Thursday, May 26, 2011

My Lonesome Bus

I ride the bus to work and have been doing so for almost 18 months. Not only do I save money on gas and parking, but I also spend a lot less time working on my ancient Toyota. And, strangely enough, I enjoy the bus ride itself.

A small-city bus commute is much different than Big City Mass Tran. In Chicago, for example, I imagine that one could take the same L train to and from work every day for years without ever engaging in any sort of meaningful social interaction, without ever making a friend. In fact, safety and common sense  should generally supersede any effort to make friends with people on the subway.

But my city bus is different. It is small and I see the same people day in and day out, I even know most of our little bus gang by name. On a good day, the front of the bus is almost like an impromptu book club, as most of  the folks who sit in the front section are avid readers and like most readers, like to talk about what they are reading. I recently caught some good-natured flak for reading Joyce's Portrait Of...and loving it. I made up for it by admitting that I could not make it through Ulysses. But then I made it worse by mentioning that Ulysses, along with The DaVinci Code, was one of the very few books that I have ever been unable -or unwilling- to finish. It turned out that DaVinci had a lot of fans, but to an old-school conspiracy buff, it was dull and derivative stuff, not exactly up to Foucault's Pendulum or Illuminatus! standards.

In any case, I think it's cool to be able to talk about books on the bus.

But lately the bus has been very crowded, I suspect gas prices are encouraging more people to ride, which is a good thing...except it has broken up our little book club. We are now scattered willy-nilly wherever there is an empty seat and I am usually surrounded by strange New Riders.

The New Riders look just like normal people , but instead of books they carry tiny gadgets that connect to tiny headphones . Some of them surf the net on tiny screens. None of them seem to be engaged with anything outside of their own skulls. The New Riders are tense, unapproachable and they tend to miss their stop on the first day or two of their New Riding, probably because they are  preoccupied with whatever is on their tiny little screens instead of  paying attention to the world outside.

I'm a radio DJ and a long-time guitar player. I love music. But I have no desire at all to own an iPod or any other 'Walkman' type headphone device. I loved my 1980's walkman, sure, but these days I like to be aware of what is going on around me, and sound is an important part of the environment. I know people who take iPods on camping trips so that they can walk through the quiet solitude of the deep woods while listening to Nine Inch Nails. Personally, I think they are missing the point of a deep woods hike, but what do I know? I quit taking acid decades ago and I never really liked NIN that much anyway.

But today I was surrounded by New Riders and all of them- no exceptions- had headphones on. When I looked out the window, almost every pedestrian I saw was wearing earbuds or a phone clip.

The same for the lobby of the building I work in. Everyone I saw there  had some sort of electronic media barrier between themselves and the world around them, a phone to the ear, a headset on, a 'phantom' conversation with an ear-clip, a laptop to stare one was paying attention to anything in their immediate vicinity.  

This world is a pickpocket's dream come true, I thought.

No wonder people need GPS these days- they aren't paying attention to where they go or to where they have been- hell, most modern navigators couldn't find the sidewalk if they tripped over the kerb, much less follow a roadmap from point A to point B.

When did this happen? When did we start to -as a majority culture- decide to create portable cocoons of safe, known comforts that we could use to shield ourselves from each other and our surroundings, to send a 'don't talk to me' message in our daily public activities? To lose interest in the minute and mundane details that make the world an interesting place to live?

Or maybe I'm imagining it. That is possible. I read a lot of books and some of them are  underground comic books, so who knows what sort of crazy ideas I might have.


BamaTrojan said...

I've often thought the same thing, but I love the poetic language you use to describe it: 'portable cocoons of safe, known comforts'. Great post!

billy pilgrim said...

i take the bus too and notice lots of people tapping away on their phones etc. i always thought they were texting but when i look over their shoulders i see most of them are playing games.

Judy Bracher Carmichael said...

I returned to college as an older student, and couldn't believe how all the other students put phones to their ears the second class ended. Lots of them were faking conversations, so they wouldn't have to talk to people. Anonymous survey about that time confirmed: 30 percent faking at any given time.

Angel said...

Erm... I must be honest in that I am not one or making small talk and mingling with people I don't know so the fewer people who approach me out of the blue, the better. It freaks me out and I always wonder what made them think I wanted to talk to them!?