well, I got a much later start than I’d hoped today but I’ve got the first bits ready for your reading pleasure. or, that’s the goal. hee!
I’ll be the first person to say that public transportation is a wonderful thing. Without public transportation, my life would have been a hell of a lot more difficult over the last several years. Without the buses and trains, and the people who run them, I’d have been up you-know-what creek without even a canoe, let alone a paddle.
Even so, there is so much room for improvement that it’s pretty astounding. Now I know that there’s a serious lack of funding. And I know that the people in charge of the various transportation systems that I’ve used do the best they can with what they’ve got. I get that. I applaud their efforts so far, but I also believe they can do, and be, so much better.
Not that I have any concrete plans in that direction. I can only hope that smarter people than me realize just how necessary, how vital to the livelihoods of millions of people, is public transportation and do something to make it easier to use and less expensive. Yes, you heard me. Less expensive. Because let’s face it. The people who take public transportation are generally the ones who can’t afford a vehicle of their own, or environmentally conscious people who deserve what they get (just kidding). Every fifty cent or dollar increase comes out of a food budget, or a school budget, or a clothing budget. Trust me. I know.
Now that we’ve gotten the serious part out of the way, on to my adventures on the bus system in the states of Massachusetts, Georgia, and California. This is everything you need to know if you’re going to be stuck taking the bus for any real length of time…
Proper Preparation for becoming a busgoer…
There are many things that are necessary for riding the bus on a regular basis. Whether you’re there reluctantly (like me) due to a lack of personal vehicle, or there because you want to help the planet, you’re going to need things that you never thought you would.
First and foremost…patience. Seriously. You will miss the bus. You will get passed by. The bus will be late. The bus will break down. If you get pissed off every time one of these things happens, it’s a very short road to ulcer-ville. As soon as you understand and accept that there is nothing you can do about how and when the bus runs, your life will be a lot less stressful.
Not to say that there won’t be days that even the most patient among us will be tested, because it happens. Sometimes you wait three hours in the boiling sun or freezing night for the sight of a pair of large headlights. It’s a fact of life when you ride the bus and the sooner you come to a state of zen about the whole thing, the better.
I’ve been guilty of fuming with impatience waiting for the bus more times than I can count. I stand there with hot, tingly feet bouncing on my soles to get circulation going while I curse the bus, the driver, and various other, less tangible, beings. About a year ago I started venting via facebook. Everyone has their coping mechanisms.
On the plus side, if you’ve ever wanted to have more time to read, listen to music, or learn a new language, then waiting for the bus will help you out. Of course there are days that the batter runs out on the ipod or phone, and you have no book to read. That’s when being Zen about the whole thing comes in handy.
Let’s leave the metaphysical for a while and get to actual supplies that you’ll need to keep with you at all times.
I highly recommend a backpack, especially one with the drink slots on the sides. Trust me when I say that carrying weight on your back is a helluva lot easier than doing so with your arms. Could just be me, I suppose, I haven’t been the most fit of people up ’til now. For the business folk among us, a backpack in addition to your briefcase might sound excessive, but it helps when you’ve got limited amount of space in that flat, hard, briefcase. Backpacks expand. They hold drinks that you can’t, technically, drink on the bus itself but keep you hydrated while you wait. And as I’ve already mentioned, wait you will.
An umbrella. If you live in a dry climate like Los Angeles, as I do, this might seem oxymoronic, but it really isn’t. For the first couple of years that I lived in LA and took the bus, I refused to get an umbrella. It looked stupid. Only little old ladies used them. Or women of other races. (Let me clarify this as a non-racist statement. Nine out of ten times, the only women I see using umbrellas to ward off the sun are Latino or Asian. I’m generally the only white women with an umbrella that I ever see.)
An umbrella means portable shade. And if you forget your sunblock (as I was wont to do upon moving to this very sunny state), then you save yourself a sunburn or ten. There’s a reason parasols were so popular before 1950. Keeping an umbrella with you, no matter what state you live in, and I’ve lived in three, can only benefit you by either keeping you dry or keeping you cool.
