Tuesday, February 15, 2011

This is why I ride the bus

Over the years, I’ve periodically ridden the local city bus to the university in lieu of driving my car through the gauntlet of texting and talking drivers, arriving at my destination to play the “Stalk the Possibly Leaving Driver” game in the parking lot once at the university. There’s no small amount of extortion in an employer charging his employee to park at the work site without which no work could be accomplished. For that privilege I pay $180 a year for the chance to hunt for a possibly existing parking place and possibly make it to my first class on time. Today was one of the days that I rode the bus and it reminded me of why I ride.

Some months I do better about riding the bus than others. The monthly bus pass is $50 and provides up to $46 worth of bus service if I ride every day I have to teach (MWF). That’s $4/day for a roundtrip ride from the local shopping center (I leave my car in the parking lot outside either Babies-R-Us or the Staples store). But I also avoid the $3.50 worth of tolls and the $4.50 worth of gasoline alone (not counting maintenance). In other words, I make about $4/day when I take the bus.

Today I read the end of the book I’ve been working on for a couple of weeks now, Alone Together, a psychoanalyst’s study of humanity’s increasingly alienating interaction with technology. Upon finishing that I read a chapter in the trashy sci-fi thriller I bought for $4 at Barnes and Noble one afternoon, a book about a post-apocalyptic America wiped out by a solar flare (I think – it’s that obscure) called The Wave. Some mornings I grade papers but I always do the crossword and read my trashy sci-fi novel in the afternoons.

I’d like to claim some noble high ground about going green as my motivation for riding the bus and that’s certainly part of it. One less vehicle on the road burning that much less gas (the buses are going to run whether I ride or not) and polluting that much less air. That and the fact my 2000 Honda Civic with just under 100,000 miles on it may actually last me until I retire in five years (from my cursor to G-d’s ears). But that’s not the only reason I ride.

I ride in part to avoid the distracted drivers texting and talking while conducting two tons of steel – largely unmanned vehicles of mass destruction - hurtling down the highway at the rate of faster than a mile a minute. I’m tired of the distracted, dangerous drivers. And I figure that I stand a better chance in a big city bus than in my little Honda named Elsie should a multitasking (translation: doing a lot of things in a mediocre at best manner) driver run into me.

In all honesty, I also ride in part to avoid the local police both the deceptive cops shamefully hiding in the bushes with only their badges and uniforms separating them from the criminals their stealthy behavior emulates as well as the university police once I arrive on campus. Since their outrageous public shakedown of my philosophy department colleague, I just can’t trust them with my safety, my constitutional rights or my person. The absolute non-response by the university to that abuse signals to all of us that there are few limits for almost any behavior – honorable, legal or otherwise - the campus cops want to indulge. My answer is to simply avoid them as much as possible.

But today’s ride reminded me of at least one reason that I ride the bus that has nothing to do with inconsiderate texters, rogue cops or money. The bus provides me with a connection to real human beings worth spending time with. And they are very different from those I ordinarily bump up against.

On this morning’s ride out to the university, the physics majors were playing with their Rubik’s cube as usual. Racing against each other using short cuts which they have long since learned lead to a completed, color coded cube within seconds, they talk about the writing assignments they hate (my G-d, she wants us to reflect!) and the home lives that afford them all of their scholarship moneys but none of the luxuries of the Club Med honors dorms on campus. The black maids sit silently awaiting their shifts with the sniffing white matrons of Winter Park whose hands would immediately petrify and fall into chards should they actually ever be forced to do the work they readily pile up for their domestics. The snoring veteran misses his stop at the VA Clinic even as wheel chairs bearing American flags, bumper stickers and disabled vets noisily pile onto the bus amid beeping back up warnings and clicking seat belts on the bus floor. The angry young Latino man who works at one of the many fast food outlets near campus piles on, ears plugged with rap so loud everyone else can hear it even as we concertedly ignore it – and his angry glares.

