|Home||Our Leadership||Our Economies||Our Wars||Our Perspectives||Our Culture||Links||About|
A Driver's Life
Route 52: TCC-Tacoma Mall
Route 26: Martin Luther King
Route 10: Pearl Street
Route 1: 6th Avenue and Pacific Avenue
By Sarah Alisdairi
A Driver's Life
It is a peaceful time for me when I drive to school every morning. The radio in my car is broken. I sit in a trance massaging the steering wheel, my brain is on autopilot. I happen to be an introvert. I detest those moments leading up to a conversation with a stranger. I probably won’t smile at you if you walk past me. I am not rude; I simply like my space. I cherish those 17 minutes alone in my car.
Occasionally, when I’m in the thick of a traffic jam, with the sunset blaring in my eyes, I envy those carpoolers who reap the fruit of the HOV lane. High-occupancy vehicles; a driver and one or more passengers, including buses and vans, are estimated at 7% of the traffic in the United States.
Then there are the times I have a passenger in my car. I charge for the diamond lane. The pleasure I derive from speeding past slow moving vehicles is unsurpassable. All of a sudden I am forced to slow down by a bus, blocking my way. I have no choice but to enjoy the view of bumper to bumper traffic on my right, and a big fat bus straight ahead. I wonder what it would be like to ride the bus.
As gas prices exceed $4 per gallon, public transportation systems are experiencing a rider-ship increase. American’s are driving less, according to CBS News. In a land where massive stretches of highway separate homes from strip malls, evidently soaring gas prices would be a dilemma.
Green house gas reduction is yet another point in favor of public transportation. Not to say that buses and trains don’t emit green house gases, they simply increase the number of people per emission. Instead of one passenger to every environment murdering vehicle, it’s 30. I don’t particularly care for that argument, seeing that we are such a small spot on the earth’s surface. It may seem that human kind covers the globe, but I would like to give Mother Earth more credit as far as her grandeur. She is quite the big lady.
Once I was introduced to the bus fare prices, I was convinced. A roundtrip from Tacoma to Seattle, roughly 60 miles, costs $6. The local bus fare is $1.50 for adults. This was enough information to get me out of my car for a week to discover a world where people travel together.
The bus runs across town. From one stop to the next, it carries the masses. For some it is a stress-free ride to their jobs, for others it is a chance to socialize. People chatter with one another as complete strangers. They find enough in common to share their life stories. Bus buddies probably know more about one another than their families do.
Route 52: TCC-Tacoma Mall
My bus riding journey began at the TCC transit center on 19th and Mildred. I decided I would park my car and ride. As I swerved around the corner, I noticed the parking lot brimming with vehicles of all makes and models. I was reluctant to leave my car in that massive paved arena in front of building 27 of the community college. All the people jumping off the bus seemed so free at this moment. I, on the other hand, was still desperately attached to my colossal hunk of metal.
Walking toward the transit center, I caught a whiff of smoke as I passed a group of men laughing about the midterms they didn't study for. People communicate in groups. It’s part of that socializing thing. I knew my ears where about to be bombarded by eager talkers. People who wanted to share their stories with a complete stranger. I, unfortunately, was a curious stranger.
I sat among individuals of all different backgrounds, the majority of which were community college students on their way home, waiting for bus route 52 ending at the Tacoma Mall. Everyone gathered under the shelter; they all seemed to know each other. There was a certain order about the gathering. The elderly watched over the children that amused themselves. No one was obscene, as I was expecting to encounter. They laughed loudly while sharing their personal agendas. I wondered whether they had grown up with one another, or if it was that specific bus ride they took every day that brought them together. Probably a mixture of both.
I felt self conscious sitting alone. The very thing I detested, talking to strangers, was a skill I lacked. I was pulling myself away from the people that surrounded me, and engaging in my own secret thoughts. My ears tuned in to conversations around me, listening for something engrossing.
