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Staffer Alex Gordon shares the joys of public transit

It’s like a team sport, with the driver as quarterback and the riders filling out the bench

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Complaining about buses is an integral part of Pittsburgh living, and there’s a lot of material there. Rude riders, late arrivals, selfish sitters (bags do not get their own seat), weird smells, overhearing private phone conversations, the crowds. But to me, it’s not without its charms.

For instance, about once a week on my ride on the 91 to Downtown, I witness an interaction that brings me unspeakable, irrational joy. It’s a phenomenon that doesn’t have a name (yet) but we’ve all seen it. The bus approaches a tight turn at an intersection, rounds the corner and is halted by a car pulled too far up beyond the “stop here” line. The bus can go no further. And unfortunately there are 10 cars behind the first car, so the front car has to reverse inch by inch, creating a chain reaction of stuttered backing-up until there’s enough room to go. It’s pretty funny.   

That awkward reversing is fun to watch, but my favorite part is the facial expression of the driver in the front car when the bus careens within inches of his or her whip. Sit about three-fourths of the way back and you’ll get a front-row seat to these expressions of terror, anger and confusion (not normally things I like to see on strangers’ faces, but hey, in the context of this selfish, inconsiderate act, I’m all about it).

Some riders spend their trip reading or playing on their phones, but I take this time to look down on the cars below and judge their driving. To me, that’s part of the fun of riding a bus. You get all the frustrations and adrenaline of road rage, but without having to drive. (Is this what the future holds, Uber?) Most on-the-road interactions, good or bad, are one-on-one, car versus car. But on a bus, it’s like a team sport, with the driver as quarterback and the riders filling out the bench. It’s like a football team taking on a bunch of golfers. I get really into it. Don’t push it, Hyundai! Slow down, Benz! Good luck with that light, Daewoo!

There are other small joys riding the bus. Example: sitting in the middle part of an articulated bus (the accordion part). It always reminds me of the teacups at old amusement parks. So fun.

Or enjoying the warm-to-hot-to-scalding seats in the back during winter months to warm your tuchus. Or watching people do that stutter-step toward the front as the bus brakes. Why don’t more people ever fall down? Do Pittsburghers have abnormally sturdy calves?

Or the involuntary eavesdropping. Sometimes this is brutal and inconsiderate, other times it’s simply invigorating. This year on an 88, I listened to a 10-minute conversation between a young couple about which of them had first started saying “def” as a slang word (it’s short for “definitely”). The girlfriend accused her boyfriend of using it inauthentically. He shot back with the same. After hearing them both use it several times, I gotta say, I’m with her.

Or that little hand-placed-over-the-money-slot move that bus drivers use to tell you when to pay. (I’ve been riding Pittsburgh buses for 11 years, and I still don’t know whether to pay when I get on or off. I’m probably alone on that one).

So I would never advocate against complaining. I’m all for it — it’s an important part of the life experience. But every once in a while, it’s nice to keep things in perspective and go positive. Next time you’re on a bus, try to see the bright side, at least a little. Everything in moderation.


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