Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Bus Commuter

(the following is my descriptive essay for my English Composition subject which earned me a grade of A.)
When I arrived in Hawai'i in April 2007, one of the first things I had to learn was to ride The Bus.  Since then, the Bus has been my primary means 
of transportation.

The  Bus is a good place to observe people.  I have encountered persons with different idiosyncrasies, different personalities, different sizes and even different odors.

When I am not taking a nap or reading my books, I sometimes find myself gazing at other passengers, listening to the way they talk, observing their movements, behavior and how they are dressed.

Looking at their faces, I imagine that each has their own story to tell:  the shabbily dressed man with a blank expressionless face staring across the aisle, the teenager lost in his own world while listening to music in his iPod, the young woman who chats endlessly on the phone, or young lovers smooching, oblivious of the crowd around them.

Some carry a sunny countenance, like the elderly Filipino blue collar workers who, in spite of their advancing age, continue to work.  Where I am from in the Philippines, people in their 60's are already retired, spending their days enjoying the fruits of their labor acquired during their younger years.

Once in a while, I am privileged to meet interesting passengers like that bright-eyed little boy with the sweetest smile who was seated in front of me the other day.  He was approximately 3 years old, with long curly eyelashes and uncombed light brown hair.  He was seated beside his mother, a pretty woman in her early 20's, with long golden brown hair, a bit chubby, and a tattoo of Japanese characters on her nape.  She was carrying a month old baby girl with large brown eyes and flushed pink face.

The little boy could not keep still.  He insisted on playing with his black rubber slipper, twirling it in his hands, even when his mother was trying to restrain him by holding onto his hand.  With a sing-song voice and garbled words, he tried to engage me in a conversation by telling me how old his sister was, asking me questions such as where I was going, what school I go to and what I was holding on my lap.  I was attracted to his cheerful disposition and we ended up chatting until it was time for them to get off the bus.

Most of the passengers on Route E Country Express have become familiar faces.  Many of them are middle-aged and elderly Asians, mostly of Filipino descent.

There are two regular passengers in Country E with "peculiar" personalities:  one is a male in his mid-30's, probably Filipino, approximately 5'4" in height, and light built.  He moves with a certain arrogant gait that at first glance makes him look like a conceited individual.  However, after closely observing his mannerisms and movements, I have concluded that something is not normal about this person.  He constantly expands his chest and fidgets in his seat, and a slight movement of a nearby passenger is enough to stir him.  On one occasion, I was seated behind him and every time I opened my bag, he got a bit ruffled.  I do not know if it was the sound of the zipper or the bang of the shoulder strap at the back of his seat that made him uncomfortable.  

Another interesting passenger is a middle-aged Oriental lady who usually takes the bus in the morning.  She is overly friendly and chats non-stop with whomever is seated beside her.  It does not seem to matter to her if the person just nods or smiles back at her; she continues to blabber until the person gets off the bus.  What makes me think that something is not right about her?  She repeats the same sentence five times or more.  "How are you today?" "You look pretty today."  She becomes incomprehensible the longer she talks.

On a few occasions, I encounter passengers who appear to be intoxicated or high on drugs; those with an attitude; those who talk to themselves or those who try to pick a fight with other passengers.  These are the times when the driver has to stop the bus and admonish them to behave or risk being ejected from the bus.

I have observed that locals are noisier than "transplants".  They talk loudly, laugh boisterously and are more carefree in their behavior.  Another distinct difference:  locals have a lot of tattoos- even middle-aged women.

Another observation:  Oriental elderly women have a tendency to talk very loud.  It is very interesting to hear them converse animatedly in their native language which I cannot understand; oftentimes it is distracting when I am trying to concentrate on my readings.  I usually encounter these passengers when I take the Route #6 Bus to the William Richardson School of Law.  In contrast, the Filipinos tend to talk softly, almost in a whisper.  However, once they start speaking on the phone, their voices grow loud enough for a passenger seated three seats away to hear them.

I do not mind meeting passengers with peculiar personalities as long as I am not seated near them.  What I do not like about riding The Bus is the stinky odor, especially body odor that I sometimes smell.  This is usually common in the afternoon and during late night trips.  Sometimes, I am unfortunate to sit beside or behind a passenger who smells so bad I want to die.  When all the seats are filled up, I cannot do anything but hold my breath, and pray for a vacant seat where I can transfer.  When the stink is unbearable, I would rub cologne or hand sanitizer on my nose to mask the smell.  Lately, I have been bringing along a small menthol stick which comes in handy when my cologne or hand sanitizer is not strong enough to counteract the stench coming from somebody's sweaty armpits, or from someone who appears to have not taken a bath or changed clothes in ages, or from one who smells like rotten fish.

On certain occasions when the bus is filled with passengers and all seats are taken, I have no choice but to stand in the aisle until a Good Samaritan offers me a seat or I am quick enough to take one when a seated passenger vacates his seat.  These are the times when I wish I was comfortably seated in our car instead of having to stand on a crowded bus for fifteen minutes, or worse, for half an hour, trying to keep my balance while carrying a heavy computer bag on my right shoulder and books in my left hand.  I suffer a constant tingling pain on the right portion of my lower back which radiates to my thighs and right leg, and standing on the bus carrying what seems like a sackful of stones simply aggravates the pain.

During those unfortunate times when I have to stand in the aisle, I am careful so as to avoid bumping into other passengers who are also standing.  I am especially careful that I do not hit those who are seated near the aisle with my heavy bag.  Therefore, it is an irritation when I encounter a passenger who is careless or who bumps into me on purpose.

Riding The Bus could be fun.  I have the opportunity to talk to people, learn about life in Hawai'i from old-timer expats and even meet new friends.  As opposed to driving and having to concentrate on the road and trying to beat traffic, on the bus I can sit comfortably and take a nap, study or meditate.  I even learn just by watching how other people behave and talk.  The downside of it:  having to stand all the way from Honolulu to Waipahu, or worse, up to Ewa Beach, while carrying my heavy stuff and trying to keep myself from fainting because of the stinky smell of passengers beside me.

Two weeks from now, my husband and I are transferring to our temporary residence at Ala Moana Boulevard before we permanently leave for Florida after the semester ends.  I am very happy that I will no longer be taking extended bus trips from Ewa Beach to Diamond Head or Dole St.  However, I will also miss my bus acquaintances and the colorful personalities that I encounter daily.

1 comment:

Jason Bruce said...

Good thoughts. I can relate because I used to take the public bus to Wash DC until I changed jobs 3 years ago. I love my commute its my only time to read and have some deep time for prayer and reflection. Hope all goes well to your move to FL.


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