The bus rider: the inside story

Riding a bus on a regular basis is interesting. Some buses promise more excitement than others. I ride the bus everyday and my bus is fairly tame as buses go. So, my observations here will be more of an appreciation of the prosaic than tales of the wildest and wooliest bus riders ever. My observations about my bus rides come from being a people watcher and some interactions with my fellow riders. Being a rather shy person, I do not strike up a lot of conversations, so my views derive predominantly from the stories I have invented about some of my favorite fellow riders. Let me introduce you to my friends.

First, there’s Jean. Just like all the characters that follow that is not her real name. I do not know her real name. But, Jean is a character. She watches over bus rules, routes, and procedure like a mother hen. Cross certain lines at your own risk if Jean is aboard. She has no compunction about about chastising a fellow rider or bus driver if rules or norms are not strictly adhered to. One day I actually spoke with Jean. She told me that my headphones were just a little too loud. That was interesting to me in that I am freaked out about losing my hearing so I keep them quite low for my own sake, but I must infer that Jean is part bat. But, after my rebuke had concluded, Jean told me part of her life story. Jean has been a lifelong warrior for women’s equality. She had raised a daughter alone, and there was more than a little pain in that story, even though it was told as a story of triumph. Jean then went on to tell me that I was part of what was keeping women down, in essence causing the progress towards equality to stall out. I’ll admit I did not think I was doing anything to undercut women, but it became clear that it was not so much me, but my being a man. Oh, I see, I am one of those pernicious “Y” chromosome types. Got it. Ok. Sorry for that. Then she said that all she wants is true equality. It is not about men losing so women to win, but true, simple equality. But, then in a bit of irony, she complained to me that “men on this bus never give up their seats for the women.” “Hold up, Jean,” I thought, “I might need a little coaching to navigate this. I thought it was simple equality, but perhaps not. There is nuance. Because let me be clear, Joe standing up over there, he’s not getting my seat, so…” But, lest my taking advantage of Jean’s inconsistency in that one instance comes across as my feeling inimical to her cause, let me say, “fight on, Jean.” As the father of daughters, I do not want anyone telling them only certain doors are open to them. They can do ANYTHING! Thanks for all you have done.

Now let me introduce you to Brad. Brad is the bus’s frat boy. Imagine Brad as a guy that makes a pistol out of his hand to point at all the ladies while making a clicking sound and winking (or imagine Joey Tribbiani saying, “how you doin?”). All the ladies of the bus love Brad, and Brad loves them right back. Brad drives up in his muscle car, wearing his black leather jacket and his hipster jeans and never fails to take note if one of his acolytes has made a change to her hair. This spectacle is ever so enjoyable for me. While Brad seems like a little bit of a caricature, and I cannot help but laugh a little, Brad is genuinely nice. I like to see the effect his kindness has on people. If I were not so hermit-like in my proclivities, I frankly would like to emulate the kindness he shares in a little less frat boy way. Something to work on!

A lot has been said about the six degrees of Kevin Bacon, but I see this theory and raise you a Kevin Bacon doppelgänger on my very bus. Oh yes, either Kevin has a twin or a doppelgänger and he (it) rides my bus. It is all I can do to stop myself from saying, “everybody cut, everybody cut, everybody, everybody cut footloose!” when doppel-Kevin gets on the bus. It really is uncanny. If I were bolder than I am, I would take a picture just to prove it. Besides his resemblance to Kevin Bacon, doppel-Kevin is a fairly chill dude with nothing else to note. But, you know how it is, if you have a connection to a celebrity you have to name drop a little.

Next we have the Nordstrom buyer. I think she fancies herself as a Miranda Priestly (Anna Wintour) type fashionista. A tastemaker, dressed in all black avant garde employee-discounted merchandise. But, it does seem lost on her that she is not in a chauffeur-driven Maybach, but rather a commuter bus. As evidence, she has no problem occupying the seat next to her with merchandise pages with red markings consisting of textual annotations, circled looks, and crossed-out looks. If someone attempts to sit next to her she looks at them like, “this is my #$%@#$ing office, and I did NOT invite you into my office.” I stay away from her. But, one day I saw her sitting next to a young man. He clearly was physically disadvantaged in someway. Miranda sat next to him and had a very engaged conversation with this fellow. She listened intently. She asked probing questions. She was interested in this guy, and he appreciated it. I was humbled. Miranda has more depth than I gave her credit for.

Lastly, I’ll introduce you to Miss Anachronism. I’ll call her “Miss Ana” to avoid further weighing down this already heavy prose. Miss Ana always brings a roller bag on the bus. What she’ll pull out of that bag of technological tricks is a highlight of my day. One day, she pulled out a PalmPilot circa 1999. OK, not high tech in this world of ubiquitous smartphones, but maybe (maybe?) not the weirdest thing. But, then she produced a third party guide to getting the most out of your PalmPilot manual still in the plastic. Wow. Then, there’s her laptop. This laptop is clearly a major reason for Miss Ana’s roller bag. The laptop occupies the bus equivalent of a city block. The heat it kicks out is saving our transit system on heating buses because it is positively tropical when she fires this thing up. It almost feels like we’re watching the “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” but where technology is the star and we started with highly advanced tech and we’re working back to the cave. I fully expect her to produce a typewriter, perhaps a telegraph, then eventually a stone with a hammer and chisel. It is not that Miss Ana is a luddite. Rather, she is taking her time buying into newfangled inventions. If asked if she is an early adopter she might reply, “No, not really. I like to see if a piece of tech has legs over a four score and seven year period before I dive in.” I like Miss Ana. Please keep producing these pieces of tech from another time and place. It is nice. At the end of the day, it is just a future paperweight anyway, right? She reminds me of this fact.

We all have a story. I am a smart alec for presuming to know the first thing about these people. Very few people that we come in contact with will really know our story. That intimacy is saved for a precious few. Those closest to us can see the veritable iceberg that we are. However, I sadly spend more time in physical proximity to Jean, Brad, doppel-Kevin, Miranda, and Miss Ana than I do with my children some weeks and that really bothers me. We are all driven by something. I am driven to care for my family, and secondarily, I hope to find meaning in the work I do. That is what has me joining my “friends” on the bus each day, and presumably my friends also have their noble reasons. But I wonder how many of us on that bus are really doing what we are meant to do. Each of us on that bus have hopes and dreams, and it is almost as though this strange conveyance, a bus, brings us together to form an unwitting support group. Because the pure cynic sees this bus picking us up and then disgorging its contents, both precious and otherwise, to trudge home and to indulge in a depressing, meaningless leave from our duties only to do it again tomorrow. But, the bus experience is just a microcosm for this earth. We are all in it together. We can choose to take the cynics route saying it is meaningless or try to make the best of it like my “friends” do. After all, in my last post I argue that we are the sum total of our life experience and even these mundane experiences, like being on the bus, are part of that experience for better or worse.

So, Jean, Brad, doppel-Kevin, Miranda, and Miss Ana bring it in for a “family picture.” Of course, we’ll have to settle for a wood carving from Miss Ana because Miss Ana’s technological reverse vortex has swallowed up our digital photography capabilities. Even if that were not so, a selfie is out of the question because any camera Miss Ana produces will surely weigh 200 pounds and emit a puff of black smoke at the moment of shutter release. You know how she gets. She likes to stick with the “tried and true.” So, say, “cheese,” while she carves away since we’re in this together whether we like it or not. We best remember it!


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