The Baltimore Sun and the City Paper have not responded to my submission of the following as an op-ed humor piece, so I’ll post it here. It concerns the city’s free buses.
You Get What You Pay For
I love the Circulator busses. I usually loathe the actual experience of riding them, but who could argue with their avowed principle of “Fast. Friendly. Free.”? (I’ve tried in vain to reach their Grammar Department to suggest changing the signage to “Our Service Is Fast, Friendly, and Free.”) The degrees of the buses’ punctuality and drivers’ friendliness may vary, but the freeness is constant.
The lack of a mere $1.60 fare makes its social leveling effects so interesting. Where else can one find professionals so intimately comingling with drunks and addicts? Or young children hearing the coarse talk of hoppers on their way to work (people over)? And then there’s the many people like me, dutifully forfeiting our seats to others and disseminating helpful hints to the ever-so-earnest tourists. I’ll admit that I feel a slight deflation when I see them asking the driver the same question I had just answered. Do I look like the kind of person who gets my kicks by giving people false directions?
On the Circle-You-Later, the more does certainly not make the merrier. It’s not so much that the conditions make you pissy, but others’ pissiness is contagious. I generally enjoy making jokes to strangers to observe their reactions; the more offbeat the quip, the better. When the bus gets extremely packed, to lighten the mood, I may affect a vague foreign accent and say, “If this were my homeland, the next oncoming rider would have to sit on the roof.”
If my whimsical conspiratorial mindset is correct, this is when the drivers rack up the most points in their game of Passenger Bowling. The object is simple: cause passengers to fall by starting and stopping abruptly. (The elderly, infirm, and intoxicated only count for half a point; someone with two or more such qualities amounts to ¼.) Legend has it that a Bill H. once got six standing passengers to collapse in domino fashion.
I truly relish when capacity and my conscience allow me to take a seat. Whether I’ve had a Sisyphean day sitting at the computer or a drunken one sitting at [location redacted], sometimes I’m just in the mood to do more sitting. Hopefully, I’ll be fortunate and will happen upon a dry one. If I belatedly discover that I have not, I can only hope that the dampness is from an overturned beverage. Wishful thinking has gotten me far in life.
I will try to not read nor write, preferring instead to be mindful of the scenery. I will feel smug self-satisfaction by noting how many people are too engrossed in their electronic toys or their chemical oblivion to just be, to take the world in. With my Luddite leanings, I deem cell phones a scourge upon society. They act in concert with many other cultural factors to erode civility. Speaking or pretending to speak for nonessential purposes to others in a publicly enclosed space is a flagrant sin in this regard.
I’ve thought of taking obnoxious countermeasures in acts of self-righteous absurdism. I could pretend that they’re talking to me: “What do you mean, ‘Where am I?’ I’m sitting right across from you!” Or, I could intrude into their conversation in a faux knowing way: “Dude, you’re forgetting the best part! Tell ‘em how Gina had just downed four shots of Jack when that went down!” What I actually do enjoy doing—see my aforementioned penchant for oddball humor—is saying “I’m not here” when another’s phone rings.
What truly baffles me about public transportation in general is the people who use it to kill time. In clement weather, surely one can find something better to do. I understand that sometimes one just needs to sleep and may think they’re in the safest place to do so, but I’m talking about alert and awake people. And the drivers know such regulars. They note that so-and-so got on at such-and-such a spot and will have to disembark after one lap. After all, “There’s [always] another one right behind me.”
But hey, there’s also a pedestrian world awaiting your circulation throughout it. For better or worse.
Brian Williard is a failing humor writer and online businessman. His less tame humor can be found at funnyphilosopher.wordpress.com.