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By Natalie Bettendorf
I feel like an enormous weight has been lifted off my shoulders when I see my bus round the corner. It’s glass doors swoosh open in front of me and I swipe my clipper card past the machine. I settle into one of the empty seats in the back, prop my feet up, and watch the city lights blur past as I make my way back home. In some ways, depending on public transportation makes me feel pretty vulnerable. But I’ve also learned to not take getting around town for granted.
I had never taken the bus before last summer. I guess that’s because I never had to. My elementary school was an easy two blocks down the hill from my house, and we had a well-organized carpool for my middle school years. While I don’t like to admit it, the city bus certainly scared me. Public transportation was never something that I’d gotten comfortable with, at least alone. To me, it was just an urban tool that I was fortunate enough to not have to depend on.
On the first day of school, I was astonished at how many people I met at the bus stop who were my age and lived in my neighborhood, most of whom I’d never encountered before. Many of those people ended up being some of my closest friends throughout the school year. It wasn’t long before the city bus was an instant transportation resource for me. No need for asking for rides from busy parents or annoying older siblings. I suddenly had the power to go just about anywhere in the bay area for less than two bucks.
I quickly became more comfortable and confident in public settings, thanks to the bus. I was able to teach myself public etiquette, like appropriate actions when interacting with people in public. I also learned how to react in situations that may have involved sketchy people, transferring buses, or staying safe in more dangerous neighborhoods. A lot of my friends agree that depending on the bus has made them way more responsible. I guess it also made me feel way more aware of myself. And then I was less freaked out when travelling alone.
When I look back to last summer, I find myself wishing that I had gotten familiar with the bus at a younger age. The skills I learned in just a few short months seem critical to any teen that wants to be a sociable and successful adult in our society. So
instead of driving today, try leaving a few minutes early and head to your local bus stop with a little more appreciation for public transit. I’m off to catch my bus, but for now…