I am unwavering in my support of buses. I cling to my bus pass. I feel that I should only be scheduled to work when the buses are running. If a job that sounds interesting is not within three miles of a bus, I will turn it down.
The tree-hugger in me approves. I try to keep my world as carbon neutral as possible. I buy gas for my car once every two months or so. The fact that the bus-only lane is usually the emptiest in rush hour does not hurt either.
Half of my reading is accomplished while bus-riding. The only way I can get through a hefty book is by being a passive commuter. I can be quiet and contemplative in the mornings and I can be a contented page-turner in the afternoons.
Add to all that the fact that there are two types of drivers around here. We have folks that do not know how to drive in the snow, and those that think they know how to drive in the snow. I found out long ago that if there is snow on the ground, I should not be behind the wheel. One more victory for bus-kind.
Those are all factors that make me want to ride the bus. Then there is a different kind of variable. This feature of bus-riding is what gives buses the reputation that they have. I refer to the other people on the buses.
My favorite bus driver has stated, “The company is doing what they can to enforce Covid. But if you can avoid the buses, don’t ride.” Confined spaces, a random population, and a contagious germ. What can go wrong? Take Saturday, for instance. Man in a blue tie-dye shirt. Sitting in the middle of the bus. Wearing his mask under his chin as he continually takes puffs from his smoking device.
Now, the driver can get on the intercom and try to enforce the masking rules. But he can hardly stop the bus in the middle of the freeway, walk to the middle, and tell the man what he already knows is the rule. Drivers can enforce masking rules about as well as they can enforce payment. We all hope that everyone pays their fares and everyone respects each other as a fellow commuter. Yet we all have our quirks. And some of us let our eccentricities play out on the bus.
Oh, the person who talks loudly and is on their phone venting about their life the entire trip. Oh, the person that wears headphones but blasts their music. Oh, the people that do not bother with headphones. Oh, the person that bursts onto the bus with no shoes, goes to the back seat and nurses his hard lemonade no matter how much the driver or myself asks him to put away the drink so we can all go downtown and we can all get on with our days. Oh, the twenty-minute delay as we wait for the supervisor to drive where the bus is stopped and ask the guy to get off the bus. “Quirks”, indeed.
Let us go through the bus and find the seats that best suit the notion of sanity.
-The grey seat. Nope. That is for the driver. If you ask them to vacate that seat, odds are they will not. Also, how are you supposed to read and navigate a 60-foot bus at the same time? Exactly. Find another seat.
-The brown seats. Those are reserved for people with handicaps. They fold up for wheelchairs, scooters, and comedically large strollers. Unofficially, this includes freakishly large suitcases that could house a family of seven, and grocery carts (both small collapsible ones and ones that have been “liberated” from parking lots). If it is the last stop downtown and they are empty, go for it. Otherwise, find an easier mark.
-The purple seats. There may be some people that have handicaps trying to get in these seats. I know some are reserved. Also, the exit is only supposed to occur out the back doors. I like to be near the exit. It saves me walking later, gets me off the bus faster, and makes it easier for me to assist fellow passengers in case of a water landing.
-The green seats. The only real downside to these seats is that they are four seats linked side by side. You can fit two people on here without touching each other. With three you can still have some room to maneuver butts. Four though? Rush hour/ max capacity? The reality is that all the seats (no matter how poorly I drew them) are all the same size. All butts are not created equal. I have felt my legs go numb from being squished by nearby butts. (See also the orange, white, yellow, and red seats.) On the plus side, you get a nice view of the weather outside. If you have a bus that is far from full, go for it. (Though, in times of plague, you are staring right at another person. Cross contamination is going to happen here if anywhere. In this era the hazard is not worth it.)
-The orange seats. The seats between two poles. In a two-section bus, this is the part that swivels. If you have lots of bags that might get caught in moving floor panels, avoid it. This is also the section with the least amount of leg room. Every person going to the back of the bus will loathe and/or jostle you. If you are over six-feet tall, you will essentially be sitting diagonally so that your legs do not cause an impediment. Short people only. Plus these seats tend to have metal ends, so if your bench-buddy gets greedy with their side of the seat, you will be in some pain. This is often the last section to be taken, and for good reason.
-The blue seats. My preferred zone. You are comfortably located close to the exit without being exposed to gusts, rain, or smokiness. You have the option of a window seat or a bit of extra leg room. The risk of being bumped is minimal. Even if your neighbor is a seat hog, you can scoot your bum out into the aisle a foot or two. (Not the most comfortable feeling, but it beats paying $17 an hour for parking in a garage.)
-The yellow seats. This is where trouble starts to ensue. The seats themselves are fine. Not great, but fine. If a group of teenagers is going to ride, they will congregate here. If a passenger wants to inject something, inhale something, mutter to themselves, drink something from a paper bag, or generally avoid the driver, they will go here. Watch out for those three-person-squishing-seats and the possibly sketchy atmosphere.
-The red seats. If you can get to the corners, all is well. Maybe others will squish you into the corner a bit, but the window view and extra leg room are worth it. In rush hour, four people take up those five seats pretty quickly. In extreme, Friday evening, get-me-home rush hour, grown adults will harken back to their family road trip days and reluctantly squish, scoot, elbow, and force their way into the seating capacity. Folks will look uncomfortable, bags will be positioned grumpily on laps, and shoulders will be compressed. Yes, it is possible to fit five grown adults into a five-seater. (This is only for the seasoned, toughened-up, hardcore commuter.)
Then there is the fun of standing-room only. Maybe there is a parade full of pink pussyhats or something. (Happy International Women’s Day, by the way.) Maybe there is a snowpocalypse. Whatever the occasion, if a bus does not come for over an hour, things will get interesting. Sardines will feel bad for bus riders. Then things get truly awkward.
Fun fact; the average bus seat positions the rider at approximately the level of my butt. Or my crotch. Either makes for a self-conscious trip. Then, when the bus gets to the destination, the real fun begins. When those that are seated towards the front try, like salmon, to swim through the masses to get to their homes. You shove that person aside, you knock that person around, you step on the children huddled on the floor crying for the children, and eventually you get to breathe fresh air again. Yes, you may have bruised or concussed the fellow rider or two, but they would have done the same. “Get me off this bus!”, they all scream in one voice.
Public transportation necessitates interaction with the public. Sometimes they smell. Sometimes they yell. Sometimes a person that has the comparative mass of two ski poles has decided that they and their bag need two seats, if not three, all to themselves. There are characters aplenty.
Yet, all who pay get to ride. We are all equal on the bus. There are no millionaires on the bus. No dictators. Only a group of people trying to get from A to B. And what a journey it is.