Civics Bus

Published on November 18th, 2013 | by Patricia Sully


Today on the Bus: The Sacrament of Public Transportation

Every day, I ride the bus. I hop on early in the morning, eyes still crusty with sleep and hair perpetually disheveled, and I make the commute from Tacoma to Seattle.

If the weather is cooperative and I am not feeling terribly rushed, I walk down the hill and catch the 594 on Pacific, where it comes less often but you are guaranteed your prime choice of seats. When I am feeling a tad lazy or rain-averse, I drive the short mile and a half to the Tacoma Dome Bus Depot, join the line, and let myself be amazed by just how many of us make this journey each morning. I don’t have any statistics to offer, but my commuter status is not rare: on a weekday morning, every seven minutes or so an entire bus load of humans hurtles out of Tacoma and towards Seattle.

Bus Diagram

The small misadventures and aggravations of public transportation can range from heartwarming to hilarious, with an occasional stop at absolutely infuriating. Not infrequently, the bus is slower than I would like, speed ebbing and flowing with the various fender benders and inexplicable slow downs that make I-5 such a treat.

While the Tacoma Dome Bus Depot is orderly and calm, with people standing in lines and not jostling for entry, the ride home is never quite so systematized. Lines are replaced by a shapeless throng, shifting uncomfortably as each of us performs the delicate dance of the bus stop, migrating up and down the block in our attempt to predict where the Tacoma bus might land. The gentle patience of the morning is long gone and you get the distinct impression that when the bus comes, it might just be every man, woman, and child for him or her self.

In those moments, just driving is rather tempting.

Still, small aggravations aside, there are plenty of good reasons to use the bus. It is more environmentally friendly. Instead of navigating traffic, you can read, listen to music, or daydream. The cost is a pretty penny cheaper than paying for gas and parking is never an issue.

Those are not, however, the reasons I remain a bus commuter. I’m a public transportation junkie not because it makes pragmatic sense so much as because it helps me act a little bit less like a jerk. And it gives me a lot of good stories. But mostly the being-less-of-a-jerk thing.

The truth is, at my core I am often selfish. I would prefer to have things my way, you see. I think I am important. Kind of a big deal, in case you didn’t know. Other people are really just in my way.

Public transportation does not care that I think that the sun circles around me.

It is not concerned that I am in a rush or that I would like more personal space. It has no interest in my preferences or desires. It has no patience for my selfish ways.

Public transportation is all about the collective. What is best for all of us, as opposed to any single one of us. In some ways, it is a sort of spiritual act to me, if an enthusiastically non-religious one. I partake in the sacrament of public transportation with my fellow commuters: we join together in our collective inability to change the unchangeable, relinquish control, and go for a ride.


Our society teaches us that we are all special, special snowflakes. Generally, we aren’t taught to value the needs of the whole; we learn from a very young age to “take care of number one”, that it is “my way or the highway, baby!”, and that “good fences make good neighbors.”

I kind of think all of that is kind of crap. Who wants to live in that world, really?

The world where we are expected to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps, where we succeed only by crushing others, where everything is hyper-individualized and we all live in our own little bubbles?

That world sucks. So fuck bubbles.

I like personal space as much as the next gal, but really. Fuck bubbles.

I want to live in a world where we prioritize the collective.

Community is a word so vague and overused it borders on meaningless. But I believe in it, nonetheless. To me, community is at least in part the act of finding workable unity with the people in your life. Some of those people are there by choice – our friends and loved ones. But most are there simply by merit of, well, being there: the people we work with, the people we live next to, the people who also frequent our favorite bar or restaurant.

They are the people on the bus.

To take public transportation is to participate in a little community made up more by strangers than people we choose. It is often frustrating. I don’t always handle it well.

Sometimes I get petulant, glaring at the Chatty Cathy who, oblivious to the irritation of the people around her, continues to happily natter away on her phone. I let out exaggerated huffs when Captain Cologne sits next to me, fighting the urge to snarkily inform him that just a dab will do, you know. I stomp my feet and purse my lips while I wait for a late bus and then silently dare the teenager who showed up 20 seconds before it arrived to attempt to get on before me. I behave as though each of these things is a personal affront, calculated specifically to annoy me.

Double Decker Bus

It is easy, or at least easier, to be in community with people we know and love. The sacrifices we make for our chosen community come more naturally. It is easier to prioritize the collective good when we chose the collective. We are less likely to want to punch our grandmother in the throat than we are a stranger who invades our personal space on the bus. It is simply easier to be rude to strangers. There is no accountability, really. I can be a jerk and no one will ever know!

But I don’t want to be a jerk, even if it is in secret. I want to figure out how to live well with all the other people I share this world with. That takes some practice. It is a thing that, I suspect, we have to learn to do well.

So I engage in the sacrament of public transportation. I practice finding patience, trying again and again to remember that being angry will not make a bus appear or be less crowded. Rage will not change that we are now taking an unexpected detour through Federal Way because the driver has to take a leak or the fact that we are on stuck on the side of the road; you might as well simply embrace a team-on-an-adventure attitude and laugh at the ridiculousness of it all.

I practice appreciating the small wonders and acts of kindness that occur in our little community – the way people are quick to point out if you are about to forget an item or hand you a dropped coin, the shifting to make room just one more person on the bus that is already bursting at the seams, the collective outcry of “Wait!” when we see a fellow passenger running to catch the bus just about to pull away.

And I try to practice small acts of kindness myself – smiling when I want to glare or sigh, offering my seat when I would really rather not,  treating my co-passengers not as impediments to my end destination but as fellow travelers and teammates. I practice bursting my own bubble.

Taking the bus is a way to reconnect to the world and remember that we are in a shared existence. It is cheaper and it is better for the environment, sure. I also think it is just better, period.

We are not little islands. Let’s not commute like we are.

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About the Author

Patricia Sully

Patricia Sully has never been published by the New York Times, Atlantic Monthly, or Harper's Bazaar. She live in the Hilltop neighborhood with her dog, Zona, and an uncomfortable number of spiders. You can follow her @_PSully_

4 Responses to Today on the Bus: The Sacrament of Public Transportation

  1. Author Image Lisa says:

    Yes! Spot on! I too am one of those crazy 590/594 way too early commuters and I’m either happily surprised by people or unhappily pissed at people for their rudeness…either way we are all in the community o’ commuters.

    See ya on the 5!

  2. Author Image Eva Jakubowicz says:

    Thank you Patricia Sully! This article articulates what I’ve been trying to for years when my car-loving friends and family ask my why on G-D’s green earth I insist on commuting to work by bus or bike. I too always answer that it’s a way to commune and get to know my fellow man (and and attempt to preserve our not-so green earth). I wouldn’t commute any other way! They still look at me like I’m crazy. They all prefer to be islands.
    Not me though – and I feel all the richer for it.
    I of course had to share this on FB. :-D

  3. Author Image Cathy says:

    Thankfully you are not alone in your practice, of bursting your own bubble. I find more of us in Tacoma than further north, is why I also endure the commute, and why I have fallen hard for this city. I love the feel of community here. Thank you for contributing your small part.

  4. Author Image Terry says:

    Thank you Ms. Sully. Moving forward takes people willing to leave there personal comfort zone. I like to be reminded about that.

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