Public Transit Is Free Here

Public Transit Is Free Here

Here, in the place where I live, the local buses run free, literally free. The storied history of this situation is long and boring, but basically, the town spent tax-payer money on a public transportation system that has yet to be completed. Thus, they’ve decided to force the overarching public transit system (of the larger metro area) to no longer accept payment for local public transit rides as a way to recoup the losses for which the taxpayers have already paid for public transit services. The services in question are supposed to be lightrail services, but the bus, in my opinion, will do for now. I did not live here during the taxation for the larger public transit operation/promise. Thus, I have lost no personal finances to the cause. This means that riding the local bus around here is absolutely free! for the likes of me and my body buddy (i.e. lifemate).

Yesterday, we rode the free bus for the second time, since we’ve moved to this place. We take it out to a larger, broader shopping area that has all of the big box stores Americans love. As dwellers of the downtown area (despite the town being quite small, there’s a bit of sprawl that makes living car-less a bit of a challenge, even with the free bus system), we use the buses to get to shops and such that we might need on any given week or month. We absolutely do not use public transportation for any of our daily needs, that would be nearly impossible with the inefficient, albeit free, system that exists currently. But the worst part about riding the bus here in the town in which I now live revolves around the people who require (are sustained by) the local bus system here in this town.

I am lucky and privileged enough to be able to be floated by my middle-class family, if/when need be. My decision to not have a car reveals a bit of that privilege. I can afford to live in the more densely populated area of the town, right downtown where all the “stuff” happens. I have chosen to not have a car, and I am capable of living without said car by utilizing public transit when I want it, and I live close enough to my daily needs (my place of employment, the Chamber where I take meetings, etc.) to walk everywhere else. I can also simply rent a car on days when I need to travel regionally, out of the town, to the larger metropolitan areas. I understand that this is not the case for most of the local public transit users here in my new hometown.

Case in point, a woman got on the bus yesterday and the bus driver recognized her. After a brief exchange of niceties, the bus driver asked, “I thought you worked at Wal-Mart?” We were on the other side of town from Wal-Mart. Frustrated, she spoke, “I hate that place.” After a short explanation we (my body buddy and I) overheard, we learned from the fellow passenger that she began making too much money from her job at Wal-Mart; she was going to be evicted from her low-income housing. So she quit … on her birthday … because she had had “enough of this bullshit.” The thing I realized right then and there was that she existed in a world that I have never known. And in that moment, I realized that public transit is even more important for towns that want to have an economically healthy population.

This woman on the bus is trapped in an economic system that forces her to remain poor in order to survive. She’s smart enough to know that even though Wal-Mart pays her more than is allowed to be “low income,” Wal-Mart does not pay enough to live among the middle class. Or perhaps she’s merely lazy and doesn’t want to work, and so, she’d rather take her low unemployment and live in low-income housing for forever. This is the argument, is it not? Are poor people poor due to their own laziness and affinity to leech off the larger American economic system, or are they trapped by the system that has pitted them against billionaires?

To hear with my own ears the way in which she described her desperation about making too much money made me cringe. Her options were to be employed but homeless or unemployed in a house. She sees no other way to live, no other way to get out of this hell hole trap that she is trapped inside. Yes, she seemed a bit immature for the look of her, and she definitely seemed like she lacked higher-level education, but she’s surviving. She’s found a way to work within the fucking terrible system within which she is trapped. But is surviving enough? In These United States, is our goal to merely survive? I think not. I think that the situation this woman on the bus is clearly trapped within speaks to a larger degradation of the larger state of our country. We are all on our very own in this “Land of the Free.” But this is not the way that life here in These United States needs to be.

I’m not jealous. You’re jealous.

I’m not jealous. You’re jealous.

There’s general jealousy, like envy, a sort of wanting of something that you admire, but you know that it will not satisfy you once you have it. Then there’s a deep, dark, rage-type jealousy that includes (but is absolutely not limited to) wishing you were as talented and/or intelligent as someone else, that you could be that amazing, celebrity-like, star person. And then there’s the type of jealousy that just makes you want to kill yourself, end it all in the name of “What the hell is the point of me even trying when someone like her already exists?” The “her” in question is none other than Ursula K. Le Guin.

