Ever since they were itty-bitty, my kids have had a fascination with buses. I remember driving around with my daughter when she was just learning to talk, and she would excitedly shout, "Scooo baa" every we would pass a school bus. Her younger brother quickly adopted the obsession once he learned how put sounds together into words.
As they got older, they discovered other types of buses. City buses. Greyhound buses. Tour buses. They asked all kinds of questions about buses wanting to know every last detail about each variety of bus that we saw out on the road.
Where does the city bus go, mommy?
Why can't I take the school bus to my school?
Why are the windows dark on that bus?
Why are there numbers on the bus?
How do you know which kind of bus to get on if you want to go to the store?
Clearly these are the bus questions of first-world, middle class, semi-rural children. Their fascination probably stems from the fact that they don't get to ride the bus. Ever.
I shuttle my 1st grade daughter across town to a charter school so she misses out on the opportunity to ride the school bus to our neighborhood school. We own two cars and have the luxury of driving anywhere we need to go rather than relying on public transportation. And I believe the Greyhound bus experience is best saved for the period of life known as "Broke College Student."
After much begging and pleading on their part, I've told the kids that we will ride the bus someday. I had plans of taking an outing on the bus just so they could see how the bus thing works. But I also had lots of excuses.
The closest bus stop is a mile from our house. I don't know how much the bus actually costs. It's tricky to figure out the routes and where they go. I didn't want to wait at the bus stop in the rain. Or in the heat. I didn't want to juggle a transfer so had to find something fun we could get to on one bus line. And on and on.
Lo and behold, this weekend the bus Gods smiled on us and our local city bus was offering a free shuttle to the Earth Day Festival from the downtown bus terminal. THIS was our golden opportunity. I could get my kids onto a city bus (for free) and not have to guess about timing or where we would go. Never mind the fact that I had to drive PAST the Earth Day festival in my car to get to the bus terminal. Whatever. I did it.
It turns out that riding the bus was almost as exciting for me as it was for them. The people watching at the downtown bus terminal was intriguing. It offered a glimpse of diversity that we don't see every day in our neighborhood. It reminded me how easy it is to shelter yourself from the down-and-out crowd when you drive around town in the safe little cocoon of your personal vehicle.
It brought back memories of when I was in elementary school in Oakland and would ride the city bus to school every day. And then in college in San Francisco I learned how navigate BART and the MUNI bus/streetcar system. After graduating and getting a job at UC Santa Cruz, I rode the city bus to work most days because the university gave staff members a free bus pass. I'm no stranger to public transportation but after so many years of not stepping foot on a bus, it felt like a mini-adventure to leave my car behind.
The Earth Day Festival was great. The kids enjoyed it almost as much as they enjoyed riding the bus. Naturally, when the time came for us to catch our shuttle back to the bus terminal....we saw the bus pull away just as we approached the bus stop. And so my kids had the opportunity to practice an important bus-riding skill. Waiting.
We sat and waited and waited and waited. 2 minutes. 5 minutes. 10 minutes. 15 minutes. Cars zoomed past us as we sat on the bench eagerly searching oncoming traffic for our bus. More people came to our stop and waited. I silently tried to identify the "regulars" vs. the "tourists" taking advantage of the free shuttle. Kids asked over and over when the bus would come until I reminded them about our bus riding pact....If you want to ride the bus you will not whine about waiting for the bus. They entertained themselves by looking at cars, counting cars, talking to strangers at the bus stop, picking up trash (applying hand sanitizer), and reminding me about the smoke alarm at the Earth Day Festival that they did not like (quite possibly a whole other post there).
Waiting and watching. Probably my two favorite things about riding the bus. Waiting provides the opportunity to do nothing. The opportunity. You can take it our leave it. You can watch YouTube videos on your phone, or you can be present. Talk to a stranger. Breathe. Listen to the busy world going on around you. Come to terms with how rare it is that you just sit. And wait.
Watch the world go by. See a snapshot of your community down to every last detail. Notice the trees and how they move in the breeze. Watch your children navigate a new experience.
I know for many, the bus is not glamorous or an opportunity to have a moment of peace and quiet. When it's something you do every day (especially with kids) it becomes a grind. An inconvenience. A burden. But for those of us that don't HAVE to ride the bus, I encourage you to do it anyway. Take a deep breath. Forget about the funny smells. Let go of your need to be quick about getting from point A to point B. Get on the bus. At least once. You might be surprised at the adventure that awaits.