“I was so hung-over; but I’ll see you later; don’t forget to call me; It was so funny; I’m going to be late; I hope he doesn’t forget; I’ve got to pick the kids up.” Jumbled statements that shape our lives.
Just as I looked up from my notebook, a dwarfish mulatto man holding a large wooden stick walked toward me. He reached out to shake my hand.
“I know you,” he said, staring at me.
“I’m afraid I’ve never seen you before, sir.” I avoided eye contact and began to write nonsense in my notebook.
“I’m Holis Montgomery.”
“Nice to meet you, Holis,” I said. But truthfully, my secret thoughts were begging him to leave me alone.
He backed up a little, sensing I did not wish to socialize with him, but unfortunately, he was a bus rider, and I had to know more.
“What is that stick for Holis?”
“My ex-sister-in-law wants to hurt me,” he said, glaring toward something in the distance. He resembled Rafiki, the wise baboon in the lion king.
I looked in that direction, wondering if he had seen this dangerous ex-sister-in-law he spoke of. Was he crazy?
“Why does she want to hurt you?”
“Because I want to see my baby.”
I stopped jotting in my pad, and looked up, afraid he might hit me for writing what he said.
The bus arrived just in time. I did not know what to say. He seemed to have a short attention span.
“What are you writing about?” He resembled a child jumping into the bus with a toy stick.
“My thoughts, and observations.”
“Will you write my story, so I can see my baby?”
“I’m just a student, Holis.”
He walked to the back of the bus, leaving me behind, as if we had never spoken. I stood there for a moment, looking at the rows of seats. The passengers sat like zombies, their placid faces staring forward.
It was my first time on a bus in Tacoma. I picked the first seat my eyes landed on.
Route 26: Martin Luther King
It was around 4 o'clock, and the bus stop at Saint Joseph’s Hospital was crowded. Beside me an old woman with rosy cheeks jabbered about her granddaughters as if I knew them.
“Chelsea decided she didn’t want to stay in Tacoma any longer, she had to see the world, so she went to Austin.”
Chelsea must have known the world was not limited to Austin.
I was unable to comprehend her story, for lack of background information. Her dark brown and grey hair was pinned back in a french twist. The lids of her eyes were immaculately coated with purple shadow. She talked with her hands, waving them about like a conductor.
Edna was her name; she was a patient at the hospital.
The bus came roaring to a stop just as she asked me where I was headed.
I smiled, “to the end of this route and back.”
Edna led me into the bus as if she were leading me into her home, and pointed toward one of the front seats. “Sit, I’ll introduce you to some of my friends,” she said with arrogance. She plopped herself beside me. “I’ve been taking this route for the past four years. Ever since my husband left me.” She stared out the window. “I couldn't afford a car no more.”
Just as she was about to cry remembering her past, a tall burly man walked onto the bus.
“Edna, why you gotta bother that girl. She don’t give a damn bout a thing you say.”
Her eyes lit up. “Haven't seen you in a while Joe,” she said with a playful smile. “Thought you mighta died or somethin’.”
Joe was monumental in size. He walked slowly, tipping from side to side. He wore a black sailor’s hat over his thick curly hair. He spoke with a deep legato rhythm. His voice vibrated in his throat.
“I was visiting my son in Atlanta.” Joe walked toward us.
I tuned out, looking out the window, watching the people in the street disappear as we drove away.
I was woken from my trance by the clicking of a pair of cowboy boots on the metal floor. A tall handsome man with a chiseled jaw-line and a set of dark Ray Bans walked in. It could have been Johnny Cash himself. He sauntered past my seat with a pompous sway. At the back of the bus, I could hear his boots, as he bounced his leg up and down, irritably,
Edna, immersed in a story of Joe’s travels in Atlanta, didn’t even notice my sudden absence as I rose from my seat and found another, alone. Handsome man, as I decided to call him, jumped in a flurry from his seat and plopped himself beside me, just as I thought he would. Oh, the predictable nature of men.
