Chacos column: My bout with public transportation

Andrea Chacos
Enjoy the Ride
Andrea Chacos

One of those annoyingly rational environmentalists said I probably couldn’t handle public transportation’s obvious ease and practicality. With a dare dangling so fruitfully low, I figured I could easily tolerate being in an uncomfortable petri dish for two hours a day.

If I can smile through having parts of my body waxed every few weeks, I could handle the bus with a full-fledged grin. Desperate to be right, I begrudgingly set my alarm earlier than normal for my inaugural commute in a diesel chariot.

But first, I had to go online and navigate a spreadsheet so densely intricate my high schooler had to sort through the columns and consult with her math tutor for me. I was nervous saying goodbye to my gas-guzzling solitude where I could flip through stations like a bad deejay with ADD. Or if my stomach growled like a petulant child, I could answer her call with a sloppy burrito before work. Oh, how I’d miss my eight-seater truck of blissful hedonism.

Next, I had to wait in a bus line so long I thought they were handing out free doughnuts and puppies. As we began filing onto the dimly lit public limousine, I noticed everyone had a thermos in one hand and determination clutched in the other. People were silent as they fine-tuned their tracking device for the nearest available seat that would avoid the socially awkward, over-talker.

Making matters worse, at 6:30 in the morning there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell to sit alone. I tried slinging my backpack on the seat next to me. I turned on both overhead lights to read. Unapologetically, I coughed while blowing my nose like a wounded goose signaling that a seat next to me would be enduring a ride squished alongside Satan. However, none of my tricks gave me space to spread my wings. Empty seats are as elusive as Joaquin Phoenix starring in a comedy film.

Third, I had to readjust my understanding of human behavior. I foolishly went into public transport having faith that some central tenets are non-negotiable. Not so! Personal space is apparently not essential for first-world survival in America. As my seat mate’s shoulder and thigh spilled into my space one afternoon, I couldn’t help but succumb to my face pressed awkwardly against the cool window like a car-sick dog. I vehemently prayed the next pothole we found would this time bounce my unwelcome partner into the aisle instead of into me, again.

Lastly, I had to come to terms with overtly fragrant food and their bizarrely misappropriated dining venues. Eating a garlic and onion bagel is a great idea at your Jewish grandmother’s house when it’s time to break the fast, and we begrudgingly overlook the aftermath when the boss has one just before a closed-door meeting. However, eating said bagel is egregious in a tin tube of 60 people going that many miles per hour down the highway.

The only thing more mind-numbing is observing the egg-salad sandwich snack where there’s guaranteed to be an unaccounted-for stray bit. The bus is a cornucopia for the senses, particularly the olfactory one. So, find another place to eat your Chinese takeout with a side of fresh, circulated air and save the afternoon bus ride for your discreet drink instead, as one does.

My Rousing Comeback

A few weeks into the contest-with-myself, I turned a corner. I sat down after a long day of work, turned to the gentleman next to me and said, “I’m a bit tired and will probably fall asleep with that warm, afternoon sun shining through the windows. If I drool on you, it’s nothing personal, dude.” I tried not to sound like the middle-aged mom that I was, but instead a rad-shredder coming home from a day hucking my meat off some gnarly jumps in the park.

Soon after that, I finished my first book in well over a year. It was the old-fashioned kind with words on paper that smelled faintly of a librarian’s perfume. Then I finished another. And when I was done with my third book in three weeks, I took a break and listened to an audiobook. I dabbled with a couple of podcasts one week and zoned out to most of Pink Floyd’s albums another.

It’s taken me all winter season to learn the social mores of public transportation. They’ve been harder to master than knowing when it’s OK to strike up a conversation with a stranger, but there’s beauty in the silent camaraderie and the feeling you’re doing a small part for the planet.

The cool C-note I save weekly on fuel isn’t too shabby either.

Andrea Chacos lives in Carbondale, balancing work and happily raising three children with her husband. She strives to dodge curveballs life likes to throw with a bit of passion, humor and some flair.

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