A couple of weeks ago I started a new job that, unfortunately, is not within walking distance from our house. I was excited, of course, but booooy was I worried about how I would be getting there. Like I've mentioned before, Memphis is not a walking city. You either drive or take the bus. I don't drive, so I take the bus. To all of you Sofia people, before you even raise your voice, NO, taking a cab is not an option. There are not that many to go around and the ones that are available are 1) unreliable and 2) VERY expensive. The affordability of taking a taxi should be prominently featured on all Sofia tourism guidebooks and brochures. Anyhow.
When I was faced with the option of taking the bus, I was... hmmm... how do I say that... let me think... well... PISSED. I didn't know why exactly. I just felt like I was being wronged. Me?! On the bus?! NEVER. I quickly realized that even though I do go by Princess these days, I really am not one so I'd better get a grip. I also started to wonder (privately) whether my strong aversion to riding the bus wasn't actually some deeply rooted snobism and (oh, god) racism struggling to come to the surface. See, in this city, like most American cities with the exception of NYC, Boston, DC and the like, it's pretty much only poor people that ride the bus. In Memphis in particular, poverty and race are correlated. I was terrified that I didn't want to ride the bus because I didn't want to be around poor black people. I didn't think that was IT. I was just afraid that it might as well be and that, let me tell you, was one scaaaarrry thought.
When I am faced with a big fear, my natural tendency is to attack it straight on. Not sure if this is brave, smart or stupid. It's just how I am. When I was in high-school, I volunteered to solve math problems in front of the entire class even though math was by far my least favorite subject. I guess, I figured it would be less embarrassing to fail if I failed upon my own volition. So, similarly, grumpy and nervous, I decided to start riding the bus.
And I am SOOOO glad I did.
People!!! Riding the bus in Memphis is FUN. First of all, bus drivers are incredibly friendly. They always greet you as you step in and are super helpful when you are trying to figure out how to get to where you're trying to get. Then, when a passenger gets on, they not only greet the bus driver, but also greet everyone on the bus: Good evening, everyone! they say. People don't necessarily respond but most people nod and acknowledge the gesture. Finally, once everyone is settled in, someone will inevitably start a conversation that all are welcome to join. This morning some guy fell on a lady and the entire bus started cracking jokes about how that wasn't really a mistake and how if he wanted to talk to her, he should have just started a conversation. On my way back home, I listened to a heated debate over Memphis mayoral candidates and Miss Kim, the driver, encouraged everyone to go vote.
The thing that I love the most is that if you are waiting at a bus stop, everyone who walks by you says hello. It's like people know that maybe you've been waiting a long time and are ready to just get on the frickin' bus and be done with it. So when they walk by, they tell you... hey, hang in there. It's not all that bad. I LOVE little acts of kindness like that. This morning I was waiting for my transfer and I was the only person at the bus-stop. This homeless guy walked by, pushing his shopping cart filled with all his material possessions. As soon as he caught my eye, he smiled a toothless smile and said to me, Hey, there, Cleopatra!
What can I say, this city has me charmed.