Public transit is the key to humanizing yourself.
I’m sure you think you’re already human, but you’re not. Your rank as a “human” only comes once you’ve seen the chaos of daily public transit, when you’re sitting on the light rail and a man behind you starts rapping so loudly that your iPod on full volume can’t block out his rhymes.
When you ride public transit with strangers of all shapes, sizes, ages and smells piled together, the culture of your city is thrown into your face, and you’re forced to be a part of the human race.
Drunkenness, homelessness and drama are jammed together for one hell of a ride.
I’ve been riding the light rail now for three years. When I first started, I was not a human. I was a boy in a plastic bubble who thought the world was full of flowers and rainbows.
It’s actually full of horrors.
I’ve stepped onto the light rail and smelled smells that I still can’t identify. Something like a mixture of human sweat, Taco Bell and sadness.
I’ve seen a man go around asking for spare change, only to turn around and pull a cell phone out of his pocket.
On more than one occasion, I’ve felt that my life has been in danger, like when a drunk man named Marty sat next to me and began to loudly tell me not to hold my head down “for these black people.”
Shocked and afraid, I started to casually ask him questions, if only to change the subject and keep him from spouting more racist garbage.
Moderately overweight and with long greasy hair, Marty sat there telling me about his personal life and his Italian heritage, of which he was very proud.
When the train finally arrived at his stop, he stood up and went to the exit, giving me hope that I was going to make it to my graphic design class without suffering stab wounds. But he stopped, holding the door open to speak his last sermon.
“Be proud. Hold your head up. Don’t keep it down for these people,” he told me, pointing discriminately at certain passengers. Everyone watching the debacle was looking increasingly nervous when a brave elderly man stood up and told Marty to get off the train.
In an overly pugnacious tone, Marty said, “And who are you?”
In a flash, an unknown hero ran from the back of the train and shoved drunken Marty off and onto the station platform. The doors gave a ring and closed shut as I watched poor disoriented Marty through the window trying to climb to his feet.
As a rider of the light rail, I have experienced the best and worst of people. I’ve seen heroism, and I’ve felt fear. Every ride provides the full spectrum of humanity.
When you drive your car alone down the Loop 202 or ride your bike down a sidewalk of dodging passers-by, you’re missing the real world around you.
The world is like a dramatic movie. Public transit is like the scene that makes you cry, laugh and cheer for the good guy and cringe when atrocities are committed.
Break out of your bubble and experience the chaos. Take public transit.
Send the columnist your public transit stories at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at @kwrenick