It’s a staple of the college experience, I suppose. To be standing on the sidewalk in a chilly cluster of college kids, collectively questioning your future while staring at Pierpont Commons, the place you go to drown your sorrows in sweet and sour sauce at Panda Express. Maybe you go there to comb through countless files of code, maybe you go there to buy chicken nuggets from U-Go’s, maybe you go there to simply kill time between classes, but eventually, you always leave and walk to the bus stop.
Most days, when I’m on North Campus, I take the ever-trustworthy Bursley-Baits bus back to Central Campus; it’s the bus that runs most frequently, and I’m impatient. Even though once I get off the bus, I still have to walk the rest of the way back to my apartment on South Campus, I don’t mind because at least I’m moving, and that feels productive.
But yesterday, the Bursley-Baits buses were nowhere to be seen.
After walking briskly across the street, feeling rejuvenated by the refreshing autumn air, I pleasantly observed the fact that there were less than ten people standing at the bus stop. It’s almost serene, to be standing at the bus stop silently, spaced out, admiring the architecture of the engineering buildings surrounded by trees, allowing my mind to decompress after class.
But the serenity was swiftly swept away as the time hit 2:30 and classes let out. The current of students burst through Pierpont’s front doors, a sudden rush of people all making their way towards me. The peace disrupted, I sighed while watching the space around me fill with people, huddling together at the corner. As we continued to wait, the cool air became icy, cutting against my cheeks and reminding me of how much I hate waiting at the bus stop.
Was the bus ever going to get here? Was I the only one who ever checked the MBus app? It’s a compulsive action; my hand instinctively reaches for my phone, swiping and selecting its way to the map, checking back every few seconds because what else am I supposed to do when I’m waiting at the bus stop, talk to people? There was no bus coming. Seeing the empty map, no green bus icons, it made me feel uneasy. Everyone inched closer to the curb, regardless of the fact that there weren’t any buses coming anytime soon. When one person shuffled forward, suddenly the entire amoeba shifted towards the road, everyone eyeing everyone else because we all knew there was no way we were all fitting on one bus.
As tensions built, I noticed a Commuter South pulling up to the other stop, where less people were waiting. I started weighing the pros and cons in my head- did I really want to dash across the street to make it in time? But then I realized I would end up missing it if I just stood there debating, so I seized the opportunity, speeding across the street to the stop, joining in an awkward shuffle-slash-run that other students around me were doing; I hurried onto the Commuter South, instead of risking being left behind off the non-existent Bursley-Baits bus, ensuring my departure from North Campus.
Finally on a bus, I managed to get a seat in the back, where I typically like to sit, and I wondered about why people choose the seats they choose- does anyone else put as much thought into something as simple as where they sit on the bus? This is what I was thinking about as we bounced along Fuller Road, blowing past a stop that no one had pulled the yellow cord for. But then a flash of movement caught my attention: there was a middle-aged man sprinting next to the bus as we sped past the stop, his few tufts of light brown hair bobbing and tangling in the wind as he struggled to keep up with the bus, the driver failing to notice him. Some passengers in the front did, however, and were able to get the driver’s attention as we slowed to a halt at a crosswalk, the man waving his hands frantically and desperately looking in the windows.
The doors opened with a wheeze and the man leapt onto the bus, panting and profusely thanking the driver. He hustled to the back of the bus and plopped down in a seat diagonally across from me, his eyes a mixture of relief and exhaustion. To finally sit on the bus is to let all of your worries escape for a minute, to take solace in the semi-comfortable carpeted seats, and to let all of the bumps and swerving turns become a journey that sweeps you along; you’re surfing the streets of Ann Arbor, you’re being chauffeured on a ship out at sea. The man slowly let his shoulders drop from their raised position, a calmness enveloping him and letting him find himself, no longer disheveled. He looked at me, intrigued by my intense scribbling in my notebook, and I wondered if he thought I was writing about him.
At the next stop, a lot of people exited, and suddenly, there was just a humming quietness inside the bus. The bus is such a staple in our college life, but no two rides are exactly the same. You step onto that blue bus, walk across the gray, sparkle-speckled floor, and sit down with a new set of experiences ahead of you each day.
I took a deep breath in; this day, the bus had a crisp smell, more crisp than it usually is. I don’t know what made me randomly notice this. I had been watching a guy walk down the sidewalk outside of Mott Children’s Hospital for the past thirty seconds or so, my attention drawn to his pink and green Hawaiian flower-print leggings and his dark, shoulder length hair. At the next stop, he entered the bus, making his way to the back and sitting down next to the man we’d almost left behind. Now the two subjects of my writing were sitting right in front of me, and I just carefully kept noting the way they carried themselves, almost identical in their relaxed stature, as though the bus was a place where they could reset and prepare for the rest of their day.
He was probably a college student; he held his backpack in his lap. His nails were long, with remnants of black polish tinting them the way leftover nail polish tends to. I had this overpowering feeling that he definitely knew I was writing about him.
We arrived at the Central Campus Transit Center, where both men exited the bus, and I felt an urge to say goodbye, but we hadn’t spoken a word. I still had a few minutes of riding ahead of me; however, my choice to take Commuter South was paying off because I could feel the frigid air rushing in as passengers switched out, and I was glad I wouldn’t have to walk the rest of the way home.
Before we started moving again, I pulled out my phone to check for messages I knew I didn’t have. Then I returned to my notes, watching as the people around me all pulled out their phones as if on cue. Do people notice that everyone else is looking down? When I’m so absorbed in my phone, I forget to look up. I step onto the bus and into another realm, a digital world where I spend twenty minutes perusing social media platforms, and when I do, for some reason, look up, I’m suddenly aware of how zoned out of reality everyone is.
As I continued attempting to be present in the moment, I soaked in the activity of the campus scene around me. I was drawn to the motion of people walking to and from class, alone or with a group, and I couldn’t help but take notice of the pace of their walks: the boy in sweatpants and a beanie, rapidly checking his phone, taking large strides; the three guys in darker khaki pants, holding seasonal coffees and conversing, casually strolling down the sidewalk without sense of urgency. I’ve never understood people who have no sense of urgency when they walk: isn’t there somewhere you want to be? Don’t you want to walk with a purpose? Maybe that’s just me, being impatient. Luckily for me, my patience didn’t have to hold out any longer. I was at my stop.