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Bus journal by Jeff Forster 




© 2003  Jeff Forster



Bus Journal February 2003


Viewed one way, a daily commute on public transit can be drudgery, a curse to which those of us in single-car homes are sentenced.  Viewed another way, however, a bus commute provides time to read, talk to friends and people-watch like a fiend.  In February 2003, I decided to record what happened each day that I rode the bus.  By doing so, I found these trips even more interesting than I'd anticipated.  Some other bus riders have told me that we share a certain habit:  having names for my "bus people", those that I ride with every week but may have never talked to.  Several of my bus people are referenced in the journal; included below the journal is a dramatis personae.

Monday 2/3


8:07 - 8:40

Saw P & talked about our kids - didn't realize/remember that his second (a daughter) had been born 15 months after his son.  Talked about childcare and his job search.  Stood in crowded bus until middle of Oakland; woman gave me guff for staying in the middle to talk to P rather than moving further back.  Then sat and read the sports page.



5:17 - 5:40

Stood in rear stairwell, read Atlantic article about black gender gap, played a game of Maki

Tuesday 2/4


7:30 - 7:57

Somewhat full bus, but got a seat toward the back with a short, African-American man in his 20s, who got no fewer than three cell phone calls during the ride.  Read the Post-Gazette.


no ride



Wednesday 2/5



Reticulated bus that had lots of seats; at the stop after mine, an older woman at the front of the bus said, "You have a runner."  The bus driver waited, and I looked out the left side and saw a guy running down Cromwell Street to the bus.  Sat with S, who was a year behind me in grad school, talked about her move from the public sector to the nonprofit sector.  Read the Post Gazette Sports and a little bit about the World Trade Center rebuilding.



9:14 - 9:38

Waited 40 minutes at 5th & Ross after a grad school alumni event.  Fat young woman with pretty eyes talked to 2 different friends on her cell phone about flirting with her professor.  Guy with a massive afro discoursed about America's complicity in the rise of Iraq's military power and Osama bin Laden's regime.  Sat with skullcap woman.

Thursday 2/6


7:30 - 7:50

Pretty crowded bus with standers but seats in the back.  Sat sideward facing next to Stillers fan who paged through a booklet of real estate listings.



5:25 - 5:45

Must have missed the 63B by a minute or two.  Took the 68G to the end of the busway and walked home in the snow from there.  Played some Maki, read an Atlantic article about parents helping treat their autistic child.

Friday 2/7


7:55 - 8:25

Uncrowded reticulated bus, sat right in front of the bend.  Talked to the athlete about how the local news focuses on a local county's lack of road salt, rather than the war in Iraq and about Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods.



5:25 - 5:45

Bus was a little late but not crowded.  Got my own double forward facing seat in the rear section.  Sat across from the neurotic dasher, who was reading a magazine.  Read an Atlantic article about Sex Week at Yale.

Monday 2/10


8:00 - 8:28

Snowy morning, people from the stop before mine came down so that they could catch either the 63B if it ever came or the 501.  Stood halfway back next to a guy who introduced himself as my former alley neighbor when I lived over on Mifflin Avenue.  We chatted a little about the work that's been done on that house by the new owners, who are still not living in it 3 years later.  Finished the Sex Week at Yale article; started the short story.



5:15 - 5:41

Pretty crowded bus, sat crammed in a rear side-facing seat.  Loud-talking financial advisers talked about Delaware asset protection trusts and dividing investments in messy divorces.  Played Maki and read the Atlantic short story by Alison Baker.   Missed my stop playing Maki and had to backtrack a few blocks.

Tuesday 2/11


8:02 -- 8:30

Full bus, stood in rear door steps halfway until a seat opened up.  Read the PG and the Atlantic short story.




Took bus full of City high school students to a client site. After a 71A passed the stop a block from my office without stopping, I had to walk across downtown to get the 86B.  Stood most of the time, finished the Atlantic short story. 



4:40 - 4:55

Almost empty bus home.  Got single front-facing seat.  Both of these afternoon buses came within 30 seconds of me arriving at the stop.

Wednesday 2/12


7:30 - 7:45

Half full bus.  Read PG front-page stories about terrorist threats and an automatic, coin-op toilet on the South Side.  Noticed that the bus matron dyed her hair a lighter color that isn't very becoming.



5:19 - 5:35

Sat in a middle side-facing seat.  A woman glared, unnoticed, at a loud-talking cell phone user who was blathering about her son.  Another woman repeatedly dropped an accordion file off her lap.  Read the PG sports page about Pitt Basketball.

Thursday 2/13


7:15 - 7:37

Not very full bus.  I was bringing some plastic storage bins that I'd bought for the office on Tuesday night.  It was nice to be able to sit in the back where I could just put the bins by my feet.  Read the PG, sat near the bus family.


no ride



Friday 2/14


7:16 - 7:37

Had to run a block and a half to catch the bus.  Sat in front of an immature idiot who blathered about her 21st birthday, which isn't until November, her recent car accidents and buying a "brand new car".  As she was getting off the bus on the same block as a downtown lunch joint, she asked her older companion, "Does that Wiener World sell anything other than wieners?"  Her companion replied, impatiently and distantly, "I have no idea."



