One of the pleasures I’ve had since resuming bus ridership a couple of weeks ago is seeing the buses so full.
Last winter, I took the bus to work every day. Usually, there were no more than five people on the bus at any one time, including me and the driver. On the ride home, the bus was often half-full. (Or was it half-empty?) There were always seats available.
But for the last two weeks, I haven’t boarded the bus to work with fewer than twelve other passengers on board. The buses (at least some models) have 32 seats, and I find they are usually half-full from downtown to UAF. And on the way home? Crowded, crowded, crowded! If I take an early bus, it’s perhaps only half-full. But if I leave at five o’clock, nearly every seat is taken, and sometimes there’s standing room only.
This morning, for the first time, I saw a man on the bus who looked very well dressed — that is to say, he looked “high class”. Okay, it was hard to tell for sure under his black wool trench coat, but it was a nice trench coat. Both his graying hair and his white beard were neatly kept. He carried a briefcase. He got off at the Butrovich building, so I took him for a UA Statewide administrator, though he could have been heading for the G.I., too. Him I was especially glad to see.
Why am I so delighted to sit on crowded buses among higher-class passengers? Truth be told, it’s not because of the pollution that my fellow would-be drivers aren’t causing — although that’s something to celebrate, too. And it’s certainly not because I anticipate better conversation out of the well-to-do. I’m happy because the bus is starting to be more of a social leveler, bringing together a wider variety of ages, races, educations, and incomes. And that’s important.
How many people of another social class, or race, or educational level are you likely to meet while at work? Probably few. How many in your home, barring your own parents or children? Very few. And how many while driving alone in your car? Absolutely none! For much of our days, most of have no chance to rub elbows with people who seem unlike us, because we lack space in which this can happen. Our stratification and our isolation dim our understanding and dull our sympathies.
I recall, growing up in Anchorage, some ordinance involving expanded bus service came up before the municipal assembly (I think), and Mayor Tom Fink, speaking against it, said, “Everybody I know drives a car.” Well, wonderful. That really spoke more to his own social class and his own isolation from others, than it did to the actual state of affairs.
If the privileged leaders of our community — if our City Council and Borough Assembly members, our captains of industry, our professors, the members of our Chamber of Commerce — got to ride the bus every day, and to rub elbows with their fellow citizens of all classes, no such ignorant statement could escape their lips without consequence. And I expect it would be much harder for us all to hold on to our prejudices.