The indignity of the daily commute

If you work in Manhattan and don’t live there, a situation many of us in the middle class find ourselves in, the daily ride to and fro can be rough.

We usually take the Express Bus from our corner. This is double the price of a regular bus because it is a larger, more comfortable (usually) bus, similar to a Greyhound bus with padded adjustable seats that face forward, not the plastic seats on a typical city bus. It makes a limited number of pickups in our neighborhood in Queens, then goes to the city, where it makes a limited number of stops.

Like most commuting options, this bus has its drawbacks. On ideal days, the bus comes on time, the driver is pleasant, we get to sit together and our fellow riders don’t talk on their cell phones, don’t talk to loudly to each other, don’t let music seep out of their headphones, and don’t eat stinky food. Needless to say, on any given day one or more of these conditions aren’t met.

This morning the only thing wrong was that the bus arrived late so it was crowded. My husband and I had to sit across the aisle from each other. Since we both tend to catch up on emails, write or read during the ride, it’s not a huge deal. But I prefer being up against him than a stranger.

To me, touching strangers is unavoidable in NY if you have to commute. Still, I prefer to keep the touching to a minimum. I believe in spaces in between, and the fewer people in a given space, the more space should be in between. People’s comfort levels vary and some ethnic groups stand closer than others. That’s fine. I  just know what MY comfort level is. On the bus, especially in the morning, it’s pretty hard to avoid sitting next to someone else. Yet you’ll see these guys who sit on the aisle seat, blocking access to the window seat, and most people rather than “bother” someone else will walk by and take another seat. I’ve had mornings where I’ve asked someone to move just because I felt like being annoying. But usually I’ll ask an aisle sitter to let me into the seat next to him simply because he or she is thinner than others who are sitting elsewhere. Maybe it’s wrong to say, but it’s more comfortable to sit next to a thin person. I’ve had to sit next to people who were over 300 pounds and it was physically uncomfortable. I’ve had moments where the last seat left was next to a large person and I’ve toyed with the idea of standing so I could have room to breathe. In those cases I usually just sit down because I don’t want to hurt the person’s feelings.

A few times a week there is someone who blasts his or her music, someone who is watching a movie on a device without headphones, or a nonstop cell phone talker. The talkers come in several categories, one of which is the wheeler and dealer who “has” to be on the phone constantly because of business. Another is the inane babbler. It’s not always, but usually, a woman who talks so long and nonstop it seems the other person on the line has no chance of getting one word in at all. Sometimes this gives you an eavesdropping opportunity—inevitably there’s a dating story or some gossip—but mostly it is truly babble. There are people who talk low on their cell phones, and an hour of ssss ssss sss ssssssss can be almost as annoying as the loud talk—but I give them credit for at least recognizing there are other people around and TRYING to keep the conversation quiet.

I don’t talk on my cell phone on the bus unless I absolutely have to reach someone, and then I keep it brief. I tell friends to text me, and I admit I do love texting and wish everyone did it. I know it’s “nicer” to have a live chat with a human voice. But texting is convenient, you can think about your response, and you have a record of your exchanges.

I don’t like having to travel over an hour each way to get to work. I do prefer the bus to driving, because I can get work done. But I’d prefer simply to not have to travel that far. I’m hoping my next job will be in Queens or nearby in Long Island.


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