Inspiration from Public Transportation

I’ve started riding the bus over the past few months, and I find it has aided my creativity considerably. First, I have a bit of a walk to the bus stop, and I am pretty much on autopilot in the morning, so the two things together kind of combine to let ideas just kind of seep out from my semi-conscious state. Riding the bus also means I am free to observe – my surroundings, the street scenes as they go past, the people on the bus.

Here’s an example. Here’s some of the characters I “met” or invented, just from today’s trip, alone.

Smells: the man who gets on in the afternoon who smells like machine oil; the man who smells like beer even at 7 a.m., the woman with too much perfume and too much makeup who is beautiful but insecure and looks very afraid.

Conversations overheard: the woman who sits down and promptly picks up her Biblical debate where she left off yesterday. Yesterday’s lesson was “fossils”; today it is Native Americans and the tribes of Israel. Phone conversations overheard: The woman telling her son that he will be OK at school today. People on the bus: The large man who everyday greets each passenger loudly but pleasantly: “Good morning. How’re you today? That’s good.” He’s lonely but his bus-friendliness makes him feel useful and wanted.

Riding the bus beats old-fashioned “people-watching” by a long shot. I’ve been to some people watching spots – and you know, there’s not that much to it. People come, people go, or they talk in hushed tones, or they simply walk past. No good. Riding the bus, I’m with my fellow passengers for 20 minutes to an hour. That’s a lot of time. And because of the close-quarters of the bus, there is plenty of opportunity for observation.

Here’s a few more examples. Sort of “character sketches” – entirely made up, but based upon people and situations observed on trip.

The smooth-faced pasty slightly pudgy certainly-37-year-old-male-virgin who is reading a science fiction book with a barely clad woman and man with a flaming sword on the cover. And then she [another character] realized with horror that he must work at the XXX bookstore.

Young African-American male, 23, talking loud enough for the entire bus to hear, about how he beat charges on marijuana and cocaine possession and a weapons charges, and how he served a 9 mos. sentence and got out 3 months ago. A young African-American woman who is his bus-companion (but not his friend), tells him that he should be more concerned about his girlfriend, wants to know if that doesn’t bother him, tells him he should give it up, tells him Jesus can help him if he wants to start a new life.

A 60 year old man who sits and quivers from some disorder or disease, and is listening to his Ipod.

The young medical student, who is always exhausted and often falls asleep, nearly missing her stop. She has been working nights in the emergency room.

A geeky guy with a long droopy nose who wears an earring in a vain attempt to be cool. He looks ridiculous, especially because he is 48 and has more gray than black hair, all of it growing thin on top.

An 8-month-old boy who is unbelievably cute and adored by all. He is the darling of the bus – except on those occasions when he clears the 6 seats surrounding him because of his stinky diaper.

The Indian couple whose sing-song voices bring to mind curry, incense, and Vishnu.

There’s a few characters there. All based on people I saw or conversations overheard (sometimes not even people I could see), or other thoughts I had as I rode the bus to and from work today. I’m not saying all of these ideas are worth pursuing. Some characters are stronger than others. But the point is – I definitely wouldn’t be having any of these ideas or “meeting” any of these characters if I weren’t riding the bus.

Public transportation isn’t just good for the environment. It’s good for your creativity, too!

© 2009 writingreading


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