These new city buses are amazing, and never available.
I like the bus, when I can catch it. Usually. Rush hour the bus is horrendous, but there’s nothing like a nice not-full bus, sitting on the not-sunny side, listening to music, watching the city go by. And it feels damn near free, Rs. 20 max. Mounting and dismounting is a bit of an Olympic event, but besides that it’s generally chill. Unless it’s full, in which case the whole thing sucks.
At my dad’s book launch yesterday, someone was saying that kids don’t read on the bus enough these days. A young person answered that they can’t read when they’re all up in between other peoples armpits and crotches. Taking a bus at rush hour is hellacious, but I try to avoid regular schedules entirely. Anyways, there’s a certain strategy to taking the bus. What got me thinking was this study by Esther Kim of Yale University, on the unspoken rules and customs of commuters. Here’s some advice she collected to avoid having someone sit next to you.
• Avoid eye contact with other people
• Lean against the window and stretch out your legs
• Place a large bag on the empty seat
• Sit on the aisle seat and turn on your iPod so you can pretend you can’t hear people asking for the window seat.
• Place several items on the spare seat so it’s not worth the passenger’s time waiting for you to move them.
• Look out the window with a blank stare to look crazy
• Pretend to be asleep
• Put your coat on the seat to make it appear already taken
• If all else fails, lie and say the seat has been taken by someone else
All legit advice. The classic Sri Lankan move is the second one, wide stance. I hate wide stance. Especially on the long distance buses. Dudes will not break wide stance ever, they get in and lock their knees or something, it becomes a point of furious honor. I don’t actually take the bus enough to try to avoid people. I like window, if I get window and have my headphones I don’t care.
Long distance buses, however, are another thing altogether. You really have to plan for a seat in the first place, and fight if one gets free. And you can’t be weak. Once I was on a bus to Tanamalwila during some holidays and it was the worst ever. People were straight dying, it was so packed. Some juki girls were actually passing out from the heat and straight squashation and I felt bad and gave them my seat (at that point people were sitting on each other). We had only a ways to go, but honestly not a great move. From that point I was hanging and being squashed and basically doing the vertical sardine. So unpleasant. I have never been so glad to get off a bus. Which only happened like an hour later.
Which brings us to the next point of Ms. Kim’s research, what to do when the bus is full. They obviously don’t have conductors who view buses as slave ships, so it’s not about who you’re going to be grinding with for the next eight hours. It’s about who you want to sit next to you. What a luxury.
“This all changes however when it is announced that the bus will be full so all seats should be made available,” Kim observed. “The objective changes, from sitting alone to sitting next to a ‘normal’ person.”
Kim found that race, class, gender and other background characteristics were not key concerns for commuters when they discovered someone had to sit next them. They all just wanted to avoid the ‘crazy person’.
“One rider told me the objective is just ‘getting through the ride’, and that I should avoid fat people who may sweat more and so may be more likely to smell,” said Kim. “Motivating this nonsocial behavior is the fact that one’s own comfort level is the rider’s key concern, rather than the backgrounds of fellow passengers.”
In Sri Lanka there should be one basic rule. Avoid men. If unable to avoid men, go for adorably old or somewhat young and hip. Middle aged men taking the bus are bound to be frustrated. I mean, if I’m like 40 and still taking the bus I’ll be frustrated. Not like jerking off on people, but it gets to that. I hate any physical contact with men but, that said, I feel bad sitting next to women, so the rule doesn’t really work like that. I generally look and act so ridiculously out of place that women aren’t scared of me, but they still have to be, a bit, so I try to be polite and just leave them alone. I just try to avoid guys doing the wide-stance, and it’s not like sexual harassment is limited to women. So you need to guard your dignity.
I was on the Havelock Road bus and dude was trying to take liberties with my finger on the rail. Uncool. Gave me a simpering smile as I went out. Not someone I’d want to sit next to.
Anyways, interesting study. The prospect that your troubles are limited to whom to sit next to is somewhat laughable in Sri Lanka though. You’re really deciding who you want to spoon with, insomuch as you can decide at all. So get a window seat if you can, back if you can, put your headphones on and try not to wake up to penis on your lap.