“Ay, when are you getting your own car bro?” my friend Nick shouted as he cruised past me in his red Mustang. I didn’t have time for Nick’s taunts today; I had just left school and was sprinting down Miramonte Avenue, hoping to avoid missing the bus.
The daily bus ride was merely a connector between home and school; I possessed no excitement about taking a bus filled with strangers. With music blaring through my ears, I avoided the unknown faces and sought solace in my solitude, oblivious of my surroundings.
As I approached the bus stop, I saw an elderly woman sitting on the bench, counting change for the $1.75 bus fare. When she saw me, she scooched over, gesturing toward the vacant spot, but I politely declined. After having sat for eighty-five minutes in seventh period, I needed to stretch my legs. Or perhaps, I was just hesitant to sit next to a stranger.
When I boarded the bus, I breathed a sigh of relief; my favorite seat was still empty, the one near the window just over the hump of the back wheel. (It’s usually the cleanest seat because no one likes sitting on the hump of the back wheel.)
As I bolted out the door after having endured the ride, I heard someone call after me. It was the same lady from before…
“Stepping off of this platform is like attempting parkour at my age!” she chuckled as she proceeded to take my arm, carefully lowering herself down from the elevated ledge of the bus door . “My legs aren’t the best,” she confided in me.
I figured she needed more help than just getting off the bus, so we kept walking arm in arm, my body supporting hers.
“Where are you headed?” she inquired.
“To the market to buy my dad’s favorite strawberry-mousse cake for his birthday; I want to surprise him at home.”
Her eyes suddenly welled with tears. She tried to blink them away as they started to trace their way down the wrinkles of her cheek. I was baffled by her reaction; it’s not everyday that I make an old lady cry you know? The awkwardness was palpable as I simply stood there, utterly lost for words, my arm stiffly wrapped around her shoulder.
Taking one look at my worried face, she sniffed and wiped her eyes while trying to smile as if to assure me that I hadn’t inexplicably offended her with my dad’s choice in cake.
“It’s just that I too used to buy a strawberry cake for my dad’s birthday, and this reminded me of him.” I still didn’t know what to say. I gave her a quick hug, told her I hoped to see her again someday, and bolted back into my routine of anonymity.
However, as I reflected upon my day that evening, a thought crossed my mind: what if I hadn’t taken the bus today? Here I was, envious of all my friends who supposedly enjoy the luxury of their own car, but while they race through their daily routine, ignoring the little things, I’m actually the lucky one, blessed with the opportunity to experience the trenches of life.
The meaning of life lies in simply living it. Now, I choose to engage with others during these bus rides, plunging into the experiences brought my way on Route 81. Every time I walk down Miramonte and spot someone at the bus stop, I see a person instead of an empty face. Sure, I still don’t love the intermediate stops on my route, but I no longer sequester myself away from the denizens of the bus. Instead, I accept their offer when they gesture towards the vacant seat and tell me their story. It might involve cake, it might involve tears — but it’s real, and it’s better than the four inches of steel separating a Mustang’s driver with the outside world. On this seemingly ordinary route I will continue to ride the bus of life, but no longer as a means to get home and go about my day, but because it is in living and interacting with those from all walks of life in which I can truly live.