It Could Happen To You
When I discovered that my new daily routine would require me to stumble to the bus stop at 7 AM every morning and ride a crowded bus full of coughing, sneezing, runny nosed people to campus, I was able to console myself with the thought that I was at least lucky enough to be in a prime spot for some harmless people watching. I imagined myself keeping a notebook in which I stored little writerly notes of all the fascinating individuals I shared my morning commute with, and making many insightful ethnographic observations about the complicated social dynamics of mass transit. Instead, what I have mainly discovered is that riding the bus provides an exceptionally fertile breeding ground for my many neuroses.
There are many unspoken rules that must be taken in consideration when riding the bus, and while most are fairly obvious, some of them can only be learned through experience. For instance, when the 144 heads back to Saint Paul in the afternoon, the rule inexplicably shifts to a â€śpay when you leaveâ€? policy rather than the typical â€śpay when you enterâ€? policy. Why? I havenâ€™t a damn clue. I assume it has something to do with more efficiently facilitating people entering and exiting the bus, or perhaps with cutting valuable seconds off of the time that people must stand outside in the cold while people swipe their cards. Most patrons, long time 144 riders, are aware of this quirk, but on my first return trip home, I was not.
I was intent on showing no sign that I was an imposter on the bus. I planned on being a cool and levelheaded customer. I would show no hesitation. I would ask no questions. I would casually insert my card, as if this was something I did every day in my life, remove it, and I wouldnâ€™t even look back. Memories of my mother, who had once managed to insert her bus pass in the dollar bill slot and had shrieked when it was promptly sucked forever into the machine, flitted in the back of my mind; I was determined not to make a similar scene. Sadly, this plan ran into a quick roadblock when the slot for the bus pas was covered by the large, beefy hand of the bus driver.
This was baffling. I was not sure why this hand was here, and in the slow seconds while I was attempted to make sense of the situation, I somehow managed to ignore the bus driver insisting with increasingly strained politeness, â€śpay when you leave, sirâ€¦ pay when you leave!â€? Finally, it occurred to me that he was talking to me. â€śWhat?â€? I said stupidly. The driver glowered at me. â€śPLEASEâ€¦ PAYâ€¦ WHENâ€¦ YOUâ€¦ EXITâ€¦ THEâ€¦ BUSâ€¦ SIRâ€? he said, in the exaggeratedly loud, deliberate voice that one uses when talking to a partially deaf senior citizen or a misbehaving and rather slow child. I suddenly realized that I had made a terrible mistake.
I slunk to an empty seat in shame. I imagined hostile eyes evaluating me with scorn. I thought that I had surely engrained my image in their mental profiles of other riders as â€śthat stupid kid who canâ€™t figure out how to ride the bus.â€? However, if anyone had, no one cared. All I found were expressions of blank apathy and glazed looks out the window. In a bit, I joined them.