I learned to drive/drove in tiny towns in the deep south or mountains in the west until the past year. There was no public transportation. The one time I tried riding buses while visiting my aunt in NY I got on to a bus that took me to New Jersey. Eventually, we figured out the bus on one side of the road takes you to the other side of town. That’s what I should have done. Instead, I picked the wrong side of the road. There were no signs. It was just something bus people knew.
Nashville traffic is the worst, so I took a closer look at riding the bus. Less gas, no stressful driving, less wear and tear on my already old and pitiful SUV, and the bus terminal is across the street from where I work. However, I’m socially awkward at my best, so trying to figure out where to be and when to be there and where to get off and etiquette vied with nervousness about bumping elbows with potentially unsavory characters.
My first day of the riding the bus I made my first bus friend. I’d somehow taken the wrong bus into work and was packed like a sardine on a bus stopping every other block the entire way into town. It smelled bad and I was pretty sure I was not cut out for bus riding. I started out with the entire bus to myself but after a few stops, it was obvious I’d be lucky not to have someone on my lap by the end. I assumed that before 7 in the morning most people hadn’t started to churn out body odor. I was wrong. I also assumed people, even people who drank heavily, did not start before 7 am. I was also wrong in that assumption. I had also, conveniently, not thought about the fact people that are below the age of 18 might ride buses. Turns out, they do! In large numbers. Many without parental supervision.
I had decided bus riding was not for me when, arriving into the terminal dreading the ride home, a slender, colorfully dressed lady began talking to me as if we knew each other. I was too surprised to do anything other than respond in kind. She made me think of an exotic flower, lovely dark skin complimented by tropical colors in long skirt, wraps, bangles, rings, and a hair wrap. Her southern accent was charming rather than the “you sure do have a purty mouth” variety. Within 15 minutes I was given all the ins and outs of bus travel, knew how long she’d been commuting via bus, how many cats she had, and that she had an adult son. Once we got on the correct bus she immediately told the bus driver my story, explained that my vehicle was on the other side of the expansive lot and I needed a drop off closer to it (which is not how things usually work and likely against policy). She also told me where to sit in the bus itself to create the least motion sickness (I live on Dramamine), which side the sun would beat down on during the long ride home, and who else were regulars.
A stunning young lady was exceedingly pregnant and I learned her due date, her husband’s name, and that she was going to have a little boy once he finished baking. I still find her to be one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen in person. Her little boy is beautiful and we all got to see pictures of him right after he was born because bus people text their bus friends life-altering moments.
Bus people are predominantly African American and female on my route. I adore them. There are a few men, mostly African American as well. Of the regulars, I’m usually the palest (and the least fashionable). My first bus friend is still my favorite. I love her enthusiasm for life, her ring-bedecked fingers, her genuine concern for everyone around her, and her sass. A gentleman from Puerto Rico started riding a few days ago. She had him laughing and at ease within the first 5 minutes. They now race each other to beat each other to the front of the line.
We all have our favorite bus drivers and our favorite traveling groups. We look out for each other. One of the riders is a tiny, elderly lady. She was proud that she’d gained weight as was now a massive 95 pounds (up from 92). She is insanely adorable and every time I see her I want to keep her in my pocket always. She’s had back surgery and walks with a distinct stoop. She uses a walker with little baskets that often hold her giant purse and occasionally other goodies. She usually has her curly white hair pulled up with bright barrettes I used to think of as children’s barrettes that will now forever make me think of my new friend. She rides the bus system alone and has trouble getting her walker into certain places. Onto and off of the bus for example. That’s never a concern on our route. We all know our assigned roles. She is never without plenty of help, even the bus drivers hug on her and fuss over her.
It is impossible to be a bus person and not feel a bit like a member of a small UN. All ages, all walks of life, customs and rules all its own, and no matter how easy it is to be discouraged with the constant ugliness that feels like it’s getting worse, I don’t think that society is falling apart. I think we’re exactly as we always have been. The loudest ones are the assholes. And the regular folks just trying to live are like my bus people. A young Hispanic man racing an energetic, gregarious black woman to the bus line. A middle-aged, quiet, unassuming black man carefully helping a tiny, frail elderly white woman off of a bus and across the bus terminal. A gathering of young and old, dark and pale, grinning and cooing at the picture of a newborn baby. We see pictures of the vacations experienced, warn about upcoming construction, and give and get tips about good sales or new businesses opening. I really thought this would be an adventure I would just endure. Maybe have a few stories about inappropriate behavior. It never crossed my mind that I would enjoy riding a bus every day. For hours. In horrible traffic. But it’s been refreshing and fun and touching. The 33X crew is a good group. I am excited to have such a fun, diverse group of folks to be inspired by. Now I just have to find time to write about this stuff, because while I absolutely understand the tragedy and horror of addiction, high people on buses are hysterical.