Being on a bus is a funny thing. Sitting inside a rectangular aluminum body on wheels, careening down the road in the company of complete strangers, the riders become part of a collective whole acting together, while at the same time, remaining inwardly individual.
The feeling on a bus is different from a plane or a train. When I board a plane or train, I feel like I am on the brink of an epic journey that I am powerless to stop. There is a permanence to boarding either of those modes of transportation -- once I'm on, that's it -- there's no getting off until the end of the line. But a bus is more down-to-earth -- literally (in regards to the plane) and figuratively. It's cheap. It's relatively quick (key word: relatively). It's practical. It's easy.
When I jump onto a bus I feel like a vagabond thumbing a ride someplace -- anyone can take the bus. In contrast, when I buy a ticket for a plane or train, the process is ceremoniously limited to those who can afford it. Tense anticipation pervades the moments spent checking in and loading onto those transports. Nothing about my psyche has to change to prepare for a bus ride.
On a bus, I can ask the driver to let me off wherever I need to stop (at least, here in Georgia the stops are that flexible). There's no asking the pilot or conductor to let me off mid-trip. Oh, disastrous....
On the bus, most of the passengers travel with their coats on -- perhaps another way the ride feels less permanent…. more transitory. At any moment, the bus could stop, so everyone is ready to disembark. Or perhaps it's just drafty in these Georgian buses. The air-tight cabins of planes and modern, high-speed trains lend themselves to retaining heat, so coats are stowed for the duration of the trip in the overhead compartments....."and please use caution when opening the overhead compartments as contents may have shifted during the flight...."
Back to the bus --
While traveling back to Western Georgia today after spending a long weekend in the eastern end of the country, I watched my fellow-vagabonds sit and ride. I was sitting on the aisle, so I had a good view of everyone ahead of me. True to Georgian-style, most people were wearing black leather jackets (the men, especially), jeans, boots, and a scarf of some sort. So uniformed, the passengers looked like they all belonged to the same club …. or all shopped at the same store. I would say that they all looked a part of a Brit-rock band en route to their next gig, but there were too many old people in the group. The repetition of images up the aisle drew my pattern-seeking, artist's eye. A few of the men wore "qudi" (caps) on their heads (it was another cold, rainy day), but aside from those extra accessories, everyone looked the same. Everyone sat, facing the front of the bus, a few gazed out the windows partially covered by mustard-yellow curtains. The only thing facing the passengers was the clock, silently announcing the hour and minutes in bold, red readout.
There is one thing that I like most about watching bus-riders: the unison, bobble-head movement that affects everyone and everything on the bus. With every bump and turn, each rider's head and upper body sways, rocks, bobs, and nods in perfect time. Even the ratty curtains follow the flow of the movement. No one is exempt -- not me, not the driver, not the guy sitting ahead of me across the aisle who keeps turning around to look in my direction, not the girl sitting next to me sharing her tinny phone-music with the group. Everyone has to follow the rhythm dictated by the bus. If I let my eyes go out of focus, I can take in everything in front of me at once -- the unison movement becomes visually musical.
Every now and then, someone stands up and tries to move of their own accord -- out of sync with the bus-flow, they stumble as if drunk, fighting to be the one in control of their motions. The bus always wins.
So here we all are, on the bus. Dressed alike. Moving in unison. Headed the same direction. Hemmed in by the same yellow-ness. Watching the same scenery go by. Yet, for all the similarity spread across the space in front of me, each person is a unique individual. Each one is thinking unique thoughts. Each one has unique dreams. Each one is going to a different place. Each person has his own story to tell. Each one wrestles with different, unseen stresses. Lost in thought, mindlessly bobbing to the rhythm of the bus, each person exists as a part of the whole, yet completely individual at the same time.
I am stating the obvious. But I am reminding myself of this individuality more than drawing any earth-shattering conclusions. Being surrounded by a culture and language that are not mine can often cause me to generalize more than I should. I have to remember that although many Georgians look the same to me, they are not all the same person. They do have a strong, unifying tradition of being Georgian, yet each one is a whole individual with thoughts and feelings as unique and relevant as mine.
Funny things, buses -- and philosophically compelling, too.