Afterthoughts: The Regulars
Riding the bus has its perks.
Illustration: Kim Sielbeck
It finally happened: After years of cheating the system, I missed the bus on my way to work one morning. Three times.
Most days, I’m running late; if I miss the bus at the stop outside my house, I have to hop in my car, take a shortcut to another bus stop a few miles away and park on the street. If I’m super late—I’m just not a morning person!—there’s one more shortcut I can take from there to catch up with the bus and get on before it merges onto the highway. I missed them all. Damn it.
I’ve been a bus rider since I was in second grade, when I moved to Hawai‘i Kai mid-school year while still attending ‘Āina Haina Elementary. As a teenager, my life revolved around the bus: If it didn’t go somewhere, neither did I. Even though I own a car now, I still prefer the bus for my daily commute, along with plenty of students, professors, tourists, nurses, cooks, editors like me and folks pretty much everywhere.
A lot of people think the bus is inconvenient, slow, gross or only for people who don’t have cars. Sure, I’ve had to move seats because of roaches, leaking windows, weird smells, too-cold AC vents or too-hot engines in the back. Sometimes people sit too close to me or put their bags on top of mine, even though there’s plenty of space on the other side, thank you very much.
But for the most part, those things don’t bother me. Taking the bus saves me thousands of dollars in gas and parking each year and actually gets me to work faster than my co-workers who can’t use the HOV lane. It’s totally worth it. Time that other people lose sitting in some of the nation’s worst traffic, I spend reading books and emails, catching up on social media, napping or getting work done.
My favorite morning activity, though? People watching. I usually sit in the back, so I recognize the other downtown workers who forgo cars as well. I make up stories about them based on what they wear, what they carry, where they get on, where they sit. It’s fun to imagine what they do for a living, and what their home lives are like. (God forbid I actually try to make small talk with anyone before 8 a.m.) I set up these stories so elaborately that it’s jarring when I see fellow passengers out of context, even if they’re just walking down Fort Street Mall to grab lunch. When I recognized a woman from the bus at my brother’s wedding, I couldn’t understand what she was doing there. I thought for a split second she was a ghost following me around. Turns out she was his friend’s mom.
Bus riders are part of their own little community. It’s more than just a smile and a nod when you get on, or holding the back door open for the person behind you. It’s the silent friendships people develop as they wait together at the same stop—the shared experience that turns into a genuine bond. One day, a regular rider asked the driver to wait a minute, because he saw another regular parking nearby. I doubt he even knew her name.
When regulars disappear, I wonder where they go. Did they retire? Get a new job? A new car? Did they move? Did they die? And I wonder, when I go for long periods without catching the bus, if they think the same things about me. Do they think I’m a world traveler who takes off for months to cover assignments in foreign countries? Or do they just look down at their phones, not even realizing the back corner seat has been filled by someone else?
I’d like to think they notice.