On Riding Regional Transit

I ride the bus to work. I started last May when an uninsured driver rear-ended me in my Honda (hit and ran to be precise, a cold case by now unsolved by the PD in spite of blood evidence, and no doubt fingerprints). It wrecked my car but fortunately did not injure me too badly.

After the accident, I was forced to ride Regional Transit. I planned to do so until I received the insurance money. But after a month on the bus when the money finally arrived, I decided that rather than buy another used car with the meager insurance payout, I would keep riding the bus.

In order to ride the bus without a car; you must walk or ride a bike to a bus stop. The interesting thing about walking, riding a bike, and riding the bus is that it puts you on the same plane with a lot of other people. You are walking, not speeding, past the homeless guy shaking feces out of his pants leg, the Chinese woman up early pilfering recyclables from blue totes, and the worn-looking crowd at the methadone clinic You aren’t cruising a Mercedes SUV while sipping a double-shot latte (with a phone in your ear) forcing a bike rider into a pile of leaves; you are that cursing bike rider.

To ride the bus you walk, pedal, and sit among people. Leaving the house to ride the bus is to be where real people meet real people. It’s where conversations happen. It’s where people smell each other, touch each other, hear each other, and even listen to each other.

The bus is where the mentally ill meet the mentally brilliant, and the parolee meets the professional. The bus is where a common person can have a chauffeur every day. The bus is where you can receive condescending looks from women passing by in luxury cars, and where you receive the empty stares of  milky-eyed homeless people who wish they were going anywhere on the warm bus rather than sitting in the freezing cold on a metal bus bench.

The bus is a unique environment; it is raw, human, and sometimes a bit too real. It isn’t for people who’ve grown too comfortable living outside the world. The bus would be too much for many people who live cozy inside their small, antiseptic little worlds.

A few other key lessons:

  • Many people are tall, I am not one of them.
  • People drop things.
  • There are lots of lonely people.
  • Many homeless people are mentally ill.
  • Out there is where the people are.

I’ve learned some humility in the months I’ve been riding the bus. I’ve felt threatened by walking many blocks through the city to the bus stop past dark alleyways where homeless people are scavenging for cans and bottles hoping to beat everyone else to the loot. I’ve been loudly ridiculed by a guy in a pickup for carrying a Nascar lunch box with Jimmie Johnson’s number on it. I’ve been chastised by a cranky bus driver for standing more than eight feet from the bus stop sign.

I’ve also discovered how many interesting people there are in the world. I’ve felt valued and I’ve made new friends and acquaintances. I’ve also felt strangely superior under the condescending glare of an SUV driver whom I’ve inconvenienced as I cross the street. I am living green, I am enjoying life, and I am walking in the open air hearing sounds, feeling the weather and appreciating a world that is rich and diverse, dirty and imperfect, beautiful and dangerous.

I’ve felt an unexpected ego struggle about not owning a car. It is an unreasonable feeling of inferiority; after all, I chose not to buy a car. But that’s not why it’s unreasonable, it’s unreasonable because I know logically that owning a car does not make me a better person; it does not make me more worthy of God’s love or mercy; it does not even mean I have more money than people who ride the bus. This unreasonable feeling is the main reason I have not purchased a car, it is a culturally-fed form of materialism that I want to overcome. I want to be certain that I need to own a car, not just want one to make me feel better about myself. I haven’t overcome it yet, so I’m still riding the bus.