Monday, June 20, 2011

Slow Down and Take the Bus

(I have coined an acronym for the purpose of this blog. M/UMC = Middle and Upper Middle Class. Hmmm…you may already see where I’m going with this….)

Most people think of Portland as a public transportation-friendly area. But when broken down by suburb (and sub-section of a suburb – a subsuburb?) and then also by demographic, both use of and attitude toward the public bus, specifically, varies dramatically. In fact, I can think of several of my friends (in the same general area and demographic as me) whom I can’t even fathom encountering on a public bus. And not just because they’re not on the route. It may as well be Donald Trump on the bus in my mental picture.

Even for my own kids, riding the public bus is an exciting adventure or special treat, not a fact of life like it is for most of the other kids and families we encounter on our rides. It’s amazing how sheltered we can be from something that passes near our house multiple times per day. It’s a traveling piece of culture we don’t interact with unless we choose to go along for the ride.

Honestly, l feel quite silly writing about this at all. I’m sure all my British relatives are having a jolly good laugh at me. I mean it’s the bus, for goodness sake. It should be no big deal, and it really isn’t. Yet somehow it is to me – or what it represents in my life, anyway. So I’m compelled to write about it anyway.

Ok, obviously most of us suburban M/UMCs don’t ride the bus because we have cars. Pete began riding the bus to work when we became a one-car family, and the kids and I ride the bus (or stay home) when he has the car. But even before we dropped a car, I occasionally took the kids places on the bus just for the heck of it. It wasn’t really to save money or gas or to be “greener”, although these are nice perks. The real reason I did it was to force us to slow down and view life from another perspective. It’s no secret that we suburban M/UMCers are typically extremely busy and overscheduled, running from one activity or errand to the next. We like to be efficient with our time and in control of our lives, while packing in as much fun and enrichment into each day as we possibly can.

All this hurried efficiency tends to go out the window when you ride public transportation. However, here is what you might gain in return:

1. You’re forced to be outside for a lot of the time. Nothing wrong with that. The fresh (or semi-fresh) air will do you good.

2. You’re forced to walk a bit – from bus stop to your actual destination and back. You are forced to walk fast if you’re about to miss the bus! Exercise is good.

3. You notice things on your little walks – the stuff that you drive right by on your normal routes through town.

4. You wait. You must be patient – there’s not much choice in the matter. No immediate gratification of hoping in your car and going exactly where you want, exactly when you want. A set of trips or errands that would normally take you two hours will take four. Oh well.

5. Similarly, you must let go of some control. That we are in complete control over our lives is an illusion anyway, right? Might as well practice letting go of that illusion when you can.

6. You can also practice letting go of germaphobia – a highly common M/UMC affliction.

(Note: if this is all beginning to sound like your own personal version of hell, it may mean some bus time would do you good – like it does me!)

7. You appreciate your car a bit more in the process, and are forced to reckon with the true purpose of a car (which is not to be new, expensive, fancy or impressive, just in case you were wondering). You will likely be more grateful for the luxury of its convenience.

8. You rub shoulders (yes, sometimes literally) with people you probably wouldn’t in your normal day. Especially if you have a gregarious child who strikes up a conversation with anyone and everyone. (Eh hem!)

9. Your children, gregarious or not, get to learn all these lessons along with you.

I’ll say it again – I feel a bit silly writing all this. I feel sheltered, quaint, and a bit spoiled. Taking the bus is no noble or important act. It just boils down to the fact I’m all in favor of anything that forces us M/UMCers to slow down. We assume we need a get-away, beach vacation, or break from our normal lives to achieve this sense of slowness. In reality, all we need is $2.05. Kids under 7 ride free.

How about you? Do you ever ride the bus? Do you enjoy it?

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