Taking a bus or a train everywhere I go is new for me. Having to plan my routes and familiarize myself with the lay of the neighborhoods is a little like putting together a puzzle. Locating the routes is one thing, but then I have to make sure the bus is running. Different routes vary on their availability. With the Metro Subway system under massive repair this summer, a train may not be the most reliable form of transportation. For example, the other day the Red Line train going north into Tenleytown was down. From what I understand, it is now functioning again, but it all seems a little unreliable right now. Apparently, I’m not the only person who feels this way; the last few days the busses have been much more crowded.
Luckily, my bus stop to get to work is far enough northwest that I always get a seat, but only a few blocks down Massachusetts Avenue, at least thirty people board the bus, most of them young, probably interns like myself. Often they are wearing earplugs, and they stand in the bus, holding on to the straps and bar supports, staring at their phones, totally engrossed. When they get off the bus, they walk down the street reading their phones, seemingly oblivious to their surroundings.
Now, I must admit, I’m pretty attached to my smart phone at times, paging through Facebook, keeping track of current events, especially since all these bathroom bills have begun popping up, but I’m not so engrossed in my phone that I walk down the street, staring at the screen. I need to be more aware of my surroundings – a carryover from being a cop.
I do enjoy walking down P Street, by the row houses constructed of brick and big granite blocks. They shoot up three or four stories but are only twenty or so feet wide. I like watching the people play basketball in an elevated park near the corner of P and 17th street. I like the jazz trumpet player in Dupont Circle, gleefully playing music, not caring if anyone throws a donation his way. He plays for the pure joy of it.
Point is, there’s so much life going on right there, right then, tuning it out through social media or one’s personal soundtrack seems self-centered, even myopic. Perhaps, the earbuds are a shield against engagement, permission to ignore other people, or a deliberate snub. Perhaps they are compensation for shyness or an affectation of suspicion, the stranger danger lesson learned all too well. Worst of all, perhaps the earbuds are emblematic of great apathy, that nothing in the world matters more than one’s own circle of friends, one’s own little electronic dialogues with people miles, even time zones away.
When, every once in a while, someone on the bus makes eye contact with me, I smile at her. If someone else smiles at me, I say hello. If the person talks to me, well then I pay attention. A real, present conversation is a precious thing and should not go to waste.