I believe in riding the public bus to work instead of driving.
As a card-carrying member of the Sierra Club and the Mountain Club of Maryland, I’d like to say my primary motive for buying a monthly bus pass was energy conservation. I’m not that noble. I wanted to save money on gas and parking in downtown Baltimore, and to extend the life of Takeshi, my Japanese car. Takeshi’s odometer has recently passed the 150,000 mile mark. In my parking pad, he can snooze like a cat rather than battling traffic, samurai-style.
Leaving the driving to someone else, I later discovered, has other blessings. The one-way 45-minute ride is found time. On the way into the city, I read the newspaper. Could not do that if I were be-bopping down the highway at 65 or 70 miles an hour. Traveling in a 30 mile an hour zone also helps me slow down my life and smell the roses.
I love walking down the hill in the morning from my house to the bus stop. Being outside in the fresh air fills my spirit in a way that driving with the windows rolled up or down fails to do. The exercise is healthy and the world seems bigger, with a greater sense of possibility.
Enroute to my stop, a couple of new acquaintances say good morning. One of them, a middle-aged man in a baseball cap and a camouflage jacket, asked the driver to wait one day when I was late. The bus stop also presents opportunities to talk with people I never would have known. My new young friend, Eric, a junior in high school, is looking for a summer job. Forrest, a former nurse in a new career, tells me about his interest in archeology. An African-American woman in her 40s describes her life after a stroke.
Observing moments of civility between strangers on a sometimes crowded public bus has also restored my faith in human nature. The young African-American man who gave me his seat and the 20-something woman who helped an elderly man in a wheelchair claim his space on the bus provide a counterpoint to the daily reminders that we live in an age of violence and terrorism.
Sure, there are disadvantages to being a passenger. Riding the bus takes three times longer than it does to drive the eight miles to my office. And if the driver is delayed, a one-way trip can become a journey. If the bus is early, this grandmother runs or misses it and waits for another. If I were punching a clock, the occasional unpredictability could be a problem.
Walking up the hill each evening can also be a chore. To compensate, I listen for the tinkle of the wind chimes on my neighbors’ porches, breathe in the cooking smells that float into the street as I pass by and wonder what the people in my town are having for dinner.
Overall, I feel fortunate to have a choice of transportation. Some of the passengers on my bus, the number 35, don’t.
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