Monday through Wednesday, I attend a GED preparation school; within the past few of weeks, I’ve ridden home on the bus by myself twice. My first bus ride was an experience to say the least, from which I learned a variety of small lessons. Now I’m sure people have had worst experiences then this on the bus, but for being my first bus ride alone, it was an experience enough for me.
Of course it doesn’t help that my school is not in a nice part of town. However, in a big place like Phoenix, bad neighborhoods twist like veins throughout the entire city–there’s almost no avoiding that problem anyway. City life is not as glamorous as one might think.
When I’m by myself, I naturally walk very fast–mostly from walking the neighbor dogs. So, I was briskly trotting along down the street with my heavy school folder pack in my arms. It was quite warm (yes, it was a warm week for an AZ February), and I had several blocks to walk the right bus stop (a five to seven minute walk from the school to the stop, if you walk really fast).
An African American guy on his phone passed me, then doubled back calling after me. He spoke in smooth compliments and huffed along to keep up with me. Then he tried to give me the tiniest fold of paper square you’d ever seen–he called it a souvenir but I was pretty sure it concealed a phone number for drugs. I said no thank you and he immediately stopped following me, which made me feel relieved but uneasy at the same time.
I skidded up to the bus stop and sat down on the shaded bench. In a laundromat parking lot behind me, about twenty Hispanic gentleman mulled about waiting for work, which did not make me very comfortable. Already at the stop was a man sitting on his bike, enthusiastically speaking Spanish to his phone but he didn’t bother me.
I fished about in my pack for a book but a Hispanic homeless-looking man, who appeared about seventy, came roaming up the sidewalk. He sat himself next to me, not close but still right there in my company. Between bits of silence, he told me his name, that he could understand what the man on the bike was saying and that I was pretty. I responded as naturally as I could but I turned my attention to my book so he would get the message that I wanted to read.
About ten minutes later a guy in a khakis and button up shirt came huffing up the sidewalk, the stop obviously his destination. He loudly asked if I had two dollars he could borrow for the bus fare (he swore profusely for his boss calling him in on overtime). He asked the bike guy then darted around to the parking lot to ask the people in the parking lot.
The old homeless man, Pueblo, said “Why give him money? I wouldn’t give him money. You won’t see it again!” And I nodded in agreement while flattening open my library book with frustration and checked to see if the bus was in sight. The guy soon came with two dollars and continued to swear up and down the sidewalk in front of me about how unhappy he was (he literally did not stop talking about it even after the bus came some time later).
For the thirty-five minute wait my reading was disturbed by small remarks by Pueblo and the F word. I felt both uneasy and serenely calm at the same time–not sure how, exactly. The bus AT LAST pulled down the street and stopped. Pueblo said goodbye to me as I nearly pounced on the bus steps. I scrambled into the bus, double checked with the driver that it would pass my stop, and sat down as fast as I could near the closest woman.
The bus took off and I stared holes out the window to watch for my stop, even though it was ten minute drive down the road. I yanked the cord just before my stop and jumped out too fast.
As I began my trek into my neighborhood, my frustration began to emerge, now that I was alone. By this time, the uptight wait for the bus combined with the heat (and the stress I was dealing with over my computer issues), had worn me down. By the time I reached home my arms were exhausted from my heavy load and I was very hungry and hot (as I’d walked too fast downhill).
My mom let me complain at the kitchen table. Getting home is usually a quick process when she picks me up. Having missed the bus at noon and then the bus being late, coupled with the walking: It had taken me a full hour to get home on my own, while avoiding a drug dealer, busy traffic, homeless people, and a very germy bus ride in a heat that had come too early even for Phoenix.
The moral of this story is that if things are bad the first time, they probably won’t be so bad the second–you just have to try again. Nowhere to go but up, right? My sister, who is a bus veteran, informed me that if I wore headphones, people would be more likely to leave me alone–apparently she’d never had my experience in any of her bus taking trips.
So, the second time I took the bus, I carried things in a backpack; what a help that was. The weather had cooled and there was a breeze. I wore my ear buds and played an unabridged audio book of Winnie-the-Pooh; the trashy street was a little less scary with Pooh and Piglet trying to catch a Hefflalump in my ear. While all the Hispanic men were still there looking for work, the homeless guy waiting there left me alone and stood about eight feet away.
Plus, I only waited ten minutes before the bus arrived on time!
The bus ride was also better now that I’d had an experience using it. Pooh and Company were now preparing to form an “Expetition” to the North Pole but sadly they weren’t able to make the bus feel more clean. I jumped out at my stop and bathed in hand sanitizer I’d remembered to bring. Roo fell into a stream while I, more slowly, walked into my neighborhood. Pooh discovered the North Pole by the time I got home.
That experience was so much nicer than the first one.
The lessons I learned? Experiences are always going to be different, even if you end up at the same bus stop with the same bus and bus driver. Life is full of people, from all walks of life, who we’re just going to bump into along the way. Winnie-the-Pooh makes things a lot better. A backpack makes a heavy load easier to carry. Ear buds keep drug dealers away from you (well, I’ll test theory again the next time). Walking slowly downhill won’t leave you huffing and puffing (and a breeze always helps).
But really, Pooh helped a lot. “After all, it’s more friendly with two.”