Last year I made the voluntary choice to turn my leased car in and become carless. I wasn’t driving much, the lease was finished and it didn’t make sense to buy another one, so I thought I’d try being an urban American without a car. After all, in large cities like NYC, owning a car is very costly and logistically complicated. So on March 31 I left my Honda at the dealer.
Fast forward a few months. It is the 3rd of July and a very hot holiday weekend. I decided to take a bus to my mother’s house for the holiday. She lives very close to Lake Ontario and one route I take goes down to the lake and drops me off on the other side of the river. From there I have a very nice walk through the harbor and over into her neighborhood. It’s a Sunday afternoon.
I hop on a bus (each ride $1 regardless of distance) and settle in for a quiet ride across town. Or so I thought. We go into the downtown area where the buses line up every hour or so on weekends. Ordinarily it is very quiet with few riders. But as we make our way through downtown the bus is filling up. A lot of families, every ethnicity imaginable in our city: black, Puerto Rican, a few Asians, lots of older folks and a lot of young children accompanied by overloaded mothers. At one stop a family of five gets on that look like they just walked out of a Mayan temple, very dignified and quiet. Everyone else is anything but quiet.
By the time we reach the last downtown stop the bus is jammed, SRO, and there are still several people that want to get on. The bus driver signals helplessly that he can’t fit any more- it’s that crowded. Then something really wonderful happens.
People in the back start yelling at him to let them on, we’ll make room. The entire bus starts reshuffling, kids are stacked on top of strangers and strangers take others under their wings. I’ve given my seat to an ancient Vietnamese lady and another guy has her shopping cart on his lap. We all know that if these people can’t get on the bus they will be stuck downtown in 90+ heat for at least another hour.
All of the organization is accomplished via good-hearted yelling, reminding the driver of these circumstances and he patiently waits while every person is crammed on. The bus starts off. I look around me and almost imagine I am in a third world country with the ethnic variety, the ad hoc organization and the total willingness to watch over the kids and possessions of others. I realize that it is hot holiday weekend and there is a public beach at the end of the line. Families are making this trek to get away from the heat of the city.
I am in a kind of state of ecstasy watching this unfold. My peers never ride buses and some were incredulous when I told them I did. I’m certain they couldn’t imagine spending a part of their weekend in a crowded hot bus full of kids and everything else. But it was really wonderful to watch the cooperation and lack of any kind of anger or irritation- we were in this together.
For the next five miles we trundled on, dropping some people off but picking up others. Most stayed on the bus. I got off at the bridge a few stops before the beach, extracting myself from the crowded bus. It was a great day to be near the water in America.