Having decided to spend a month in Seattle, where a number of my close friends live, I felt at ease with the awareness that I wouldn't have my own wheels while in this town. While my friends have their own cars, they do far more walking than anyone I know, in my home town of Greensboro. And these Seattle friends take busses fairly often, too. Our town just isn't set up that way. People rarely walk far, unless it's for a destination-less jaunt on a pretty day, or specifically for exercise. And most of my friends don't ride busses to their destinations, either.
Here, city busses are so familiar that it's commonplace to hear such sentences as "Well you'll just take the 17 then switch to the 2 and it'll drop you right there!" and "Well after dinner, I'll just drop you off at the bus stop before I go home; you can jump on the 18, which will take you right to their corner." What's that? The Two? The Eighteen??? What are you people talking about???
What are they talking about, indeed?! Turns out there's this carefully-crafted, intricately connected systems of busses that will, in fact, take you to all corners of the city on a steady basis, following an established and widely-published schedule. As each bus approaches, you'll immediately see a digital number, clearly marking its route.
And so I did it. In fact, I've now taken several different busses. Sometimes I've walked to the stop, other times I've been dropped there by friends headed elsewhere. I've done a transfer alone, and learned the importance of knowing exactly which direction you're headed - since turns out the east-bound 2 and the west-bound 2 will not yield the same results. (And here's where I give a shout-out to the lovely older gentleman driving the bus I'd waited for, in the rain with not a few sketchy-looking people, for nearly a half hour. You're very kind. We appreciate you. Really we do.)
Let's talk about that "sketchy people" assertion now, shall we?
I'll be the first to tell you that while I like to believe myself open-minded and I find all manner of people fascinating and worthy, sometimes people who sort of leer as they look me up and down, or who stand in one place while their bodies do this jittery little dance and they mumble incoherently... sometimes these people make me uncomfortable. A lot uncomfortable. And, standing on that street, in the rain, while the sun sunk lower and lower and I tried to read my book and allow the time to pass as efficiently as possible, I questioned myself. I questioned my protective little bubble of privelege and affluence. Maybe when your eyes move around in a very specific way and you have less teeth in your mouth than I do, it doesn't mean you're strung out. Maybe, instead, you're stressed out and you just don't have a very good dental record.
It's "questioning myself" that I'm doing a lot of as I intentionally put myself into new situations. I want to be careful and cautious and not place myself into circumstances in which I'll be at risk. And, too, I want to embrace the awareness of all of humanity's inherent differences. As with most aspects of life, there's balance to be achieved. How much of my naïveté has to be shed in order to become a confident world-traveler one day? How much of my prejudice? Where does one leave off being generous by nature and begin being a target?
While waiting at bus stops, and riding those vehicles once they arrived, I observed some people who truly did make me feel nervous. And? I encountered like-minded generosity of the kind I have come to expect in life, as well. One guy stood back and insisted I board first. A lady, whom I later learned was living in a different halfway house from before, and who was happy to tell me where the best pancakes around are, even though it's not the pancake house where she works, welcomed me to share her seat. Yet another offered her experience as a non-native Seattlite. Many other riders did what I did and immersed themselves in their books, or listened to their iPods.
Solo bus treks still make me a smidge uneasy, but mostly this is because I don't yet know the lines and their stops, and I'm always a tad uncomfortable with thoughts of what will happen if I fail to request the driver to stop at my intended destination, and he or she doesn't do so automatically. Will I find myself far away, having to hoof it back through unknown streets at night? Will another bus headed in the opposite direction come along soon enough to help me retrace my steps?
As with other lessons in life, I'm reminded that these kinds of "what ifs" are often far too responsible for unneeded anxiety. Probably nobody's going to try to grab my bag and I'm not going to miss my stop. Probably, just as with these first explorative rides, I'm going to get off where I should, walk a block to my friends' house, or the meet-up location, and life will proceed just as it always has. Only with new sights in my memory, and stories of the interesting people who shared my ride...
But for the record? If you're an iPhone user who relies heavily on your Google Map app, and you're planning to be out and about for hours on end, maybe being sure you pack a charger in your bag for the day will be a good idea. Either that or have a map in your bag, along with your friends' phone numbers, written on actual pieces of paper, all old-fashioned like. Which isn't all that bad advice, anyway, since as one who's anticipating a day when I'll travel abroad, chances are I won't be all hooked up with the technology in every one of my future destinations, anyway. Lessons: they usually come in layers, no?