Today I rode the bus. Not because I had to; it was by choice. You see, normally I take the train from my suburban hamlet to my high-rise office in the city. Ninety minutes each way, it’s how I start and end every work day.
It’s a given that I’ll save money. At half the price of train fare, it’s a bargain. What’s more, the commute is no longer than the train. My car too will rest, no longer idled with the monotonous, short-lived trips to and from the train station. Top that off, with no more parking fees, to boot. I hope the transit authority doesn’t mind the loss of revenue!
There are drawbacks to this change of pace. I’ll give up the smooth glide of the rails and cushioned seats. Those creature comforts, sorely to be missed, will be replaced by a jarring ride much to the chagrin of my back-side. But, I tell myself: it’s a small sacrifice to pay. With the money saved, maybe we can extend that vacation we had planned; supersize our television set; or purchase the occasional lunch in town. No more leftovers for me!
The bus has its own personality. It is a community. Unlike the train, here the commuters greet one another and mingle. Conversation is encouraged, not frowned upon. In one day, I was amazed at the society on this vehicle. In my years on the train, not one passenger (at least a sane one) ever dared even to say hello.
I looked around; I appeared to be the only professional aboard. This is not a dig at my fellow commuters, it is merely an observation. I was surrounded by people of all shapes, colors, sizes and occupations. It was not the homogenous mix of persons to be found on the train. Here, I was the stranger, the odd man out so to speak.
In the front row were the two assistants from the nursing home finishing up the graveyard shift; beside me was a waitress; in front of her two construction laborers weighed down by their tool belts; in the rear was the single mother, two kids in tow, on their way to daycare before she toiled away to earn their room and board.
I had the realization that I was surrounded by the people that make this country’s wheels turn. They were comrades of the workforce, as they marked another day off their calendar. They didn’t work for the weekend – they worked through the weekend. All these people I had never known, living and working amongst me all this time. In my small, gentrified suburban world, I had become ignorant to any existence other than my own.
All these hard working individuals, forgotten, as they serve our tables, fill our glasses, change our diapers, top-off our gas tanks, etc., etc., etc. All the past struggles for equality to ride the bus are before me, in plain sight. And here they remain, economically relegated to the bus. There are so many here who do not have the choice, to take the train or the bus.
Exiting the bus, I stretched out my lower extremities, which had become stiff and contorted to the cramped dimensions of my seat. To begin or end a physically laborious shift with such a ride seems daft. To endure this on a daily basis is almost torture. For some, it is not a choice, but a necessity.
I’m lucky, I guess, to have such an option. Take the bus or the train? If in another week I tire of this ride, I am free to return to the rails. The choice is mine. It is quite a conundrum, in this town and country lifestyle I am so fortunate to enjoy.
By the way – did you remember to tip your waitress today?