COTA (that's the Columbus bus system, for you out-of-towners) is giving away bus tickets and passes to Huntington Park to go see the fireworks this year. To get them, you leave a comment on their Facebook page stating why you ride COTA. I lived through the nightmare of sitting on a bus for hours on High Street trying to get home from Red, White, and Boom once already. After discovering how quick and easy it was to drive down a half-hour before the show, park under the Statehouse, walk down to the riverside behind COSI, and then drive just 30 minutes on Cleveland Avenue to get back home, I have no desire to attempt riding the bus downtown for that event again. If I did want to claim a pair of tickets, however, this is the comment I'd have left explaining what appeals to me about riding the bus in Columbus.
1. A chance to explore: When I take a car or bike or walk to where I'm going, I just go straight there and straight back. Instead of spending just 15 minutes going in a straight line, I can spend an hour and a half on COTA seeing parts of the city I didn't think I had any reason to visit.
2. The opportunity to contribute to something worthwhile: Why take a 20-minute walk when I can take a 12-minute walk and pay $2.00 to ride the rest of the way (and another $2.00 for the return trip)? The city needs my money so they can fund things like a massive, diesel-powered bus transporting only two passengers.
3. It's a good way to get in shape: Walking no further than your driveway is a quick way to get soft around the middle. When you ride COTA, you get to walk, sometimes as much as a mile, just to get to the stop you need. And when you look on Google maps to find out when the next bus runs, you'll find one route for a bus that leaves in two minutes, one that leaves in eleven minutes, and two more that will make you miss your appointment entirely, meaning you get to *sprint* to the bus stop, often only to see the tail end of the bus in the distance. Advanced fitness level riders may want to try outrunning the bus to the next stop. In moderate traffic, it's possible. Slower people will have to march back home, look up another route, and repeat the drill. Also, learning to fit yourself into those seats without banging your knees or touching the people around you is a great way to avoid spending money paying for yoga classes.
4. Structure: When I drive somewhere, I leave whenever I want, take whatever route I want to get there, make other stops along the way without having to wait 40 minutes to leave again (Shoot, I forgot to ask for a transfer! Guess I'll have to spend the two bucks I was gonna use to get home.), listen to the radio without headphones, and enjoy a beverage while I drive. If it's too late to stop in somewhere to eat, I might even go through a drive-thru. All this convenience and self-indulgence makes people soft and causes them to develop a sense of entitlement. Riding the bus, you develop the discipline needed to conform to someone else's rules and schedule. Conformity is good. I think the only way they could really improve on this would be to mail me a list of places to go every week, with a time table saying when I should report to each location.
5. Minimalist living in the moment: With a car, I might buy one or two weeks' worth of groceries at a time. Such hoarding should be discouraged. When riding the bus, you can only carry what you can put on your lap or in an empty seat next to you (unless you want to block the aisle--that can be a real conversation starter). With my own car or truck, I can buy things like building materials to fix up my house, chicken feed and soil amendments to grow my own food, or large tools that let me do any number of things to improve my life. Who needs all that stuff? If you can't carry it on the bus, you don't need it in your life. Just go to your job, return to your rental, read books, and sleep. Anything else is just likely to get you into trouble anyway.
6. Daily dose of drama: Left to my own devices, I seek out a pretty low-key life. If someone doesn't observe basic rules of civility, I tend not to associate with them. I don't watch Jerry Springer, professional wrestling, or other sorts of things where the main event is loud, belligerent people shouting foul utterances at one another. That is to say, I seek out a sheltered, insulated life where I can create for myself the illusion that most people are polite and well behaved. Sharing space with other bus riders gives me a good, hard slap back into reality. I get to hear arguments, loud and very personal discussions, and women getting hit on with pick-up lines like "You ain't never been with a black man, have you?"
7. Jesus: Being as I'm not a Christian, I almost never step foot inside a church. As any good Christian can tell you, this is a threat to my immortal soul. Fortunately, there's usually someone on board willing to share the Gospel (or at least their version of it) with everyone within earshot, thereby giving me periodic inoculations against the powers of Satan.