Holly’s Do’s and Don’ts for Riding the Bus

I was recently sitting on the #19 bus in San Francisco with nothing to do other than observe the passing reality around me. In this case, that reality consisted of a homeless meth-head blocking the door and yelling at passengers to return his stolen Strawberry Shortcake Pez dispenser.

And yet, I find it more unsettling how, if you survey the bus at any given time, nearly everyone is staring at tiny screens, desperately trying to be anywhere but the present, which serves to make the screaming meth head a quaint vestige of a simpler time.

I understand that no one wants to waste an hour in the germ-riddled purgatory that is municipal public transportation. However, riding the bus is a necessary part of the daily commute for those of us who are either too poor to own a car or too pretentious to drive one (Look at me, world! I’m saving the planet by taking the bus!).

Here, then, are some tips to keep in mind on your next commute:

1. Do prepare for odors.

When any large number of people are crammed into a confined space with poor ventilation, there are bound to be some curious smells. Add to this mix a mentally ill person who’s lost either the ability or the desire to control bodily functions, and the bus becomes a bouquet akin to that of a pus-secreting boil on Rush Limbaugh’s scrotum. Supposing that you’re not a fan of productive sores located in the inguinal region of overweight conservative radio talk show hosts, what can you do? The answer is: scarves. Lots of scarves. These may be used to cover your mouth and nostrils, and they will only add to your already piously indignant appearance as you scrutinize the selfishness of those drivers who prefer to rape the planet in the name of convenience on their way to and from work. I recommend a Johnny Depp-level of scarf coverage to best meet these dual demands.

2. Don’t let your thoughts run away from you.

That man sitting across from you in the corduroy blazer, the one who looks just like your former college professor with whom you had all those talks about feminist theory? When you glance down and notice a dark stain in the crotch of his khaki pants and realize, “That old man pissed himself—how sad,” and soon after think to yourself, “I wonder how many people have pissed on the seat I’m sitting on right now,” do not allow this train of thought to leave the station. Simply redirect your attention to the woman listening to Katy Perry on her Dre Beats headphones loud enough for the entire bus to hear every syllable of “Walking on Air.” And by the way, that is your former college professor with whom you had all those talks about feminist theory, so it may be time to reassess your devotion to these principles.

3. Do offer your seat when necessary.

When the pregnant woman boards the bus, give her your seat, and don’t be a dick about it. But when the older lady with thirty plastic bags boards the bus and proceeds to take the seat next to you while dumping all of her bags onto your lap, even though there are 20 open seats nearby, do not hesitate to wish her pain and misery because she totally sucks, and fuck her plastic bags.

4. Do listen to the ambient sounds.

When the neighborhood schizophrenic boards the bus and lights up what remains of a joint that’s now so small that she’s basically smoking her fingers, pause to listen to her soliloquize. You may be fortunate enough to hear a gem like “I’m a dirty masturbater” or “Satan wants to marry me.” This will make you grateful that you have not yet succumb to the temptation to voice your innermost thoughts in public, which are much, much worse. And when the cops board the bus later and ask where that ganja smell is coming from, point toward her as she runs away down the street. Because you didn’t come here to make friends, and let’s face it: you are a dirty masturbater.

5. Don’t overlook signs of affection.

When the homeless man holds his dog’s mouth to his mouth so they can exchange saliva and you think to yourself, “If this is what he does with his dog in public …” just remember that this might be the most genuine expression of love you will see all week.

6. Do fight back.

Avoid pushing against the leg of that financial district douchebag who is pressing his perfectly-pressed, GQ-styled pant leg into yours, as this may be interpreted as some sort of sexual solicitation. Instead, peer over his shoulder as he swipes through Tinder, and when he arrives at a particularly rough-looking, snaggle-toothed profile, gently nudge him in the arm and whisper, “She looks perfect for you.”

7. Don’t pick a fight you won’t (or can’t) win.

However, when the woman who’s loudly bickering with her boyfriend and passing a container of chicken salad between her three children then instructs one of these kids to throw the empty chicken salad container out the window, you have no other recourse but to stare and hang your jaw. This is not a battle that you should pick. It’s a good lesson in powerlessness, and let’s be honest, her tattooed boyfriend looks scary as fuck.

8. Do enjoy the scenery.

There are many ways to escape the reality of being trapped in a tiny space with the shit and vomit particulate of San Francisco’s populace swirling about your head in a halo of sweaty air. Typical resources like books, music, and podcasts are a safe bet. But if you have the intestinal fortitude and aren’t yet a total pussy, I encourage you to sit still and attempt to do absolutely nothing but observe the world around you. When your head’s not buried in Facebook or a dating app, the curiosities of public transportation are simultaneously horrifying, mundane, and profound.

This is life, and like it or not, this is your life.

The warm bed you left behind is firmly in your past, and the meatball sub you’re planning for lunch is yet in the out-of-reach future. Instead, you’re presently sitting on a graffiti-covered chair between some asshole playing his guitar and a girl eating milk and cereal out of a ziplock bag, and this moment is all you have.

It may even be your last.

Fortunately for you, the overwhelming majority of bus rides end and the future arrives and we’re eventually released from public-transportation limbo—at least, until tomorrow arrives and the cycle repeats. But as much as you may regard riding the bus so rancid and unpleasant an experience that you would rather it pass more quickly or be wiped entirely from your consciousness, it is as much a part of your life as any other, including that OkCupid date where you slept with someone who was way out of your league and that Tinder date where you slept with someone you’d rather your friends never know about.

By tuning out the disagreeable parts of life, we might forget to open our eyes during the good parts. You might still be fleeing into your phone and miss that amber sunset, your best friend’s smile, or that perfect moonlit glow upon your lover’s face.

Riding the bus, then, is like walking through the perfume section of a department store, except the fragrances are named things like “Vaginal Discharge” and “Underarm Flop Sweat” and the salesman doesn’t ask for your permission before spraying you as you pass. But if you can bare to keep your eyes open and your senses piqued while on the bus, you’ll be better primed to appreciate the real perfume counter of life.

And seriously: fuck that lady’s plastic bags.

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