Next Stop

The bus pulled up to the bus stop but failed to open its doors and pulled away again before I realized that it was passing my stop and I hadn’t gotten off. No one, evidently, had pulled the wire for a stop request, myself included. It hadn’t even occurred to me to do so: as a crossroads with another route, the bus always stopped there. In the fog of darkness and rain I hadn’t been paying the closest attention to the passing landmarks to realize that I was the only one preparing to descend. 

Due to a quirk in the route of that particular bus, I knew that the next stop also crossed the route that I needed, so I told myself to be calm and, this time, to request the stop myself. I made it to the station for my transfer without undue difficulty. The station was well lit and open: a safe space that still, somehow gave me a sense of unease. Perhaps this was due to the combination of the weather and the unfamiliarity of the place. There seemed to be a great number of things striving to get my attention: a number of people striving to get my attention. In the span of the one hundred yards walk and fifteen minute wait, three different people tried to strike up a conversation. 

Your hair is really long- like, I could scale a wall with it, long.

Can you give me some money so I don’t get fined for not paying for the ticket?

Am I being too loud for you?

This last came from a kid on a bicycle who had been singing along with music on his phone and who proceeded to strike up a nervous, Jesse Pinkman style one-sided conversation about classic rock. He seemed like a kid who just wanted someone to talk to and had had the misfortune of choosing someone like me who just wanted to be left alone. I felt guilty for feeling relief when the bus arrived and I was no longer obliged to continue conversation. Conversations like this one: harmless small talk between strangers at a crossroads,  is the kind of human contact that we blame our phones and devices for taking away thus causing the erosion of society. ( Or, if you’re a certain kind of person, this kind of conversation is an expression of male privilege that any woman can be expected to be a polite audience… blah blah. It was chitchat. Let’s not make too much of it.) 

The point, I think, is that places where the paths of many humans cross are gray areas between social and personal space. I prefer to cultivate privacy: if I didn’t have my phone or headphones I still wouldn’t be likely to spend the time engaging in a conversation with a stranger. I’d read a book. I’d pretend to sleep. I would still work to send signals that I prefer to be left alone. At the same time, I recognize that public transit means that I’m not actually alone, I do have to make the effort to acknowledge the humans around me even if it means the slight discomfort of not knowing whether or not they are an extravert who is going to want to chat indefinitely. It’s a delicate balance between comfort and contact that isn’t always easy to navigate. 

At any rate, the detour slowed me down, but did not otherwise disrupt my usual routine. Whenever my routine is disrupted, I wonder whether it isn’t meant to be some kind of lesson: a call to adventure of some kind. Theatre, as they say, isn’t about the day that nothing happens. 

~ by Gwydhar Gebien on January 5, 2017.

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