I boarded the bus, not conscious of the milieu inside. I tapped the metro pass and found a place to stand at the far back corner. I tried reading ‘Love and Garbage’; it was too crowded to concentrate. I closed the book, held its soul in my hand for a while and put it back into my bag. Random thoughts flooded in, my concerns about apartment hunting, conferences, cats, money, bills, and home. Then it dawned, everybody around me would be thinking of comparable things. What is the probability that there is at least one other person in the bus who is thinking of the same thing as me right now, wondering what everyone else is thinking about!
For many people, the fact that I commute in Los Angeles using public transportation is unfathomable. An American colleague of mine who has lived in LA for a good six years asked me quite innocently the other day, "how much are the bus tickets now, $2.50 or $3", without having any clue about it as she has never boarded a bus or a train in LA. Angelenos are very comfortable in their cars, oh, and the number of cars increase by the minute. Households have three to four cars on average (read: a car per head). But really, let's pause for a second and ask ourselves, what is the big humbug about "driving"?
I got a driving license in India when I was 18. I could draw an H without toppling over a single beam, and all this on the first attempt of trying to clear the driving test. I managed to drive in India without ever killing anybody or running over a cow. After having moved to America, 4 years ago, I just haven't felt the need to get a license. Why? Obvious reason, a car is extra expense. Very often you hear people equating car with convenience, not often with expense, right? Let me explain.
A bus/train ride in LA costs me $1.50. Unlike India, public transportation here works on a flat rate basis. I can board the bus at the first stop and get off at the last stop, or get off at the very next stop all for the same price. On the contrary, getting a car is expensive, not to mention the hassle of "finding" a decent car. Gas is expensive, and most of all, insurance is expensive. Now that I've harped enough about expenses, let me talk about the pros of public transportation.
Rewind back to the first paragraph. That was written in a bus two years ago, on the note app that iphone has. Now, can you do imagine doing something like that while driving? Disastrous, right? Public transportation allows you to let your mind wander. As a writer, I like this. I can afford to think up ideas, ruminate on thoughts, meditate. I don't have to worry about the traffic signal, whether someone is going to hit me while I'm trying to make a left turn, or, not look at my phone's note taking app simply because I need to concentrate on the road.
Public transportation also lets you observe. You meet weird, strange, interesting people on the bus/train. I've had people come up and talk to me. You strike exciting conversations. You talk about culture, about issues, or something as trivial as the weather. It is a shared public space where everybody is equal. There are no watertight distinctions on a bus. You are who you are, and so is everyone else. Imagine, on the contrary, sitting in a car solitary, dreaming that you are the emperor of your own self created universe. Any more ego boost needed, people? There is no time to let your mind aloof (of course unless you are sitting in traffic on the US 101), nobody to observe, no shared experience. Just solitude.
Today, while taking the bus back from work, I met a disabled guy. He was on crutches and he only had one leg. He was waiting for the bus with me at the bus stop. This above all, public transportation, lets you realize nothing is impossible. It bridges boundaries, connects people from all walks of life. I meet chefs, restaurant workers, servers, plumbers, accountants, professors, doctors, nurses, students, homeless people, all under one roof. We travel together for that brief moment, in complete anonymity, as one whole being. This experience liberates oneself, in a way driving to work in your own car cannot. I love public transportation, not just in LA, in any other foreign country that I travel to. You can feel the soul and pulse of the city in its public transportation, not in its millions of solitary drivers.