My vantage point while riding a public bus in Guatemala, spring 2008.
“You’ll never catch me riding the TARC,” one white student proclaimed this morning during first period.
“There’s nothing wrong with riding the TARC!” a black girl responded.
“You’re right, there is nothing wrong,” I said from my position standing in front of the class. Just a few moments earlier, I had asked the class what I had done for the first time ever in Louisville. A few hands shot into the air. Take a shower? Nope. Comb your hair? Nope. Kill one of your chickens? Heck no! I rode the bus, I told them.
For those living in major metropolitan areas, using mass transit is an egalitarian affair, a necessity for many people to effectively flow in and out of neighborhoods, from bus stations to subway stations, to airports and shopping centers. But in a smaller city like Louisville that lacks an efficient mass transit system, riding the bus is seen as a disadvantage. Or reserved for underclasses of people. Or for poor people, hence the quick statement by the rather well-off (comparatively) white student in my class who said he doesn’t plan on ever riding.
When I boarded the bus at 6:37 this morning at Mid-City mall on Bardstown Road, I was the only white person on board. Several students did a double-take when they saw me upon boarding one of the 15 or so stops along the route. Others, during the course of the school day, wanted to confirm with me that I did, in fact, ride the #17. Did this give me credibility in their eyes? Students always seem to appreciate it if you acknowledge their worlds through words or through experience. It has never ceased to amaze me how teachers, if they are willing, can connect with their students.
I didn’t need to take the bus, but I decided to save some miles on Wynona the truck and finally ride. It took longer to get to school, but I had time to enjoy my coffee and think about the sequence of the day’s lesson. If I was really ambitious, I could grade papers or lesson plan. Based on convenience, it’s a toss-up whether I should drive or TARC-it, because I could be more productive while riding versus driving. It cost $1.50. Based on gas mileage, it’s cheaper to ride. From an environmental perspective, thumbs-up.
In my position of privilege, I can sit back at home and write about this experience, without worrying about work hours I might lose during a bus commute, or without being limited by where I can and can’t travel due to the bus routes. I can decide to ride the bus depending on whether or not I have errands to run after school. I can decide to ride the bus depending on how rested I feel in the morning–do I want an extra 15 minutes of sleep, then drive to work?
I’m going to ride the TARC again. Sometimes our desire to control time, transportation, and convenience across all facets of life prevents us from experiencing other alternatives that may have layers of merit.