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Friday, March 1, 2024
The Observer

Who's afraid of the big bad bus?

I used to be terrified of riding public transportation. Yes, I was a child that grew up in a bubble. I lived a minute walk away from my private Catholic school in north Washington, D.C. My mother was a stay-at-home mum who could come at my beck-and-call. I can’t remember the number of times that she brought the lunch that I had forgotten to school, or came to pick me up when I had a really bad migraine. I lived a sheltered (dare I say spoiled) life, and nothing had destroyed that innocent little school child I was. 


Then I got to high school. 


My parents grew up in London. My mother rode two buses to school every day. Both my parents were made to take an exam at 11 years old that would decide if they went to the more elite grammar school, or if they would attend their local secondary school. I have heard often how difficult their childhood was. Needless to say, my parents assumed that I would be a normal, sensible human being who would ride the public bus back from school to my house.


I freaked out when I first heard. What kind of cruel punishment was this? I was to be tossed into the cruel world, barely a 14-year-old baby, and made to ride the public bus with a bunch of strangers whom I didn’t know? I was also shocked because I lived in Washington, and if you own a car, no one takes public transportation (there were numerous times when concerned parents from my high school stopped right by the bus stop I was standing at to enquire if I needed a ride home, because obviously I was a neglected child). 


Let me just set the scene for you on how ridiculous this was that I so desperately did not want to take the bus. We lived maybe 15 minutes away from the high school that I spent four wonderful years at. This high school was in Georgetown, right behind the prestigious university. I rode the bus for 20 minutes from a stop right outside of my high school to a stop right by the Safeway at the bottom of the road from my house. I was going to be on what I considered a nightmarish journey for at most 20 minutes. 


I cried. I told my mother I would walk home from school. I insisted that I would never in my life ride the bus. The day arrived. I finished with classes, packed my backpack, walked out of the gate and attempted to walk home. This lasted for maybe five minutes, until I plopped myself right back in front of the bus stop as my face streamed with sweat. 


Obviously, I survived my first bus ride. I now live in New York City, where riding public transportation, or walking, is the main mode of transportation. I also don’t have a driver’s license, which does make it slightly impossible for me to do anything but walk or ride public transportation. 


The one thing I do love about riding the bus, the subway, the metro or the tube is just the experience of seeing people. My friend Sarah and I sat on a bus coming back from Shoreditch the other day, and just listened to the conversations of the couple behind us talking about the time they walked in on to people in a bath, and Sarah and I could not believe our luck. We collapsed into laughter as soon as we exited to bus, and is now a story we tell anyone who will listen. Or the time I saw an old grandmother and her grandson kiss and hug goodbye on the platform, and then I watched her just smile to herself as she sat across from me. Sometimes it’s nice to just look around at all the faces on the subway, metro or the tube and remind myself that I am really lucky to be able to be in places where there are so many exciting things going on. One person could be running away from home, another finishing up a really long day at work and another getting ready to go on a first date, and in some way I am a small part of it.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.