When it comes to public transit, I am the epitome of a people-watcher in the utmost curious and non-creepy way possible. You witness the most fascinating people on public transit, and it’s interesting to watch a collective group of strangers co-exist within the strangeness of that setting.
You have the boys in their early twenties who sit casually at the back of the bus, passing a flask between them and clutching it to their chests as if they wanted to believe they were being discrete. It’s 6pm on a Thursday, which I suppose is a lot less strange than it sounds.
Then there’s the girls who spent hours getting ready and now sit hovering around a small zip-lock bag of gummie bears drenched in Vodka on a Sunday night. I want to know where they’re going, and how bad those gummie bears taste.
Today I sat across from a man who would reach beneath his coat at chest level every couple of minutes. Conveniently after he did so, the smell of alcohol would float across to where I was sitting. A book and a stack of papers in his hands, I’m not sure if he was sober enough to read. He got off at East Hastings and Main St, shouting a greeting at the top of his lungs as his feet hit the pavement.
A mother brings her two daughters on the bus. One is in a stroller, the other, probably around 3 sprints to the back of the bus to sit with all the strangers. For seconds, everybody forgets their own thoughts just to admire the tiny girl who had more enthusiasm than the rest of us. She stayed at the back, perfectly comfortable amid the crowd of strangers, as her mother kept an eye on her from the front. Only once more when the mother is ready to take the stroller off the bus and calling to her daughter that it’s time to leave, we all stop what we’re doing long enough to make sure the little girl with her naive confidence around strangers, is returned to her mother.
I love watching the way people give up seats. The old man giving up his seat to the older man. He’s reluctant at first, but then proceeds to take the seat. The teenagers who, despite their sense of entitlement, move to the back as mothers and the elderly move on. You can read a lot about a person by watching to see if they give up their seat for somebody.
The man who asked my friend for his chips the other day on his way out, and our way on. The bus driver informed us he has a tendency to ride the buses all day long; a tendency that has made him well known to bus drivers. Years ago, during the Vancouver riots, he was caught on TV after a store’s windows were smashed to pieces, and he went in and stole a bag of potato chips. The bus drivers shook their heads.
Yesterday, I listened as a man had a 25 minute conversation with himself, out loud. Every couple of minutes he would return to explaining the directions to West Hastings, which was where the protagonist of his story seemed to be trying to get to.
One time, a friend and I were the only one’s on the bus as it travelled back up to SFU. This alone says a lot about SFU’s social aspects – especially our tendency, or lack of, to party. The bus driver explained he drove buses for UBC too, which not surprisingly was a lot more rowdy than SFU.
Last weekend, and not on purpose, I got off the bus at East Hastings and Main St. If you know anything at all about Vancouver, this is the one bus stop in the city you shouldn’t get off at – especially at night. But what’s fascinating is how you can step off the platform of a bus – or the comfort of one, and all the sudden be present in a world where it’s obvious you do not belong, and should not belong. Moments later that still seemed like too long and you step back onto another bus and suddenly you’re in the right place again. As if East Hastings is a world that exists momentarily for most, and all too long for others.
Tonight I bussed home with my 3 closest friends out here, and I watched as their eyes closed and mine stayed open. I watched the city lights pass and the bus leave the main streets for the road up the mountain. I’ve rarely, almost never, been able to fall asleep in vehicles. I was trying to figure out why.
I love the greetings – the excitement that spreads across the faces of people who just ran into somebody they weren’t expecting to see.
I like the way we pretend we’re not all listening to each other’s conversations. And the way you find out we’re all liars is when you and your friends move the discussion to trying to find the right stop, and suddenly several people are chiming in to tell you where to go. They didn’t just tune in at the last minute. Public transit is full of professional eaves droppers who don’t even recognize their own ability.
When I came home from Victoria earlier in the semester, the line up for the bus was incredibly long. The bus driver packed as many of us on as he could and we stood squished together, noses to armpits and so on, for a solid twenty minutes. I enjoyed how everybody seemed to be okay with it, more than that, this fell along some idea of fun.
I like the way in which a group of strangers function together within the confines of a bus. The way we recognize signals to give up seats, the way we watch out for the little girl at the back of the bus, the way we sympathize with the many who’ve fallen asleep because our day was long too. All of us come from different worlds, and yet for however many stops, we all belong in the same one. We almost don’t see it, and then we get off the bus.