July 2002

Jen Crispin

misc columns

The Joys of the Bus

I started riding the bus for environmental reasons. I read The Consumer's Guide to Effective Environmental Choices and it shamed me into taking the bus instead of the car a few times a week. I'd been talking the talk for so long, it was finally time to get a bus schedule and give the car a rest. But do you know what has kept me on the bus? It's not air quality or global warming, it's not my favorite bus driver who is a wonderful guy who brought me back macadamia nuts from his vacation in Hawaii, it's not the chance to interact with people twice daily from outside of my little graduate school niche, it's reading.

It started out the other way around. I brought a book to read because there was nothing else to do at the bus stop. Now I take the bus so I can have time to read. Even when I wouldn't be wasting gas, or making people go out of their way to give me a ride home (my husband and I share one car), I will often opt to take the bus. Which is no small thing when you live in Arizona and it's likely to be 105 degrees on your way home, and you can take two buses and spend 15 minutes frying your but on the cement bench at the bus stop in between or take one bus and walk the five or six blocks home from the nearest stop. But really, when else can you get serious blocks of time in which no one can fault you for reading the book of your choice? During the day there is work, and during the evening there are chores to do, errands to run, stupid TV show addictions to feed, and sweethearts that need attention.

But on the bus... on the bus there is nothing but time. Okay, so there is that one bus driver who spends five minutes announcing each stop and all its connections in a very loud voice, but a determined person can block even him out with practice. It is only because of the bus that I feel justified to bring a book with me to work everyday. And believe it or not, twenty minutes of good reading each way adds up fairly quickly. I read A People's History of the United States almost entirely on the bus, and finished it in only a month. (While reading other books at home in the meantime, of course -- and by the way A People's History is not a short book.)

Finally, there is something very satisfying about reading in public. It's as if you're announcing to the world, "I am a serious person." Well of course the believability of this announcement is dependent on what book it is you're reading, but on the bus, I'm not one to judge. I feel as if I belong to a secret society of bus readers, and I acknowledge my fellow members with warmth and pride, whether they are reading classic literature or the latest Tom Clancy. If only there were a way to ban cell phones from the public transport system, it would be absolutely perfect.