4 Things Nobody Tells You About Riding the Bus


1. People have no privacy filter

One night, I had the pleasure of riding the bus with a woman who was in the process of getting a divorce. Apparently her husband was abusive (he liked to “wrestle with her like she was one of the boys”), possibly an arsonist (not sure I got the whole story on this, but evidently he’s committed arson in the past and is suspected of having done so again more recently), and definitely a thief (he somehow had the title to her car switched over into his name and then sold it out from under her).

How do I know all this? Did I get stranded at the bus stop for an hour and end up having a long, involved, intimate conversation with this woman? Nope… in fact, all this information was imparted during the (less than five-minute) ride from the main RTA hub to my apartment building.  And, what’s more, the lady wasn’t even talking to me — she was relating her story to an elderly woman seated a few rows behind her (and a few rows ahead of yours truly). Relating it loudly, and enthusiastically, and with much more appreciation for the apparent humor in the situation than I would have been able to muster, were I in her place.

There’s something about riding the bus, or even just waiting at the stop, that seems to make people forget that they’re in a public place.  I’ve listened to guys trash-talking their girlfriends for refusing to pick them up from the county jail, not to mention complaining — loudly and with a surplus of expletives — about how their boss is a dick, or their kids won’t behave, or their ex-wife is threatening to sic the cops on them for child support. In one memorable instance, I heard a well-dressed young lady whom I happen to know works at the County Courthouse tell a friend about her plans to stab her husband in… well… let’s just say a sensitive part of his anatomy… with a fork because, apparently, she suspected he might be cheating on her.

You’re in public, folks. Gentlemanly rules of conduct do continue to hold sway. Do people talk about stuff like this while waiting in line at the grocery store? Not that I’ve ever heard of. But there’s just something about riding the bus…

2. There are lots of arbitrary rules and regulations

For starters, hoodies had been outlawed on the bus around the time I started riding. The strange thing about this is… well, okay, there’s actually more than one strange thing about it.

There’s an electronics store in my hometown with a bevy of crudely printed signs pasted up around the front entrance, including PROPERTY PROTECTED BY CLOSED CIRCUIT CAMERA SYSTEM (accompanied by a little graphic of a security camera that a five-year-old could draw) and NO HATS, SUNGLASSES, OR HOODIES. I conclude from this that some malcontent wearing glasses and a hoodie must have tried to rob the place recently.

So… okay, it’s a security measure. I get that. Presumably some hooded troublemaker got up to some mischief on the bus in the not too distant past. I doubt it was a robbery, since I have no idea how you’d go about breaking into one of those little change tower thingies at the front of the bus. But in a world where you already can’t get certain jobs if you have visible tattoos or piercings, and where kids are sent home from school for wearing Harry Potter t-shirts…

I guess the question I have is, where do you draw the line? You apparently can’t ride the bus, or patronize certain business establishments, if you’re wearing a hooded jacket or sweatshirt. Other places don’t allow hats or sunglasses either.  If some guy with facial hair decides to rob a bank, does that mean I won’t be able to make a deposit without shaving first?

What makes matters worse, however, is the fact that…

3. Said rules are enforced arbitrarily at best

I’ve ridden a lot of buses in my fair city over the years. And, to my knowledge, there’s only one driver who enforces this questionably constitutional policy with any sort of consistency.  So, for all I know, it might not even be a policy… it might just be a personal preference on his part. (My mom, for instance, is one of those people who goes absolutely bonkers if someone walks into her house and refuses to take off their hat, another social convention that I find entirely pointless and ridiculous… and no, I’m not a hat person).

If you’re going to have a policy, however questionable, you should enforce it, and enforce it consistently.  Not allow your employees to pay attention to it, or not, according to their own whims.

4. There’s no shortage of colorful characters

As I stepped off the bus one chilly December afternoon, I was approached in the parking lot of a local drugstore by a young man dressed in jeans, brown jacket, and backwards baseball cap, with a backpack slung over one shoulder, who had exited the bus immediately after me.

This man introduced himself as a Street Preacher. He said it in such a way that I took it to be his official title, hence the capitalization. He asked if I attended church anywhere, then proceeded to draw a dog-eared and battered-looking notebook from his pack. (This was a few years ago, mind, so I’m referring to an actual paper-and-cardboard notebook, not one of the poor man’s laptops that currently go by that name… in our fast-paced and ever-changing world, I’m sure the really hip street preachers are routinely issued real notebooks nowadays).

Without further ado, my new friend proceeded to enlighten me, by way of an elaborate Hangman-like word game, about the True Meaning of Christmas.

He wrote the word SANTA in the center of the page, then asked a series of questions. “What color does Santa wear?” he asked. I replied that he wore red, of course, at which point the preacher wrote RED off to one side, and circled it.

He asked what Santa’s last name was. “Claus,” I replied. CLAUS was then written off to the side, followed by CLAWS, indicating how the meaning of the word could be changed by substituting one letter. CLAWS was also circled.

Next, he drew an arrow from the bottom of the ‘N’ in Santa to the blank space following the second ‘A’, illustrating that by moving one letter, SANTA could be changed to read SATAN. Satan, the preacher pointed out, was often depicted as wearing red, and was sometimes portrayed as having claws as well. He circled the word SATAN near the middle of the page, further underlining his point.

The conclusion was unmistakable. As crazy people on the internet have been saying for decades, Santa and Satan were, in fact, one and the same person. Under the collective noses of unsuspecting parents everywhere, Old Scratch was subtly attempting to seduce their children, tempting them with promises of gifts and encouraging them to eschew spirituality in favor of materialism. Rarely had I seen the argument laid out with such precise, straightforward logic.

And that’s not even the strangest encounter I’ve had. Since I started riding the bus, I’ve been propositioned by a prostitute, watched old folks carry on conversations with nonexistent companions, and had a large black woman in a McDonald’s uniform expose herself to me in full view of half a dozen other people.

The best thing about riding the bus, by far, is that you’ll never lack for interesting stories.

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