It took me two years before I started carrying an umbrella with me. Two very hot years of standing in whatever patch of shade I could find at the bus stop (and that’s something you become adept at as a busgoer). Most stops don’t have those lovely awning things you can stand under for elemental protection. For the last four years, I’ve kept an umbrella in the pocket of my (you guessed it) backpack. Even for people who don’t burn in five minutes the way that I do will appreciate the portable shade an umbrella brings.
Related to the umbrella, and no less important, would be sunblock. The stronger you can buy it, the better as far as I’m concerned. Because no matter how big your umbrella might be and how well it holds off those sneaky UVA/B rays, some days it’s just too damn windy to use it.
Bring your own entertainment. This is just as essential as the umbrella, backpack, and sunblock. I can not tell you the number of times I have been bored out of my mind waiting for a bus. I don’t leave the house or office without a fully charged ipod and phone in addition to a book. This may seem excessive to most people, but I have literally had days (usually weekends) where the electronics die and I’m left with nothing to do but twiddle my thumbs, bounce on the balls of my feet, and pace a groove into the sidewalk.
That being said, even a pair of headphones attached to an ipod or phone that don’t work come in handy. No, now, listen. You’re sitting on a crowded bus. People stand in the aisles trapped like sardines. How likely is it that you want to make conversation with the smelly, garrulous man squishing you into the pole or engage the four year old who thinks that it’s the best thing ever to make faces at you? Not very likely. If you wear a pair of headphones, even if there’s no actual music playing, it looks like you’re occupied and people are far less likely to try and get your attention.
Good footwear. Think about it. Do you really want to be standing for an hour or more in dress shoes or high heels? I see it all the time. Women in stylish shoes and men in their shiny work shoes practically dancing from foot to foot in order to relieve the pressure. Sure, my dirty sneakers with their custom made orthotics aren’t fashionable, but I’ll be able to walk by the time I get home instead of hobble.
Food and liquid refreshment. And I’m not talking about alcohol, although there were times when it would have been nice. Keep a snack and a bottle of water, at a minimum, in your nifty backpack. Whether you’re on your way home from work, or out and about on the weekend, it’s inevitable that you only get hungry or thirsty when there’s nothing to eat or drink.
Last but not least you should have the ability to stare aggressively at nothing. If you don’t have any entertainment with you then learning how to look at absolutely nothing can save you a lot of grief. You can look out the window. You can look at your feet. You can even pretend to read the advertisements that run along the ceiling edge if you want. Whatever you do, don’t make eye contact unless you’re prepared for the consequences. The results of eye contact could be something as simple as (unwanted) conversation, or a lot more serious from someone who thinks you’re a threat or mocking them. It just isn’t worth it to run the risk of verbal abuse or a physical confrontation. And yes, I’ve witnessed both. On one very unpleasant afternoon, I was subject to verbal abuse from a woman who was clearly off her meds simply because I looked at her wrong.
Those are the necessities.
These are the bonus items.
A sense of humor….because if you can’t laugh at yourself and whatever situation you’re in, then what’s the point? Plus you do see some genuinely funny things waiting for and/or riding the bus.
Some might ask, “Why is this a bonus and not a necessity?”
To which I answer, “Because most of the time they’re useless.”
Not that the drivers don’t try to be on time (most of them), but between traffic, bus breakdowns, driving too fast when there isn’t traffic (believe it or not), or even Jupiter in Retrograde, the schedules are only good for about the first half-hour of the day. Sure, it’s good to know around when the bus should be arriving, just don’t expect the schedules to be all that accurate during rush hour or the heat of the day. And especially don’t expect them to be accurate when you’re in a hurry. It’ll never happen.
If you’re somewhere with variable weather, then it’s probably a good idea to keep a raincoat in your backpack if there’s the slightest chance of rain. You’ll only need it when you don’t have it.
A granny cart for grocery shopping. This actually took me until a few months ago to give in and buy. It took many, many, many trips of the back-breaking lugging of groceries from the bus stop to my actual apartment before I realized it was better to look a little silly than be in that much pain. Plus? Now I can buy melons! They really are too heavy for backpacks. What’s cool is that chivalry (I’ll assume, rather than sexism) still exists when you have a cart. The times that I’ve had the cart filled with groceries and a bus with stairs, a man will carry it up the stairs for me. As opposed to having a million bags in your hands. No help there.
So there you have it. The skinny on what you need to survive a long-term adventure riding the bus. Good luck! And may the Force be with you.