Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Lately there's been a lot of pressure to do "green" things. Use canvas bags for groceries, install eco-friendly insulation in your home, stop burning massive piles of tires...the list goes on. And one of the greenest things we can do, we're told, is use public transportation. If we commute to work in a car, alone, the greenitarians say, we're worse than public masturbators (at least their emissions don't harm the ozone layer). By contrast, if we ride the bus, we can go to sleep at night knowing that if everyone was like us, the world would be free of problems.
The only problem is that taking the bus, as any bus-dweller will tell you, makes you completely miserable.
I take the bus every morning and unless I am savagely beaten by a biker gang, those 20 minutes are the worst part of my day--and I hate my job, so thats saying something. By the time I get on the Downtown-bound B52, it's completely packed. I have to shove my way towards the middle of the scrum until I'm literally ass-to-elbow with my fellow environmentalists for the duration of the ride. If someone gets on or off we jostle around and squeeze even more tightly together, and someone gets on or off at every stop. If a person in a wheelchair gets on, we have to make room for them, and we lose valuable minutes as the driver operates the wheelchair lift and lifts up some of the seats. One time a handicapped man got on the bus and rode it for two stops, and everyone muttered very quietly to themselves and stared daggers at him. That's how much buses suck--they actually make you hate the handicapped. All these delays mean that we are passed regularly by bicyclists, and sometimes I wonder if it would be faster to walk. (If you ride certain buses in Manhattan, it is faster to walk.) Meanwhile, the bus is constantly shaking and rattling, and passengers are tossed together at every tern. I feel like I'm spending $2.25 in order to ride the world's worst carnival ride
At least I live in New York City, so the second part of my commute is by subway, where I have room to read a book and occasionally sit down(!). Also, the buses run all night here (although the service gets spotty after midnight), so you're never stranded after a long, liquor-commercial-esque night. In Seattle, where I matriculated, buses refuse to exist after 1 a.m., and I spent many early mornings publicly sobering up while walking long miles home, wishing, like all hard-partyers, for an efficient public transportation system. (Party people, if they ever remembered to vote, would be a prime constituency for public transportation campaigns.)
Then there's my favorite piece of metropolitan whimsy, the bus timetable. Chances are if you believe bus timetables, you also probably consult psychics before picking Lotto numbers. Bus timetables are the most meaningless things you will ever see, unless you watch a lot of music videos. Buses obey no man or timetable--even Mussolini couldn't make them run on time. Buses obey mysterious laws of their won, appearing out of the mists either alone or in packs of two or three. You can wait for hours for a bus. Sometimes you see several buses going the other direction while you wait. Occasionally a bus will roar past with an "Out of Service" sign on it, or more cryptically, "To North Base." Where is the North Base? Why does the bus need to go there? How is an out-of-service bus traveling so fast? No one knows--the society of the buses is unknown and impenetrable. They're like whales, although with what we've learned about whales' migration patterns we can predict with some accuracy where whales are going to be.
Meanwhile as the bus people suffer in the exposed elements like street actors performing Waiting for Godot, the planet-consuming, gas-guzzling car commuters whizz past, listening to whatever music they like, casually sticking their elbows out their windows as if to say, "Fuck you, bus people. I can extend my arms as far as I want in either direction!" But I'm sticking with the B52. I'm going to wait in the cold rain tomorrow morning, then pack myself onto the bus like an oddly willing sardine getting into its can. And do you know why? Because I'm too cheap to pay for gas