After giving up my car this past spring, I began to envision a life replete with biking and bus riding. The biking, even in the most inclement of Minnesota weather, has proved more enjoyable than I ever could have imagined. I have always been horrid at directions, but I feel that the bike has allowed me to understand Minneapolis much better. Each time I bike, I feel connected to my city, I feel a surge of joy from the simple experience of being outside, and I feel empowered by the notion that I can bring myself anywhere that I need to go.
As you may not be surprised to hear, I had lower expectations for the bus riding. But one day, on a Portland city bus, I had what can only be cheesily described as a magical experience. Typically, when I get on a bus, I try to find a window seat so that I can look outside. But, on this particular day, other people seemed to have a similar preference so I chose a seat near the front that faced other people. During prior bus rides, I had recognized that bus riding (as opposed to driving) was actually a pretty good time to catch up on text messages. But having just come from a dance class, I was feeling especially open to the world around me. I resolved that I wouldn’t even look at my phone until I got off the bus.
Instead, I began to strike up a conversation with the woman sitting across from me who had been in the same dance class. In the course of the conversation, it came up that I was from Minnesota which caused two of the people on either side of me to perk up and join our conversation. One guy was originally from Minnesota and another woman had some Minnesota friends. The conversation flowed into a discussion of the seemingly high number of Portland-Minnesota connections and the general attachment that Portlanders seem to feel for their city. By now, a couple other people sitting nearby had joined the conversation as well.
I then asked the woman Theresa from my dance class what she was doing for schooling. She answered that she was getting a Masters in Divinity. “I’m going to be a Unitarian minister,” she said. I then found myself voicing a recognition that I had come to very recently on a meditation retreat, a recognition that I had only voiced to maybe three people.
“That’s really neat,” I said. “I am not a very religious person but I think that ultimately I would like to be some sort of spiritual leader.”
Though I had only addressed Theresa, everyone around me had been listening and got very excited.
“You definitely should.”
“We need those in this world.”
“I’m not religious either, but I know that there’s something more out there.”
Rather stunned, I looked around at a bus full of strangers who were all smiling at me and giving me the type of support that you would expect from a favorite teacher or a parent.
“What, did we all forget our phones,” one guy said recognizing how unique it was that a group of strangers were engaging this way together on a public city bus.
“It’s like the old days when people used to stop by and chat on each other’s front porches.”
We laughed and continued to chat comfortably. All too soon though, the bus reached my stop. I stood up slowly, hesitant to lose what felt like a new group of friends.
“Bye everyone,” I waved to the whole bus.
“Bye,” they called.
“Have a wonderful life.”
“You’re going to do great things.”
“You’re going to go far.”
Growing up, I was aware of a considerable amount of stigma surrounding city buses. Especially as a young woman, city buses were a place where one had to be cautious of other people. “Sketchy” people rode buses. In my upper middle-class world, “sketchy” unfortunately often alluded to non-white people. That day, I could not have been more grateful that I had been on the bus and not in the car. In a car we might be aware of people’s frustration or even rage; honking can turn to swerving, cutting people off and flicking the middle finger. But on that bus, I saw human being’s natural ability to love and support others, even if they are complete strangers.
The next day, I stepped on the bus again and was not surprised to find that 90 percent of the inhabitants were hunched over their smart phones and that the other 10 percent were plugged into their iPods. But I held the experience from the day before close to my heart. Those people’s support felt just as real as that of a family member, teacher or close friend. I now know that another way is possible.