Tales from Car Nation:

Going Round and Round

Bus Story by Maurice Greenia, Jr.



ONE (July 2004)

Two nights ago, I had a long wait for the bus. I saw a broken down bus being towed.It finally showed up. After a few miles though, this bus also broke down. This time it was the wheelchair lift. The driver got the wheelchair onto the bus o.k. Then, he couldn't get the lift to fold back into its place. I went outside and tried to help push it in, but nothing worked. We then had a wait (of over an hour) for the next bus. It had a front entrance wheelchair lift (which worked fine).

When I finally got home, I heard people grumbling as they got on that they had been waiting since 6 p.m. It was after 9. For most of the passengers, a half hour trip had been extended to three hours.

Once, years back, I had a "triple header" where three busses I was riding (or trying to ride) broke down.

Then last night, I had to wait over an hour. The bus was crowded and it took awhile to get a seat. I reached up to grab a hand bar and my hand was covered with thick, black dusty dirt. It occasionally seems as if they let some busses sit in the garage for months (waiting to be repaired?) and gather dust. Then they clean them only partially or not at all. I've noticed seats to be similarly dirty now and then.

The level of trash and garbage on the busses seems to be better than it was at its worst. They're still often dirtier than they should be though. When people were forced to sit in the back of the bus it was probably because the back is more unpleasant, less desirable than the front. The engine of the bus is usually in the back.

Last night, the fumes were noticeable. I could feel the heat intensely. It was amazing that the "hot seat" was still usable. I've thought of carrying some protection (like a cushion) for when I get the hot seat. It's not always this bad but often enough. I wonder if someone will be burned or injured from this someday.
I'm sure people are injured on the busses (without it being noticed or reported).

My biggest worry is when it is really crowded. You can really get packed in like a sardine. Then, around you, I often see extremely elderly people and wounded or injured people. I remember one time there was a guy with a bandaged up foot near me. I kept being pushed toward him, trying to keep some distance.

These are but a few of the hardships and hassles we bus riders are forced to deal with. It seems to be connected with the city's laying off many of its bus mechanics. Then, there's always been trouble with the Detroit bus system, one of the worst in the nation.

TWO (January 2005)

Now the mayor intends to cut the bus service even further (get home by midnight or turn into a pumpkin, or get a taxi if you can, or go for a long walk).

Apparently, there's a problem wherein most large cities have a district related funding for their bus systems and Detroit does not. Even so, a lot of our suffering seems related to a bias against the pedestrian and the user of mass transit. Most of the advertisements are on the outside of the bus where people with money can see them. (It seems that they figure if you don't have enough money to buy a car than you must not have much extra money to spend).

People riding the busses are sometimes poor or even homeless. There are also students, the elderly, the infirm and those who are blind, on crutches or in wheelchairs. It's a shame that these citizens are often subjected to long waits, full busses and non-functioning wheelchair lifts.

Ever since the streetcars were sent away (and their tracks left abandoned) Detroit's worked to have a decent bus system. It was o.k. back in the day (good times and bad). Then, it started to fail.

THREE (February / March 2005)

I've heard that one third of Detroit's residents don't own cars. It follows that if the bus system is further damaged, then it will add to the city's economic problems. Besides the city employees who are being laid off, people will lose their jobs because they can no longer rely on the busses to get to work.

I've been riding the busses in this city since I was in grade school, since the 1960's. I've got a lot of interesting stories I could tell. It's not quite the amazing experience (for me) that the New York subway trains are. In New York, the parade of people and the whole subway experience amazes me. If I lived there, I'd likely get used to it. Yet, the energy and possibilities would still be there. Here, it's far different.

On the Detroit busses, I have had interesting conversations with strangers (presidential election time, September 11 time etc.). I've seen amazing things. I've also been somewhat annoyed, threatened, hassled and even scared. Yet the times when I'm directly bothered have been rare. It's been awhile. Overall though, the worst times are busses running off schedule (arriving late or not at all), breaking down or having to wait in near zero weather for long periods of time.

It can get hot, dirty and smelly. People are mostly cool, even friendly, yet can be obnoxious and rude. It can be an unpleasant ride at times.
Yet, in some strange way, I sort of love riding the busses. I get a sense of being part of a unique Detroit community (the bus riders). I can write and draw. I can listen to music or the news (or not). I can read books. I can look at the changing city streets (in all their shabby glory) and daydream. It's not all bad.
Now, the Detroit bus system seems to be at a crossroads. It's being investigated. It could be an important political issue in this city.
We'll see what happens. It seems as if they don't care that one third of the city's residents have their access to the city severely limited. It's already bad enough so please don't make it worse.

Meanwhile, the "People Mover" goes around in circles. It's fun for the tourists but for the bus riders it "adds insult to injury." It's a taste of what mass transit in this city could be. Yet if it is taking away money (that could be going into improving bus service), it's more of a ball and chain (a "circus ride" taking money away from more serious transit needs).

Riding the busses can be interesting and even a bit "fun." It can also be work, even hard work, confusing work, a complicated game and a journey out of something by Franz Kafka! You can go in circles and jump through hoops and eventually get to where you're going. Yes, we'll see what happens.

Maurice Greenia, Jr., draws and writes, and even puts on a puppet show or two, as he navigates life in this surreal environment.

© 2002 thedetroiter.com