Kindergarten was a time of newness: new school, new friends and, for me at least, new wheels. And no, I’m not talking cool Heelys sneakers or getting the training wheels off my bike. I mean taking the bus to and from school.
For my older brother and I, this was the greatest taste of freedom we had ever received in our young lives. We cherished our walks from the bus stop to our house each afternoon as though they were an exhilarating time of expedition and discovery — even if the distance only lasted three blocks.
The bus driver, a jolly Mrs. Claus type, loved me, a precocious five-year-old who collected pinecones and asked too many questions. (Not much has changed on my end.) Taking the bus meant freedom, even if it was for a class field trip. Traveling together from place to place provided a mobile portal for fostering imagination, kinship and memories.
Speed up to 2015 and the bus has become a dreadful albeit pragmatically essential component of my adult life. Here I am, twenty years old and with the whole world ahead of me, carless. Carless and hopeless.
Dropping the major cash for a year-long student Orange County bus pass not only put a dent in my bank account but also my spirits. Somehow, adolescence took the magic out of taking the bus. It instead has become a stressful vehicle for discomfort. Is this the right stop? Will the bus be late? Does it really take two hours and three transfers just to get waffles in Costa Mesa? Exasperated and out of options, this past summer I begrudgingly let public transportation invade my life. Because even at twenty there is still room to try new things.
My experience with daily bus travel ended up being at times, harrowing, but often times rewarding. Yes, I remember the panic of chasing down the last bus home late at night as the driver didn’t see me standing there in the dark. Then there was the thirty minutes nervously waiting for the unusually late bus to Laguna Beach, debating whether or not I should just go back to my apartment. There were the decrepit passengers with strong odors and wild eyes and unsettling mumblings.
But there were also sweet moments of reassurance. Like the voluble older man who was back in school getting his degree to teach with the hope of helping reform the education system. Or the brother and sister who battled bumps on the road and abrupt stops every afternoon, in order to finish their homework. There were excited tourists from around the world ready to see “California” at its prime — beaches, sunny skies and palm trees.
All of these types of people would step in, day after day, riding their chosen routes and united only in destination. I couldn’t help but wonder, as others got off at the same stop as me, what they were doing there. Where were they going? Maybe he’s got a job interview. Perhaps the kids will come home to mac and cheese for dinner. These stories would sprout and grow and intertwine all together, as I sat, observing us all moving forward anonymously.
Being moved proved to be an enticing phenomenon. Enter, sit, wait, exit. Arriving at a different place, at very little cost. Passively traveling, reaching point “B”, the line connecting to “A” hardly matters. Maybe this is all becoming overwrought and meta but it’s important to view the world with a more critical eye. Take something mundane and with a, let’s be honest, negative stigma, — like the bus — ignite it with humanity.
I’ll say it, the bus is cool. It’s provided for me a space to clear my head and think quietly while still being technically productive. I can read and listen to music, absorbed in my own world. Or I can look up, take in the scenery and notice some characters that could potentially stick with me once I’ve reached my stop.