I’m fortunate enough to live in a city with good public transit, locally called “the T.” We have several subway lines augmented by trains and buses. While I drive almost daily (my workplace isn’t easily accessible by public transit) whenever I can, I take the T.
I love the T, for all that people complain about it. I really enjoy watching people, seeing what they’re reading, what beats they’re moving to, watching them watch me. Kids express such wonder over public transit, they know it’s miraculous that we can move this fast from here to there, without even trying. I love how riding the bus or subway lets me see a cross-section of my city that I might otherwise miss. A Saville Row suit sitting next to leather and studs sitting next to a security uniform sitting next to someone just looking for a place to sleep.
We all become dancers when we stand on public transit, finding our own balance throughout the ride, just as we do in life, only here it’s more obvious. And we have the opportunity to be heroes, offering our seats to those who might need them more.
Public transit is an equalizer. We’re all on our way somewhere, not there by accident, sharing the same space for a little while and inevitably connecting. This morning I happened to glance at a woman across the aisle from me as she was talking on the phone. Our eyes met and I smiled at her. She smiled back, so I smiled more and soon we were both laughing. I will probably never see her again, but for that moment, we were united in joy. Connection. Not so long ago, a young man sat next to me on a bus. He was listening to music through headphones, but it was so loud I could hear it. Without noticing, I started bobbing my head in time to his, along with the beat. When I glanced up from my book I saw an older man looking at us both and grinning. Connection.
When I drive in my car I am isolated. I isolate myself further with the radio or music, rarely looking at the drivers around me unless they cut me off and I look only to scowl. I don’t have that option on public transit. All I can do is be present to the world around me and watch the shifting shadows. All I can do is accept the warmth of a stranger pressing against me in the crowd, catch someone’s eye and smile, be in the moment and wait as we hurtle together through the world.
(c)2012 Laura S. Packer