Despite public transit’s less than stellar reputation, I love riding the bus. Not to be confused with the act of catching the bus, which given my struggles in both time management and navigation, are a source of constant aggravation. My neighbours will attest that every weekday they witness my early morning sprints to the bus stop, repurposed military coat flailing over a contrasting three-piece suit and arm wrapped around a laptop bag like an insane football player fleeing a Sally Ann. I carry everything needed to survive in the trenches of the modern office workplace. Once I am on the bus however, I begin to appreciate the experience; not only from obtaining my target heart-rate for the day, but because of all the wonderful people I get to meet.
This is particularly true of the bus drivers, who have an understandable reputation for being surly given their vulnerability to critique and abuse by scores of riders while driving the least wieldy vehicle on the road. Despite the stressful occupation, my experiences have shown bus drivers to be amazingly upbeat kind-hearted individuals, particularly for those willing to simply engage with them. In the year and a half that I have regularly utilized public transit, I have met too many drivers to list in this short post, but a few experiences come to mind.
There is John, a former restaurant manager with a degree in Economics that allowed an inadequately dressed international student freezing during a snowstorm onto a packed bus despite the student being unable to pay. Kind actions from a man trained in supply and demand.
Then there is Rick, who mentors at-risk youth riding the midnight runs through the North end of Winnipeg. During these long and quiet rides, he passes the time counselling youth through a slew of challenges many of us have been fortunate enough to never experience, from drugs to gang relations and everything in between.
Finally, there was a driver whose name I cannot recall and whom I only met once. I distinctly remember his face though, cratered with sullen eyes and a melancholy expression to match; the expression of a man who experienced a long day of stress and was counting down the minutes of the late evening to mark the end of his shift. I broke his emotional slump however, offering him a chunk of Ghirardelli chocolate given to me by my employer as a Christmas gift. The man’s eyes shifted from depression to suspicion before brightening with surprise and joy at my gesture. I figured that I was simply paying forward the kindness given by the bus drivers to incalculable numbers riders.
In an age saturated in impersonalized behaviours, with riders striving to block out their world with their smartphones (not knocking smart phones, but look around a bus and you will see what I mean), there is great power in the simple act of engagement and personalized communication. Try it out for yourself, once or twice a week, go up to a bus driver or someone you don’t know and start a conversation. It doesn’t have to be deep, it just has to show an interest in the life of another. Pay them a compliment or share a positive statement about the world; you may get initial suspicion, but more often than not, people will brighten up with the offer of genuine engagement and face-to-face communication.