands across the street from my bus stop at 30th and Sanchez every morning at 8:45 am, dressed in baggy sweats, a fleece sweather, goggle-like sunglasses, and a baseball cap. The first time I saw her, i thought she had mistaken where the bus stop was and was waiting for it with me…just on the other side of the street. But no, once the bus was visible coming down 30th, she turned on her heel and started walking swiftly down the street. Every morning. I still haven’t figured out why she exhibits this strange behavior.
It may also be what you can learn from evesdropping on their conversations. I overheard two men talking quite audibly the other day about the difference between Chinese and American manufacturing. One kept emphasizing the lack of a need for humans in manufacturing anymore- it can all be automated. The other man merely nodded and mumbled in agreement, every once in awhile offering a few sentences of his own, quite watered-down opinion.
Riding public transit is the most social activity I know of. Surrounded by strangers, some even less than a hair’s distance away, you can often hear ten conversations going on at once- coworkers, parents and children, phone conversations, strangers. The buzz and babble comes to be indistinguishable, only a roar of white noise bathing the ear at the height of rush hour. Sometimes people stand shoulder to shoulder, holding on to the poles and hand holds for dear life, fearing a sudden stop that will throw them to the floor like dominoes.
But most of the time, riding the bus is a solitary social endeavor. Every man or woman for his or herself, staring straight ahead, avoiding contact of conversation with strangers. A sad reality for a situation which always has the possibility to yeild and interesting conversation on preferred bobblehead dolls, discussion on last night’s game, discovering where to buy the best produce, meeting a new best friend or even…love.
See a related post in my previous blog here.