Al, the Hub, is today’s guest blogger. You may be getting the impression from this blog that everyone takes the subway at least twice a day, every day of the year. That’s only partly true. There are people who never set foot in a subway. They drive (weird, I know), they walk, they ride a bike or scooter, or they just take Uber a lot. Some, like Al, only take the bus.
Al will now wax poetic about the deeper meaning to be found in the humble New York City bus. Take it away, Al!
Riding in the bus down the boulevard and the place was pretty packed (Yeah!)
Couldn’t find a seat so I had to stand with the perverts in the back
It was smelling like a locker room there was junk all over the floor
We’re already packed in like sardines but we’re stopping to pick up more, look out
– Weird Al Yankovic (“Another One Rides the Bus”)
When folks talk about NYC, they often bring up the patchwork quilt of unique neighborhoods that make up our town. People can get quite feisty when it’s time to extoll the virtues of their local turf. Bayside or Bensonhurst? Chinatown or Flushing? Chelsea or The Village?
Bah! Say I, the ‘hoods speak for themselves, and one of the best indicators of their individuality is the humble city bus. Unlike the subways, city buses are above-ground surface transportation, which affords the rider the opportunity to soak in all the local flavors, sights and smells of New York.
Just like New York City neighborhoods, city buses have their own personality. Bus lines tend to take on the character of the places they traverse. Take the M72. The M72 is a typical crosstown bus in Manhattan, running the length of 72nd Street from East to West and back again. Get on the M72 on the East side at 72nd and York Ave, and you’ll immediately feel a sense of order and quiet as employees of world-class hospitals and working grunts from Sotheby’s take seats for the journey home.
As the bus makes its way west towards Park Avenue, you might catch a glimpse of a trophy wife in her über-expensive workout outfit, walking purposefully to her private Pilates session: she’s the one clutching her 400-dollar yoga mat, with each strand of her individually-dyed blonde hair pulled back in a sensible pony tail. Maybe you’ll see a patrician society lady hop on the bus for a three-block ride to Madison Ave shopping, seating herself demurely beside the teenaged sons and daughters of diplomats in private-school uniforms, chatting among themselves and switching effortlessly between English, German and French. Once the M72 crosses Central Park, the crowd gets less “old money” and more, well, Upper West Side. Think Julliard, The Met Opera, less WASP, more Jewish, more old-style actors and artists, newer and more international money, and you’ll get the picture.
Manhattan buses are fine, and I’m sure Brooklyn and Queens also have their hidden gems. For me, though, there’s only one bus with real flavor, and that’s the Bronx’s Bx36. I have experienced many ghettolicious buses in the Bronx, and truth be told, I ride the Bx35 to work on most days, but the Bx36 still reigns supreme for sheer spectacle, sights, sounds and smells.
The Bx36 is one of the longest bus routes in New York, originating in Manhattan’s Washington Heights and terminating in the Bronx’s Castle Hill area…or the other way around, depending where you’re coming from. The bus takes a meandering route, as it dissects the Bronx East/West, and stays on Tremont Ave for the most part.
Orderly and quiet? We don’t need no stinkin’ orderly and quiet. Some years ago, when I was a humble roving interpreter, one of my agencies used to send me to a social work agency in The Bronx. This required me to take the Bx36 bus for about a third of its route, and oh what a ride it was. The first think you’ll notice on the Bx36 is that privacy is for suckers. I have heard as many as five Dominican housewives air it all in public while talking on their cell phones. Everyone on the bus now knows every detail of their lives, their friends’ lives, their relatives’ lives, and their neighbor’s lives. I’ve heard young Puerto Rican men comparing notes about their drug-induced paranoid fantasies. The occasional Church Lady, eyes vacant and pupils wide, preaches to everyone and no one.
Around 3 in the afternoon, the bus becomes overwhelmed with high school students who all want to say things at the same time, and at the loudest possible volume. The Bronx is largely Latino, and Dominicans and Puerto Ricans compose the majority the demographic, so they provide most of the local flavor. Mexican and Central Americans also are part of the working class, hard scrabble group of zones which the Bx36 serves. For all the hardship that many of the Bronx residents have to endure, I find their spirit and humor positively uplifting, even when tempers flare on an overcrowded bus in a sweltering summer afternoon. You can keep your tickets to Hamilton. The Bx36 provides me with all the entertainment I want and then some. Now that I no longer need to ride it every day, I find myself casting wistful glances as it glides past me.