A SERIES ON PUBLIC TRANSIT CULTURE-today, Part 3, brats(aka, sausage) on the bus.
While Parts 1 & 2 discussed riding the elevated train, this entry addresses the bus.
As I mentioned in a recent post, I am changing my response to when a stranger asks for money for food. Make no mistake, I won’t give up any money. However, I will offer them any extra snacks I’m carrying (I often carry cheese & cracker packs). Recently, on a CTA bus, a man accompanied by a young teenager, asked me if I had anything for he and his son so they could get something to eat. As I had no snacks with me, I told him I had nothing for him. The man then posed his question to the passenger across the aisle. This male passenger, a middle-aged man carrying two grocery bags, stated in a strong Chicago, ‘da Bears’ kind of accent, “Want a brat?” The ‘man-in-need’ declined the kind offer of sausage, and he and his son exited the bus at the next stop. I told my fellow passenger I was also approached for money and I appreciated what he had said. The man then opened his shopping bag to reveal none other than brats-proving he wasn’t kidding. I’ll go out on a limb to say that such a scenario could only happen in Chicago.
Thankfully, altruistic, positive attitudes aren’t uncommon on the bus. I often see people of all types voluntarily giving up their seats for others they see as in need. Whether that means simply standing so another person may sit, or standing and putting forth the effort to raise one of the folding bench seats so that area may be used by someone in a wheelchair. Sure selfish attitudes are present too, but, often, efforts to help others abound. And that’s not only among the passengers. CTA employees are patient professionals committed to making the rides they provide safe and as pleasant as possible. On hot, near triple-digit summer days, I’ve seen bus drivers leave their air-conditioned seats to help weary cyclists get their bikes properly situated in the racks on the front of the bus.
Though there were no sausages exchanged, one evening commute earlier this year proved quite dramatic in other ways. My trip home was complicated by closure of a portion of the train line coupled with blocked streets, all of which related to a stand-off involving Chicago police and reportedly armed individuals. After being asked to exit the train, I boarded the bus to continue my commute. Boarding required another waiting period, and a line, as CTA staff were apparently addressing the practical logistics of transferring multiple train cars of passengers to buses. As the bus began moving I was standing amidst many other crowded commuters. All was going as well as could be expected until the driver on this north-bound bus turned west, and then south. At that point, a man near me began yelling that we were going the wrong way. A few others joined the shouting and added demands to exit the bus. Since we were off our prescribed route, due to additional street closures, the driver was passing bus stops, which a few other riders then began shouting about. Adding to the theatre of the moment, the man standing next to me began a loud cell phone conversation where he told the person on the line that the bus was now out of control due to a rogue driver. The man went on to direct his friend to tell his “northside crew” to cool it on the streets and stop (expletive) with the police so that he could get home. Other riders, like me, quietly observed the goings on, or poked at their smart phones. The melee ended with the bus driver stopping at a train station so we could reboard the train.
For me, on the most typical of travel days, taking the bus is a more tedious, patience-testing ride than the train. I offer several reasons for my view. First, traffic delays. The bus rides the streets and must negotiate the road with other drivers. The train, for the most part, has a continual command of the right-of-way. Its only impediments are the physicalities of the train itself, other trains, and the tracks. Second, human error. Human error certainly affects both types of transport, but many fewer humans are potentially making errors and slowing my commute when I’m on the train. Lastly, an emotional, very personal reason, riding the train just feels less pedestrian. Something about being either up above, or below, the busy streets communicates a certain urban/cosmopolitan panache.
A related note. Recently, on an 87-degree Chicago summer night, I noticed that electrical power appeared to be off on a particular block near me. A fire plug on the same block had been illegally opened and Chicago’s finest were monitoring a giant plume of water which spanned the street. I then saw 2 CTA buses, the articulated (bendy) type, parked along a nearby street. This was an unusual sight, made even more odd given these stationary buses were both full of people and CTA employees were standing alongside each bus. The AC-equipped buses were being used to cool residents of a nearby care facility for the mentally ill. How wonderful to know that in a crisis (no power = no AC) the city rises to the occasion to help those in need. I saw buses used similarly a few years ago when the power to an exclusive, Lake Shore Drive hi-rise was off and residents were left without AC or water. Although, the buses on Lake Shore Drive were well-appointed luxury liners, not city buses.