By: Lois Greene Stone
Lois Greene Stone, writer and poet, has been syndicated worldwide. Poetry and personal essays have been included in hard & softcover book anthologies. Collections of her personal items/photos/memorabilia are in major museums including twelve different divisions of The Smithsonian.
Isn't public transportation just a means of getting from point-A to point-B without a car? What’s that got to do with lasting impressions? In April 2011, I read, in my morning newspaper, that there actually is a museum for old buses, quickly went online and typed in those words. A site had sterile information, photos, plus images in time-line organized display cases. Point A to .... the passenger was missing...
I once felt that riding a certain bus in New York City was exhilarating, and I created reasons to travel from Flushing, Long Island to Manhattan. Public transportation now? Well, let me first give you 'then':
Air brakes were quiet compared to my breathing; I'd run a quarter-mile to reach a Queens County stop before the bus did. The driver took no notice, swung a large handle and moved doors. I groped in my tiny leather pouch, bought at an Army-Navy store, for my nickel.
My buffalo coin sounded as if it were being destroyed when churning began and money dropped lower into the counting cylinder. I sat on the right side so I could watch awaiting passengers on Bus Stop marked street corners.
I noticed the shoe store on Northern Boulevard where, whenever I walked by it, I went inside and placed my feet beneath a machine that x-rayed them so I could actually see if Stride-Rite shoes did indeed fit. I smiled when I passed the flower shop where I often used 50¢ of allowance to buy my mother fragrant gardenias.
I pressed my nose against glass, exhaled. Had a cloud formed from hot breath? After passing the RKO Keith’s grand movie theatre where a real-person organist played between films, left turn, and there was the terminal where, as my dad used to say, the 'busses sleep'.
With a paper transfer, I looked for a connection to Jackson Heights, moving way off target destination. Nope. My mother couldn't understand why I took a round-about route to the city; she said it was like going to China to get to New Jersey. So the Long Island Railroad was direct, only 22 minutes; even the subway from Flushing Main Street was quick. She regularly said the same thing as I pretended a bored expression, rolled my eyes, placed weight on the outside of one turned ankle, muttered "more advice" and did as I pleased, anyway. She was old...38...wanted things easy and quick.
I seemed to always giggle with anticipation before my ride from Jackson Heights to Manhattan on a double-decker. An open-top one was ready to pull out. I climbed its stairs, and my silky blonde hair strands were caught by blowing wind atop the big double-decker vehicle. I loved summer.
Now, decades later in my adult hometown, Rochester, New York, nearly 400 miles from childhood, I stare at a sleek and modern "stretch" bus as its accordion middle wraps around a corner. Park and Ride signs dot some designated outside lots. I've toyed with the notion but it seems absurd: I'm already in my warm car and anyplace in this community is only twenty minutes away. If I have to drive to park, then bus, I may as well drive to park downtown and be there ten minutes sooner. "She's old...wants things easy and quick." Why do my own words come back to tease me?
When I became a parent, I realized what my own mother and father had allowed. I knew how self-sufficient and capable I'd felt, as a girl, going out alone. Did my mother worry when, at age nine, I took the train to the city for ballet lessons? Certainly. How about when my figure blossomed into young womanhood and workmen whistled as I passed? Most definitely. Why, when I was in high school, was it 'cool' to go to Connecticut to see a movie, or go to Philadelphia to a baseball game? How must she have felt: scared.
But I, as my mother, kept fears to myself and released my children to explore possibilities, accept responsibility for their own welfare, learn how to transport themselves yet be alert, build memories of self-discovery. In my suburban town located in the snowbelt, there are no sidewalks; the nearest bus is a full mile away. My daughter walked in the road’s shoulder, toting ice skates on her shoulder, to get to a bus to take her to a rink. I realized the return was difficult.
I've never ridden public transportation here. From my car’s windshield, I peer at potential passengers standing within plastic enclosures as I drive a main thoroughfare. But.. what if an old, noisy, open-topped double-decker straight out of my New York childhood came clanking by? I grin at the thought, and giggle.