Taking The Bus by Hunter Myers

I’ve never been a city guy. That is to say I’ve never been a public transportation guy. I grew up in a village on Cape Cod where the mode of transportation was first and foremost a car. Even the .2-mile distance to CVS from my house was cause to hop in the family Honda. The non-existent road shoulders for biking and limited sidewalks certainly didn’t help the matter. Whether the infrastructure reflected the Cape’s culture of transportation or vice versa, having a car (and by default a license) could make or break one’s [high school] social experience. I went to boarding school and, due to the limited time I spent at home, was unable to get my license until I was 18. I spent two summers on the Cape car-less, forcing me to borrow my dad’s 1982 Bianchi road bike as interim independence that a class D license would eventually lend me. When I finally received my license (thanks to the generous road tester Gale) I began to use a car the same way I used a bike: as an opportunity for loud singing, and quiet thought. I had enjoyed the forced alone time a bike commute gave me, and continued to see that alone time as a necessity even if I took place in a car.
In coming to Portland, OR this summer, I knew that I would have more opportunity for bike commutes but would not have a car available. One of my goals for the summer is to become comfortable with public transportation. Before I started using the bus I thought that looked like learning the ticket system, understanding the bus routes, switching buses, and knowing when to get off and on. By the fourth time I rode the bus in Portland I was pretty comfortable with the logistics of public transportation. I could even ride my bike part of the way, put it in the bike rack on the front of the bus, and take the bus to my final destination. However, despite the relative ease of bus logistics I’ve found that the real challenge of using public transportation lies far beyond getting on the right number bus going in the right direction. The challenge of the bus system is the public-ness of it all. It’s sitting on the same bus as the woman yelling at her infant, or the man with flatulence, or the person with a Chihuahua in her purse who falls asleep and lets her Chihuahua climb all over you. Navigating the bus system is navigating the public, something that a kid from suburbia didn’t have to learn to a great extent.
The often cramped, smelly, and sticky buses force me into a space where the public teaches me about myself in public. By the people who sit next to me (ex. Chihuahua lady), avoid me (burly men), or talk to me (senior citizens) I learn who I appear accessible to and who I don’t. By the people I avoid, or gravitate towards, I’m forced to confront my own prejudices and fears. I’m in the process of learning as much about public transportation as I am about myself. As I am in the midst of it all, my takeaway message can be no more than this: to pursue moments that push you out of your comfort zone and to move through the world (by bus, bike, train, plane or automobile) introspectively. It’s only outside of our comfort zones that we have the opportunity to grow, and it’s only by reflecting on those moments of opportunity are we able to implement that growth into our lives.

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