On the Pleasures of Riding the Bus

My mechanic recently informed me that my old car is effectively dead, by which I mean he told me it’s structurally unsound and would require $1000+ to make it safe for driving. As a result, I’ve been taking the bus to and from work a few days a week when my wife has need of our other vehicle.

I’ve been an on-and-off public transit rider since shortly after we got married, when I was working and studying for my masters degree in St. Louis. We lived in north St. Louis county where I was able to pick up the bus a block from our apartment, transfer at the airport for a ride on St. Louis’ light rail line, and then catch another bus that would drop me off close to my office.

The whole trip would take over a hour, during which I came to love public transportation. I rode regularly when I lived in Springfield, Illinois, and am similarly fortunate here that bus stops are located near both our home and my office. Sure, driving my car would be faster and more convenient. But riding the bus and train is a pleasure in a way battling through highway traffic never is:

  1. Using public transportation gives me the opportunity to decompress at the end of the work day. I’m an introvert, and after a day of meetings, workshops, and interaction with other people — all of which I love! — I need some time to re-energize, especially if I’m going to give my children the attention they need from their father. A 45-60 minute bus ride, during which I don’t have to concentrate on driving, is a welcome respite that even my wife has noticed helps me be in a better mood at the end of the day.
  2. I use the time to pray and read (mostly). The commute to and from work gives me plenty of time for… well, most anything I want, really, which means it’s ideal time for praying the Liturgy of the Hours. The truth is I’m pretty bad at carving out time in the morning to pray (having a 5-year old who tends to get up early doesn’t help). Riding the bus ensures that I’ve got plenty of time to start the day of right. Even after praying through Lauds or Vespers there’s plenty of time to read through my backlog of books, write out notes for an upcoming writing assignment or talk (I wrote part of this post on the bus), or listen to a podcast. I try to minimize the time I spend on my phone (not always successfully), but since removing all the games off my phone I’m at least usually reading through blogs if I’m browsing.
  3. I get to interact with other people in my community. Riding the bus, you get to see a cross-section of the people in the community. In St. Louis I saw a lot of professionals and blue-collar workers sharing the ride downtown. In Springfield my morning commute coincided with high school students riding to school. My current routes see a lot of Purdue students commuting to campus and back. Riding the bus helps me see my community as more than an abstraction, and more as the diverse cast of individuals it is.
  4. Riding the bus is good for the soul. By that I mean that riding the bus helps me avoid some near occasions of sin, such as yelling at other drivers or allowing my impatience to get the better of me. Ceding the responsibility of driving to a bus driver also cultivates an acceptance that I’m not in control — which is good practice in the virtue of obedience to God’s will. And that’s all on top of knowing I’m exercising good environmental stewardship, too.

I don’t always ride the bus, and I know I’m fortunate that riding the bus is, for now, convenient and easy. I can easily imagine situations where it won’t be an option the way it is now. But for the foreseeable future I’m glad that it’s a pleasure I will continue to enjoy.