The long-distant commute is an extended social experiment. Although some of the people on the bus know each other—from overheard conversations while in line it’s clear that many of these commuters go to New York daily—they want to sit alone. The idea behind a bus, short for omnibus (Latin, “for all”), is essential equality. When I commuted daily from central New Jersey, I was a passenger from the originating city on the route. By the time New Jersey Transit buses got to New York it was rare for a seat to be empty. Now I take TransBridge, a bus line that operates out of Bethlehem. The buses are much nicer, but I’m no longer from the originating town. By the time the bus arrives at 4:30 a.m., it’s already half-full. (Half-empty if you’re an optimist.) That’s not a problem, of course, but the way people claim territory is.
Typically those who get on at the initial stop sit in the aisle seat, place their bag in the window seat, and do their best to fall asleep before reaching my stop, which is only 15 minutes away. When you go to get on, in other words, there are almost no seats and the happy, dreaming commuter knows you don’t want to wake him or her to get them to move their bag and let you in. Like most people I’d like to have two seats to myself—who wouldn’t? But the fact is the bus will be full and these people who do this every day should know that. But still they try to block others out. As a social experiment, it is worth some consideration. If you put your bag in the aisle seat it’s easier to accommodate the person who’ll inevitably sit next to you. But this is Trump’s America—everyone for himself.
I’m a fairly quiet person, and I don’t want to disturb anyone’s slumber. Many people not only sprawl out like they’re in bed at home, but they wear dark glasses and headphones so that you have to nudge them to get their attention. Then they act as if you’ve insulted them. Or they’re doing you a favor by letting you sit in “their” seat. I suspect the fact is that none of us wants to have to go so far to work. And I know that sitting next to a stranger can be less than ideal. When I buy my ticket, however, I know that I’m opting for an omnibus, and those who do so should be clear on the concept before handing over their money. Or maybe I’m just dreaming.