July 17, 2024
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July 17, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

With congestion pricing going into effect, more and more people are taking public transportation into the city (Manhattan). Just all those people on a bus, sharing fumes. Talk about congestion.

Where I live (Passaic), the quickest way to get in and out of the city is to take a jitney, which sounds like a derogatory racial slur, like, “I don’t want to go to the zoo; all the jitneys are going to be there.” And jitneys are not pleasant (I am back to talking about buses). You know how in yeshiva there’s like a short bus for the kids to go home early if they can’t handle a full day of school?

But the jitney is more direct than the train, comes quicker than the city buses, and is 50 cents cheaper or possibly 50 cents more expensive. I forget. But it comes more often.

But it’s not the most pleasant way in. There’s no leg room, it’s dimly lit, and things always take longer than expected. It’s basically like a fancy restaurant.

But it feels safe. There’s a certain safety in knowing that not a single person on the bus actually wants to be there. No one is voluntarily getting on this thing just to steal your bag and then run off down the narrow aisle, bumping into everyone’s knees.

There are two kinds of people on the bus: Those who do not say a word the entire time, and those who do not stop talking. But never in English. And the person they’re with does not say a single word the whole time. It’s just a one-sided conversation. OR the person they’re sitting next to doesn’t actually know them; you have no idea.

The third type of person on the bus is babies who kvetch the entire way to the city.

Keep it inside, like everyone else.

But if there’s one thing everything on the bus has in common, it’s that everyone wants to have been the last person to get on. They want no one to get on after them. This is it, they hope. The driver will decide, “I don’t need more money for this trip that I’m doing anyway. Let’s skip this family standing on the street corner.” Every time the driver stops to pick up more people, everyone sighs.

So you’re the last one. You get on, and everyone immediately feels the urge to look out the window, so you can’t make eye contact with anyone, unless you go back outside, which is where you were. No one wants to sit next to you. They want to sit next to their bags. Sometimes they’ll give their bags the aisle seats, sometimes the window seats; whatever the bag wants. But it’s clearly your fault that you want to sit, like you should have known there was someone on every bench before you got on. The bus has windows.

So you sit. And the entire way into the city, you try, by way of apology, not to touch the person next to you or breathe their oxygen, so as not to inconvenience them. Kind of like when you have to walk across a floor that someone is mopping, but you want them to know you’re sorry, so you walk on your tiptoes.

So every turn the bus makes, you brace yourself like a board so you don’t lean into them. And they’re thinking, “Boy I really appreciate this. I totally expected him to fall into me that time.” And you have white knuckles from holding on to the headrest in front of you, inconveniencing the person in that seat who’s trying not to touch your hands with his head. Or lean on the person next to him. It’s a delicate ecosystem.

At least the aisle people can sit with one leg in the aisle, like they’re ready to sprint to another seat the moment one opens up, like if a person starts monkey-barring to the front to request a stop. That guy comes back to his seat, and, “Sorry, it’s taken! I’m sitting next to your kid now! Oh my goodness; stop crying.”

And then at various times you get a face full of someone’s breath or homemade cologne, and you have to bury your nose in your own coat; smell your own smells for a moment so your brain resets. You spend the entire trip trying not to breathe, or breathing maybe half as much as you normally would. You can literally hear the exhaust fumes building around the bus, particularly at red lights. And the bus makes every red light.

This is not the driver’s fault. The driver tries to make the green lights. You give him cash, and he gives you your change back as he’s driving, while he’s merging back into traffic. He’s driving around with a pile of bills in one hand and coins in the other, steering with his wrists. Your life is in the hands of this one guy you don’t know who is making turns you would never make in your entire life (“Are we hovering over that car?”) in a bus patched together from spare parts, where the seats are clearly taken from old bowling alleys that have closed down. And parts of the console are missing (“Were they stolen?”) And in those holes, the driver has various plastic bags containing parts of his lunch, which he’s eating with his knees.

Basically, jitneys take the uncomfortableness of traveling by train, but with the added factor of traffic that makes the length of the trip as unknowable as if you were driving on your own, except that if you were driving on your own, you would use your GPS and avoid certain roads, whereas the bus driver has to take those roads, because of the bus stops. He can’t just avoid them and take the quieter roads and pick up random people who didn’t expect the bus to be coming that way.

“I was just crossing the street!”

“Too bad; you’re on the bus now.”

“I don’t want to be on the bus!”

“No one does.”


Mordechai Schmutter is a freelance writer and a humor columnist for Hamodia and other magazines. He has also published eight books and does stand-up comedy. You can contact him at [email protected].

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