By Kevin Carrel Footer
3 June 2018

It is widely assumed that taking a taxi is preferable to riding on a cramped bus. Why then do passengers in taxis look longingly at those in passing buses?

Buses are rowdy, awkward and prone to pickpockets scrounging their living. People bump and brush up against you. There’s hardly ever a seat at rush hour and if one appears and you decide to make a run for it, before you can grab it some teenage kid more fleet-footed than you has slipped his slouching form into its vinyl embrace.

A taxi on the other hand saves you from such hassles. Yet how lonely a life of splendid isolation becomes!

A bus for all its annoyances is full of the promise of unexpected encounters, of surprise situations, of that ever-sought-for New Life. It is also a prime situation for studying your fellow man in close proximity. There are few other places outside crowded public transport where one can do this with impunity. Call it what you will — voyeurism, a literary bent, or an inappropriate interest in other people’s lives – it is a sane antidote to our absolutely death-inducing impulse to hold ourselves above, apart and out of reach.

I learn things on buses.

I have started — and missed — romances on buses.

Once I stood over the seat of a transvestite who was flipping through a batch of photos. The photos were from a lively party, full of people pursing their lips and preening for the camera – just like today only back then you had to wait several days to see the results. The photos were in one of those booklets with yellow covers and plastic sleeves where you could insert two photos back-to-back.

She noticed my interest in her photos and began to taunt me. Every time the bus hit a bump or came to a stop, she scrunched the wad of skirt in her hand and the hem inched higher and higher up her thigh.

When she made to leave, she made a fuss of getting her belongings together, giving me plenty of forewarning. When she stood up, she looked me straight in the eye and waited – but I didn’t dare. I looked away.

Once, I was riding to Primera Junta on a crowded #55 bus. It was Spring and euphoria was in the streets. An old woman and her girlfriend had gotten onto the bus at the last stop. They were wearing short dresses intended for younger women and several decades out-of-style. A young man paid his ticket and made to squeeze past the women in their girlish finery. But a mischievous hook on the back of one of their dresses caught him right at the collar so that he was stuck neck-to-neck with one one of the women. While one hand struggled to get himself free, he exclaimed loudly, “Ah! What women will do these days to catch a man!” The bus erupted in laughter. Other hands had to get involved to separate the new couple.

Or once when the city was drowning after a storm and many streets had become raging waterways, a young man waded out to our bus. Under an umbrella he wore an impeccable blue suit down to his waist; but below he sported only dripping shorts and tennis shoes that squished as he walked. The entire bus burst into applause when he climbed aboard.

That was me.

Yes, I’d rather take the bus.

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