Taking The Bus In San Diego Introduces You To A Lot Of Interesting People


Taking the bus scares me.

Many other people are scared of the bus too, and for good reason. Stand and wait at the bus stop, while all the shifty-eyed old men honk at you, then actually pay (now officially $3.50 from last month’s $2.50) to sit inside a vehicular monster with a bunch of other weirdoes who don’t own/can’t afford a car, essentially handing over control of your life to a complete stranger (without the promise of free candy) and if you don’t get off at the right stop you’ll be left alone in God knows where to hobble among the other dregs of bus-goers.

Well that’s why most people in my town, San Diego, don’t take the bus.

You want to people watch? Take the bus. You will not be disappointed.

An idle mind breeds the devil’s work like the bus breeds interesting people.

I’m sure walking to the bus stop in a big city is much more crowded and inconspicuous, but unfortunately, in my neighborhood, there’s only a few folks that ever make the commute. Which means–especially if you’re a girl (damn you, creeps) — you’ll get honked at.
This is my least favorite part of El Timepo Del Autobús. Because I hate being an object of allurement for creepy guys, I try to go down the ambidextrous route. Or at least the unattractive girl look. In this respect, riding the bus is also a disguise fest, and anyone who knows me knows I love wearing costumes. El autobús time is dress up time! I usually throw on a loose hoodie with glasses and assume a scowling look. Lately, when I take the bus, it’s to hang with a friend who lives two bus trips away, so I don this look but change upon arrival in some public restroom–I don’t want to look like a scowling thug the whole day.

Just in case you haven’t seen all the sickly green menaces staggering their way into every book/movie/TV show/Target kid’s bed sheets — zombies are in right now. In fact, just the other day, I saw this book that was a zombie-fied parody of The Very Hungry Caterpillar called The Very Hungry Zombie. That’s when you know we’re really in deep. So of course there’s guys acting like zombies on the bus. One day I was waiting at a college bus stop and this older dude in sunglasses rolls up, passing the bus stop for the thinly wooded forest beside it. A minute later, I look over and he is flailing his arms about, legs seemingly moving of their own accord, mouth agape and emitting zombie growls into the air. He gets on the same bus as me and I can’t help wondering, “How does this guy even know how to take the right bus as the right times?” If he was indeed a zombie, the disease might have spread across the Pacific by now, since he got off by the beach.

The bus may also provide a much-needed reality check. The metallic behemoth prods us to question ourselves. It brings us to one side, cocks an eyebrow and asks, “Do you even know what you look like right now?” And I needed that. I mean, there I was, sitting in the rain on this dirty bus stop bench, waiting for public transport to pick me up while using my art history textbook to shield my head from the rain, like some kind of unemployed hipster. The bus is that good friend that loves you enough not to lie to you. Its motherly metallic voice said to me, “Renee, babychild, I love you, but you know you look like an idiot right now? And not just any idiot, but the kind of unemployed idiot blithely taking art history classes and hoping that textbook will protect you from the elements. You gotta do something about your situation.”

How I dealt with that? I hauled ass and art history textbook off the bus stop, barged inside Starbucks and ordered myself a Pumpkin Spice Latte. But of course, you saw that one coming.

The bus does that — adds perspective, questions your consciousness and checks reality. You could have a major conversion on the bus. No, really, the Jehovah’s Witnesses attempt conversions in there. I have 50 fliers to prove it.

Despite being the friend you can count on to tell the truth, the bus is certainly not the friend you can count on to not bail last minute. Every time I wait at the stop my mind floods with doubt–increasing at every passing minute the bus is late. Once, I waited at the stop and the bus was nearly twenty minutes overdue when it finally came. Oh, it came all right, it drove right by me, the driver honking twice just as he passed by me and continued driving, leaving me to my devices. And I have no other transportation devices.
Most of the bus drivers I’ve met have been incredibly helpful and friendly. I complain, but you’ve got to give those bus drivers a break every once in a while. Especially with the people they deal with.

Ah, the People of the Bus. ‘Tis never a dull day under those emergency exit roof skies. While sitting in those plastic bus seats I’ve often thought of the quote by Nietzsche (I don’t really think about Nietzsche on the bus), “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And when you look long into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you.” Here I am, writing to you about how weird all the bus people are. But I’m one of the weirdest people I know. One of the most common things people have told me, is that I’m weird. Is it the bus and all its strange inhabitants that gaze into me? Or is it I, who gazes into the bus? It’s probably both but who cares.

This one older guy, takes the bus all the time, somehow procured a pass, and every time I’ve seen this guy, the bus driver pulls up to his stop, opens the door and waits while this guy stands in front of the open bus doors, squirming around, pointing and rambling on about God knows what. Every time, the driver just sits and waits, like he’s gone through this a million times before. Sort of like a patient granny that waits for her grandchild’s bath time fit to be over with, all the while knowing that he will give up eventually and take the plunge. I’d say just throw him in. He probably has some kind of disability, but either way the bus people are kind to him. You see hairy hobos with knitted teddy bear hats (with the earflaps too) on their heads in the middle of summer, you see ladies knitting on the bus (I was actually one of these ladies once, but I was on a tight schedule), you’ll talk to random people who’ll spill their whole life stories and you also see the nicest people you’ll ever meet.

Once, around Christmas Time, my newbie self entered the bus with just enough money for a single Day Pass, unaware that the price had recently changed from $2.50 to $3.50. I had a twenty, but no other change and as you bus-goers might know, the drivers and their machines don’t give you change. My only option was to go around the bus asking if anyone had change, and you don’t feel more alone than when you have to ask people for money. By then, everybody had heard my conversation with the driver and knew what was up. When I turned around, people immediately looked away. I hadn’t even begun asking. Then this African-American guy talking on the phone hangs up and hands me a five-dollar bill. I only needed three dollars and couldn’t give him change, so I say, “You’re just going to give this to me?” He replies, “Girl, you gotta get your bus ticket! Think of it as an early Christmas gift.” What a fella.

Despite all the weirdos, I cannot deny that the bus has provided me with some intense, jailbreaking feelings. You must understand, getting somewhere in San Diego when you don’t have a car is hard. That run from my house to the bus stop at 9 AM whilst my mom slept in was one of the most liberating moments of my life (right next to my last day of Spanish class). I cannot do my feelings of liberation justice through words. I ran like I was running from Alcatraz or worse — Azkaban.

Once, I was drawing a comic strip of Mr. Tumnus (the faun of Narnia) on the bus and dropped my eraser in front of a woman who handed it back to me with the sweetest smile I’d ever seen. This next part took a turn for the strange. When the bus halted at her stop, she got up, handed me a piece of candy, and got off. She seemed like a harmless lady, but I didn’t eat it.

Taking the bus scares me, yes, but it is a kind of scare that allures — promises of people strange and interesting and exciting, and because of that I’d never trade it for a cab.

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image – Osbornb