Sunday, February 14, 2010

Open Letter To The Riders Of Bus 167, circa 5pm

Dear Bus 167 Passengers,

You may have noticed me in recent weeks: a short girl, with big hair, cursing at you in strange tongues (you probably didn't know I was cursing at you, but there you go, I've spilled the beans.) I realize that I am a newcomer amongst your ranks, however I have ridden a multitude of buses in faraway lands, and I am here to tell you:

There is a better way to do this.

I know this will be hard to believe, but hear me out. It is in fact possible for all of us to get through the evening commute without being pushed, shoved, elbowed, trampled, or poked in the eye. Now, I'm only a guest here, and I'm all for cultural relativity, and respecting different ways, and not throwing a fit every time a pizza shows up sprinkled with corn nibblets or drizzled with sweet gooey mayonnaise. Notwithstanding, in this instance I truly believe that if we could all just follow these few little gems of advice that I have to offer, we would all have a more peaceful ride home and arrive at our destinations free of acrimony or bruising. This fantasy is already a reality in some parts of the world, a reality that could be ours.

But before I explain to you, dear passengers, just how this utopia can become our reality, I would like to describe the circumstances of my induction in to your cohort, the circumstances that have prompted this open letter.

It had been a very long day. Just a few days in to my new job, I'd realized that most of what came out of my mouth went in to my students little brains as gibberish, and had re-imagined my lesson plans in to a series repetitious songs with lots of actions and hand clapping, a slapstick gag here and there, and games simple enough to be won without understanding how to play. Worn out from all the bouncing around, chilled to the bone having spent all day in unheated classrooms, fingertips numb from cold chalk, and desperate for a human-style toilet with some form of door or stall divider, I stood at the curb anxiously awaiting bus number 167, the bus that would drop me magically on my doorstep. My first few days on the job I'd taken the subway home, but this involved a twenty minute walk to the subway station and an inconvenient line transfer, so I was glad when I learned of a bus route that would take me more or less door to door. And so I waited for said bus, fantasizing about my warm apartment, with its fuzzy cow slippers, private toilet, and maybe even a hot meal there waiting for me (the benefit of Justin being a homemaker working from home).

By the time bus 167 pulled up, fellow passengers, we were quite a crowd milling around, and the bus was already packed. Lucky for me (or so I thought) the bus just so happened to roll to a stop directly in front of me - I was face to face with the door, my nose separated from it by just inches. But the instant the doors thwacked open, a deluge of people swarmed around me, and the human wave propelled itself forward with such ruthless clawing, an unstoppable force replete with flailing Uggs and hunchback grannies using their bony elbows to their fullest potential.

It all happened so quickly, and when the storm had passed, with all of you securely boarded, I alone was left on the curb. All 30 billion of you managed to grease yourselves on to that vehicle, and somehow couldn't fit just one more? One more who was first in line? The doors thwacked shut, inches from my nose, just the way they'd opened, and I alone was left to wait in the cold night.

And if that didn't give me enough to whine about when I finally did make it home, the next evening was the same story. Again, I was violently pushed aside and left at the curb, while all of you squeezed and fought your way home.

By my third attempt, I was fed up. I decided that that night I was going to get on that bus no matter what. The moment the bus pulled up, I furiously and indiscriminately flung astray anyone who came near me or even looked like they might try. Taking my cue from the 90 year old ladies clutching bags stuffed with vegetables (the most cutthroat passengers by far), I hoisted up those elbows and resolved that no one would pass them. None of this subtle shuffling ahead "accidentally" on purpose - I raised my palms to chest level and pushed.

I'm really not normally an aggressive person, dear passengers, but it seemed like there actually wouldn't be any other way for me to get on the bus. Violence was the only option. I would have to be merciless. It occurred to me, however, that this was not really the best long term solution - after all, what if everyone behaved this way? What would happen then? And I think you all know the answer to that one, fellow passengers, as we experience this together every evening. It isn't pretty.

After that, I attempted another tactic: guilt. This time, instead of pushing immediately, I waited for someone else to strike the first blow, then pushed back just a little (the big hair is helpful here - not as pointy as an elbow, but still, no one likes a mouth full of hair), followed by a very dirty look. So far, I've succeeded in getting ONE person to say sorry. Progress is too slow.

And so, fellow passengers, I would like to propose a solution to benefit us all. What I propose may seem radical to some of you, unreasonable even, but I beg you to hear me out none the less. What I propose is that while we are waiting for the bus, or when it is arriving, we could do something that people call LINING UP. It's easy. We stand one behind the other, and let the person in front board first, the second one second, and so on. The best thing about it is that this strategy can be used for all kinds of things, not only for buses. Used on a large scale, it could revolutionize life in Shanghai as we know it. Some people will get on right away, and some people will not, just like now, only we won't have to claw at one another to decide who is who. You will be able to take your children on the bus without having them torn from you in a stampede. We will make it home without cursing, flinging anyone down steps, or backing in to them with a head of big hair. It really is a good idea, this "lining up", and we will be a model for all the other buses. We can do it, if we all just work together. Come on people, you're Communists for christ sake... mass organization of the people, this should be right up your alley!

My second proposal will no doubt seem counter-intuitive at first, but take my word, it has already been adopted by countless bus riders in other parts of the world. I know: You want to get on the bus as quickly as possible, so it only makes sense to force yourself aboard right away, despite butting up against a wall of equally ardent and unyielding passengers wanting to get off. I realize that this sounds logical, but what I propose is to wait for the passengers to get off before you get on. I know it sounds crazy, but it works. There will be more space on the bus, so you will be able to get on faster, and the best part is that you can do it all without getting locked in a heated scrum or winning a wrestling match with a construction worker and his Mickey Mouse duffel bag full of cement. And you could get off that way too! Just imagine!

Fellow passengers, it won't take much to make my vision a reality. Accept my call to action: Let's do this together, comrades!


  1. Glad to see you made it home. Keep those elbows sharp. - Dad

  2. Risa, you probably don't want to hear this, but i feel like you and i have basically the same writing/blogging style. I love this entry, partly because it seems like something i would write.

    I also LOVE that 'c'mon, you're communists!' is key to your argument. Makes so much sense!