For $2.10, you can ride an express bus from the suburbs to downtown Nashville. That fee also buys you a membership in an exclusive club made up of people from all walks of life. However, even though I overhear conversations about birthdays, work-related gossip, or vacation plans, I know very little about my associate club-members. I assume they have jobs, hobbies, interests, and people who love them as well as people whom they love. But when we purchase our fares and renew our memberships, each of us becomes a stereotype. A few of us slide in and out of the categories. I have played the role of them all except the last one. Maybe one day. 🙂
Some sleepers fight the inevitable. I can gauge how successful they are at resisting sleep by how accurately the movements of their heads reflect every bump and curve in the road. Others plan to sleep and prop up their heads with their hands or bring pillows to lean against.
iPods, Blackberries, cell-phones, hand-held games—electronic devices are must-haves for some people on the bus. When I first started to ride, I listened to music on the bus. I religiously wore my bluetooth headset during my morning commute until one morning when I looked up from my seat and noticed everyone staring at me. I unplugged the headphones from my ears and asked, “What?” Soon enough, I found out that another bus had turned too sharply and had hit the bike rack on the front of our bus as we sat waiting at the downtown terminal. My bike had been on that rack. From then on I decided to turn off my music and pay more attention to my surroundings.
The Wig Lady (not in the picture)
The wig lady is in a category all by herself. Always well-dressed and accessorized, she paints her lips and nails red and looks to be in her mid-seventies. Her wig is honey-brown with highlights. Every so often she reaches up with a painted nail and gently scratches her head. At the end of the day that wig is bound to be uncomfortable, especially if it’s hot. Sometimes I’ll see her reach up with both hands and give the wig a quick adjustment as she cuts her eyes from side to side to see if anyone is watching. If I were a talker, I’d like to start a conversation with the wig lady. I look at her and I wonder where she works, who in her life loves her, and who are the people she loves.
Students study for tests on the bus. Presenters prepare for the training session of the day. People read newspapers and novels. Lately, I’ve been preparing for my Sunday school lesson. But the reader I remember most vividly is the Bible reader. Every morning she sat reading her Bible. The text floated around loosely in its cover, the pages were dog-eared, and the print was covered with stripes of yellow and orange highlighter. Over time it became clear that she was reading her Bible from start to finish, and not for the first time. I remember her saying how hard it was to stick with it at the beginning. Leviticus can be rough.
Observers look out the window at the scenery and the traffic. Observers watch the other people on the bus. Skilled observers do this without calling attention to themselves. They often use props like newspapers, electronic devices, or pillows to hide the fact that they’re observing. Things get weird when observers observe each other.
Talkers come in two varieties: those who look forward to the commute because it gives them an opportunity to converse and those who wind up being swept into said conversations. People in the first group do a lot of talking. People in the second group do a lot of nodding. It’s easy to mistake people in the second group for reluctant sleepers.