Road rage is out of my life. Waiting in the rain is in.
Like everything else, using the bus while living without a car is a trade off. Ice on windshields early in the morning no longer has any effect on my mood. The hygiene of a total stranger seated nearby just may.
And on balance, I’ll take the bus!
Even in a city where mass transit is nominal and expanding it is nowhere on the agenda, my sole reliance on Louisville’s bus system, known as TARC (Transit Authority of River City) since selling my car three years ago has paid big benefits, and much more than just the lots of money I save.
I read during traffic tie ups, I can barely recall the tensions of hunting for parking places and I haven’t dribbled gasoline on my hands in a food mart parking lot in years.
And oh, the insights into our era I have gained during what I have decided are — The 6 Kinds of Bus Trips:
The Reality Show
If you drive a car, the combination of phones and motorized transportation means peril from texters behind the wheel. For bus riders, the blending of the most celebrated contributions of Alexander Graham Bell and Henry Ford lets passengers crash their privacy, not vehicles.
“Well, you can tell her the engagement’s off!” Yes, I heard a man yell that while on a TARC bus about a year ago (it was no joke; he then slammed his cell phone shut with the force of someone dumping an ex-partner’s possessions onto the curb).
Most episodes aren’t that dramatic. Some using cells gripe at their children or complain to a call center about a bill. I’ve noticed that while riding in the direction of the Hall of Justice, I hear several describe in detail why thorny legal matters to which they must attend this morning will cause them to be late to work – possibly 30 or 60 days late.
The Louisville’s Got Talent
Late on a recent weeknight, while only two passengers rode on a bus heading east out of downtown, we were treated to an a cappella version of the great Johnny Cash and June Carter song “Jackson” by the driver, inspired by his passing Jackson Street. He was good, too! His voice was dulcet and his style passionate.
His was the most enjoyable singing I’ve ever heard on a TARC bus – hint, particularly to the rider who sings the Star Spangled Banner each weekday morning on a route heading into downtown.
Yes, a man whose confidence in public far exceeded his singing ability broke into our national anthem on an early westbound Bardstown Road bus I took for the first time recently. Experienced passengers explained to me this was the gentleman’s daily contribution to patriotism, or perhaps his signal to these early morning commuters that it is time to “play ball” at their workplaces.
The Woes on Wheels
Occasionally, a trip features a comprehensive display of the miseries of our time. If you want to see the effects of recent national policies of escorting jobs out of the country while bending over backward to put tobacco, cholesterol and high carbs into neighborhoods left economically hopeless, a ride on TARC may be just the eye opener.
America’s best and brightest gave the world heart bypass surgery, MRIs and mobility chairs. Our nations’ genius also created lots of users of those innovations, because while we gushed over medical miracles, we poured research dollars into factory farming, resulting in faster, cheaper, wider distribution by the corporations whose logos sometimes beam from passengers’ fast food and supermarket bags.
Oh, and speaking of bad national priorities, “smart phone” use by riders who speak in double-negatives supports the “STEM” theory, the contention by Wendell Berry and others that an over-emphasis on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math has squeezed out genuine learning.
The Lonely Heart Club
Notice that’s not the plural “hearts.” That’s because inevitably as some rider begins trying to make time with a fetching passenger nearby, the intended recipient of the overture quickly starts checking e-mail, playing video games or taking a call – real or concocted – on their cell phone, conspicuously displaying a smile and talking in soft, affectionate tones, to indicate to the suitor that a significant other already exists in their life.
Sorry pal, you don’t even arrive at, “I have to wash my hair Friday” in this era of hand-held digital technology, aka “loser block.”
The What’s For Dinner, Grandpa?
Overwhelmingly, buses in Louisville smell okay, but there’s one line I know of which travels all day by a huge number of the metro area’s fast food places and food marts. Do the math to see why I no longer take this bus after work: if one percent of the day’s riders on this popular route break the rule against eating on TARC, by nightfall the cumulative spilled potato chips alone will overwhelm you – unless the bits of fish filets, splotches of pizza sauce and morsels of Louisville’s own 11 herbs and spices drown them out.
At least taking this line used to make for a livelier wait at the bus stop, as I would ponder what would be tonight’s entrée.
The Faith Renewed
And now: the most frequent kind of TARC ride. When I walk through the entrance of a store, entertainment spot, medical office or my workplace without bringing to the neighborhood another car, I realize I am helping keep commerce, services, cuisine and the arts there without endangering the neighborhood’s strength by swelling demand for parking lots to accommodate outsiders. I can add to the viability of existing buildings without smothering them. That’s a nice feeling which makes all the rigors of relying on bus travel well worth it.
For the opportunity to get around using a system that – whereas it needs improvements on many levels — is more economical and strengthens the aesthetics of our neighborhoods, the economic fairness of our city and the peace of our world, we should all express what I try to say to the TARC driver each time I exit a bus: “Thanks!”
This piece is adapted from Brian Arbenz’ book, “Lost And Found In Louisville: One Man’s Struggle To Find Acceptance — Or At Least His Coat.”