When I started a new job in January, I also started riding the bus for the first time ever. I wanted to ride the bus largely because of my environmental convictions– it’s hard to be a tree hugging hippie with a bus stop a block from home and still choose to drive my car, four banger though it is, because I’m sure Al Gore would haunt me in my dreams, shaking his finger at me and telling me about all the baby polar bears I was killing just to drive myself 5 miles to work each day. I also wanted to ride the bus because my job provides me with a free bus pass but charges for parking. So between saving money and saving the earth, getting familiar with the public transit system was pretty much my only option.
Before I go any further, I should mention that aside from field trips, I had never even so much as ridden a school bus. Seasoned “car rider” here. My mom didn’t want to miss that decompression conversation with us every day after school, plus she was convinced kids would try to sell us drugs on the bus or something. Perhaps as a result of my bus-free experience up until now, I was quite scared my first day of bus-riding, afraid I’d miss the bus, afraid I wouldn’t get off at the right stop, afraid I’d miss the bus after work, afraid I didn’t know where the stop closest to my house on the other side of the road was, afraid of the kind of people I’d see on the bus, afraid of what I’d do if it was pouring rain and I had to walk two blocks from the bus stop to my office…
Four months in and I’ve probably got enough crazy bus stories to fill a novel, and I’ve also become a seasoned bus rider. I have “bus friends” who wait with me at my stops before and after work and sit next to me and chat with me and notice when I’m gone. I can smile warmly at the tourist retirees, holding hands and tightly gripping maps, with no idea how buses work, and can help them figure out where they’ll want to get off (usually the Visitor’s Center)and when to pull the cord to let the driver know to stop. I know which drivers have heavy feet on the brake pedals and which ones are going to demand to see my ID rather than just accepting my bus pass as-is. I even know on which days the bus runs late and which days it runs early
But perhaps the most transformative part of my new commuting routine has been the walking. I’m so happy to work downtown in a beautiful, historic Southern city. I enjoy the two blocks’ walk between my bus stop and my office every morning (that it isn’t pouring), and I pass some of the same people every day– we nod and say “Mornin’!” as we pass. I walk briefly down what is usually the most crowded shopping district in town, but before the shops open up, I have the street to myself. Sometimes I pause to peer into boutique windows at shoes I’m sure I can’t afford. And I always have a smile on my face by the time I get to work.
After work today I had a longer walk between my office and the hospital where I volunteer once a week, and I must say it was glorious. The golden sun was shining all around, kissing my face as the wind picked up strands of my hair and swirled them around me. I was probably a little intoxicated, you see, because the jasmine is blooming. Some saintly soul must have planted it along all the telephone poles and fences downtown, and as I walked the delicious scent would hit me in the nose and almost make me woozy. I wanted to just bury my face in a bush of it and stay there forever! And to think I’d have never even known the pleasure of a jasmine-scented Southern afternoon if I hadn’t started riding the bus! It more than makes up for all the times the bus has been late, broken down, had a rude driver, or exposed me to creepy and or smelly old men.