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Take the bus
Community and serendipity on wheels
While riding the bus squeezed like canned peas a couple of years ago, I caught an utterly unremarkable, yet sneakily skilled, young man with his hand inside my jacket pocket and my phone between his fingers. While I loudly confronted him for trying to steal my phone, the people around me pretended nothing was happening and decided to continue their journey, ignoring the attempted crime occurring in front of them.
As my roaring voice evoked no reaction, disappointment over the rest of the passengers took over my body.
On that occasion, the man got off the bus without my phone and any sense of shame. On the other hand, I got off the bus knowing I’d be carrying a pocket-size pepper spray the next time I took public transport.
From that day on, when I thought of buses, the phrase "every man for himself" came to mind. But everything changed last Wednesday.
That day, I moved through the rhythm of my life like a wounded dancer. Each step was a painful effort, inducing tears. In the afternoon, my mind was captive of a hostile takeover. Antagonistic thoughts ran rampant, and I became a helpless spectator.
With my mind inside a belligerent storyline, I waited for the bus on my way to run an errand, focusing on the task at hand so I wouldn't give in to my urge to sit at the bus stop and cry for a while.
As I got on the C01 bus going south and swiped my card, the tidy bus driver looked at me and slowly moved his hands, wishing me a good day in sign language.
While I observed his hands move and sensed his focused eyes on my face, I felt that all the good actions in the world were directed towards me. This man was pushing away every malicious thought I had that day with the considerate movement of his hands. As he repeated the action with as much enthusiasm for every person who got on the bus, I could feel the shift in the bus’ atmosphere as indifferent facades turned to thankful ones.
The bus driver’s greeting made negative thoughts leave my head, making space for gratitude and transforming my day.
After many years of bus-hopping, I’ve learned that bus rides provide a unique blend of unpredictability and diversity, where each journey unfolds in its own distinct way.
Another time, in the late afternoon, I watched a mix of college students and cubicle dwellers sit on the bus like zombies, ready for the day to end, while one man tapped his feet to a distinguishable rhythm. The man beside him moved his head and followed the tempo by pronouncing vowels, “Oh! - Eh! - Oh! - Eh!”. Those around them immediately changed our indifferent expressions and moved our heads to the beat.
It’s beautiful to witness strangers going in the same direction but with different destinations coming together. This forced, confined space can push you outside of your own mental loops and force you to look around. In many ways, the bus is a portal to serendipity. As I’ve experienced, each ride is an opportunity for distinct incidents that can trigger a change in your mood, your perspective on events and people, your empathy, your idea of community, and so much more.
When you feel disconnected or uninspired, take the bus and pay attention.