I ride the bus. Often. Actually, I ride the bus to get wherever I’m going unless I’m walking, riding my bike, or occasionally getting a ride from a car-driver. In a big city this would be absurd to even comment on, but in the Midwest we generally reserve our buses for the extremely poor, those who have lost their licenses, for the elderly , and for those incapable of driving. However, it’s a fantastic way for everyone to get around, especially if you’re a people observer, say a writer, poet, painter, storyteller, or just someone who finds humans entertaining.
It’s not a particularly adrenaline surging ride. It’s certainly safer than driving and there are few interactions with anyone other than the drivers and even that can be limited. Generally, I’d say Dayton’s RTA drivers are some of the friendliest people I can cross paths with.
Today’s moment of grace
Bus 1 picks me up outside Millet Hall on the Wright State campus. We wind around and pull out onto Colonel Glenn and the driver heads automatically into the left lane to make the turn onto that lane that goes up to the FedEx and McDonald’s when she says, “oops” and heads back into the right lane. An frail looking elderly woman with a walker is sitting at a spot that may have been a bus stop at one time, but if it was, there is now only a trash bin and bench, but is definitely not a stop.
The bus pulls up and the door opens and the woman slowly gets on the ramp that was lowered for her. She’s wobbly and as she makes her way onto the bus a rider, a young woman, gets up from her seat to steady the new passenger. The driver says very kindly, “You know this isn’t a stop?” The thin lady, grasping both handles on the bus entry while trying to control her folded walker says, worried, “Oh, no. it looks like a stop.” The driver tells to her to have a seat and that she can deal with her fare at the next stop, “I don’t want you to fall.”
The passenger helps her to a seat behind the driver and we ride on to a stop in front of the Student Union where the old woman swipes her card and resettles herself. For the length of the driver’s smoke break it is just me and the other old woman. Both of us looking out the window at young students, the dark clouds, life outside a bus. When it’s time to go a few students get on and we head west towards civilization and East Dayton, picking up passengers along the way.
At Hickman Dr., where the off-base military housing is located, the bus stops for the old woman and the riders on the half-filled bus watch her as she slowly makes her way off the bus with her purchases and the walker. Suddenly a young man in front of me calls, “Your bag! Is this your bag?” She keeps going; her focus is on getting off the bus and it is taking all she has. Three people jump up and nearly collide to grab her bag and hand it to her when she is firmly on the ground.
None of this is unusual. The world is mostly filled with good people; helpful people doing the right things. What makes this worth commenting on is the proximity of this event to the question I was asked just the day before about riding the bus: “Is that safe? Aren’t you afraid?” I often get that question, or even once, “Oh, honey.” that was accompanied by a horrified look.
I have never felt unsafe. In fact, the greatest danger for me is becoming too self-righteous about not having a car. I may be in danger of being a little too pleased with how this is working for me. I would say that if you will only get in a car to go places you are only safe from the opportunities to see random strangers doing wonderfully good things for other random strangers. There is community on a bus that is missed and unknown by lone drivers. In a world in which isolation is doing so much damage to our culture, kindness, and compassion we also see the impacts on our individual mental and physical health. Allowing ourselves to be among people may be the only thing that saves us.
Such an odd thing, the inconvenience of riding a bus, could be a way to bring us in contact with humanity and all the gifts that we need to survive.