On the buses

You may remember that I offloaded my automobile a couple of years ago…and am now a fierce champion of public transport.

In Washington, D.C., public transport is a mixed bag.  The theory is fabulous and the practice involves constant frustration and, in the worst cases, tragic accidents for passengers and staff.

But, I have become a huge fan of the bus.  And the bus is a like a laboratory of human behavior.  And there is an etiquette that one should employ on the bus and on any public transportation.  You won’t be surprised that I sometimes become the bossy bus lady.

I ride the 42 bus most mornings from Adams Morgan to the metro at Dupont Circle.  It’s packed.  Passengers and drivers alike ask everyone to “move down the bus.”  But what happens is that one person doesn’t and then the people in front of them are held back.  I try to nudge them along, I ask them to move, I yell “can you please move down the bus” and then I squeeze past them to free up more room.  What is wrong with them?!

Today, there was the young guy with the classic spread legs taking up two seats.  I asked him to move over and then went to some lengths to find someone to sit in the newly available seat.  To my great satisfaction a young woman settled in.  Why was it ok to deprive someone of the seat?

I have overhead fantastic stories of bus drivers.  Yesterday, a guy recounted a tale of someone shouting “back door” several times until the driver just waved her forward and made her get out the front door.  Why?  Isn’t the back door there for a reason.

And how about yielding seats to the elderly, pregnant, and infirm?  I try really hard to be aware of people around me and to give up my seat to someone who appears more needy.  I am often the oldest person sitting down (i.e. in my forties among a group of 20 year olds) and rarely do those young whippersnappers offer up their seats.  Oh, young people today.

The metro has its own pitfalls, usually involving people moving too slowly in rush hour.  My favorite pet peeve is the poles.  Don’t lean on the pole, which prevents all the short (female) people from holding on.  Poles are for everyone!  They’re not specially for you!  I’m always sure to move my hand up and down the pole…I mean in an annoying way for the pole leaner.

Am I missing anything?

20 responses to “On the buses”

  1. Minivet says:

    I like the semi-tradition of assertive or loud-voiced people altruistically filling in for timid or soft-voiced people in shouting “Back door!”

  2. ScottyGee says:

    Your post really made me miss the days when the bus was my main mode of transportation. I think your peeves are fairly universal (at least they are in the Swells-Godfree household) — my biggest was people failing to move toward the back. I noticed the linguistic difference between what I encountered in San Francisco, which was, “Please move toward the back of the bus,” versus the more racially sensitive, “please move down the bus.” Interesting stuff…

    As for people taking up two seats, this I cannot abide! In LA, you don’t need to ride the bus to experience this; I see it everywhere, at the bar, in a cafe, on the airport shuttle, even in classrooms, and it makes me fucking NUTS! Like you, I am a one ass-per-seat vigilante.

    Ultimately, I think that riding public tends to make us better citizens — by this, I mean more politically engaged, more sensitive and aware of our fellow citizens, and so on. Of course, there is the possibility of a backlash.

    However, because I do notice and care about this kind of thing, I’ve hypothesized that people in the LA area don’t understand how to share communal space — like the sugar/milk area at a cafe — because we are usually sheltered in our own private spaces, i.e. our homes (with back yards) our cars, our office cubicles.

    Yes, I miss the bus. Great post!

  3. Rachel says:

    Worst etiquette breaches I have observed on public transport:

    1. Clipping toenails
    2. Eating fried chicken & dropping bones on the floor
    3. Smoking crack
    4. Sex

    Also, once when I was riding on the NYC subway, a woman projectile vomited and fainted, and no one moved a muscle to help her. It was appalling in every way.

  4. How does one take up two seats at the bar? I am trying to picture this and getting nowhere with it.

  5. ScottyGee says:

    4: With a jacket, purse, cellphone…

  6. Oh I see. I was trying to imagine somebody sprawled over two stools…

  7. Tim says:

    Loved this, Stella! I am in your camp, along with Swells and Scotty. I cannot abide plain public rudeness like this. One of my least favorites is when, on a crowded bus, a rider will insist on sitting in the aisle seat (often resting his or her bag or backpack on the window seat) and ignore the standing riders who are too timid to say anything. I love busting into the reverie of the seat hogs to say, loudly, “Excuse me? Is anyone sitting there?” Forcing such individuals to acknowledge and accommodate other people (“We’re living in a society, you know!”) is a personal passion of mine.

