17 March 2011

Bus Chivalry

We are brought together by our need for groceries, by our need to visit doctors, by our need to go to work, by our need to go home.  We car pool, or bus pool, rather – considerately, cooperatively, sharing our ride so that we can each get where we need to go.   

As I look out the window of the bus, I see two and three car garages, for those who don’t have the time or inclination to carpool.  As I walk around town, I meet cars that barely have time to let me cross the street, each driver focused on his/her personal mission with little time for anyone else’s.  I won’t promise that I don’t slow down when crossing the street sometimes… in protest.  A human being is not a roadblock. 

To be honest, I also have road rage, or sidewalk rage, rather.  I am a fierce walker, fierce and fast.  I honed my weaving skills in high school cross country, and now I weave past everyone in front of me.  I can’t say that it’s just about efficiency either, or about the beat of the song I’m moving to.  I just like being faster.  I like feeling that, when I arrive at my destination, I’ve just won twenty races, even if no one else knew we were racing.  Sidewalk rage (walking), though, is healthier and less dangerous than its gasoline-fueled counterpart.

I’ve learned a lot from the people who ride the bus, about patience and sharing.  I’ve also found that there can be a lot of generosity among people who don’t have very much.  I wish they had warmer coats—polyester with a little fluff inside isn’t enough for the harsh Illinois winter, nor is just one layer of knitted wool each for the hands and head.  And they need warm coats more than most because they spend more time in the elements, waiting and walking.  I have found, among this population, who live in state-funded apartments and a homeless center, that civility is alive and well, perhaps more so than elsewhere.  When suffering is your companion, you are quicker to recognize it in others.            

As a family, we went through a book on etiquette together when I was fourteen.  I learned from that book that for an informal table setting, the knife and the spoon go to the right of the plate and the fork goes to the left.  I learned that I should introduce a younger person to an older person.  I learned that I should stand when meeting someone new who is also standing.  Many of these rules might seem arbitrary, but I believe that there is an underlying goal (aside from the table settings) of showing respect to other human beings.  The people who ride the bus have internalized this sort of etiquette.  As we approach a bus stop where a mother and two young children wait, someone inevitably relinquishes his or her seat near the front of the bus and moves quietly to the back to make room before the new passengers get on.  This sort of behavior is common on the bus.  And it elevates my opinion of humanity.

In a world where selfishness is pervasive, when complaining abounds from those who have much more than my bus companions, it is refreshing to be with these people, who trouble to pay attention to their neighbors and their needs – ready to share information on bus schedules, grocery stores, etc.

My Dad used to ride the bus to work every day so that we could have the car.  My brother, when he was young, thought that my Dad’s job was to ride the bus all day.  If we happened to pass a city bus on our way to the library or the store, he would waive at the bus and say “hi” to Dad.  (My brother uses public transportation now, but not all day.)  I’m glad my sidewalk-raging, speed-loving self has the opportunity to share my morning ride to work, and to get scooped up by the same little white and green bus at the end of the day, to share a ride with my neighbors to our respective sleeping places.

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