I believe that if everyone rode the city bus, most intolerance of other peoples’ races and cultures would diminish. When I left my job on the outskirts of Milwaukee County for a new one downtown, I seized the opportunity to take the bus. My former co-workers’ paranoia infused me with doubts about taking the bus. They relayed horror stories they had heard of buses flipping over or of people getting shot on the bus.
Today, I realize that the paranoia was merely a masquerade for their own fears of giving up the personal bubble of their car in favor of public transportation. Now, I feel a part of a club whose members have the benefit of saving money on transportation costs while basking in the satisfaction of reducing their share of vehicle emissions. Plus, I have the advantage of using my commute time for reading a magazine, newspaper, or book.
Milwaukee has a reputation for being a racially- and socially-segregated city, and it can be a struggle resisting falling into this mindset.
Because my bus route starts in the suburbs of Milwaukee and takes me right through the city, I am privileged to see a variety of interesting characters. It is that diversity that allows me to observe the best that every culture has to offer, and that may be the best benefit to riding the bus.
One of the most memorable acts I’ve witnessed was on a crowded bus in which a baggy-panted teen gave up his seat when an elderly woman of opposite race boarded the bus. While people give up seats all the time, what I found most striking was the judgment I had already reserved for this individual in my own mind, and how he shattered that impression by this simple deed.
On the bus, everyone is equal, whether it is the white-collar worker on their way to an office, a student on their way to school, or a retiree making a trip to the supermarket. No matter who they are, they all have the common goal of just wanting to reach their destination. Each skimpily-padded seat costs the same and offers the same level (or lack) of comfort regardless of social position, race, or religion. Sitting in those seats, in direct proximity to each other, is where I believe tolerance will truly be learned.
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