Hell On Four Wheels
Riding a campus bus at Texas A&M University was hell.
While this may not seem to be true (you would think that a public transit vehicle stuffed full of the best and brightest of Texas's youth would operate at peak efficiency), there were enough potential pratfalls and hidden rules that taking public transportation while in college was a lot like having sex for the first time: a razor-thin balance between necessity and awkward embarrassment.
Let me paint you a picture: I was taking Hispanic Literature on the north side of campus at 10:20 AM on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. My class ended at 11:10 AM. At 11:30 AM, I had to be on the south side of campus to attend an accounting class. At a smaller college, where the only student rec center was a broken Joust arcade game that nobody has bothered to remove from the administration building since the 1980s, walking across campus in twenty minutes might not seem like such a big deal. In fact, it could be seen as a chance to stretch one's legs and get some fresh air between classes. As a fat kid at a large university, though, walking across campus was an hour-long Bataan Death March that left me soaked in sweat and in need of a shower.
The solution: take the bus.
When riding the bus between classes, every second counted. There was no time to waste chatting with friends after class. Moments spent dillydallying equaled time spent awkwardly explaining to my professor why I chose to be late for their class. If my friends tried to distract me, I ignored them. There were always new friends to be made; there was only one bus.
Sometimes I would get lucky and the bus will be pulling up as I reached the bus stop. This prize was a double-edged sword though. While I was fortunate enough to not have to wait for the bus to arrive at the stop, I also felt obligated to let the people who were waiting before me get on the bus first. This petty indulgence in courtesy and kindness often meant losing any chance to ride the bus myself. I was left standing on the sidewalk looking into the windows of a bus crowded like a can of sardines, with no way for me to wedge myself in any crevice I might spot existing between a girl talking on her cell phone and the frat boy checking out the girl talking on her cell phone. But - even if I managed to squeeze my way onto the bus - I would only be faced with yet more challenges.
I was taught at an early age that part of courtesy involved men giving up their seats to any present ladies who might be standing. At Texas A&M, where the majority of the male population could be construed as “Good Ol’ Boys of the Highest Degree,” courtesy is not a choice - it’s the prime directive.
The first thing most guys seemed to do when getting on a bus was to stand in the aisles — no matter how many free seats might be available. The fact that a dozen or so dudes were crowding the aisles in an attempt to show off the fact that they have more chivalry in their right testicle then I had in my entire body made it near impossible for any women to squeeze themselves through the mob of standing gentlemen and find the available seats us guys are fighting so hard to offer up in chivalry. This led to the bus often leaving behind half a dozen women who were unable to find a spot onto the bus even though an equal number of seats remained unoccupied, crowded out of sight by the mess of males standing in the aisle, posturing to each other like cholos before a fight.
Being the foolish progressive thinker I am, I believed that by sitting down in the first available seat I could find, I was making it possible for more girls to ride the bus then I would have if I stood in the aisle and hoped the empty seats would magically fill with girls who were able to use their ninja-like skills to maneuver like they were Catherine Zeta-Jones in ENTRAPMENT and the standing dorks blocking their path were security lasers. This, unfortunately, often led to me being crowded into my seat, forced to remain sitting as I was surrounded by other guys who decided to remain standing up. Unable to join them in the aisle even if I wanted to, I found myself watching as girls walked onto the bus and stood. While I truly believe women are just as capable of standing up on a moving bus as men are - definitely more capable than my uncoordinated ass was, at least - all attempts to rationalize my sitting down while women stood with practiced feminism went out the window when I glanced at Jed the Friendly Neighborhood Corps of Cadets member, his gaze, a powerful tractor beam of hatred. Being judged my hicks who wanted to kill me made me want to jump out the window of the moving bus or spontaneously combust — anything that would enable a young lady to have my seat.
As the years went on and I grew more and more comfortable riding the bus, I developed several steps that would prevent such uncomfortable situations from happening.
Method # 1
The first method was the easiest: Sit down and pretend to fall asleep. If I closed my eyes, the hateful stares Daddy’s Princess and her protective legion of country boys were shooting me didn't exist. If I couldn't see Jed mouth the word “I’m going to eat your gonads for breakfast with my biscuits and gravy,” then he wasn't actually doing it. The only problem this method led to was the increased chance of actually falling asleep and missing my exit. This happened. A lot.
Method # 2
The second method was to sit in the seats where nobody in their right mind wanted to sit anyway. If I sat in the far rear of the bus, where the side rows met the back rows, the seats were situated in a tight corner that I could barely squeeze my legs into. I didn't dwell too much on the fact that girls were standing while I sit. This is mostly due to the fact that I was in so much pain from the angle my knees were in I could barely remember what girls were, let alone think about if they perceived me as chivalrous or not.
Method # 3
The last, most prized method, involved me riding in the area between the row of seats and the door of the bus. This section, a claustrophobic nook, was often cut off from the rest of the bus and unable to be sat in by the majority of its passengers. But, if I was lucky and found an opportunity to sit in this seat, I could relax in my little slice of isolated heaven, unable to feel the rank breath of a student who partook in a noon beer running down my neck or have my crotch ground up against by somebody’s backpack. I would be out of sight and out of mind for any girls who wanted to fight over the plethora of seats my more chivalrous of brothers had saved for them. I was totally out of the way, biding my time until my stop.
And then, one day, a blind man got on the bus.
I heard the tapping of his cane before I saw the man (I was practicing Method # 1 and had my eyes closed). As I felt the presence of somebody standing in front of me, I slowly opened one of my eyes and found myself staring into his eyes, the creamy color of milk. I soon realized I would have plenty of time to stare into his eyes because he decided that he was going to stand right in front of me, facing me while I sat. At first, I didn’t give it much thought because my stop was still quite a ways off. As I sat back in my seat, though, I noticed that he was wearing headphones. As I considered what he might be listening to that was so important he would voluntarily impair another one of his senses, I enjoyed my ride, snuggled away in my stowaway spot. Eventually, though, it came time to exit the bus. The man, still standing in front of me, was blocking my way. I started to wave at him in order to get his attention before I caught myself. My waves would, of course, have gone unseen. Instead, I tried calling out, hoping he would hear me over his headphones. No luck. There was no getting this man’s attention save pushing and/or shoving him. But nobody would ever push a blind man, right? Who would do something like that?
I pushed the blind man out of the way and hurried off the bus.
I rationalized my misbehavior by telling myself that it was not like he was going to hold a grudge against me. He didn’t even see me. For all he knew, he was jostled by Caper the Impatient Ghost. As I left the bus and ran towards my class, already quite a few minutes late, I dodged the eye bullets that were being hurled my way by witnesses to my misdeed. I couldn’t help but feel a wave of resentment rise up in me. They didn’t know what I had to deal with. They weren’t in my situation.
On the bus, one had to put aside their morality and conscience. On the bus, we were stripped of all that makes us civilized humans. We became savages, only concerned with our own petty desires. It was like Lord of the Flies and I wasn’t about to end up a Piggy proxy.
The Bus is hell, man. The Bus is hell