Life’s sideshow on wheels

Four years ago I climbed aboard the bus and haven’t looked back.

Living as I do in a city with a pretty good mass transit system, you won’t find me bemoaning the high price of fuel or needlessly filling up my grocery cart just to receive the gas perk points. Those of you who take MARC to work know of what I speak as witnessed by the latest figures showing train ridership up by 6 percent over last year.

I started riding the bus when the newspaper I was working for moved to the edge of town. Since it had been years since I was a reporter, I no longer needed my car to get to assignments. As an editor, however, I still wanted to connect to what was happening in the community. Running into people on city sidewalks, coffee shops, or across the street at the post office had been replaced with being plopped in the middle of a field bordered by interstate highways.

I remember that within weeks of joining the bus crowd my life changed in subtle ways. First, I no longer had the luxury of dawdling in the morning over a second cup of coffee or maybe throwing in a load of laundry. The bus was coming and I needed to be standing at the end of my block, which vastly improved any of my tardiness issues. Secondly, I noticed that running to catch the bus when I did lapse and lose track of time was making me more physically fit. I could sprint without becoming doubled over and struggling to breath — even with a purse, lunch bag and satchel weighing me down. The bus stop at the other end of my commute was about a half-mile walk from the office and was a fitness routine I never had to think twice about.

Best of all, my big reason for taking the bus — interaction with people — hit the mother lode whether it was Isaac, the driver who calls the passengers his “pilgrims” and benevolently looks out for them, or the various riders who grew to be my bus buddies. There was “Downer Dave,” who groused about everything from the weather to politics, to Carlos, a guy who worked in two fast food restaurants and was usually asleep when I climbed aboard, but once he awoke was good for a chat in broken English.

The bus is truly a chunk of humanity, a sideshow of life with admission being the $1.10 you plunk into the fare box.

The glass and metal fare box itself is a wealth of little tales. I’ve witnessed the kindness of strangers played out numerous times when someone short of change was given a nickel or a dime, or even the entire fare. On the flip side, one driver told me about the characters who rip a bill in half, fold it and stuff it through the slot to get double mileage from their buck.

The bus is often filled with mothers and their babies. If a child becomes fussy, a person sitting across the aisle is likely to pull out a set of keys to jangle as a distraction. But older kids and their distractions of loud music soon are quieted by dirty looks from passengers or a shout out from the one behind the wheel.

Old people also are regulars, whether it’s taking the bus to Walmart, running across town to visit grandchildren, or simply riding for the sake of riding. Hotel maids and fast food workers sit next to those heading to an office or doctor’s appointment. Many become the people you see everyday and soon you’re sharing stories about friends and families and maybe current affairs and politics after first testing the waters.

But all this friendliness aside, the point at becoming a true bus buddy arrives when you haven’t ridden for a while and people immediately want to know where you’ve been.

— Nancy Luse writes from Frederick, Md., where even though she no longer has a full time job, is still a bus regular and writes a blog, Another One Rides the Bus, at www.fredericknewspost.com.

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