It’s never dull riding the bus. Indeed, it’s a mobile lab of humanity, an anthropologist’s dream, a humanity instructor’s raw material. But this afternoon, two events occur that remind me why I seek out a humanity that is decidedly different from the well educated colleagues of my department and the middle to upper middle class white kids with inordinate (and totally inexplicable) senses of entitlement that often populate my classes. And on the bus, that search is rarely disappointed.

As we neared Valencia Community College this afternoon, I was roused from my sci-fi self-indulgence by repeated statements of “What do you need?” I looked up to see a bewildered Hispanic man coming down the aisle, hand out, rapidly speaking broken English to say that the rates had changed and he did not have exact change. The three black working class men immediately in front of me who had piled onto the bus from their jobs at university area hotels immediately dug into their pockets, one of them beating the other two to the punch and the Hispanic man racing back down the aisle to add his last 50 cents to the fare, the men immediately returning to their loud conversation about sports, work and Latin American women.

As I got off the bus this evening and made my way to my car, I managed to trip over an uneven section of pavement in a poorly lighted handicapped ramp, no less. Suddenly I went sprawling, book bag flying, and my glasses flying off my face to the sod rapidly coming toward my face. Before I could even move, a voice rang out across the parking lot: “Are you OK, honey?” I looked around to see an elderly black woman sitting on the metal bench awaiting a bus in the station a hundred feet away. “I’m OK. Thanks,” I replied. “All right, sugar,” she said and immediately went back to her cell phone conversation.

Working class people have a way of respecting the humanity of each other that we professional middle class folks often seem to have forgotten. The notion that “It’s all about me” that I had dealt with all day with honors students coming to my office to tell me how “trivializing” it was to actually have their writing graded (Imagine! The nerve! ) was forgotten as I rose from my sprawled position on the ground, gathering my books and making my way to my car, my elderly black guardian angel’s concern reminding me that someone actually cares. “What do you need?” rang in my ears as I thought of the short notice demands by email I had dealt with all day for letters of recommendation and the belabored explanations of why mediocre papers had not received As.

It’s a different world on the bus. And I thank G-d for it. Mind you, I don’t romanticize it for a second. Working class people can be every bit as selfish, destructive and angry as those among whom I daily make my living. Indeed, one of the reasons I observed a moratorium on the bus for a year arose from a fight on my bus between three high school kids expelled from the school bus for fighting, a fight I rose quickly to escape at the bus stop without realizing I had managed to leave my wallet behind.

But it’s rarely “all about me” with these folks. They readily share their lives and often their hard earned pittances with complete strangers. They seem to have realized that unless everyone cares, everyone perishes. No one rescues poor people and they have long since been disabused of any illusions that they are entitled to anything. Perhaps that’s a lesson we could all stand to learn. And perhaps that’s the real reason I ride the bus.


The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, J.D., Ph.D.
Member, Florida Bar (inactive status)
Priest, Episcopal Church (Dio. of El Camino Real, CA)
Instructor: Humanities, Religion, Philosophy of Law
University of Central Florida, Orlando



If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.

Most things of value do not lend themselves to production in sound bytes.

1 comment:

mdesangles said...

I rode my bike to work today. I figured I could justify working in some exercise into my day as long as I was headed to work or home (the one thing I miss about being an undergraduate is the opportunity to constantly be outside and walk around). I also figured that since I live about 6 miles from the center I could be once less vehicle in the daily onslaught of cars that drive east on 436 each morning. Overall the ride was a good experience, and motivated me to leave work a little earlier than I might have, because the sun was setting (I did not leave early enough). What was kind of surprising was how unfriendly Apopka is for bikers. You just constantly feel like you could get hit on every other intersection by someone making a turn on red who is not paying attention, or making a right turn into a home, shopping center, or another street coming around 50 mph. Besides exercise, part of my motivation for doing it was also to experience a little bit of what some of my colleagues who don't drive, because they cannot get a license experience. There are parts of Apopka, Zellwood etc. where the Lynx system simply does not reach, and so a lot of people have to depend on their bicycles to get themselves around. Overall, I think next time I will try the Lynx, especially after reading this article. I think I would love the idea of reading in the morning on my way to work. Good post!