1) The Crowd
It starts out slowly. The top of a blue bus is seen amongst the trees. You can’t tell whether it’s the 110 or the 101 but it doesn’t matter. You need to be ready anyway. You take your T-Card out and casually begin walking forward. You hear a rumbling as the ground begins to shake. You take a deep breath and chance a glance behind you. What you see is absolutely terrifying.
Hordes of people come rushing towards you, with their unblinking eyes fixed on that blue bus. They come running out of the Kaneff Building, the Student Centre (how can they even see the bus from there?!), and the Davis Building and I’m pretty sure some of them just pop out of the ground or fall out of the trees with their T-Cards out, ready to attack.
You reach the edge of the bus stop. The tension is almost palpable. Conversations stop. Eyes narrow. Phones are put into pockets. Nothing else matters at this point. All that matters is getting on that bus. You can practically hear their brains furiously trying to work out where the bus will stop and how best to get in front of the crowd.
Sadly, I can’t offer much advice here. There are too many variables involved. All I can do is wish you good luck.
2) Choosing The Perfect Seat
This one is tricky. There are so many scenarios. Below are but a few of the thoughts which plague one’s mind when deciding which seat to pick.
And you’ve got to pick the perfect seat in mere seconds. Pressure!
The Window Seat: A Rookie Mistake
Window seats are great for the view but aren’t useful if you need to get off early.
Why? Because of aisle people. They’re weird. I dream of a future where you pull the cable and the aisle person gets up without you having to say anything.
This seldom happens, of course, but I can dream.
Rule #34: Choose a window seat only if you’re getting off at the last stop on the bus route.
An interesting phenomenon takes place when a normal person sits in an aisle seat. They become an ‘aisle person’ and gain the special ability of selectively magnetic butts. The second they sit down, whether it’s on a plastic seat or a fabric covered one, they seem physically incapable of getting up again until it’s their stop.
So when you pull that stop cable and say ‘Excuse me’, all they do is swivel around and face the aisle, thinking that’s enough room for you to squeeze out of (it never is). And they always look so inconvenienced, as though they’re doing you this massive favour and you’re some ungrateful little brat.
All of this because of one little window seat. Best to avoid window seats. They should only be chosen when you’re getting off at the very last stop on the bus route.
The Aisle Seat: Better, But Not Perfect
Aisle seats are usually the safest but they come with their own set of problems. You could reach over into the window guy’s personal space to pull the stop cable but it’s awkward. I glance at people when I do this. They also seem inconvenienced. They’re always frowning as though incredibly annoyed I have to get off at my stop.
The better thing to do is to just get up and walk towards the door. There’s usually a button on the railing which you can press. It’s much easier. However, if the bus is full and people are standing, the best you can do is hope someone else who needs to get off at the same stop presses the button for you.
The Seat Which Shall Not Be Named
The third option, which is the most awkward and horrible of them all, is sitting on those seats which face other seats. It’s like they were invented by a torture expert.
The windows are blocked by the people sitting opposite you and you just have to sit there staring anywhere but near their face. You try to avoid eye contact by all means necessary.
Everything suddenly becomes fascinating. The pattern on their shoes is incredible. The shapes on the floor are amazing. And that random stain is so interesting! OR, you could do what everyone else does and take your phone out instead.
I bring something to read, usually a book or a newspaper. Newspapers are better since you can do crossword or sudoku puzzles, which are always fun.
Standing Tall Until You Fall
I’ve given you three options to choose from but there’s always the fourth one: Standing. Thankfully, this option is only necessary on super-crowded buses but it’s definitely harder than it looks.
I’ve seen teenagers shuffle their way onto the bus, whip out their phone, and just stand next to the door, not holding on to anything. They never fall! It’s incredible.
The bus is hurtling forward at god knows what speed and they’re just calmly standing there. Ridiculous! Without even trying. How do they do it?!
This is 10% luck, 20% skill, 15% concentrated power of will…
I have to cling on to the railing for dear life and practice shifting my centre of gravity so I don’t bump into other people. Such hard work!
And the details involved with all this railing-holding are so confusing! How does everyone already know what to do? What part of the railing are you allowed to hold and how much of it are you supposed to grasp? How do they allocate the different railing parts amongst the standing passengers?
And which way do you even stand on the bus? You could face the window but then you’re essentially shoving your crotch into a poor stranger’s face. You could face the other way but it’s almost as bad.
Think about it. How much better would the stranger feel with your bum in his face instead? I’d wager he would feel the same. Violated.
Facing the front is the best option, but more often than not, there’s going to be a guy standing there facing the back of the bus. Now you have to avoid eye contact.
3) Schrödinger’s Empty Seat
You come across the holy grail of the bus world. The elusive double empty seat. You immediately rush to sit down. It feels every bit as awesome as the tales of yore said it would. For about 5 seconds.
Then you realise that other people will get on the bus. You’re now stuck in a perpetual state of both wanting and not wanting someone to sit next to you. If they don’t sit next to you, you feel offended. If they do, you feel offended.
You don’t want them to sit next to you because having an empty seat is awesome. You get more room. You can get off the bus without disturbing anyone (or making them swivel). It just makes life easier.
There are other seats on the bus. Why does he/she need to sit next to you? If they do, it’s annoying. And it’s not just you thinking this. No, sir! This has been proven by scientists!
But then again, you want them to sit next to you because you don’t want to be the only one on the bus without a seat-buddy. You don’t want to be that one guy in the bus sitting alone. You want to fit in. You want people to be comfortable sitting next to you.
So you immediately start judging them and thinking carefully about who you’d like to sit next to you. This is like the X-Factor. Do they have what it takes to sit next to you? You start ranking in your head.
But wait. What if one of them does sit next to you?
You can’t put your bag on the seat; you’re socially awkward, yes, but you’re not rude. The bus stops. You hold your breath. People board the bus. You panic.
Should you look at them? Would that make them want to sit next to you or would that scare them?
Should you look outside the window and pretend you can’t notice them? This option works best if you’re wearing headphones.
They all sit down in different seats. No-one sits next to you. You sigh with relief. You live to fight another day.
Until the next bus stop, at least.
You smile (inwardly, of course) and feel relieved.
For about 5 seconds.
But wait. Why didn’t anyone sit next to you?
What’s wrong with this empty seat? You’re sitting next to it. That makes it even more awesome. Was it you? Did you do something?
Does your breath smell bad? Do you look weird? Was there something spilled on the seat that they noticed that you didn’t? Are they all in on some prank that involves this seat and you’re the victim?
The possibilities are endless. You spend your time worrying about them. All of them. Every. Last. One.
Then you realise you’ve reached the next bus stop and the cycle begins anew.
You can read Part Two of the Commuting Struggle Series here.
Have you had any awkward moments during your commutes? Let me know in the comments below!
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