[Mis]Adventures in Public Transportation

This summer, Mr. Dormouse and I decided that we needed to cut our expenses as much as we could so that we would be able to adjust our budget and pay off our student loans faster. For a couple of weeks, we fiddled with our budget spreadsheet, and I suggested that we get rid of one of our two cars. It made sense at the time, since we were working (and commuting) together, and that way we would cut down even more on gas, maintenance, and car insurance. “It will be an easy adjustment!” I said, smiling brightly. It was…and it wasn’t.

Since my parents had signed the car over to me, I felt wrong asking for money for my little black Honda. In the end, we decided not to sell my car but to sign it over to Mr. Dormouse’s sister and her husband as they recently added a second kiddo to their family dynamic and would need two vehicles more than we would. We were still gloating over our brilliant savings plan when we went to work the following Monday. That same day, we found out that we were going to be laid off at the end of the month. Hm.

At the bus stop near my home. I would never have noticed this if I hadn't started taking the bus.
At the bus stop near my home. I would never have noticed this if I hadn’t started taking the bus.

Unfortunately, we didn’t find new jobs together, so public transportation it was! Fortunately, Seattle has something called ORCA cards, which makes public transportation a much more seamless operation than fumbling for change for bus fare. ORCA is my new BFF, yo. The other fortunate element to this story is that there is a bus stop roughly one block from my house and a bus stop right in front of my new workplace. So commuting by bus should be easy right? Right…

I get the feeling that adjusting to taking the bus would be easier if I had a regular schedule, but my starting hours vary each day, so every night I have to calculate when I need to get up, factoring in whether or not I need to wash my hair in the morning, or make a lunch, etc. I am still paranoid that I’ll figure it out all wrong and wake up to a phone call from my boss asking me where I am, but so far, so good.

One of the best parts about taking public transportation is that I can people watch to my heart’s content. Or I can be as misanthropic as I please, stuff headphones in my ears and my face in a book, and I do not need to worry about anything except being aware of my upcoming stop. Another fun aspect of commuting is getting to see my city better. I notice more when I am not driving a vehicle. I notice the weather, the shops, the landmarks, and tiny details that otherwise get crowded out when I’m behind the wheel of the car.

All of this is well and good, but I still encounter more than my fair share of unpleasantness. For every homeless guy who compliments me on my Wonder Woman lunchbox, there are several guys who catcall when I’m walking between buses or back home. For every person I have a pleasant conversation with, there are others who are downright rude. For every cheerful bus driver, there is a surly one. For every stop that brings with it a draft of cooking food from a local restaurant, there is another stop that inevitably leaves the bus reeking of marijuana.* You get the point.

A penny glued to the windowsill on one of my buses.
A penny glued to the windowsill on one of my buses.

Most days, I make my one connection with barely a hitch. I allot myself an extra 30 minutes just in case I miss my bus, which happens now and then. The worst is when I’m almost to the bottom of the stairs in the bus tunnel and I see my bus slowly pulling away. Running through the crowds of smartphone zombie commuters won’t do me any good, so I just trudge along to the correct bay and check when the next bus will swing by for me.

So far, the most stressful bus experience I have had happened a few weeks ago. I was sitting in the accordion fold of the bus, minding my own business, when someone sits down next to me. I wasn’t watching when s/he came in, so I still have no idea what this person actually looked like. S/he was giggling sporadically, in a way that led me to believe that *maybe* this person was not stable. S/he was carrying a large plastic tub on her/his lap, and randomly reached into it and pulled out a knife. For context, this happened maybe a week after a high-profile stabbing in Seattle, so of course I freaked out — internally. A more logical person may have found a way to politely get up and move, but I sat there, thinking, “If I move, other people will think I’m not used to taking the bus, and they’ll think…something negative about me.”

There I was, halfway freaking out that I was about to get stabbed in the neck when I wasn’t looking, and the person reaches into the tub again and pulled out…a lime. Yep, pretty anticlimactic. S/he proceeded to cut the lime into wedges and squeeze it into her/his beverage, squirting me a little with lime pulp. At that point, I chuckled to myself, smiled in relief, and thought, “I need to write a story about this.”

So what about you, dear Persephoneers? Any other public transportation commuters out there? Do you have an interesting, terrifying, or funny story you’d like to share in the comments?

*In Washington, it’s legal to smoke marijuana, and I honestly don’t care if people do, but I’m very sensitive to the smell to the point of feeling nauseated by it.

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Dormouse

Bilingual (and a half) white girl who spent thirteen of her formative years in Africa. She is a writer, mentor, coffee drinker, wife, cat owner, language lover, photography dabbler, aspiring speaker, and a lifetime student. She keeps her writing going over at ellayneshaw.com.

5 thoughts on “[Mis]Adventures in Public Transportation”

  1. Oh, I read and ignore people — and still glance up at the characters. Fortunately, I know most of my “usual” routes well enough that I can gauge where I am and how many stops I have left without missing the one I need. Most of the time. (I have gotten off a stop or two early a few times, fortunately in safe areas.)

    Basically, I assume that most people are going to or coming home from work or school. Whether they use their bus time to read/study or talk to someone, most of them are fairly mellow (though I live in a mostly-student section of the city, and most of my trips are to work, doctor’s appointments, or for shopping).

    There was one person, one weekend morning, who was sitting a few seats ahead of me, turned toward the window, and was talking quickly (and fairly quietly) and gesturing for the entire time I was on the bus. They could have been on the phone, but I had a feeling that they were having a religious moment (I’ve been to enough charismatic-style services). It was different.

  2. I don’t drive and having been taking the bus for years, and I don’t have many in the way of horror stories but I have had some very interesting experiences, that’s for sure. I actually really enjoy riding the bus and learning to navigate new bus lines, haha.

    As a side note, but an important one, perhaps using they/their/them pronouns instead of S/he, him/her would be better practice in the future when unsure of a person’s gender identity. Using him/her leaves out people who are non-binary or do not identify as men and/or women.

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