Clippings: An ode to public transprotation
Since starting at the Addison Independent last month, I’ve ridden the bus each day from Bristol to Middlebury.
When almost every other person I know mentions his or her commute, it’s usually to complain. I’ve never commuted in a car before, but there seems to be a lot to complain about: being stuck, bleary-eyed, in bumper-to-bumper traffic; spilling coffee on the car seat; finding yourself behind a school bus that won’t go more than 25 miles an hour. Not to mention everyone’s common enemy, gas prices.
But through all the days that I begin by waiting on Bristol’s town green — sometimes in the rain and, more and more frequently, in the early morning chill — for the ACTR bus that comes just once an hour and is, it must be said, sometimes a few minutes behind schedule (of course, there are a fair number of mornings that I have to chase it down the block because I’m running late), I always feel that my commute is one of the best parts of my day.
I was raised in New York City, where everyone takes public transportation. Where I’m from, you’re not going to end up chatting for half an hour to your former next-door neighbor’s great-aunt Marge on your morning commute; the chances of running into anyone you know at all are slim. Everyone is anonymous, and most people stay firmly plugged into their iPods.
I remember once, during my freshman year of college, a friend visited my hometown for the first time. He didn’t like it much.
“Don’t you get sad there?” he asked me when he got back. “Don’t you feel like you’re lost, that nobody knows or cares who you are?”
I don’t remember exactly what I said at the time, but the answer was definitely no.
The thing is, there’s a solidarity that emerges — in surprising ways and when you least expect it — when the collective reality is that absolutely everyone is a nameless stranger and people eat, drink and have insanely personal phone conversations six inches away from you without being the least bit self-conscious. The crowd laughs together if the conductor announces the wrong station at the wrong time. Everyone rolls their eyes at the man loudly proclaiming into his cell phone that he just got off the plane in Dallas, when in fact we’d all just watched him stagger onto a subway car 2,000 miles away from Dallas at 7:30 a.m. on a Monday morning, looking like he hadn’t slept much. And eventually, faces start to stand out in the crowd, people that you notice morning after morning — the musician on the platform, playing enthusiastic melodies at the crack of dawn; the teenage girl with a lot of eye-makeup and the disconcertingly pissed-off stare; the older gentleman with the hat and cane, who still holds the train door for all the ladies.
I grew up thinking of a commute not as a time that you spend alone in your car, but as a time when you get thrown together with people that you might not otherwise encounter, just by virtue of the fact that you’re all headed, for the time being, in the same direction.
Of course, the beauty of being in a rural state with small communities is that a lot of times you get to skip all of that and go straight to recognizing everyone, to not being a stranger at all. My life in Vermont takes me from home, to work, to the coffee shop and back again, and there are people I encounter on the way to each of those places that become regular parts of my daily life. As a reporter, I have a built-in excuse to poke around and ask strangers a lot of questions. And, full disclosure: I didn’t have a driver’s license until about two weeks ago.
But I’m a still a newcomer to Vermont, and while there may come a time when the inconvenience of planning around hour-long waits and the occasional mile-long walk gets to be too much, and I’ll break down and finally start driving to Middlebury in the car, I don’t think that will happen soon.Aside from the environmental benefits of public transport, the amount I save on gas, and the fact that as a passenger I get to focus completely on the stunning views of the Green Mountains and the Champlain Valley that the ACTR bus takes me through (tourists come in hordes every weekend to get the same views), I would miss the feeling that comes with each ride, that possibility of encountering something new.
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