For two months now, I’ve had a bus commute. Despite living in Boston, one of the few American cities with a truly functioning public transit system (even if complaining about it is a local hobby), I have never had a public transit commute, or worked in the city. I always thought this was a pity. But now, my mornings and afternoons are governed by the uncompromising schedule of the 7:49 and 5:20.
My bus ride and my mile long walk to work give me some new and different things to think about. Ok, let’s be real. They give me some new and different people to think about. After two months, the folks around me have stopped being entirely noise, and turned into signal.
First, the etiquette of the 354 bus is very strict. Thou shalt not in any way inhibit others from sitting down. Thou shall not have conversations with others once thou hast boarded the bus. Thou shalt not talk on thy cell phone. Speaking to others is entirely optional. If you have to add your money to your Charlie Ticket, go last. If you see another bus rider running to make it, make sure the bus driver knows. Always thank the bus driver as you exit. Form an orderly line to get on. Don’t cut to get ahead, but don’t hang back either. It is a courteous and well-managed bus. It is even (usually) on time. Because it is expensive ($5) and requires planning ahead (who wants to get dropped in Woburn casually?), there are very few first-time, or “I don’t care” riders. As in, I haven’t seen one yet.
With this cloak of silence, I’m getting to enjoy some of my fellow riders. There’s the cute red-headed guy in business casual who always, ALWAYS has Bose noise-cancelling headphones on. He may not have ears, and I would never know it. There’s the older, Italian-looking woman with unrealistically black hair who looks like she would be at home selling limonada and tortellini on the Sicilian coast. One of my favorites (ride home only), is this guy who (when it’s not 80 degrees out) wears a trench coat. And he has a moustache – an honest to goodness 30s era moustache. I honestly don’t remember the last time I saw a non-Indian sporting just a moustache. He doesn’t like crowds and doesn’t mind standing, so he often waits at the edge of the crowd and boards last. There’s the guy who doesn’t speak English, Portuguese or Spanish but something that sounds related, and rides sometimes with his 3 year old (?) daughter. He always makes eye contact and gives me a big grin. There’s the woman who has the exact same commute as I do, and in my early days offered me some wry (but helpful) advice.
Then there are the folks who walk the opposite way from me on my way home. I can tell whether I’m early or late by where I meet them. There’s an older gentleman whom I always notice because he is always wearing jeans and he never looks like the sort of person who would wear jeans. He never meets my eyes, but I feel like we’re old friends. There’s a very tall guy with a very round beard whom I like to imagine as a viking warrior instead of a software engineer. (My walking commute is the epicenter of suits, and this guy is always wearing a funny t-shirt, so I think he must be technical.) Today I recognized four “friends” on my walk to the bus. I wonder how many I haven’t noticed yet, versus how many are too unreliable or just visitors. (You can usually spot the visitors. They’re the ones with the tricorn hats and big eyes pulled constantly skyward by marble-atriumed monoliths.)
Perhaps you can tell by my windyness, but I talk to you about these people, these things, almost every day as I walk and watch. I tell you about the gift it is to walk across the sea – even if a small, polite, well-contained bit of it – and watch the tides go in and out. I talk to you about how the eagle statue in Post Office square always makes me think of the Trolloc statues in Wheel of Time Series. We swap tips about how best to cross the intersections (when you can safely dash, when you should wait, where the advantages are of crossing which way). You commiserate with me when (a rare case so far) I watch the bus pull away, separated from me by an uncrossable river of traffic. We smile together every afternoon as we watch the children and parents swarm the Children’s Museum. And then, of course, I get to work or home and I have no time to remind you of our ongoing conversations.
Sometimes I wonder if anyone else notices or see me, the way I see them. Do any of my “friends” (or perhaps ones I have not yet noticed?) think about that woman with the brown hair and backpack, who is always hurrying and sometimes limping slightly? What about you? Do you have friends, people you pass or see every day, whose name you do not now nor are likely to ever know?