Like all of my favorite writers, I found out about Le Guin not long before she passed away. I’ve read a number of her short stories and novels, but the truth is that I prefer her nonfiction, well, just the one nonfiction I’ve read so far (aside from essays and other, shorter nonfiction), No Time To Spare: Thinking about what matters. It’s a beautiful book about aging, growing older, being old. It’s the type of book that I wish I could simply quote in its entirety here, but obviously, that’s illegal. The book, nevertheless, is that good. I could and would gladly transcribe the thing in its entirety for you to read. Of course, you can, as easily, check the book out yourself from your local library (and I would encourage you to do so).

And so, I have decided to choose my top five quotes, the quotes that are resonating with me the most these days. They are as follows (okay, my top 6), in page order as opposed to order of importance, which would, theoretically, be impossible to determine:

6. “Old age is for anybody who gets there.” (p 9)

5. “When did it become impossible for our government to ask its citizens to refrain from short-term gratification in order to serve a greater good?” (p 118)

4. “It’s so much easier to blame the grown ups than to be one.” (p 123)

3. “Cruelty is a human specialty, which human beings continue to practice and perfect and institutionalize, though we seldom boast about it.” (p 151)

2. “Belief has no value in itself that I can see. Its value increases as it is useful, diminishes as it is replaced by knowledge, and goes negative when noxious. In ordinary life, the need for it diminishes as the quantity and quality of knowledge increases.” (p 195)

1. “The warmth of the sun is on my face as soon as its light is.” (p 211)

After a three-hour, early-morning binge, I learned something.

After a three-hour, early-morning binge, I learned something.

So, the lifemate and I are “camped out” in our friend’s basement until we can move into our apartment (we moved states, and so, we could only be so picky as to move-in dates with regards to our move-out date, since, hopefully like most people, we didn’t want to waste any money). This is not about our apartment. It is, however, about the basement. Our friend (an actual mutual [very platonic] friend of ours whom we both knew and spent time with separately before ever getting together) lives in a house far too large for a single guy with a dog (the house was bought and paid for by his parents, so there’s that, too, but it’s a long, personal story of his, so judge less-harshly). And the basement is partially built out with one enormous bedroom (just a rectangle really), a closet outside the bedroom, and a full bathroom with some built-in shelving. Aside from this build out, the entirety of the remaining basement is concrete and completely unfinished. It’s a strange oasis-type feeling. It’s also a strange sort of time dilator as the room itself has no windows.

The basement has two window wells that allow for a peek at whether or not the time is day or night. As the walls of the built-out bedroom/den float freely within the basement space, only the northerly wall is built against the foundation of the house, the other three walls are completely solid, with not a single window frame, and they were built too far from the window wells to have made any use of them. And so, I am living in a windowless basement room (that’s very warm and comfortable, so don’t feel bad for me, please) within which I have little to no conception of what time it is, and I am not free to roam freely about the house whenever I want.

With these two conditions set out before me, I woke up at 6 am this morning. The friend (and I know this because we can easily and clearly hear all of his movements on the main floor) wakes around 6:45 am and is gone no later than 7:15 am, six days a week. I had at least an hour to blow, and the lifemate was still sound asleep. I didn’t want to go upstairs and encroach upon the friend’s morning routine. I also didn’t want to go back to bed. And I’ve been getting these really nasty headaches lately from my screens, which leaves me only my laptop as an option for my viewing pleasure (the tv, I assumed, would be too bright, and my phone’s the usual headache culprit when in near or complete darkness). Plopping open my laptop, I flicked it into Night mode, but I had nothing to do. I didn’t want to write; that’s lame. I didn’t want to read the news that early (or at all in that moment). A general cure to my laziness usually resides in YouTube. My tolerance for the platform is so low that I cannot really tolerate a “binge,” as it were.

Apparently, however, at 6 am on a weekday, I can watch YouTube videos for three hours. And I’m not talking about the “good” kind of videos (of the educational or documentary type); I’m talking about some straight up shit and some straight up waste-of-timers, all of the “YouTuber” genre. This is unusual behavior for me, but after getting into a good little rabbit hole groove, I was happy that I was doing it, watching videos and attempting to learn something. Obviously, the world is changing fast, and not a single YouTuber I watched today had I ever heard of before. In short, I felt really old. But honestly, I’m glad to be out of my youth.

In No Time To Spare by Ursula K. Le Guin, Le Guin states something so beautiful about age. “Old age is for anybody who gets there,” she writes on page 9, and then on the next page, she quotes, “Old Age is Not for the Young.” I suppose, if anything, I’m grateful to be growing older. Not knowing about whatever is going on on The Tube never bothered me before, and after this morning’s junk-food binge, I’m highly confident that it will never matter to me at all.