Why I Ride Public Transportation

December 3, 2008
I used to be afraid of public transportation. Smelly. Dirty. Creeps. Homeless people. Noisy. Those are just a few of the most forgiving words that came to mind when I thought about riding the MAX. How could any one even stand the thought of riding to school or to work in something so, clearly, public? You can imagine the surprise, fear and hesitance I felt when I realized that I was to begin riding no other than the MAX train and the 6 bus. Sure, I felt a sense of independence, freedom, but what good was it to be so liberated and free when I still shuddered at the thought of anything that had to do with downtown?

The first time I took the MAX, I will definitely never forget. Clutching to the hand rail so I wouldn’t lose my balance, holding my bags close to me, in fear that the tall guy next to me would randomly attack me, and of course, checking the map, then the schedules, then the next stop we would be making, and then the map again, over and over again. Finally we made it to stop, and I jumped off and took my first breath since those last ten minutes.

What surprised me though, was how -- aside from the smell of urine, body odor, and stale coffee that still lingered in my nostrils and the slight unbalance I felt now that I was on steady ground -- I felt, reasonably, okay. Maybe I could get used to this, I thought.

The next few days improved slowly and by the end of the week, I was practically the Queen Of All Public Forms Of Transportation. I knew when the next bus was going to arrive and if I would make it home on time. Most of the bus drivers knew me and didn’t ask to see my pass anymore. I realized that I had the internal clock that all MAX riders seem to have inside of them, and I could fall asleep on the train and automatically wake up just a few minutes before we arrived to my stop. I had already practically memorized the 89, the 6, the 20, the 68 and the 58 bus lines and I often found myself giving people directions on how to get around.

I couldn’t help but feel proud. I walked the streets of downtown with a sense of superiority and maturity. I smirked at and pitied the people who stood in front of the bus schedules, frantically trying to figure out how the hell they were going to get home. I felt gooood.

I’m glad to say that this feeling of superiority and pride has, thankfully, worn off, and now I just your typical public transportation rider. Every morning, I plug in the Ipod, take out the unfinished homework, sip on the coffee, and sometimes catch up on the much-needed sleep. This on-going routine has repeated itself for the past four months, and I can honestly say that the 30 minutes I have to myself each day, are by far the best.

There is something that is uniquely specially about taking the MAX everyday for me. It is, simply, the opportunity to observe the people around me and then, consequently, be able to take a peek into every single one of their lives. For some reason, I feel extremely drawn and intrigued about the lives of these perfect strangers, whether it’s the large woman who dresses in all black and reads a different $1.99 paperback books about cats with magical powers and princesses with secrets every day, the skinny asian man who, to my complete disgust, takes up three seats with his man-purse, umbrella, and newspaper, or the the hispanic teenage mom, that bitterly wears her shiny green name tag that announces to the world that “Hello! My name is Rosalita. Ask me questions about our discounted items!”, and who seems to do everything half-heartedly. I wonder about these people’s difficult, exciting, absorbing lives. I’m stirred by their conversations, curious about the bus stops they get off at, seduced by their choice of music, book, or magazine.

I feel like a stalker or something, but I can’t help but continue to be lured into each one of these unknown people, because for just five minutes, I can be someone I am not. I can forget about the following geometry test or the long day I have ahead. I can completely put myself into these people’s shoes and think like them, be like them and in the end, understand them better. It breaks down any sense of superiority I had felt to them, any pity I had laid on them, or any difference I had felt between us.

This is why I love to ride the MAX and the bus. Because even though all these people and I may come from different worlds, we are all standing at the platform of the Transit Center for the same reason. We are all waiting at the bus stop at the corner of the street with the same intention. We are all racing through the streets, passing the red lights and frantically checking the time, praying that we don’t miss the bus, for the same cause. We all ride the MAX together. We may live completely different lives, but, in the end, we are all the same.

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