If you read my post No Car No Car No Car No Car from a few weeks ago, you may recall that I, well, have no car. You might also remember that my full-time job involves frequent within-town travel, which means that I rely heavily on public transportation to get from place to place throughout my day.
Our public transportation system in Boston is called the “T”, and it consists of both buses and subways. For various reasons, however, I tend to spend more time on the bus than on the subway while traveling around for work. Honestly I think I probably spend more time on the bus than pretty much anyone except bus drivers.
There are a lot of reasons why I’m taking the bus instead of getting a car, but the main one is that it allows me to save a massive amount of money. My employer reimburses me the $75 cost of a monthly T pass, which means that my transportation costs are currently at $0/month. This is a huge factor in my being able to put $1000-$1500 towards my loans each month (the other factor is my unusually low rent). Another major upside of taking the bus is that it allows me to completely avoid parallel parking, and by “parallel parking” I mean “attempting to parallel park, failing, and having to drive around and around the block until I find two spots in a row and can just slide into the front one without having to put the car in reverse at all.”
However, I will also acknowledge that taking the bus has its downsides. Sometimes the bus is crazy crowded. Sometimes you have to stand in the cold rain waiting for a bus that is running way behind schedule. Sometimes the inside of the bus smells like pot. Sometimes (if you’re me) you get motion sickness. I admit that there are definitely days when I wish I were sitting in a warm, dry, clean, silent car all by myself.
But I also feel—strange as it may sound—that I’m learning a lot from riding the bus. Amidst the crowds and the waiting and the rain and the noise, I feel like I’m starting to see patterns and insights slowly emerge. Lessons, you could call them. Most of these lessons could probably be learned in other contexts as well, but the bus is what I’ve got right now, so that’s where I’m learning them.
Here’s what I’ve got. (So far.)
Lessons I’ve Learned I’m Learning from Riding the Bus
- Traffic is a great equalizer. There are definitely days when the bus ends up sitting in traffic. And you know who else ends up sitting in the exact same traffic? That guy over there in the Mercedes. And that woman in the shiny SUV. And everybody else. Our situations may be different in some ways, but on some level we’re all in this together.
- Technology is truly amazing. I have never felt so fortunate to own a smartphone before. I quite literally could not do this job without the Maps app (which tells me all the possible routes to my next destination) and the MBTA Bus app (which uses GPS to tell me when the next bus will arrive). I know there are downsides to technology, but when used intentionally as a tool, it completely changes what is possible.
- Sometimes running really fast for a short period of time results in a huge payoff. If I know (from my GPS-based bus app) that I have exactly two minutes to get to a bus stop that is three long blocks away, chances are I’m going to run for it. Catching that one bus might mean I can catch an earlier connecting bus, which might make the difference between getting to my next appointment on time and getting there 20 minutes late, which in turn might impact whether I’m on time for the rest of my appointments that day. And this is something that applies to non-bus-related situations as well. As much as I complained in my last post that I have too much to do on a daily basis, I do think that there are situations when putting in a TON of effort for a very short period of time—like staying up super late to finish an application or project with a deadline—can have huge, cascading effects on your short-term or even long-term future.
- We can get used to a lot. I did not grow up using public transportation because I’m from a rural-ish area where everyone gets around by car, and before I moved to the city I would have said that getting around by bus sounded super difficult and inconvenient. But I’ve adjusted, because human beings are great at adjusting. And if I ever needed to adjust back to having a car (and to parallel parking), I’m sure I could do that too. We may think we would never be able to get used to X, Y, or Z, but chances are we probably could if we wanted or needed to, as long as our basic needs were still met. After a while, it would probably even seem normal.
- There are a lot of people whose lives and experiences are very different from mine. Pretty much everybody rides the bus. Well, okay, people who have cars and people who can afford to Uber everywhere probably don’t ride it, but you know what I mean. There are elderly people, middle-aged people, college students, kids in their school uniforms, parents (and nannies) with strollers; there are people of different races and ethnicities and people speaking many languages; there are people with disabilities; there are people wearing suits, people wearing scrubs, people wearing food service uniforms, and people wearing sweatpants. It’s a simple but valuable daily reminder of the wide variety of experiences that different people are having.
- There are always new places to discover. This one is kind of a no-brainer, but I’m including it because it still feels profound. I’ve discovered an incredible number of interesting neighborhoods as a result of taking the bus—many of them neighborhoods that I’m fairly certain I never would have stumbled upon for any other reason.
- There are often multiple routes to get to the same destination. I find almost every day that there are often three or even four different ways to get from Point A to Point B: a bus and a train, two buses, one bus and a lot of walking on both ends, etc. Sometimes I choose my route based on which route will get me there the quickest, sometimes I choose based on how tired I am, sometimes I choose based on whether or not it’s raining, and sometimes I just take a gamble. I’m pretty much going to end up at the same place no matter what, so I may as well choose the path that works best for me at that moment.
- Sometimes walking is faster. While I often assume it will be faster to take the bus to get to my next destination, this is not always true, especially if the destination is a mile away or less. Sometimes it’s more efficient to just accomplish something on your own steam than to bring in outside help.
- Some people are dealing with really tough realities. I can’t pretend to know what’s actually going on in the lives of any of my fellow bus passengers. That being said, it’s unusual for me to get through more than a couple of bus rides without encountering a reminder of one sort or another that many people are facing tremendously difficult physical, social, financial, medical, emotional, and/or psychological challenges.
- Sometimes a mental game of “would you rather?” can save the day. Some of my least favorite bus-related moments are ones when I’m standing in the cold rain on a random street corner waiting for a bus that’s still (according to the bus app) 11 minutes away. Those are the moments when I say to myself: This is insane. Why are you not in a car right now? But then I think Ok, would you rather put up with this situation for 11 more minutes or shell out, say, $300 for a car payment every month AND have to deal with parallel parking?” then suddenly the answer is pretty clear.
- When in doubt, bring an umbrella. Enough said.
So what do you think? Can you relate to any of these (or think any of them are nonsense)? Have you learned other lessons from driving or biking or walking or whatever your preferred form of transportation is? Do you play “Would You Rather” with yourself in your head while considering purchases? Am I the only one who can’t parallel park?