The green and yellow bus lurches to a stop, the doors swing open with a whoosh of air. “Good morning!” I beam at my usual driver as I step on the bus, monthly pass in hand. The doors close behind me. “You know, I think you’re the only person on my route who looks like they might actually like mornings,” he says shaking his head in amusement.
As the bus lunges forward I walk down the aisle with one hand over my head as I lightly finger the bar overhead. After several years as a proud strap-hanging public-transit-riding commuter I’ve earned my sea legs; the jerking and swaying doesn’t faze me as I make my way to my usual squeaky leather seat. I always sit where the rows of bus benches face each other because it provides the best view of the entire bus.
A few sleepy heads look up long enough to acknowledge me but not long enough to say anything.
The woman directly across from me is reading a well-highlighted leather Bible. Once, when she wasn’t reading she told me she worked at the Starbucks headquarters; she’ll get off at the transit station in order to transfer to the northbound commuter train. The preteen girl sitting next to her with her earbuds in—the universal bus sign for “No, I do not want to make small talk actually”— is clutching a pink backpack on her lap; she’ll get off at the middle school. Several other students are also lugging around heavy, bulky backpacks on their way to high school or the local community college. Sometimes they read their textbooks or flip through flashcards, always with their earbuds in.
The man next to me is sipping his regular morning coffee, obviously still trying to wake up. Sometimes he’ll nod a “G’mornin'” but that’s about the extent of his 6:30 am socialness. Several riders are slumped up against the windows, likely still dreaming of the pillows they had to leave too hastily. The only sounds are the creaking and whooshing of the bus doors and the occasional contagious line of yawns.
When an older gentleman steps on the regular riders audibly groan. He’s hauling his weekly recycling: a giant neon-orange cloth bag with pictures of jack-o-lanterns all over it. The person next to me mumbles, “Better pull your legs in,” as the man walks down the aisle with his scary Santa sized bag bumping along behind him. It barely squeezes down the aisle and when it gets stuck he gives it a tug, which elicits more moans from his fellow riders as the can-filled bag has a run in with several people’s knees. He sits down, and then the bus is quiet again.
I pull my black Beatle’s tote bag, complete with Bob Marley pins, onto my lap to make room for other passengers. A man in his late thirties slips a CD into my hand as he walks past. “I burned it for you because I saw your bag,” he says shyly before continuing down the aisle. The CD reads in blue hand-written ink: The Moondoggies. I’ll later find out they’re a local Seattle band. The album is entitled “Don’t be a Stranger.” (The title likely isn’t ironic because the next several times I’ll run into him on the bus he’ll ask for a date.)
As I slip my new CD in my tote bag everyone else is still slowly waking up. They read, catch up on podcasts or listen to their favorite songs, drink their coffee, and stare out the windows as the sun is just beginning to yawn and stretch right along with them.
They are close enough that I could touch them, but they are always in their own little worlds. So many potential acquaintances, friends, and lovers just within their reach. And they never know. I’m surrounded by people—sometimes uncomfortably close to people—but alone just the same.
As the bus rolls on I continue people watching and when I happen to chance on someone who is awake enough to visit, encourage them to not be a stranger.
* * * * *
“Don’t be a Stranger” was written by Kelsey L. Munger. Kelsey is a sixth generation Pacific Northwest native. Aside from three and a half months spent living in a very tiny town in Hungary among the sunflower fields, she has always lived in or just outside beautiful, rainy (sometimes a little moldy) Seattle, WA. Despite having to give up public transportation due to health issues, her memories of riding the city bus will always be special. Kelsey blogs at KelseyMunger.com and can be found on Twitter at @KelseyLMunger.
Bus photo by aditya on Creative Commons.
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I love your prose—it’s so lively and descriptive! Thank you for so vividly sharing your slice-of-life experience.
Thank you, Kristin. I really enjoyed guest posting. Such a fun theme for a blog. 🙂
love this. I’ve only ever been an occassional public-transit rider and always wondered about how well the regulars knew each other. 🙂
Nicole, everyone becomes very familiar with each other and learn all kinds of random little details about their lives, but whether it’s more than just observations depends on how well someone wants to get to know the other rides. I’m still in touch with some of my fellow commuters who moved out of the area years ago, and actually shared this piece with them. I’ve gotten close with a lot of wonderful people who I wouldn’t have met otherwise thanks to the bus. 🙂
That’s so neat!
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Kelsey, I am reading your piece in a coffee shop, and suddenly I look up, more aware of the details, people, sounds, and textures that surround me. This is a gift that you give to each reader, with descriptions like:
“When an older gentleman steps on the regular riders audibly groan. He’s hauling his weekly recycling: a giant neon-orange cloth bag with pictures of jack-o-lanterns all over it. The person next to me mumbles, “Better pull your legs in,”… He sits down, and then the bus is quiet again.”
Thank you. Life is better when you pay attention.
Jennifer, thank you. I appreciate your comment. That’s high praise.
I love this piece, Kelsey. It reminds me of my time commuting to college by bus, and the ways I connected with people (and how we stayed in our bubbles). You’ve captured some lovely details, and there is something so poignant about this telling. Thank you for sharing.
Thank you, Cara. I really enjoyed writing this piece. I love the little world of the bus. 🙂
Lovely! Don’t leave us hanging — did the CD-burner & you ever connect off the bus?
Thank you! We did not ever connect outside the bus. He was very persistent though, I’ll give him that. Sometimes his son (who was probably about five) would be with him on the bus, and he’d have him ask me out: “Kelsey, will you come to the park with us? Pleeease?” I was only 21, so a late thirty-year-old (possibly older) with a son wasn’t exactly what I was looking for at the time. But I still have the CD, and I recommend it. 🙂