There is a certain happiness sighted when your bus comes along. It is of course a small specialized form of happiness and will never be a great thing.

-Richard Brautigan, The Old Bus

Friday, April 3, 2009


When the wife and I pulled into the parking lot behind the wife's bus stop, a mother and son were already waiting for the next bus.

We're getting to know the regulars as the wife returns to riding the bus to work. At least we assumed they were regulars since they had been at the stop the day before. But soon it became clear it was unlikely that the mother was a regular bus rider.

The boy was drinking from a hot-drink paper cup from a nearby convenience store. I'd say coffee cup, but the kid appeared to be maybe 6 years old. So maybe it was hot chocolate.

The mother and boy were standing beside the bus stop bench as the wife and I waited in the car. We had five minutes before the bus was scheduled to arrive. I am one of those people who is uncomfortable if he isn't early. The wife hates going to the airport with me.

The mother was fussing with the boy's backpack, which was much too large for the kid, when a scruffy old man with a ballcap that said "Veteran" on the front and "Army" in the back walked up to the bus stop. He was talking on a cellphone loud enough that the nearby traffic noise wasn't enough to drown out everything he said.

The woman herded her son to the middle of the bus bench, apparently unwilling to have the old man too close.

A minute or so later, two very scruffy younger guys arrived. The didn't have the really homeless sleep-under-bridges look, but they were obviously not state workers on their way downtown. As the two men sat down on the bench to wait for the bus it was like watching two magnets with similar polarity repel each other as the mother quickly moved to the other end of the bus bench.

When a fourth man arrived -- this one might actually have been a state worker since it was dress-down Friday -- the woman left the bench area entirely and herded her son to a spot several feet away from the bus stop.

The wife and I instantly recognized the woman's problem: "Those people."

One of the wife's co-workers says he wouldn't allow his wife to ride the bus. Too many "disreputable" people, he says.

"Besides their mere presence, have those people ever presented a problem for you?" I asked the wife as we watched the woman protecting her personal space.

"No," the wife said. "But I'm an old woman."

I've been married long enough to know what I am supposed to say at this point and we went through the required "No you are not," "Yes I am," "No you are not." Thankfully, the bus arrived and distracted the wife.

The tribal nature of humanity has always amazed me. If you are not part of my tribe -- suburban homeowner, job in an office -- then you are suspect, one of "those people" who do not belong.

That's probably a larger obstacle to transforming transit ridership from a lifeline to a lifestyle choice than the inadequate transit service.


cindyn said...

Tomorrow I'll be back on the bus, and quite looking forward to being back with people. A car can be too solitary, but my three-day hiatus from public transit was necessary to help with airport runs and puppy/dog sitting. My main obstacles are the overall time that transit takes and also its trustworthiness. Will the bus show up?

Hahn at Home said...

Yes, those people. I have a houseful of them, myself included.