Commuter Chronicles #1: The Wonderful World of Public Transportation

One idea I’ve been kicking around for awhile is to weave together some of my experiences as a commuter who uses public transportation (it’s not as common here in Phoenix as it is in other major metropolitan cities).  I’m not sure if it would use these pieces as a personal narrative or if I should  use some nuggets as fodder in a fictional story.

During college, I was lucky enough to live near one of the hubs of the bus system. I often took one of the local routes from to campus and back. The savings in parking fees alone was worth it. However, local routes are slow as there are frequent stops, and there are definitely “interesting” characters along the way. I had been using the bus system off and on since grade school, but it wasn’t until college that I utilized the bus system daily.

Later, when I graduated from college and began working in downtown Phoenix, I then became one of the public transportation elite – I now got to use the express system.  This was a revolution! No more stops every quarter mile! Everyone else on the bus is also on their way to work and they are using the bus ride to either take a quick morning nap before work or read the paper!  The buses are bigger with cushioned seats! And – you can still see out the windows! The film on the window hasn’t been scuffed up with keyed in graffiti!

Now with a light rail system in place, I rely on using that mostly to get around Phoenix when I’m meeting friends for lunch or happy hour. The light rail is a weird mix of local route and express route ambiance.

But one thing that I’ve found as a user of public transportation is that it inducts you into a whole other community.  Both as a rider on the local routes and later the express, you start seeing the same people commuting with you.  You make acquaintances. You figure out that your memory can hold the entire schedule for at least three different routes at any given time.

When you find another person who’s a regular on another route, you compare notes and see who’s got the sweeter ride home.  Then it basically becomes a contest as to who has the shorter drive home in their car from the bus stop. “Why, I get dropped just a block away from the street- I can walk home from the bus stop” becomes a badge of honor among true public transport gurus.

Then you inevitably ask the other person their opinion on which plan sounds better to meet your friends after work – taking the light rail and walking a 1/2 mile to the restaurant or catching an express and backtracking via a local route.

That being said, I’ve found these lessons below have helped me become a seasoned commuter via the public transportation system:

  • Have your bus pass or change ready.  Passengers are generally impatient if it takes you more than 20 seconds to pay and board. Also, I can’t prove it but I think the bus driver places a hex on you so that you miss the rest of your connections for the remainder of the day.
  • Businessmen make the WORST seatmates as they aim to take up as much space as possible in the seat. Now, I generally steer clear of gender stereotypes and generalizations, but businessmen for some reason get a kick out of making sure they’ve taken up not only their entire set, but half of yours. It’s some type of power kick. If you board a crowded bus and the only seat available is next to a businessman – stand. Otherwise his elbow will be jabbing into your rib the rest of the ride home.
  • If you want to ride to your destination without having the stranger sitting next to you strike up a conversation, you have to convey this through body language. Don’t make direct eye contact with anyone. Wear sunglasses if possible. Read a book or a newspaper. Pretend you are asleep. Sit with your arms crossed over your chest.

Over time, I plan to post some of my more memorable commuter stories here. In the meantime, feel free to share any thought/experience you’ve had as a commuter – be it solo in your car, carpooling with another or via the mighty public transportation system!

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3 thoughts on “Commuter Chronicles #1: The Wonderful World of Public Transportation

  1. Men in suits in general tend to be obnoxious on the bus for some reason. It is as if they want to make sure you understand that they are still much worthy than you.

    Regardless of the occasional annoyance of using public transportation, I found it entertaining to use the bus to go to Phoenix. I enjoyed seeing people of all walks of life entering the bus. For those 30-45 minutes of the day, we are all one, sitting uncomfortably next to each other. We know nothing of each other, but we have one common destination—work.

    • Hey Lina – good to know I’m not the only one whose noticed men in suits tend to play a power struggle game on the bus as well. I liked your summation “we know nothing of each other, but we have one common destination – work”. It’s hard to fully explain, but in a way sometimes that was a comforting thought to me. It’s like, no matter what might be going on with your life at that time, you can always take comfort that this group of pseudo-strangers are in the same boat – (er, bus in this case) as you.

      Having recently switched routes, I’ve noticed that some routes have their own personalities. Some routes – everyone just wants to be left alone to their own thoughts and just space out for the duration of the bus ride. That seems to be the personality of my current route.

      My previous route however, their seemed to be more chatter – more acquaintances on the bus. I used to have my own group of bus friends as we all boarded at the same stop in the morning. I used to look forward to the bus ride to and from because of that. I think that because my previous route was smaller it was easier to get to know people.

      My current route – well there are about 5x as many people and we have to use those double buses to fit everyone. It’s a little harder to build a sense of community on my current route.

¡Dígame!

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