    Rachel, I think there is a post (or four) in your list of worst etiquette breaches observed on public transport. Please develop.

  8. Stella says:

    Rachel – I forgot to mention the guy who was flossing his teeth on the metro. Ewwww.

  9. KS says:

    Every time I read one of your posts about things that irk you I think you are a kindred spirit. (Lack of quality/creative vegetarian options on menus is one that comes to mind.) It’s so annoying when self-centeredness collides with a lack of common sense. HOpefully one day you will visit Japan. All the things you described as typical on US public transportation are anathema in Japan. Oh, and people stand aside to allow passengers to depart before attempting to board trains. Imagine!

  10. swells says:

    Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes. I’m almost too irritated to respond, because I could not agree with all of you more. Nice to know I’m not the only politeness-vigilante freak out there.

  11. ScottyGee says:

    12: I love you.

  12. ScottyGee says:

    I don’t want to derail a good peeves convo, but maybe we should turn to things we like for a monent, i.e. I really like a trailmix that has an insanely high percentage of M&Ms per bag. Just sayin’.

  13. Ivy says:

    I think my worst experience was a horrid old geezer peeing on the bus. As we went down a hill the pee travelled the length of the bus. The perpetrator, a habitual drunk, got off, although he was a regular and known to us all. To his credit, the driver (an underemployed marine biologist from England) told all the kids on the bus to put on their shoes. (In NZ it is just about impossible to keep kids in their shoes, even in affluent suburbs, as this was.) Interestingly, the incident gave a sense of community to the rest of us…

  14. Srsly I have talked to therapists about my fear that I am skin wrapped around anger and exhibit A is always the subway. Pole leaners (ok that sounds obscene) make me upset. And do not
    get me started about people’s acoustic boundaries, an issue mitigated by my nice new headphones.

    Then there are subway evangelists.

    And subway entertainment/”entertainment” which is tricky because it’s a matter of taste (I get all mooshy about mariachi but bongo ensembles drive me to distraction and I would really never like the answer to “what time is it?” to be “show time! Show time! Show time!” if it were up to me.)

  15. Mark says:

    I took a christmas tree on the bus once in Germany. It was 7 pm so the bus was pretty empty, but I had no idea whether the driver was going to let me on or not. If not it was going to be about a 2 mile walk.

    He even opened the back door for me (usually in the evening is when they stop opening the back door there).

    Then in Boston there was the time the homeless man sat next to me, even though there were only about 5 people on the bus. He was mute, so he grabbed my hand and wrote out letters/words in the palm of my hand. I don’t remember what he wrote, but it was creepy.

    I miss the bus but I don’t miss it at all.

  16. Stella says:

    #10 – it is my lifelong dream to go to Japan…I know I would lap up that insane intensity, politeness and minimalism. And flowers, I’m a sucker for flowers.

  17. AWB says:

    I used to be tortured by poor subway/bus etiquette. It would shake me up all day. At a certain point, I realized that, when I’m spending sometimes 3 hours a day on public transport, I simply have to figure out how to deal with the anger. You know how sexual submissives talk about “subspace,” this weird mental universe they travel to while enduring something, that produces a certain kind of euphoria and distance from physical experience? For me “subspace” means “subway-space,” the place I go to in my mind because I am so fucking irritated by someone next to me repeatedly digging into her giant bag with her elbows in my face–or worse, ribs! oh my god i hate it so much–or pressing his sweaty thigh against mine while airing out his balls.

    There was a time when I would respond to every instance of rib-elbowing or thigh-pressing or pole-leaning or child-snuggling (children think I look very much like a wonderful soft place to wriggle their stinky little bodies against). I insisted on seats, and intervened in fights. But then one time, while on some bad birth control that messed with my aggression levels, I ended up in a scary fight with a woman that culminated in me threatening to murder her, and then I realized that I cannot be the polite-police. I just couldn’t live with how constant and frequent all these violations of my internalized code of order were.

    So from my cocoon of sub[way]space, I will quietly be a good citizen, and defend the rights of the elderly, pregnant, and disabled, and otherwise I just have to move away when something is bothering me, or I might end up killing someone.

  18. I was riding on a crowded subway yesterday (going to the Met with Sylvia, of which pictures here) and thinking about this thread. It is probably perverse, but I really enjoy the crowded subway and the mutually-assured invasion of personal space which goes with it. It’s hard for me to qualify just how or why.