Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Inevitable Transit Piece!

Of course I’m going to write some stuff about transit. And so here I go.

Folks, I can’t help it. Public transit is my life at the moment. Not possessing a car (partially for economic reasons, but more accurately for lifestyle choices), I am one of those souls who patronizes the AATA multiple times daily in order to get to work and pay my rent. It changes things. Homeless guys I meet at cafes tell me they see me around all the time. (Oh, that’s cool. I’m glad my poofy blue coat has become a standard Ann Arbor sight). I’ve started to be more—punctual. I was always pretty timely, but it’s gotten out of hand recently. I notice minutes. Because if the bus stops on Plymouth at 7:18 and I dash over at 7:19, it’s done. Half-hour late for work, at least. This leads to awkward interactions with the students with whom I live, who operate on more flexible schedules. At the breakfast I cut people off in the middle of conversations about the meaning of existence. (Excuse me—I don’t know why I exist, but I have to leave right now). I’ve learned that the hour between 2 and 3 is not to be scheduled for anything. It is specifically earmarked as transit time.

But what’s the worry? Plenty of folks take hour-long hikes to work every day over endless suburban freeway. It’s kind of the norm. That's fine, because we spend time to gain things that are valuable to us. For some, it’s a large and fancy house on an isolated lake. For me, it’s living in a cooperative community and commuting in an efficient, respectful manner.

People, in this country particularly, tend to believe that unlimited choice is the highest value, one to which we should quickly sacrifice everything else. Certainly choice is an important part of our culture. But I've found that the limits public transit places on me add to my life in ways I wouldn't want to give up. They make me part of a rhythm, the dance of the daily urban world, and in doing so connect me to hundreds of others who are moving to the same beat. Not to say that the AATA buses are as chatty coffee shops. As in any public space, people tend to keep to themselves and mind their own affairs. But there are the moments—sometimes, the only moments of a hard workday that jolt me back to humanity. Asking the nine-year-old girl why she’s crying (her brother pinched her). Talking to the man in front of me about the key chain he’s weaving out of colorful string. Greeting the same bus drivers every day and knowing that if I’m out sick, they and all the regulars will wonder, where’s the perky redhead in the blue coat? For me, this is what it means to live in a city.

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