Public transportation: the icing on the cake of a bad day! Sadly for me, public transportation is something I cannot avoid, as much as I would like to. Forced to ride the bus, train, or subway, I, like many others, have no choice but to travel in these metal cylinders of doom – when they are not running late, leaving you stranded in the rain, or driving past you as you frantically wave them down. They are often too hot, too cold, filled with unspeakable people, or just absolutely stink! Having a good bus journey is purely luck; if you reach your stop without a single mishap, you should be worried. It’s almost guaranteed you’re going to trip as you exit, call the driver “mom,” or get off and realize you pressed the button too early and now have half a mile to walk. However, I can’t deny that bus journeys are always great for people-watching – guaranteed entertainment for the whole journey, because, for some reason, all of the craziest characters possible congregate in one place to compete in the ultimate talent contest: Who can annoy the other passengers the most? In the running is the woman with the screaming baby. Located at the front of the bus, she is usually joined by a fidgety toddler or a fellow mom and can be heard yelling (despite your iPod being on full volume) at the baby to “Quiet down,” the toddler to “Sit up,” and the friend to “Come over for dinner some time.” Also in the running: the bloke in the middle section who is muttering to himself, pressing his head against the window, and intermittently erupting with an outburst of random words. When he’s not yelling, you can identify him by smell. The couple, among the less annoying contestants, will spend the majority of their journey making out or declaring their undying love for one another, while the rest of us try to prevent ourselves from throwing up at their public display of affection and cheesy one-liners. Then there is the person on the phone. This person feels it is their duty to inform everyone on the bus that they are so popular that people have to call them rather than text. Often competing for noisiest passenger against the screaming baby and mother, they bellow into the phone that they are “on the bus” and they’ll “be there in time for dinner” often breaking out into an ear-piercing cackle just to ensure everyone knows that they are not only popular but have the funniest friends. As always, there is the rowdy group of boys at the back of the bus, all in hoodies. They loudly laugh, make sexual innuendos, and brag about brushes with the law before they reach their stop and waddle off with their tracksuits down to their knees and neon underwear blinding the poor old lady who was unfortunate enough to get off at the same stop. Last, but by no means least: the wild card. Incredibly hard to spot, the wild card will only emerge once the bus is moving and there is no means of escape. The wild card can be located anywhere on the bus and can vary from the woman who’s robbed a cookie store and insists on offering everyone one, the guy who’s fallen asleep and seems to be dreaming about martial arts, or the man who got on near the local bar, and keeps falling off his seat, cursing and encouraging the other passengers to join him in karaoke before redecorating the bus with the contents of his stomach. Every public transportation commuter knows that headphones mean the wearer does not want to be disturbed. I, unfortunately, am cursed with a neon sign over my head that only the craziest of passengers can see, encouraging them to talk to me in spite of my obvious body language to deter them. Now some people in these situations are able to quickly and calmly tell them where to go. I, on the other hand, hate to be rude, not always a good thing. One such occasion has scarred me for life. I was quite contentedly sitting at the bus stop, earphones in without a care in the world. I may have been humming to Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” when someone sat on the bench next to me. Immediately I stopped humming, slightly annoyed to be interrupted mid-song. I continued staring down the road looking for the bus, when I felt a tap on my arm. Reluctantly removing my earphones, I turned toward the person next to me. It was a spotty, lanky, greasy-haired guy whose smile revealed an array of incredibly stained teeth. Already let down by the earphone rule, I tried to dissuade him from talking to me with solemn one-word answers. Not getting the hint, he proceeded to recount his life story while I half-heartedly nodded at the right times but wasn’t really paying attention as I had become transfixed by his teeth and was silently thanking my mom for forcing me to brush twice a day. I was thinking about Listerine commercials when I realized the conversation had suddenly turned to how he “couldn’t understand why girls didn’t like him.” I mean it was quite clear he wasn’t the sharpest tool in the box and personal hygiene wasn’t at the top of his priorities, but he seemed friendly and harmless and I didn’t want to be horrible, so I acted just as baffled. Now, I am one of those people who will watch a movie with a clearly obvious villain and still feel sorry for them … like Bane in “The Dark Knight Rises.” He had murdered, kidnapped, and robbed (amongst other heinous crimes) yet I still pitied him because he’d had a tough life. Plus, who could hate Tom Hardy? Well, this guy was no Tom Hardy, but being the sucker that I am, I couldn’t help but reassure him with the old, “I’m sure there is someone out there for you.” After a moment’s reflection he responded, “I’m sure you’ve got loads of guys chasing you.” I laughed and before I could stop myself, “I wish,” escaped my lips. Why, oh why? I should have stuck with the one-word answers; now he knows I’m single, and I’m done for. He began to ramble about how I am exactly the kind of girlfriend he wants. I managed to cut his ramblings short with, “I’m at school a long way away. Sorry.” Polite and I hadn’t hurt his feelings. Unperturbed, he started talking about long-distance relationships, and I realized too late that I should have played the lesbian card. I pulled my phone out to look at the time, praying the bus would come and if not, that I’d just get hit by a meteorite and be done with it. He was asking for my number just as a woman stopped to look at the bus times. As I desperately tried to think of an excuse why he couldn’t have my number, the woman asked if the bus had come by yet. When I said it hadn’t, she began ranting about the absurd schedule changes. I could have hugged this magical savior. I enthusiastically fueled her bus-hating rant, ignoring him as he slowly slid down the bench toward me. After the most heated conversation I’ve ever had about bus schedules fizzled out, he asked me again and I still hadn’t thought of an excuse. Then, a stroke of pure genius! “How about I take yours?” I asked. He agreed, and we sat in silence. I put my earphones back in, feeling rather smug, and before long he tapped me on the arm again, “But I don’t have your number,” he complained. “I’ll text it to you.” Ear phones back in, I pretended to text him. A couple minutes later he tapped me on the arm again. “I didn’t get it.” “I definitely sent it.” “Let me see,” he said and leaned over to watch me. He smiled as I reluctantly pressed the send button. “Got it,” he cried as the bus pulled up. I stormed on, giving the driver a withering look, and threw myself in a seat by the window. Had you been one minute earlier, I thought, I wouldn’t have to change my phone number. Lo and behold, he boarded the bus and sat next to me. Just a few more stops and it will be over, I reassured myself. Then, as if it couldn’t get any worse, he put his hand on my knee. I froze. What should I do? Yell at him? (I didn’t really want to cause a scene.) Slap him? (Having never hit anyone in my life, I wasn’t going to start now.) Get off and walk? (I’m too lazy for that.) Brush it off? (I didn’t really want to touch him – the one day I forgot my sanitizer.) It actually crossed my mind that he may have thought it was his knee. I am an idiot. I took so long deciding what to do he ended up getting off before I could make up my mind. He waved madly at me with both hands as the bus pulled away and I devised a plan to persuade my parents to move. Although I’m sure we’ve all had our fair share of awful public transportation experiences, it would seem train, bus, and even subway passengers find some way to pester me. Sounding a little unsociable, I would like to add that I have had some very lovely conversations with little old ladies as well. It’s the other, not-so-pleasant encounters that have really put me off the social perils of using public transport.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.