January 5, 2015 – The Commute

I rode a bus to work for the first time in a few weeks.

That probably is the dullest introduction that you will read today, maybe ever.

I do not want to make it seem like a “first world problem” thing, but it is significant, at least for me.

My wife and I are working in the same company. Our company is located in the Philippines, but we follow US time zones. That means we work in the graveyard shift. I normally follow her schedule when I can, since her department is a little stricter with their schedules. As for my department, as long as I am not leading a training class, I am free to go to the office anytime I need to, as long as I complete the regular nine hour work (minimum).

A few things made me change that, though. I have observed that we are not spending much time with Alpha (our son), only 4 hours at the most. With all the work that we need to finish, we tend to stay in the office longer than what is expected. When we go home, sometimes we just play with Alpha a few hours and then we have to sleep for the next work night. There are days when we are just so tired that we just give him a kiss, and fall asleep, even if we don’t want to.

I decided to move to an earlier shift, and if possible, go back home during lunch and accompany my wife to work. Only problem is, traveling at night is a scary thing. There are times when my wife has to travel by herself. She normally takes a cab to get to work, but even then, her safety is still a concern. A lot of news about devilish cab drivers abound, which validates our fear.

If traveling via taxis are scary, utilizing buses are equally scary.

Buses can be held up. Yes, the entire bus, including the 40+ passengers are held up, and it is almost a regular part of the news. When I have to go home late at night or during the wee hours of the morning, I normally bring the least amount of money that I can, and I leave my gadgets at home. This still does not make me a hundred percent safe.

My first bus ride after a long time away from the public commute was a mixture of my regular paranoia, and discomfort. It’s been a while since I sat beside a complete stranger, and it did not help that the bus reeked of body odor.

At first, I was more “Oh s**t. Am I getting smelly?”

After a few quick sniffs, I realized (to my relief) that it was the bus chairs.

Traveling by bus is cheaper, so I guess I got what I paid for.

The Awkward Bus Travel

It always starts with a loud, long ring.  It means that I have to get up and start my night. Three years in the night shift and I still find the rings annoying.

I press the snooze and close my eyes again. I change my mind and completely shut off the alarm, and got off the bed.

A couple of minutes later, and  I’m on my way to work.

I open the gate, and walk cautiously, with a purpose. I know the streets all too well. Hopefully not vice versa.

The bus, as always waits diligently for passengers. Sometimes, too diligently.  I go up 2 steps and found a seat right in front. I always like to sit near the door, and beside a window. The better to take my mind off just a bit, while waiting for other passengers.

I usually take a mental note of them, one by one, as they enter and wait for the bus to move. You can never be too sure. Sometimes, there are people who catch my attention. The pretty ones, or the tall ones. The just-got-out-of-the-shower, or the finally-I’m-going-home types. Those types plus the usual passengers, no problem. But sometimes, there are the special types. The please-don’t-sit-beside-me types.

And most of the time, unfortunately, they will.

The more you think it, the more they’ll do it. “Please don’t sit beside me” would be ignored, since they couldn’t hear it. But only if they could, then they probably wouldn’t. “Please don’t sit beside me” would then turn to “Please go soon”.

Let me describe a few of them:

I was sitting idly for a few minutes when he walked in. No one has dared to sit beside me, except him. He sat down like most people would. Mindful, and careful, he sat down and took his mobile phone from his pocket and started typing away. I thought that he was going to be a “regular” seat mate, never to be heard from again, but he made sure he was heard.

The bus started playing these oldies-but-goldies songs, with me just shrugging it off and looking out the window. I started to feel a bit sleepy, so I decided to try and wake myself up by thinking of my work.

I think he felt that I was already sleepy so the seat mate decided to help.

As the bus started moving, he paid the bus conductor his fare and mentioned “Ortigas”, meaning I would be going down my stop before he does.

Not the best thing in the world.

He started singing at the top of his lungs, singing along with the non-existent bus microphone, and trying to compete with the speaker volume. He was not at all great, with his voice sounding like a mix of a guy and a gay dude (no offense).

Worse thing is he seem to know the lyrics of all the songs that was playing.

My usual bus ride to work is almost an hour, on;y because of the incessant waiting of the bus driver for passengers. You can imagine how many songs played during that one hour, and he knew every last word.

I reached for my music player, only to remember that I left my headset at home.

He stopped for a moment, giving me a false relief. I thought he was done for the day, being only paid to sing a hundred songs. But turns out he was just stopping for a water break.

He was going for an encore.