November 30, 2010

How I Learned to Embrace Failure and Love the Bus

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Last summer, my goal was to finally enter the adult world and become a licensed driver. I was 20, and it was time to grow up and take some responsibility. So I rolled my unemployed self out of bed (in my parent’s house) at about noon and biked down to the DMV to see about getting a learner’s permit. Again.

I really have no excuse for going so long without getting my license. I wasted about a month of the summer after 10th grade, two afternoons a week, sitting in a moldy classroom, learning how to text message discreetly whilst desensitizing myself to violence with ultra-gory videos of drunk drivers — after Only. One. Beer. BUH BUH BUH — that could have been directed by Tarantino, recycled plotlines and all. Zing! (Just kidding, Mr. Tarantino, sir, please don’t hurt me). I got my permit, and almost crashed my dad’s car into a lamppost in the parking lot of the local minor league baseball stadium when I confused the accelerator and the brake pedal. In short, I completed all the prerequisites. So why didn’t I ever get my license?

That was the question I pondered this summer as I sat in the un-air-conditioned lobby of the DMV with about six overeager 15 year olds, my thighs sticking to the uncomfortable vinyl seats, waiting to take my knowledge test, which I passed with flying colors. Okay, 80 percent, but a pass is a pass. Who remembers exactly how many feet you’re supposed to follow behind a school bus, anyway? This license thing’ll be a piece of cake, I thought.

And then, as I sat paralyzed in the driver’s seat of my mother’s car, her harried words of encouragement unintelligible, I remembered. I hate driving. I am horribly, overwhelmingly afraid of exceeding speeds of 20 miles an hour, and I panic when I encounter other moving vehicles. In other words, it was back to public transportation for me. But now I have a learner’s permit, so that’s a bonus, I guess.

My torrid affair with the bus began at the tender age of 12, when my parents decided that I was old enough to get to and from jazz band by myself (yes, I was a baby nerd). It was sort of thrilling to be able to get around, all on my own, without anybody’s help. Since then, our relationship has only grown. The number 67 route and I are practically soul mates, though we do have an open arrangement. See, my bike and I are also involved. Sometimes, all three of us do get together, but my bike mostly sits on the rack and watches.

As we mourn the long, slow death of that metaphor, let me expound on my love of public transportation. Firstly, the obvious: I never have to pay for gas, ever. Bus fare, while more expensive than it was in the good old days (ah, the early 2000’s, I remember them well), is still way cheaper than filling up the minivan that would be my golden chariot. Also, I am being a good global citizen. I am not contributing to global warming. My fellow passengers and I are mega carpooling! And we have clean buses in this here crunchy granola haven of the upper Midwest. Al Gore loves me.

But the real reason I love the bus is the people watching. Why, just this morning, I saw a gentleman drinking Listerine and muttering about the Yankees. I’m not sure which I was more concerned about. I also saw a woman reading Ayn Rand sitting next to a man reading The Audacity of Hope. Sadly, I don’t think their interests are as divergent as I had once hoped. Last week I witnessed an epic baby-daddy battle that belonged on the vaunted stage of the Maury Povich program (of whose audience I was once a member!), as well as a heated discussion about the pros and cons of instant run-off voting.

I volunteer at a drop-in shelter, and I sometimes get to see my buddies on the bus, which is a genuine treat. I’ve also had some great discussions about books and movies on the bus, and it’s where I get all my sports information. I’ve eavesdropped on some amazing phone conversations, and consequently had a few great story ideas. You see guys in business suits sitting next to students and mothers and homeless folks. The bus is a great place to think, and it also gives you the opportunity to just stop and take a look around. After all, you don’t always have to keep your eyes on the road.

And that is really why I don’t have my driver’s license. Plus the whole “paralyzed with fear” thing. (Sorry Mr. Kubrick, for the misappropriation of your title).

Elana Dahlager is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She may be reached at edahlager@cornellsun.com. Nutshell Library appears alternate Wednesdays this semester.

Original Author: Elana Dahlager