Slice Of Life Story Challenge March 19- The Business of Bus Rides
The Business of Bus Rides
A bus passes nearby my house several times a day. I have never traveled on it. In fact I cannot recall the last time I traveled on a bus anywhere in Australia. When I was 18 I traveled from Melbourne to Alice Springs on a bus, a distance of some 2300 kilometres. I was in my final year of high school. Maybe that broke my desire for bus travel.
When I went to live and work in New York, my relationship with buses was rekindled briefly. It was brief, but it provided a significant amount of writing fodder across my almost six years based in the big apple. One semi regular trip comes easily to mind when I start thinking buses.
When I walked down the steps of our old brownstone apartment each workday morning I frequently wondered what would unfold in that crazy, amazing city. It was just a short walk across Eighth Avenue to the bus stop on the corner of Union Street, but timing was vitally important. If I got there too early on a winter’s morning I was risking being frozen, drenched or blown away- or all three! The less time spent standing out in the elements the better. Nobody welcomed the face aching wind that blew along the avenue.
Standing at the bus stop you witnessed the endless procession of rugged up commuters leaning into the wind as they rushed for the subway further along Eighth Avenue at Grand Army Plaza. Add to this mix the added variable of the bus not running to schedule (a frequent occurrence!) -And you had the start to my working winter day.
The good thing about catching the bus at this point of its journey was that you were always guaranteed a seat. But even this presented a dilemma. I needed to choose my seat very carefully. It depended on which school I was travelling to that particular day. If I was to depart before the bulk of the passengers had flowed from the bus then it was critical to secure a seat as close as possible to the door. The bus usually only have 5-6 passengers when I boarded, but was almost certainly crammed to the roof with approximately 80 people by the time I needed to alight.
Health and safety issues from overcrowding were not a matter of concern to the Metropolitan Transit Authority of New York. They just kept cramming then in as went. You frequently heard the driver call out “I ain’t moving ‘til you all move back”
It became imperative to select my seat strategically so that I could reach the door of the bus without struggling past fellow passengers. Passengers lumping gigantic back packs who were either deaf to the words ‘Excuse me please’ or so engrossed in their conversations that they ignored my pleas. These morning bus passengers were mostly middle school students. They poured onto the bus in large numbers, were frequently rowdy, and seldom aware of the rights of their fellow travelers. They gave the bus ride all the allure of a cattle train.
Even as you sat waiting anxiously for your approaching stop, backpacks pressed from the aisle into your face, your shoulder. Occasionally you’d find yourself face to backside with someone. It was jam packed. No place for claustrophobes. It was a sardine can on wheels!
It was always stressful pushing through this tightly packed mass of people towards a seemingly unreachable exit. The exit door glimmered like a faint light in the distance. By the time I reached the daylight, there were people pushing up the steps and into the bus. No one was ever prepared to wait. No one stood back for you. Patience didn’t live around in that neighbourhood it seemed
Most mornings this was how I started my day. However, on one particular morning my luck changed dramatically. As I sat there lamenting the numbers crowding onto the bus, a woman seated in front of me stood up and began moving towards the front of the bus.
This was my deliverance from the crush. I immediately jumped up and followed her. She was a most formidable women. I was wondering if Andre the Giant ever had a sister. She cut a path through those passengers like Moses at the Red Sea. As for me, I slip-streamed her all the way to the front and down those steps to mother earth and sardine salvation. What a way to go!
I mostly dreaded my morning bus commute. Hell on wheels. Maybe that’s why I continue to avoid traveling in this manner. I am more than happy to walk into town.