Wednesday, May 30, 2012


Let me tell you something I like about public transportation.

People get along with each other.  For the most part.  There are some spectacular exceptions, but in general bus people look out for each other.

I remember one Saturday, early, on the 822, when a young man boarded the bus with a large duffel bag full to bursting.  When someone asked about it, he explained that he was running away from home because his parents wouldn't stop using drugs.  What followed was an outpouring of sympathy and consolation from everyone who was sitting in the front of the bus.  More than one person expressed that they had been in a similar situation.  People offered him advice about places he could look up in Salt Lake.  Everyone offered him encouragement and told him not to give up.  I was deeply moved.

When there is an accident along a TRAX line, we usually find out about it when the train stops moving, or doesn't pull out of a station.  After a few seconds, people begin looking around, making quizzical eye contact.  Pretty soon, an announcement comes over the PA: "Ladies and gentlemen, sorry for the delay.  There's been an incident along the track.  I'll let you know when we're ready to start going again.  Thank you."

The mood becomes somber.  A few people say things like, "oh, dear," or, "I hope someone didn't get hit!"  People turn back to their iPads or their books, or their Kindles, or their crossword puzzles.  Inevitably, someone gets a call or a text back from someone they've asked, and, suddenly the expert, they announce to the train the nature of the incident.  People listen eagerly and press for details; the original recipient of the text begins enjoying their unexpected celebrity.

Often, it soon becomes apparent that we won't be going anywhere for a while.  People begin making themselves comfortable.  People who were standing start taking seats they felt awkward about taking when the train was in motion.  Several chapters are read on books or Kindles.  Conversations begin, sometimes because of news about the accident, sometimes out of thin air:

"How far you going?"
"39th.  You?"
"27th West."
"Wow, that's far."
"Yeah, I've got to catch the 227 from there.  I hope I don't miss the last one."
"Dude, that sucks!"

But we smile as we say it, because we all know what it feels like.  Even though we know we'll be late, we all stay pretty calm.  When the train starts moving again, people are audibly relieved and happy.  New conversations begin, this time about how glad we are to get going.  When people finally do get to their stations, people say things like, "Nice to meet you!" and, "Take care, man!"

And then, as I walk across the station platform and get onto a rather-more-crowded-than-usual 39 (because several trains have arrived in quick succession in the time it took one 39 to arrive), I feel content.  Certainly much more content than if I had spent the previous 45 minutes stuck in traffic due to an accident.

Just today a woman with a walker got on the 228, and someone consciously, without being asked, moved from one of the front seats to one further back so she could sit.  How often does that happen anymore?

This is one of the reasons why, when people ask me if I want a ride, I say, "No thanks," if I can help it.

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