Looking for Community? Try the City Bus

I wasn’t prepared to find community on the city bus.

I first noticed this while a graduate student in Grand Rapids. One beautiful summer, I caught the bus across the street from my apartment early each morning and studied my Greek on my way in to class. I loved being outside in the morning, and being productive during my commute, and not having to drive or park. As the summer progressed, I noticed something else – I began to know those who rode with me each morning. Most of us have regular schedules, doing the same things at the same times, day in and day out. And so in the morning, I would see the same people on the bus each day. We greeted each other. We made small talk – what so-and-so’s wife was doing, how someone’s job had recently changed. I didn’t think much about it when I moved on to a new apartment and eventually acquired another car, but those little relationships lingered. A year later, I learned that one of the gentlemen with whom I regularly traveled had died, and it saddened me. It was a small personal connection, but it was real.

At the office where I worked last year, I was in frequent contact with those who rode the city bus. And there was definitely a community there, for all its good and ills. Regular riders knew each other; they supported each other; they drove each other nuts. Occasionally they’d come into the office to complain about each other. But riding these same buses with my girls, I’d also hear them encouraging each other.

This isn’t unique to our local system, or to my experience, either. The book Riding the Bus with My Sister: A True Life Journey tells the story of two sisters. One, a woman named Beth who is cognitively impaired, invites her sister to spend a day each week riding the bus with her for one full year. Beth has spent an inordinate amount of time testing and trying all the different routes, finding the most sympathetic and patient drivers. She is disciplined in her bus-riding practice, with specific routes she rides at specific times, to ensure that she is always riding with her favorite drivers. She rides all day, every day, which earns her both friends and enemies. The social interactions that happen there are the centerpiece of her life.

Communities are messy. They’re not always the all-supporting environments we wish that they were, and sometimes people like me look at them with rose-colored glasses. But communities are also the essence of human society. I think that’s important. Having a place to be a community, that’s important, too. So even if the bus is an unorthodox place to find a community – well, I’ll take it.

In what surprising place have you found community?