I recently moved to Chicago, which is a great city, as evidenced by the fact that roughly 1 bajillion people have chosen to live here. And while I like the area and the people within it, I have found that living in a big city means that I will never be far from someone who is doing something that annoys me.
I accept that this is my issue. I am not much of a people person, and when people are grouped into crowds I like them even less. History offers few examples of masses of people acting rationally or behaving calmly or smelling good.
So I try to avoid crowds wherever possible. But I’m also cheap and a bad driver, which means that one place I cannot avoid is the Chicago transit system. Specifically, the bus, which is a diverse array of humanity in all its grumpiest forms. Many of you may never have to ride a city bus, but if you do, here are a few tips for making both your ride and the ride of those around you a little less of a nightmare.
5. You are going to need to stand very close to other people. Accept that.
In a perfect world, I would have a six and a half foot diameter of personal space around me all the time. But the bus is not a perfect world. It is the opposite. And we all gave up our rights to personal space when we accepted a deal with the devil that, for only $2.25, we could travel anywhere within the city limits (note to self: negotiate better deals with devil).
But not everyone is willing to accept this. The following is an actual scenario that has happened to me more than once on the way to work. A person gets on the bus and stands in the aisle. At each stop, more people get on the bus. The bus driver yells at everyone to cram in closer. This one person holds their ground, effectively blocking the aisle and will not move back, claiming they are as far back as they can go. The bus driver, having accepted non-refundable payment from more people than can now fit on the bus, refuses to drive until everyone moves back. Everyone starts yelling at each other. It’s exactly like when you were little and your dad wouldn’t drive until your brothers and sisters stopped fighting except in this case your dad is a stranger and only 40% of your siblings speak English.
Anywhoo, long story short: This is the one time where standing uncomfortably close to strangers is really your best option.
4. For God’s sakes, hold on to something.
I honestly think the CTA drivers try to drive in such a way that they can knock people over, and I say that because that’s exactly what I would do if I was a CTA driver. And yet, without fail, there are always a few people who get on the bus and think, “Ahhh…time to read my newspaper while drinking a hot cup of coffee and solving this Rubix Cube.” And as soon as the bus starts moving, these people are falling on everyone around them like a drunk baby with an inner ear infection. There are hand rails all over the bus. Hold them. Those buses aren’t known for their smooth ride.
3. Do not listen to bad music loudly.
You can listen to bad music. You can listen to loud music. But if you have to stand very close to a lot of other people, please don’t listen to both loud and bad music. I don’t care if you like to start your day with Avril Lavigne’s “Sk8ter Boi” on repeat. If that’s what gets you going in the morning, have at it. But when I hear that song, it makes me want to curl in the fetal position, gnash my teeth and wail that the apocalypse is upon us and I never accomplished so many things on my bucket list (1. Start a bucket list). So please, turn it down a little. Just imagine explaining to your future grandchildren that they have to speak up because you blew out your eardrums rocking out to Avril Lavigne.
2. Have some general idea of where your stop is in relation to the bus’s current location.
I know there are a lot of people who don’t routinely ride the bus, so they don’t know where exactly they need to get off. Which is understandable, unless those people do nothing to solve their own problem, and instead talk on the phone, or fall asleep, or stare creepily at the person next to them. Then they snap out of it and start yelling, “Is this Halsted? I’m getting off at Halsted!” These people’s problem solving abilities are on par with the humans in WALL-E: wail until someone comes along to help them. Yelling aimlessly at a bus full of strangers does not seem like a well-thought out strategy. I know you don’t know your way around, but you have eyes, as evidenced by your creepy staring. Point them at the helpful sign that tells you what stop we’re on.
1. Do not make eye contact. Do not engage.
The bus is not just a cheap way to get around, it is a sad fact that for many people it’s also the only warm place to go during the day. That means that in any given week, one may find him or herself riding the bus with a few people who are slightly unhinged. Usually they’re pretty quiet, but sometimes they have a thing or two that they need to say. Loudly. And often on the very subjects that the rest of society is trained not to bring up in small talk – religion, racism and the government’s conspiracy to inject hormones into McNuggets that make children gay.
This is just something that one must accept when taking mass transit. But you know what’s worse than a homeless person who takes up three coveted seats with a Hefty bag filled with broken baby doll arms? The person who argues with him about it. No, I’m 99% sure that man did not pay for those extra seats, but I’m also 99% sure that man is schizophrenic. So just let him sit for a few minutes and be grateful that your mental health is in tact. Also, the more you argue, the more likely he is to throw one of those doll arms at your head. And everyone else on the bus will be secretly cheering him on.