This is the DART bus I ride back and forth from work every day. Actually, that’s incorrect. This is one of four buses I ride every day. Two up, two down. This is the bus that gets me home at 6 PM, more or less on the dot.
A lot of people ask me why I ride the bus at all. There are two reasons, one a little more complicated than the other. The big reason is that I don’t drive, but I’m working on it. Long story short, I should have squeezed driver’s ed somewhere in the mindless and free summers of high school, rather than trying to find a few weeks when I’m home from college and don’t have any other commitments. It’s a hassle, but one that will hopefully be resolved soon enough.
The second reason is probably why a lot of people take the bus. It’s cheap. Third reason? It’s easy. There’s a bus stop across from our apartment complex. The other bus stops right in front of the gate. And once I get on, I can read or write—things I can’t even do when I’m not driving. It’s calming at the end of a long day. Most of the time.
I’m no stranger to buses. They’re probably the most reliable way to get around Austin, and a godsend if you don’t have a car. I always make sure I’m nice to my drivers, mostly because I can’t imagine how hard it is sometimes to shuttle stressed out people back and forth from their jobs, to take a couple hits, and keep going for hours and hours. Nothing big. A “Good morning, how are you?” and a “Thank you, and have a nice day” can mean a lot though. I’m not the only one by far, but I try to do my share. Least I can do, right?
The bus system in Dallas is pretty efficient. Buses are usually on time, stay on route, and get you where you need to go. Traffic’s a problem no matter which city you’re talking about, and it can get a little crazy in Dallas too. I got stuck on the tollway for an hour waiting for an accident to get cleared up—I can’t complain. We drove past the wreck and the ambulances, and everyone who’d been groaning and looking at their watches suddenly got silent. It’s fair to be annoyed. People expect a certain thing from a service they put money into. People also generally understand that some things, like accidents, are inconveniences that can’t be avoided, especially not by a bus driver.
Yesterday afternoon, the buses were running a few minutes behind. Nothing shocking. Usually, you can get five or six minutes back once you get out of the city, and then you’re back on schedule. But rush hour in downtown Dallas being what it was—a crowd of people and cars, buses, and bikes all trying to get home at 5:30—delays are sort of par for the course. And a backup a few hours back in the system can make all the buses that follow it a few minutes late. This, I thought, was common knowledge.
What should never have happened
The stop after mine is a busy street corner, and a few people are waiting. Cars are lining up, waiting at lights, looking for an easy way to break out of the gridlock, trying to find a quick way home. And I think, We’re all in the same boat. I have my distractions. I have the iPod I recently loaded with Muse and Regina Spektor, and it’s soothing. It’s easy to drift off and relax.
A man gets on the bus, and I can tell instantly that he’s upset. He’s focused on his watch, he’s grimacing. Someone with somewhere to be who now has to be there faster. Maybe I’m dismissive to think that it isn’t a huge deal. Five minutes is nothing to me. I lose so much more time being distracted and forgetting what I was doing than I’ve ever lost on the bus. And I know I’m only half an hour out from home.
The first words out of his mouth: “What time is the bus supposed to be here?” Oh God, one of them. I’m not at all punctual, but I can appreciate people who are to an extent. Some people think it’s a catastrophe if the people they meet and the things they do aren’t absolutely on time. I know from experience that it’s easy to get caught up in what you’re doing and lose track of time. Time is a domino effect. Things keep getting pushed back and pushed back because of the one file that refused to be uploaded, or the one song that just wouldn’t sync (I know, problems of the entitled college student).
The bus driver responds. It’s not enough.
“And what time is it now?”
Again, the timid response. We’re running further behind now, and the bus driver asks him to take a seat.
“What time are you supposed to be at this stop?”
“Take a seat.”
“What’s your name? Let me see your name tag. How do you spell your name?”
“Sir, take a seat.”
“I’m going to report this.” True to his word, he sits down and pulls out his phone. The bus driver, two feet away from him, is probably having the worst day of her life. All I want to do is say, “Sit down and shut up. Who told you could talk to people like that? Who gave you the right to belittle and degrade people?”
He calls the DART Transit Authority and starts reporting the bus number, the time, the stop, the woman’s name. He spells it out and repeats it, and I know the driver’s listening. He threatens to get her fired. It’s overbearing and obnoxious, but I can’t bring myself to say anything. He wouldn’t listen to me anyway. But that was the time—that was the opportunity, and I missed it.
The bus driver gets off the bus at the next stop. She has her phone out and she’s crying. She’s never dealt with something like this before, and she doesn’t know what to do, short of shutting out his voice and continuing on the route. It takes a lot to be able to do that, and she didn’t quite have it that day. So the bus stops. This is her first mistake, and only adds fuel to his self-aggrandizing fire.
I get off the bus to ask how she’s doing. She’s pretty beaten down. She lets us know another bus is a few minutes away. Back on the bus, I finally get the courage to tell the man that what he did was wrong. His response: “That’s your opinion.”
It’s not. It’s a human sense of right and wrong, and I won’t stand for another person being blamed for something that couldn’t be prevented. Short of pulling out my treasure trove of profanity, I made sure he knew that I thought he was unspeakably rude and had done the wrong thing for the wrong reasons.
The other bus pulls up and he gets on. By now, we’re running twenty minutes behind, mostly thanks to him. He begins to gather names to be witnesses. A few people exchange business cards and phone numbers. He asks me, and I refuse. I don’t want to speak for him. I don’t want to defend him. Hell, I don’t even want to be on the same bus as him. And when I finally get off the bus, I’m pretty beaten down too.
And I wish now, as I did then, that I had the courage to say what I wanted when the time was right. Maybe if the bus driver knew someone was on her side from the beginning, she would have kept going. The two things I want to say, that I hope he reads somehow, are these:
- Are you proud of what you did?
- How would you feel if someone tried to take your life and your career, as well as your dignity, into their hands?
But I can’t imagine his response being anything new. I did what I could. I called Transit Authority and relayed my description of the incident. I took her side. It’s one voice against his and it’s not very loud or very strong. But it’s truthful. And it’s fair.
And I wish that the other people on the bus—the people who made eye-contact with me and shared my looks of disbelief and rage at this man—had spoken out too. We could have made a united front and proved him wrong. It’s one incident that doesn’t stand out in the scope of human history and human contact, but at least I would be able to sleep at night knowing that we had done our best. Instead, I stayed up thinking and thinking about the contentment on his face, the certainty that he was the only person on that bus who had done the right thing, when he had done nothing more than abuse the authority that being a bus passenger afforded him. That’s the one word that comes to mind now: Abuse.
I’ll be riding this route for the next month and a half, and I hope I see her again. I want her to know that not everyone is like him. Not everyone treats people the way he does. I’ll do my part, even if it’s as simple as:
“Good morning, how are you?”
“Thank you, and have a nice day.”