4:59 - 5:17

This is the first time I can remember catching a reticulated bus home on this route.  The mother in the bus family sat behind me.

Monday 2/17

no ride






Got a ride into work from family who had been visiting for the weekend.  Made it into the office after 13 inches of snow, only to discover that the university I work for was completely closed.  Rode a bus with 4 people on it.  Read the PG sports about Pitt hoops, the NBA and Pirates spring training. 

Tuesday 2/18


8:35 -8:56

Crowded bus, but I got a seat, which was good because I was carrying several extra pounds of stuff for an overnight business trip.  Read the PG about snow stories, Pitt hoops and the Pirates


no ride



Wednesday 2/19

no rides



Thursday 2/20


6:59 - 7:25

Mostly empty bus.  Sat forward facing, read the PG and Automobile magazine.



4:58 - 5:20

Reticulated bus, lots of seats. Sat with A from grad school, talked about D, the dean and professors we'd liked

Friday 2/21


7:40 - 8:10

Two-thirds full bus, sat side-facing in the rear.  All was well until Squirrel Hill, where Super Fedora and his dorky friends got on.  They filled the rear section of the bus with their dorkiness.



5:25 - 5:45

Pretty full bus.  Sat in a side-facing rear seat and read Automobile Magazine.  Most interesting part of the trip was the rainwater that dripped from the roof vent, especially when the bus started up or braked hard.  By the end of the ride, my magazine had been splashed several times, and the left thigh of my pants had a 6 by 3 inch wet spot.

Monday 2/24


7:55 - 8:30

All but the uncomfortable seats were taken.  Stood in the stairwell and read the PG about an experimental AIDS vaccine, Pirates spring training and Robert Morris basketball.


no ride



Tuesday 2/25

didn't keep bus journal

Wednesday 2/26


8:01 -8:37

Lots of empty seats.  The guy behind me had one of those Nextel walkie-talkies that he used a few times to talk to people at work.  The woman in front of me talked on a cell phone in a foreign language.



1:16 - 1:29

Took bus to client site in Penn Circle.  The woman behind me was carrying a baby.  She told her seatmate, who seemed to be a complete stranger,  that the baby was 8 weeks old.  She went on to tell him that the baby was not her husband's.  Rather, she was pretty sure it's her friend Rick's.  She was conflicted about telling Rick because she "doesn't want anything from him" but thinks maybe he should know.



2:59 - 3:08

Rode a short way to the muffler place to get my car.

Thursday 2/27


7:31 - 8:00

Way overslept this morning; I'd wanted to be at work at 7:30, but I woke up at 7:17 and set a world record for getting ready (no shower, no shave, no breakfast at home).  Mostly empty bus that filled through Squirrel Hill.



5:34 - 6:05

Gave up on the 5:15 63B, which I think I missed by a few minutes.  There were still seats when I boarded near the courthouse.  There were high school freshmen in the back of the bus bragging about their schoolboy exploits (pranks, disrespecting their teachers) the way only kids that age can.  Those boarding the bus got funkier and hipper (edgy haircuts, euro shoes, vintage coats) until the hip factor peaked at the Carnegie Museum of Art.  Crossing Panther Hollow through the CMU campus upped the square/geek quotient considerably.  The bus didn't empty out at Forbes and Murray nearly as much as usual, probably because there was a 61C in front of us.

Friday 2/28


7:15 - 7:39

Lots of empty seats, unfamiliar faces on this earlier bus, except the baby-faced mom and her weird, jive-talking friend.


no ride




Glossary      Top                     


Maki (Mah'-key) - n. an addicting Palm Pilot geometry game with no redeeming social value


Post-Gazette (left wing' rag) - n. 1. One of America's Great Newspapers 2. Structure fire gallery printed on newsprint. (a.k.a. PG)


reticulated bus (re-tick'-you-lay-ted bus') -- a bus that's 50% longer than a normal bus with a flexible accordion section at what would be the back of a normal bus, linking to a bonus section in the back.


Dramatis Personae   Top


skullcap woman - a hard-looking but not unattractive woman in her 20s who boards at my stop and sometimes wears a very tight white knit cap


Stiller fan -- a clean-cut white-haired guy who dresses pretty well, but -- curiously -- always wears a Steelers jacket.


the athlete - early 30s frisbee player and marathon runner


the neurotic dasher - a 45-ish woman who always acts like getting on the bus is a life-and-death matter.  She dashes for the bus and pushes to the front of the crowd.


the bus matron - a kindly woman in her early 50s who seems to know and be known and liked by almost everyone on the bus


the bus family - a kind-looking woman and her mannerly, clean-cut sons who ride downtown together


Super Fedora - "fedora" is a term I learned at Carnegie Mellon for a particular type of student who views CMU as a 4-year Star Trek convention.  The Super Fedora plays out all of these stereotypes to the fullest.  He wears a fedora and a long black leather trench coat and clearly enjoys fantasy literature.


the baby-faced mom - a young woman with very open facial features who used to bring her very cute toddler son with her.












All work is copyrighted and property of Jeff Forster.









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