The first of hopefully many blog posts by Clelia Sweeney, our Jesuit Volunteer Corps staff member:
You can’t hide on the bus. You can deaden your expression, look at everyone’s knees, angle your body into the window, but none of it will stop you from having to share space with strangers. One evening after work I was riding the bus downtown to catch another bus home, and was horrified to realize that I was crying. A text I’d gotten while at work had upset me and it was just then sinking in. All I could do was stare fixedly out the window and try to control the shaking of my shoulders as I listened to the banter coming from the front of the bus. There was flirting, gossiping, commiserating, and harmonizing once a couple of ladies starting singing “Papa Was a Rolling Stone.” They were the regulars of the evening #19 bus. It would have been a vibrant, fun scene to witness if I didn’t just want to disappear.
Riding the bus makes you realize that privacy is a privilege. Driving a car by yourself, silently gliding past crowds of people, seems radically insulated in comparison. You can’t hide while standing on the side of the road waiting for the bus to arrive, wobbling on your ankles as you tilt over the curb and peer down the road to watch for its approach. You can steel your eyes not to catch anyone else’s, look into a book or phone in your hand, or stare down the cars as they surge past. If you’re female sometimes cars will slow down and bray out something about your appearance, making you feel even more exposed. You will get hit on at the bus stop, but you will also have the most neighborly conversations you’ve had since living in Raleigh.
I’m accustomed to buses; I rode them out of necessity while living in Chicago, New York City, Massachusetts, and even Vermont. I’m in a year-long service program that encourages me to live in solidarity with the poor and marginalized. But I’m also new to this work, and by the end of the day I’m at the end of my emotional rope. It can be dispiriting when your transportation home takes 45 minutes instead of the 10 it would by car. If I am able to get a ride from someone I know, I will. While being in a constant state of solicitousness doesn’t feel great, it has also put me a little closer to understanding our community and how it feels to have to ask for things you need to get through your day.
Cabs are forbidden fruit, which I have succumbed to on a handful of occasions. It’s especially unpractical because I am only paid $100 a month through my service program. But when the bus doesn’t run as planned, when I miss a bus and have to wait for an hour for the next one, or just when I’ve had a long day and feel emotionally exhausted, I have occasionally called for a cab. The first time I took one home from work I was standing at the bus-stop with a mom and her three toddlers, who were shouting and running up and down the sidewalk. After a while, we both noticed and read a sign taped to the bus stop pole, stating that the bus had been re-routed due to construction and would not stop there until January. She called her friend to come and pick her up, but her friend couldn’t get there for an hour so she hauled her bags over to wait outside a building across the street. I walked up the road and sheepishly called Taxi Taxi.
People in our community are often surprised to learn that I ride the bus. I will sometimes see people I know from Love Wins at the stop or on the bus, and get into conversation. Yesterday I was standing at the Moore Square station waiting for my connecting bus, and one of our regulars walked by – a vivacious trans woman named Dustin. I called out to her and she came over to give me a hug, saying, “Hey! What are you doing out here with us commoners?” It’s times like that when I feel like I’m in the right place.