Thursday, January 19, 2017

                   Bus #22
By Jennette Lukasik

A wintry mixture of sand and salt is sent down the windswept canyon of the MacNab Street bus station. Dry brown bits of autumn leaves join in the dance, last to leave.
        Bus #22 Upper Ottawa waits idling at Terminal 1, the furthest walk to Jackson Square for passengers coming or going. The bus doors are closed, the driver missing in action. Motor left running, the tail pipe spews carcinogens into the air. Waiting passengers, hats pulled down over ears, scarves pulled up over faces against the cold, winter wind stand huddled around the door.
        I choose to sit down on a metal seat kindly provided by the HSR for the feeble and the weary. A sign above my head warns ‘No Smoking in This Area. Be Considerate of Others.’ Several passengers wait, cigarettes in hand. The driver arrives. One last deep lung-filling drag is enjoyed. The butts are discarded and the door opened.
        Step up! Validate your Presto card! Take a seat and prepare to observe!
The seats, hard and narrow give truth to the saying ‘cheek by jowl’. Dark blue fabric covers the seats. Woven into the material is the logo of the City of Hamilton. I look for a seat away from others, trying to avoid any hip to hip intimacy with strangers.
        A sign at the front of the bus above large windows designates this particular vehicle as the FLYER. A mischievous label on the part of the manufacturer, as this bus will never have the chance to live up to its name on route #22. Below the sign, a thick yellow painted line delineates the driver’s area from that of the passengers. The driver sitting on his elevated seat has an important job to do. Passengers must not distract him by standing too near.
        The wheelchair ramp is deployed allowing access to a wheelchair occupied by a young child. Seats are lifted out of the way, an area is cleared and the chair is fastened down ensuring a safe journey.
        Curiosity surrounding the whole operation gives way to an exchange of smiles between myself and the little girl. Her wide grin displays small crooked teeth. Dark, curly ponytails are secured by green ribbon on one ponytail and red on the other. Mom continues a conversation on her phone. The child and I continue to smile at each other. I wonder about her life.
        Students, loaded down with bulging backpacks board the bus. I wonder how much weight they’re lugging around on their young backs. Regular bus passengers know enough to stay out of the way of a large backpack. Serious injury could result from an unexpected blow. Pink and green wires hang from ear buds plugged into the students’ ears. The wires connect the young people to devices hidden in pockets---to a realm the rest of us are not privy to. Other young fingers type quickly sending texts out into the ether. Conversation is non-existent, a thing of the past.
        One lone young male, blue tooth attached to his ear, speaks loudly, seemingly unaware of his voice. I recognize that he is different to the others but hesitate to describe what it is that makes him stand out. Political correctness dictates that I use the proper terminology. Should I describe him as mentally disabled, a person with special needs, or a person with Intellectual Disabilities? I recognize that words matter. The problem is that the words change and it becomes difficult to keep up.
        Older passengers, more aware of the importance of connections, often engage in conversation with each other. Many elderly people are just happy to have someone listen to them, to make them matter as humans, if only for the length of a bus trip. Other passengers, content not to be driving, enjoy looking out windows at the city as it unfolds along the route.
        The beauty of the #22 bus is that it climbs to the top of the escarpment, kindly referred to by Hamiltonians as the Mountain. Phenomenal views of the city are just a glance outside the window, stretching from the downtown vistas out to the Bay and beyond into Lake Ontario. On a good day I can see forever---well, as far as Toronto. I have visited many cities around the world and am always awestruck by the views I can see, looking down from the escarpment onto my own city.
        Whenever I board a bus, I think of it as an experience that is the great equalizer of humanity. It doesn’t matter whether passengers choose to take public transit everywhere as their small part in helping the environment or whether they take the bus out of necessity rather than choice. We are all on it together, simply wishing to get to our destination. I sense a metaphor for life. 



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