Dear Mr. President,
Tonight when I got on the bus to go home the driver saw the book in my hand and said "The two highest compliments I get from any one who rides my bus is falling asleep and reading." He said he'd try to drive smoothly so I'd have an easier time with it. I've never seen this bus driver before (or, maybe I have and, like so many bus riders let my eyes slide past him without committing anything to memory) so I don't know if he enjoys his job or hates it, if he's gay or straight, republican, democrat or anarchist. The only thing I know about him is that he is kind and approves of my two favorite activities (sleeping and reading) and seemed to approve of me, as well. This remark buoyed my work-weary and cold little spirit, a small kindness that made my whole night a little brighter.
Lately my friend's trip home for the holidays has made me the temporary owner of a car. The freedom that comes with this is incredible; I can drive where I want to go without concern for route or schedules or fare or transfers, I can play music and sing (badly) as loud as I like, I can transport really amazing amounts of groceries. But I usually wind up angry at the rest of the drivers on the road, drivers who go too slowly or break rules or don't use turn signals. While riding King County Metro doesn't always give me hope for humanity- smelly drunks, screaming children, twitchy addicts and the general impoliteness of high school kids in large numbers are just a few of mankind's shortcomings I've been known to complain about- I do at least have to keep my anger to myself, as we're not all insulated by our little glass and metal vehicular bubbles. Reluctantly, often grudgingly, I connect with people on the bus; from the young aspiring DJ asking for my number (and mistaking my right-hand ring for a wedding band when I said no) to the tiny girl playing peek-a-boo with pink plastic beads in her fuzzy braids, to the old man who wanted to discuss international humanitarian law after seeing my textbooks, I find myself having conversations, interactions or observations of strangers every time I ride the bus. I think that, even at its most tedious, riding the bus leaves me feeling a little more connected to my community.
While I will continue to take advantage of Eric's car as long as he lets me, I think I will forever be a bus rider rather than a car owner. This isn't just because I can't imagine attaining the financial security necessary for car ownership in a city, or even because of my environmental objections to frequent driving, but because I think relying upon the bus keeps me from isolating myself behind my ideas of other people and forces me to observe and interact with individuals of ages and backgrounds I might never otherwise encounter. I'm surely romanticizing the entire experience (and will laugh at this, the next time I'm crammed into a standing-room only commuter route through the tunnel with eight teenagers blaring music through their headphones or a crazy crackhead lighting up in the aisle) but for now I'm smiling to myself at the kind words of an old man who approves of me, even if he doesn't know a thing about me, not even my name, except that I read on busses.
Mr. President, I know this seems like a strange thing to tell you on the second to the last night of my year of letters to you, but I started this project for a number of reasons and among them was this; I wanted to share with you the only thing I can offer that no one else can, and that is the small experiences of my average existence. You will probably never ride a public bus again, especially not as a stranger, and so I like to imagine that you might find some value in the story of a girl, feet aching from work and caught in a surprise cold front without a coat, boarding a city bus and being thanked just for doing the thing she loves most. That you might understand why such an experience matters. Maybe it's just the optimistic holiday spirit sweeping me up, but tonight I think the world is not so bad. I hope you think so, too.