Ode to the Omnibus


I find buses to be extremely romantic. Some of my most formative experiences have taken place on buses. The first time a boy asked me out. The first time someone punched me in the face. The first time I got undressed in view of other people. The first time I watched/heard a woman pee into a bottle. (The last three instances all took place on marching band trips; we were not a timid bunch. More on this later.)

In fact, I am writing these very words from a bus. I am traveling from New York to Washington D.C. on a bus with leather seats. At $19 a ticket, it’s the most comfortable and affordable way to travel. (I promise this blog is not sponsored by BoltBus.) I have been looking forward to this trip for days—this trip meaning not only my sister’s wedding, but also the four-hour bus ride leading up to it.

Throughout my youth, buses were the sacred sites in which I developed my inner self. On buses I have contemplated the universe (how does the moon seem to move at our same pace?); absentmindedly drawn smiley faces and song lyrics on foggy windows; whispered intensely to my best friend on late rides home from marching band competitions; listened to CDs all the way through and back again, to learn every note by heart; anxiously anticipated visits to my long-distance boyfriend.

On a bus, all you have to do is nothing. Airplanes, on the other hand, are complicated and unsettling, and the expensive fare forces you to take advantage of every minute of on-board entertainment available. You lose track of time, forced to arrive hours early, only to wait at the security checkpoint, wait at the boarding gate, wait on the plane in the taxi queue. You arrive at your destination exhausted and disoriented. Trains are more down-to-earth, but are still given to pretense, what with their reliable wi-fi, their dining cars, their suit-and-tie passengers.

By contrast, the bus is a mobile zone of zero fucks. By all means, take off your shoes. Feel free to occupy the seat next to you with your duffel bag and your Trader Joe’s groceries, stocked with smelly and messy food items. No one’s judging because everyone paid the same rock-bottom fare, and what’s more American then letting your fellow bus passenger tear into their lamb kebab?

Your mind, instead of bogged down by a steady stream of discomfort (the altitude! the dry air! the infernal drone!), is free. Instead of an endless sea of clouds, the scene outside your window is still full of life. Who needs to pick up a book when there are other drivers in passing cars whose arrival points and destinations can be wondered about? Or houses and lawns and storefronts to observe? Since you’re not behind the wheel, there’s no need to remain alert, or even awake. Your eyes can flit lazily from one earthly treasure to the next. Or, as I’m about to do, they can gently close and rest.  




For the past week I have been taking practice exams for the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test. Each year, thousands of eighth- and ninth-graders study for this test in hopes of gaining entry into New York City’s nine prestigious specialized high schools.

Based on the short paragraph above, which of the following best describes this author?

A. She is an ambitious eighth- or ninth-grade student.
B. She is attending public school in New York City.
C. She is a twenty-something college graduate eager to relive her former years of academic glory.

Like the correct answer, my average on these practice tests hovers around a C, which means I have earned my rightful place in public high school.

You see, my boyfriend is tutoring students in the SHSAT, and every night he brings home a copy of the practice sections he assigned for homework that day. I have been eagerly taking them for the same reason that I love crossword puzzles and trivia night. And besides, there’s a tiny, geeky thrill in discovering that I still know (for the most part) how to identify a thesis statement or solve for x.

In my day-to-day, there’s little opportunity for instant gratification like this. Sure, there are sometimes problems that need solving, but then it’s usually Google that deserves the credit. Plus, I have unrestricted access to a calculator. No, this kind of specialized, standardized pleasure belongs entirely to the young, whose knowledge of mushroom harvesting or Cajun ancestry is limited to the foregoing passage and untainted by life experience. (I have never known mushroom gathering to be “lucrative”, as suggested by the unlikely yet supposedly correct answer to question 31.)

So I wonder how my fourteen-year-old self would have fared on this test. Would she have been able to quickly recall the formula for a circle’s circumference? Or been more patient and less critical of the silly reading comprehension passages? Probably. But even if she would have bombed the test, I would smile at her warmly, pat her back and remind her: There’s always a career in mushroom gathering.