The Full Bus Bike Rack, the Sad Bicyclist, and the Kind Commuter

I like bike/bus commuting. Or, let me put it this way: if I have to spend 60 to 90 minutes each way commuting, I prefer to include my bike as well as the bus. I like being able to ride my bike home directly. If I’m taking a bus home, the bike lets me catch any of about five different buses that all go within about five miles of my house.

But. The catch. There’s always a catch, right? Here’s the catch: Metro buses only have space for three bikes on the front rack. When that rack is full, any other riders with bikes have to wait for the next bus.

This almost never happens. It’s amazingly unlikely. Until a few weeks ago, I’d had maybe one time when the rack was full in 18 months of daily commuting.

Then something changed. Now the rack on my normal 7:15 bus is almost always full before it gets to my stop. So I leave the house at 7:05, wait about 10 minutes, and the bike rack on the bus that pulls up is full. I have to wait for the next bus, which comes between 7:30 and 7:35. By then I’ve been at the stop about 30 minutes. Unfortunately, traffic is worse at that time, so that trip takes several minutes longer than the 7:15 trip.

That means that instead of getting to work a little before 8:00–and thereby being able to leave between 4:00 and 4:30–I get to work at between 8:20 and 8:30. So then I have to stay at work 30 minutes longer, get home 30 minutes later, and spend an 30 minutes less with my family. On those days, I get home at closer to 6:30, which is barely early enough to do bedtime with Benji.

So when the bike rack is full, I leave the house at 7:05 and get home at 6:30. That’s just frustrating. I already have a long commute, and then having the stupid bike rack full makes my commute and my whole day even longer.

Today, the third time this happened this week, I saw the rack was full and just sat down and cried. It was so frustrating, so unfair, so infuriating, so disappointing and discouraging, after weeks of dealing with this happening repeatedly, it finally crushed me. I didn’t even care that this line of like 20 or 30 people all waiting for a bus was watching me have a meltdown.

I sat and cried, and you know what? From that long line of cynical commuters pretending not to see me fall apart came a really sweet young lady. She came over and asked if I was okay and if she could do anything. When it was clear there wasn’t anything to be done, she offered to just give me a hug–which I accepted. Then she sat and talked with me until her bus came. She’s going into her sophomore year in college next year and hopes to play viola professionally when she graduates. She was incredibly sweet, kind, and amazingly empathetic and mature. I was deeply impressed.

I’m sure there’s a lesson in there somewhere: people aren’t all terrible, or the power of kindness, or something. I’m not going to worry about the moral of the story, but I know she gave me a lot to think about.

Because that’s who I want to be. The person who sees someone in pain and doesn’t just pretend it’s not happening. Who steps out and gives kindness when it’s needed–not on a big national scale, worrying about big political disasters and impacts to millions of people, but at the one on one level where we all live every day. That’s what we all need.

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