I was hoping to meet someone new. He winked at me. I wanted to burst his bubble. His finger nails were dirty; his hands were covered in oil.
“Do you change tires?” I said cynically.
He wiped his hands across his jeans, as a dimple sunk into his cheek.
“If they’re yours.”
Luckily, I predicted another stop in my near future. I stood up and walked off the bus, disregarding where I was.
Route 10: Pearl St.
He looked like an honest to goodness alcoholic, with blood-shot eyes sitting on a cushion of deep black bags. He said John Hamilton was his name and smiled, revealing a smattering of crusty teeth. I wondered if this was truly his name, thinking he might be testing my knowledge of American history.
I smiled back and said, “It’s a pleasure meeting you John Hamilton,” stressing his supposed name.
“I know I don’t look darned near as classy as I used to, so you don’t need to rub it in” he said out of the blue. “But god dammit! I still got my perty name, so how’s about that for you?”
He was a senile old man with a suave mannerism. Beneath the unhinged acting was a voice of candor.
“I ride the bus to keep from being alone.”
I learned he was a Vietnam veteran, as he spoke of the voices he hears, and the nightmares that overcome him in his sleep. It was sad to think, a war that took place so long ago was still affecting the individuals who fought for their country.
“How do you feel about the Iraq war?” I said, hoping to trigger a rant of some sort.
“I gotta tell ya, there isn’t a purpose good enough.” He winked one of his eyes in concentration as he pulled in closer, resembling a pirate.
“War’s a crime.” He spoke with an understanding of the matter. “Those boys comin’ home ain’t never gonna be the same.”
“When you kill a man, you’re a different person. You can’t help but wonder who gave you that right. Ain’t no easy way out,” he rambled intensely. “I never thought I’d kill a man, but you oughta never say never.”
John Hamilton had a candid way of expressing himself. I was saddened when he rose to leave. He saluted me like a true soldier as he walked backward down the stairs and out the door.
Route 1: 6th Avenue-Pacific Avenue
It was almost 9:30 p.m. and I was getting scared. I felt unnerved being on the bus that late. I couldn’t help but notice the pink lights. From the outside, it looks like a glowing rose-colored party bus rolling down the road.
My logical explanation of the situation; pink is a calming color. Some jail cells are painted pink to create a calming effect. That must be the case; they are keeping the passengers calm at night to avoid fights and delays.
At the 6th and Union stop, a boy dressed in black walked in. He sat beside me, his head phones blaring. Acne scars framed his face, his black scruffy hair looked as though it hadn’t been washed in a week. A silver loop hung from his bottom lip, and a well trimmed beard accentuated the length of his chin. Looking down towards his hands, I noticed a white scull on his black ipod, and beneath it a Nazi Swastika.
I have become that nosy bus rider seeking someone to have a dialogue with. I looked at him, amazed at how unsocial he was. His ears were stuffed with sound emitting objects, simply to avoid the rest of the world.
The more I rode the bus, the more I looked forward to jumping in and discerning the interesting people I would run across. I was getting used to the “public” aspect of public transportation. There is something so humanistic about it. All I wanted was for that boy to turn and look at me, take out his headphones, and tell me a story about something I couldn’t care less about.
The bus is a clever invention. A way for people that do not have the means to still have the opportunity to roam around. Public transportation for the most part is affordable, and reliable. Letting go of the steering wheel and relaxing was enjoyable. Whether one likes to socialize with other riders, or simply engross themselves in a good book on the way to school or work, the bus allows it. Having time for you, spent calmly, rather than raging through traffic cursing at other drivers. This made me realize that what I was doing, alone in my car, was far from relaxing.
At the end of the day, the simplicity of getting into my own car, and making the stops only I needed to make was much more convenient. I know I will most likely never ride the bus again. But, I learned enough from my experiences to never say never.