I am standing at a semi-enclosed bus shelter on Hennepin Ave, one of the main streets running through downtown Minneapolis. It is a grey, chilly morning, with scattered rain that promises to become snow by evening. The heat lamps are already activated, it just takes a push of the button. I have at least five minutes to wait for my connecting bus and the wind had added an uncomfortable degree of chill. However, in the shelter are three “dudes” and the immediate thought flashes through my mind: Do I want to put up with them at ten o’clock in the morning? Music blares from someone’s device and smoke is exhaled. In a moment I realize it is from a joint. One has pants sagging below his butt and I can see his blue underwear. He has long braids and a scruffy bears and is attractive —until he spits in a corner. One wears a hooded sweatshirt that covers most of his face, the other is turned away in a puffy coat and high top turquoise blue sneakers with the laces undone. I try not to let my dismay show on my face, as I cringe at their language. Fortunately after the joint is smoked and three more spits are expelled, they move on.
The day before, I was on the bus with my four year old grandson who loves to ride in the back of the bus. The back was occupied by a young man whose face I never saw although his words were loud and clear. Before I could convince my grandson to move up to another seat, we were treated to a diatribe where every other word was f****k, or mother***er, or things like “and that m***r, he can lick my d****" and the clincher. “I gotta back to my f*** crib to change. I ain’t never gonna make it in time. I on to Bible class and shit.”
I ride the bus because I don’t drive. Until the past ten years, mostly I lived in cities where bus transportation was easy and affordable, or had partners who drove, or rode a bike. I have struggled to make riding the bus a spiritual practice, blessing passengers, repeating mantras or prayers (My favorite one is "Jesus Christ have mercy on me.") and remembering that I am riding often with the poor and humble. I overhear conversations in Spanish and try to translate, I smile at children, I send waves of sympathy to those in wheelchairs, those who are obviously homeless, those who are talking to themselves, broken, sorrowing, angry, faded people who share their distress in their voices, either on cell phones or to others who may or may not be listening and responding. But sometimes I am just weary. Sometimes I put my nose in a book and try to ignore the atmosphere in the bus.
Occasionally someone engages me in conversation, occasionally there is laughter and good cheer that is not loud bursts of giggles from teens in the back or a drunk who is beside himself with commentary of contemporary life.
I wait for buses in all sorts of weather. I have learned to wear layers and the locations of heat lamps and shelters. I know, for example, that I can take the number 6 to a shelter to wait for number 11, and that the light rail may take longer than the express but it is more comfortable, despite the passengers who put their feet up, despite the signs posted asking them not to. Even here, I have had a drunk behind me swearing and pontificating. When I moved up to another section of the car, he did, too, although still just behind me. Sigh. Then it’s time for patience, mantras, or occasionally, getting off before my stop and waiting for the next bus.
It’s the face of humanity. All of us. It is a ride through fancy neighborhoods and poor, through strip malls and around lakes, past cafes and shoppers and crammed with people dressed in purple on their way to a football game. It is someone who needs a hand, someone who has a heavy backpack and heavy load and a day to kill before the shelter opens to serve a meal. It is kids and their slang and old people unbending out of a seat in slow motion.
This morning I didn’t want to be stuck waiting in that shelter and I also wondered if I should say anything. Should I point out the rudeness, the unawareness? Perhaps a teaching moment? But I was silent. Not out of fear as much as the feeling of pointlessness. I can just hear their sarcastic response, "That old lady! Thinking she can tell us what to do!" But I have also experienced a young man apologizing to me for his cursing. I have had people give up their seats for me and bus drivers wishing me a good day and people asking what book I am reading and the good natured patience when the light rail route was blocked due to a car accident and it took 3 hours to make an hour trip.
I am stuck on the bus, for now, although my dream is of a chauffeur. As I run out to the bus stop yet again, I think of how riding the bus had enabled me to do more with a limited income (my rides are 75 cents except for rush hour plus two 1/2 hour transfer time.) and I try to remember: there is a blessing here, if I will just pause to find it.