Do you hate your commute?
Is it long and stressful?
Do you need a change?
Maybe you should try… taking the bus!
That’s right, give public transit a shot. Beloved by smug satisfied car-hating East Coasters like Matt Yglesias, Richard Florida, and Donald Shoup — all of whom know better than you — taking the bus is a radical step towards improving your life, because they said so. In fact, it can not only replace your commute: it can make everything you hate about it worse!
Hate spending hours in your car every day while the air conditioning struggles to keep up with the blazing sun and the trunk-rattling stereo in the lowered Civic next to you goes doof-doof-DOOFDOOFDOOF? By taking the bus, you can spend three times as much time on the shimmering ribbons of asphalt, enjoying the sauna-like comfort of a large vehicle full of people with no Gaia-murdering air conditioning. Pop the windows for a bit of precious oxygen, and the doof-doof stereo gets even louder. Maybe you’ll be lucky enough to sit next to someone with a cranked iPod and hear the doof-doof up close! If you can find a seat, that is.
Does the uncertainty and unpredictability of traffic leave you shaking with impotent, frustrated rage? Take the bus, and not only can you fret about traffic, you can fret about whether the bus shows up at all. Maybe it’s ten minutes late. Maybe it was five minutes early, and disappeared from sight just before you reached the stop. You can’t tell! How exciting is that? You’ll begin to think of it as an opportunity for rigorous scheduling, as you leave home hours early to compensate for late or disappearing buses and missed connections.
Even better, once you get on the bus, you face the exciting question of whether there’s a seat available, and whether your seatmate is violently senile, grossly overweight, or has bothered to bathe in the last week. Maybe you’ll hit the jackpot and squish wetly down onto a puddle of urine left by the last guy! Or maybe you’ll have the chance to stand in the aisle, while the kid in front of you smacks you with his overloaded backpack every time the bus accelerates and the college student behind you splashes you with scalding-hot coffee every time it brakes.
Do you stare wistfully through your windshield at the dusty sidewalks with their scattered half-dead weeds? Do you long to stretch your legs and breathe the grit-blasted polluted breeze that gently kisses the freeway? Man, that’s fucked up, but taking the bus will cater to your perverse fetish. You’ll walk miles over the course of the week, in rain or shine, shirt-soaking heat or killing cold. (Just think of all the calories you’ll burn!) You’ll stand for hours in torrential downpours (or sit shivering on rain-soaked benches), and when the blessed sight of your bus rounding the corner sends your heart soaring twenty minutes late, it’ll be packed to the gills and rocket right past you, showering you with oily puddle-water. Hey, it builds character.
Are you nervous about walking through a deserted parking lot in the dead of night? Wait ’til you get to spend an hour at the bus station when the bars have all let out! Do you lock your car doors and grip the wheel tensely when a trio of gang-bangers cross the street in front of you? A late-night ride home on a bus with no-one thereupon but you, those very same thugs, and a thoroughly disinterested driver will cure you of that fear. You’ll see assaults both random and domestic — maybe you’ll even get to participate, or maybe someone will take a swing at the driver. Taking the bus will toughen you up.
Hate shopping? Is a detour to the local mega-mart on your way home the last thing you want to do after a tough day on the job site or at the office? On the bus, you probably won’t have the chance to make a quick stop. Dashing in and out just doesn’t happen when your ride leaves every half hour (if you’re fortunate enough to find it on time). You’ll make your grocery-getting trips separately, and you’ll do it more often (and pay more) because you won’t have a trunk any more — no loading up with “value-priced family packs” of chicken breasts or half a dozen gallon jugs of milk. Just think how exciting it’ll be to shepherd home a dozen eggs without a rogue two-year-old or unsteady senior citizen crashing into your bags!
Do tailgaters, road-ragers, and other idiots behind the wheel stress you out? On the bus, you’ll meet those very same inattentive idiots and aggressive assholes without a pair of metal cages to separate you. Ever spend forty-five minutes being harangued for spare change by a filthy hobo (or by a meticulously-scruffy teenager wearing clothing worth more than you make in a month)? Ever seen a stoned backpacker clobber a wheelchair-bound child with his overstuffed pack… three times in as many minutes? Ever look on helplessly as an unsteady old man flies head-first into the edge of the fare box when the driver decides to brake suddenly to teach the kids at the back a lesson? They’re experiences you’ll never forget!
Don’t trust your mechanic? Do terms like “CV joint” and “Macpherson strut” make you nervous? Just wait ’til the bus gets up around the speed limit. Your ears will thrill to the sound of rattling bolts and screeching hinges. Ever felt bad about taping over that gash in your front seat with duct tape? You’ll burst with pride at your diligence and resourcefulness after gazing at the jagged shards of plastic and sheet metal protruding from the seat in front of you. Do you know what boiling brake fluid smells like? Ride a packed bus down a twelve-percent grade for a couple of miles and you will, although if the light at the bottom of the hill is red when you barrel through it you might have trouble distinguishing the smell of cooked brakes from the stink of fear and urine.
So what are you waiting for? Step up to the challenge! Visit your local convenience store and drop a couple hundred bucks on a one-month bus pass. After a few years, you’ll be a very different person!
(Disclaimer: I live in greater Vancouver, which has perhaps the finest public transit system in North America**. Your bus-taking experience may not be as cheerful as mine. And yes, these have all happened to me — and more besides!)
* Not necessarily for the better
** I’m being entirely sincere in that sentence