The likelihood of unusual things happening on a bus is far greater than it is on a subway. Why is that?
The other night it was cold and rainy, so I hopped on the 64 bus at Fort Totten for a ride over to my house near Rock Creek Cemetery. At the first stop, a number of people got on. After several people boarded, a guy got on the bus, half-heartedly felt around his pockets for a non-existent transfer, and said to the driver, “Hey man, it’s my birthday.”
After being waved past, the guy took a few steps in, then addressed the entire bus, “Hey, it IS my birthday. Everybody say, ‘Happy Birthday Kev-iiiiiiiin!'”
“Holy balls,” I thought. “This dude is doing a call and response…on a city bus.”
Then a chorus of people erupt around me, “HAPPY BIRTHDAY, KEV-IIIIIIIIN!”
“Holy balls,” I corrected myself. “This dude is doing a call and response…on a city bus…and it worked!”
Before moving to Petworth, I’d never ridden on a Metro bus. There really is no good reason for this, just that our old apartment was two blocks from the Red Line, as is my office. However, since I’ve been introduced to the bus system, I’ve noticed something that I don’t quite understand. It seems that the likelihood of crazy nonsense happening on the bus is significantly larger than on the subway. I think most people who use both modes of transportation would agree with this assumption. My question is: Why? Story continues after the jump.
I mean, if you base it purely on volume (the number of folks riding on a bus compared to those on a subway car), you’d expect the opposite to be true. But it isn’t.
My bus’s birthday greeting for Kevin was far from my only unusual bus adventure. Just last week I rode with a woman wearing an electric red Pipi Longstocking-style ponytail wig who kept talking to her reflection in the window, occasionally shrieking about someone hiding things inside her shoes. Last week my friend Aaron rode the bus next to a guy who was clipping his fingernails while crying. Another friend routinely encounters a man selling white tube socks on his morning bus ride. A dinner companion told me a story of a knockdown girl-on-girl fist fight in the back of a bus that ended with one of them screaming, “I don’t care if you are my mother, give me back my cell phone!” My buddy Matt says that one evening he was taking the 42 bus home and the guy behind him was smoking crack. Yup. Smoking crack. On the bus.
Of course, riding the subway is not necessarily a dull experience, either. There’s the large woman with a painted face who plays harmonica and sings (sans melody, song structure, or skill) for tips on the Red Line. The guy I’ve seen several times shredding the Washington Post into strips and tossing them in front of himself as he goes through his commute like a newsprint-wielding Hansel and Gretel. My friend Amy tells of a guy who paced through her subway car slowly (yet loudly) singing “Jesus Loves Me” while giving The Eye to his fellow passengers as if he planned to kill and/or eat them.
My friend Meghan takes the prize, though. She once walked towards an empty bench on a subway car when she noticed a human turd on the seat. When she pointed it out to the train operator, he responded, “Oh, this happens all the time.” (Think about that before you sit your lunch down on the vacant seat next to you.)
But even at their relative best, subway stories rarely meet the number and intensity set by bus stories. In trying to make sense of all this, I’ve gathered four possible theories:
Routes: The chance that there’s a bus line within 2 or 3 blocks of your house is much higher than the chance that you are that close to a subway stop. Generally, the subway is a destination–you go to the nearest stop and enter their system at that centralized point. Buses are different, they route themselves through neighborhoods, going where people live. Therefore, it is easier for nonsense provocateurs to use the bus. While this theory has potential, there is one critical flaw in it. My bus (like others)–the source of my experiences–serves as a connecting point to the subway system. Most of those who ride my bus get off and walk directly into the subway entrance. Since that is the case–crazy on the bus should equal crazy on the subway.
Price: I’ve heard variations on this a lot. The idea here is that the price difference between the subway and buses prevents most of the nuttiness from taking the subway. First off, there are crazy-acting folks with dollars in their pocket. Plenty. Plus, for many situations we’re talking about a 60 cent difference. Come on–we are supposed to believe that some guy who thinks he’s being attacked by invisible birds has $1.35 in his pocket, but it’s preposterous that he would have $1.95?
Number of people: Earlier I mentioned that based on the number of people on a bus and subway car, the stats should indicate that more unusual things should happen on the subway. One way to explain this isn’t the number of crazy-acting folks, but the number of NON-crazy-acting folks. In other words, the odd birds are diffused by the sheer bulk of otherwise un-drama-inducers around them. Even though it is my own theory, there are problems with this, too. If someone is going to drop trou and defecate on the subway, it doesn’t matter if five people are there–or 50 or 100–someone is going to notice.
Bus stigma: My neighbor shared something I’ve heard many other people stumble around: bus stigma. She told me about hushed whispers among her co-workers saying things like, “Can you believe So-N-So takes the bus?” “No way, get out!” I find that most of the people who promote bus stigma are often the same folks who never, ever use public transportation. Then they bitch about parking…and then I get really mad at them. Despite their ass-faced transpo-elitism, the idea may be germane here. I mean, if someone doesn’t care how ridiculous they look clipping their fingernails or hocking tube socks on public transit, they obviously aren’t too concerned about the faux pas of riding the bus in the first place. (Note: Every time I’ve tried to type “bus stigma” I accidentally type “bus stigmata” first. It’s a fun distraction to try to figure out what “bus stigmata” might be.)
Sure, there are people who use both transport systems who have problems–probably big, unfortunate problems. But 90% of the stories you hear about strange happenings on the bus and subway don’t come from drug addicts or mentally ill riders. Most are instigated by otherwise “normal” folks. What’s missing from this entire conversation is context. Beside the turd thing, probably every other story I’ve shared could *possibly* be explained away in some context. I’m sure Aaron’s seatmate had a perfectly understandable and rational reason for clipping his nails…and crying. It, like most other stories, just seems odd out of context.
So there you have it, dear readers. Do you agree with the premise or any of the theories I’ve laid out? How about your own? While you are writing, feel free to throw in your favorite bus and/or subway story.