I take the bus.
I didn't always. I was a subway man. Solely. Taxis on occasion when I could afford it. Buses I'd look at through the corner of my eye and wonder why anyone would suffer their slowness, their unwieldy maneuverings through choking traffic, their creeping uncoolness. I once worked in an office alongside a folksy man originally from Arkansas who refused to take the subway on principle. He took the bus to and from his home in the Village to work in Midtown, relishing the light and air. Subways were squalid holes in the ground to him. I thought he was a kook.
Not now. Now I tend to look askance at people who don't take buses, who don't even know what buses serve their area or what their routes are. A great part of living in New York is transit—being in transit and finding the best way to negotiate transit. If you only know the subway system, you're cheating yourself out of half your options. You're going to lose the war.
I began taking buses when I moved to Brooklyn. It started with a revelation one day as I was trying to figure out the easiest way to get from my house to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and realized I could do the trip in a straight shot, door to door, if I took the B71 along Union Street and Eastern Parkway. After that, I was hooked. Local buses could easily take me to Atlantic Avenue, BAM, Park Slope, the Brooklyn Museum, the South Slope. I became a regular on the (cursed) B61, B63, B75 and others.
Over the years, I even came to prefer the bus; if it seemed even a slightly easier commute, I would opt for a bus over the subway. I had nothing really against the subway. It was faster, there was no doubt. But the cars were more regularly crowded; seats were at a premium; the stations were filthy and depressing, and terribly hot in the summer; and people tended to behave more badly on the subway than they did on the bus. Buses were full of working people and mothers with children who minded their own business and looked out for others. Subways are home to a thousand loud-mouthed louts.
Moreover, you had to descend and ascend for the subway, and were robbed of sunshine and fresh air and scenery for the duration of your trip (except for the few strains of the subway system that travel overground.)
As I used the bus more often, I slowly began to realize that I had entered a parallel universe wholly in opposition to the American Way of Life. Successful Americans Don't Take the Bus—that was the silent message I started to perceive. It's a third-class form of transportation, way below personal vehicles, and still well under such travel modes as taxis, trains, and subways. When I mentioned the bus as a possible way to get somewhere to family and friends, they would furrow their brow and wrinkle their nose, as it suddenly detecting an unpleasant odor. The bus? Are things that bad for us?, they seemed to ask.
Looking back, I realized it had always been thus. Growing up, my family never took the bus. We didn't live in a particularly urban area, so it wasn't always an option. But for a number of years we dwelled in a fair-sized city with a decent bus system. Still, from the way my parents acted, you would never have known it. The idea was this: the bus was for poor people. If we used it, we would be allying ourselves with an undesirable social group. We would be failures. Buses were embarrassing. There was also some GOP political nonsense about how the bus system was a big waste of taxpayer money. This attitude has persisted to this day. Members of my family will not take a bus if you point a gun at their head. And I have had siblings who have lived one block from a bus stop.
I sometimes force people to take the bus. Recently, a friend visited me. I had to fight tooth and nail to get him to use the bus for a simple A-to-B journey. When he did, he said, "I've never had a good experience on a bus until today." My guess is he'd had few experience on a bus prior to that.
At this point, I'm a bit of a bus snob. If you've never partaken of the bus system, it seems to me, you haven't really fully experienced New York. On a bus, you see what lies in between the place you are and the place you want to get to. You see the neighborhoods change. You see street life. Moreover, the bus goes a lot of places that the subway system does not. Red Hook and City Island, for two examples among many.
I also take the bus as an subconscious political statement, for I hate Mayor Bloomberg's idea of New York as a "luxury city." Bloomberg, the SUV rider. Bloomberg, the fake subway enthusiast. You notice that Mayor Mike never touts the virtues of the bus system. He would never dirty the soles of his Bostonians by entering one.
Furthermore, I now think the bus fits with President Obama's call for The New Responsibility. Get over yourself; stop being selfish; stop being lazy; don't waste fossil fuels just to make things more convenient on yourself; teach your children how to use the bus; make mass transit a way of life. The bus. It's the noble way to travel.