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Daily bus ride offers window into humanity

Sat., Dec. 5, 2009

As I was riding my STA bus the other day, my seatmate said, “You ought to write a column about how all sorts of people ride the bus.”

I know what he meant. He meant that an STA bus is a colorful cross-section of Spokane society. There are city workers, community college students, skater kids, rehab residents, retired professors, group home residents, lawyers, shop workers and shoppers.

This struck a nerve with me, because on that particular day, I had been thinking about how riding the bus put me in touch with a certain demographic that I don’t often rub shoulders with in my comfortable bourgeois life.

Let me show you what I mean. Here is a conversation I overheard on the bus a few weeks back:

Bus rider No. 1: “So I got dressed up all nice, thinkin’ that would help. And he gave me a year anyway!”

Bus rider No. 2: “Maybe it did work. Maybe you’d a got three years otherwise.”

Bus rider No. 1, thoughtfully: “Could be. But a year’s a lot.”

Now, I don’t want to sound all sheltered and elitist, but rarely, in my social circle – for instance, my couples Book Discussion and Wine-Drinking Group – does the conversation turn to jail time.

Then there was this exchange that happened just a few days ago on my bus, as close as I can reconstruct it:

Clearly intoxicated passenger , embarking on the bus : “Duzz thish bus go to the Rosauers on 29th?”

Bus driver: “I go to the South Hill Park & Ride, which is close. If you want to go right to the Rosauers you should catch the No. 44 bus.”

Clearly intoxicated passenger: “Yeah. So, duzz thish bus go to the Rosauers on 29th?”

Bus driver, patiently: “I go to the South Hill Park & Ride. Now, if you want to go right to Rosauers, catch the No. 44 bus.”

C.I.P.: “Don’t you even know your route? You don’t even know your route! The bus driver doesn’t even know his route!”

Bus driver, gritting teeth: “I go to the South Hill Park & Ride. Now, go sit down.”

C.I.P. walking to seat and yelling at the other passengers: “He don’t even know his own (blanking) route!”

Bus driver: “That’s it. Get off the bus. I won’t have that kind of language. You hear me?”

C.I.P., making a show of staying put: “I ain’t going nowhere. He don’t even know his own route!” (A minute later, he gets up and slinks off the bus.)

Another passenger, to bus driver: “If that guy wanted to fight, I was ready. Me and my buddy have done mixed martial arts.”

Bus driver: “Well, the problem solved itself.”

Dickens himself couldn’t have asked for a better place to observe a city and its strata. However, after my seatmate made that remark about how “all kinds of people” ride the bus, it occurred to me that – like anywhere else – it’s the loud, the rowdy and the obnoxious who make the deepest impression.

For every C.I.P., there are about 1,000 people who sit quietly, listen to their iPods, read their books or chat amiably with their bus-mates. In fact, my daily bus rides are just about the happiest parts of my day. I think of it as a quiet, peaceful time where I can get some reading done, do a crossword puzzle or just meditate about life.

And sometimes, I can even ponder the correct fashion strategy for my next court appearance.

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