A New/Old Reality

Andrew - San Francisco, California
Entered on December 20, 2008
Age Group: 50 - 65

I grew-up riding public transportation. Right through high school; through the military and for a couple years while living overseas.

As a young man, I hated buses. They were so not cool.

I loved driving. It was convenient, private and faster.

I became disenchanted with driving in the 1980’s when congestion was becoming more than a nuisance.

While environmental warnings were just beginning to pop-up in the popular media, it would be a few years before we would actually listen to people like Al Gore.

Now I take all this stuff seriously.

I live in a big city. I still own a car, but rarely use it. I’m back on buses.

Buses today are what cars were 30 years ago … convenient, fast and cheap. But it’s a compromise because being wedged into an over-crowded, smelly, dirty bus isn’t exactly the off-set most people expect when they Go Green.

To the public transportation amateur, the early days can be harrowing. Buses can stop on a dime creating a churning wave of cart-wheeling passengers. Surly teenagers look more like homicidal sociopaths than our future stewards for the environment. Then there are the sullen adult men dressed in military camo gear who probably are sociopaths.

A bus aisle is an obstacle course featuring grocery bags, protruding canes, feet and legs. That’s just what’s on the floor. Off the floor there are backpacks. I have one, but on the bus I take it off. It’s just easier than getting run down by someone with a grocery bag and a cane. School kids never take their backpacks off and since those backpacks the size and weight of a Mini Cooper, the rest of us have to shove them aside. It sounds rude, but there’s no way to get the youngsters’ attention since they’re listening to music or screaming on their cell phones. So like petulant piñatas, the kids are twirled around by adults moving to the back.

It doesn’t take long to get into the bus rhythm. I now unconsciously brace myself for the shuddering stop from 35 miles per hour to zero in 2.5-seconds. I know the best place to stand is next to … but not in front … of a rear exit. If you’re standing in front of an exit, you’re going to be getting off the bus whether you want to or not since you’re nothing more than a speed-bump to the human wave behind you.

Weight versus mass versus distance versus time of day. I can calculate precisely how much I can carry in my backpack, how much energy it’s going to take to muscle it aboard a bus and how far I have to go. Time of day is critical. Approaching noon, buses are jammed with other successful shoppers. Mid afternoon is when the demographics downshift to homeward-bound piñatas.

Public transportation is much more than just a ride …it’s a continuing education in physics, human dynamics, endurance, patience and occasionally a sharp shove.

By comparison, driving a car just seems so dumb-downed … so 20th Century. Real life is the homeless guy on the bus who just threw up on the shoes of the person in front of you.