If psychologists wish to understand human nature to a greater degree, I would suggest they need only ride the city bus for six months, to get a better idea of just what human nature looks and acts like. As the girl who grew up in small towns, I’d never ridden the bus until I was 19, with the first time being in Moncton, which has only 3 bus lines. I still remember asking the only other passenger on the bus how I was to let the bus driver know I needed to get off. She kindly pointed out the bus cord that I could pull!
I took the bus on and off at various points while living in Edmonton and then again here in Toronto, but it wasn’t until I moved to Hamilton this past September that I began to take the bus almost every day, immersing myself in specifically Hamilton bus culture. When some well-meaning people heard about my long trek to McMaster, transferring between two buses, that required my travelling one hour one way nearly every day, they suggested that I move closer and not have to bump into some of Hamilton’s lower-income downtown residents. I refused since I loved where and with whom I was living. And I’m so thankful I didn’t because I learned so much from rubbing shoulders with Hamilton’s bus folk.
As someone who has loved watching and thus analysing people since, I think, the day I was born, and who doesn’t sit with cell phone in hand and ear phones stuck in her ears, the bus has given me ample opportunity to study people. I’ve overheard numerous conversations that have amused, shocked, annoyed, or entertained me. I’ve heard the intentionally loud conversations between university students who have attempted to impress each other and the rest of us with their intellectual knowledge. I’ve heard the 50 something “lower income” mother talking to her son on her cellphone, telling him repeatedly to be safe and stay out of trouble there in jail. I’ve heard the two teenage boys, sitting next to me, discussing how drunk they got at some party. I’ve heard the university girl telling her friend how this man she knows chopped off someone’s finger in a fit of rage. And I’ve heard the girl and guy laughing about the drunk guy friend who threw stuff all around the apartment and then tried to take a swing at the girl in his drunken stupor. (Some of the stories are a bit blurry now so not all the facts are quite right.)
I’ve sat on the bus with persons who likely hadn’t washed in at least a month, with the nauseating smell sometimes forcing me to turn away and breathe through my mouth. As I’ve waited for the bus downtown, I’ve had more than one person ask me for change. There often seemed to be some person shuffling along muttering to herself or sometimes outright yelling at the world, flailing his arms angrily. One time a guy was standing on the corner, rocking back and forth, fist clenched into a “microphone,” belting out tunes in a rather harsh and rather garbled tone, not quite fit for singing. I also always rode the bus home with the international high school students, all sitting in their separate groups, rarely ever speaking to a classmate or dormmate who spoke a different language other than their own. Talk about the sometimes isolation and separation we as human beings create!
Being surrounded by such a diversity of persons, whether well-dressed and seemingly put together or disheveled and downtrodden, I learned to see each of them as valuable human beings full of potential and most importantly full of worth. I’ve learned a great about the plight, the hope, the depravity, the beauty, the diversity, the depth of human nature just by simply riding the bus. It has greatly enriched and expanded my mind. Thus I stand behind my decision to ride the bus at least two hours every day, even if it meant shivering in more than minus 30 degree weather, waiting for the darn bus to come. I’ve learned too much to regret it.
(p.s. My one claim to fame riding the bus is that I did have a drunk teenager throw up on me. Not everyone can beat that, even those who have ridden the bus all their lives! Thankfully, I’m not usually bothered by such things. Plus he only threw up on part of my pant leg and runner.)