I am not a bus expert.
In fact, I am a bus newb. A bewb, if you will.
I was keenly aware that when I moved to Hunstville, a large part of my transportation situation would rely on this thing I don’t have much experience with. I researched it thoroughly, checking and double-checking routes, and, like a big giant nerd, leaving an hour (or more!) early to leave myself a time buffer in case anything went wrong.
Several things went wrong. At one point, things went so wrong that I had too get off the bus and call a Lyft. But on this, my fourth week (how did that happen??) in Huntsville, I’d like to share a few things I feel are necessities for the public transit experience.
I am rarely without headphones. Usually it’s just the little white ones that come with Apple products, which are decent for listening to podcasts, and more recently a pair of really nice, over-the-ear headphones I got for Christmas from my little brother. which live next to my gaming computer. On my first “test” outing into Huntsville, I spent the entire time with Sawbones: A Medical Tour of Misguided Medicine in my ears while I learned about waiting for the bus for half an hour, while my headphones did double duty as entertainment and as a “do not speak to me please” signal.
The only problem with ye olde Apple earbuds is that they tangle badly. I’ve got my eye on these guys, which are tangle free, a good price, and have great reviews on Amazon – that way I can listen to Sawbones without hopelessly tangled headphones.
4. A Backpack
My first outing on the bus system had a clear goal. Get to JoAnn’s Fabric and Crafts, purchase enough supplies to make three jellyfish plushies with as little money as possible, eat lunch, and go home. I got off without a hitch, but this Mass Effect 2 messenger bag that I’ve been carrying around for the better part of a decade just doesn’t really cut it for bus rides. I’m going to need something that distributes weight a little more evenly the next time I go out – without making me look like a freshman in college.
This vintage backpack does the trick, and helps me not remember that I’m thirty by putting my messenger bag arm out of commission for two days after the ride home.
3. Pepper Spray
Most of the people on public transit are just trying to buy groceries and or get to work and don’t have access to a car. Occasionally there are people on buses who tell you they threatened the lives of Planet Fitness employees. Or, my personal favorite, bus denizens who see your Mass Effect 2 bag and spend the entire ride tellling you how Master Chief is their favorite video game and all other video games are terrible.
For those situations, turn to a good key ring pepper spray.
All jokes aside, this one is the one I have. It has a good safety on it, and you can detach it easily from your key ring in an emergency. Highly suggest! Also, ladies, if you have had the same can of pepper spray since Y2K was a thing, this is your reminder to get a new one!
Dudes, as much as I love the blessing unto mankind that is the ability to get to JoAnn’s for plushie fabric without buying a car, public transit makes me nervous. The one here in Huntsville is slowly becoming familiar to me, but there are still confusing bits – like the fact that the route maps at the stop appear to not have been updated since 1925. Or that, according to Google Maps, the stop I get on to go to work occasionally has two different names.
For those nerve-jangling times, I turn to podcasts.
My love for the McElroy family of podcasts is unreal, and probably deserves a whole other post, but I cannot recommend general podcast listening enough, especially if you’re a human in a community where you don’t know a lot of other humans. In my first week at this new Starbucks, it was nice to know that I could wake up and hear the familiar voices of Justin and Dr. Sydnee on Sawbones while I made breakfast, or that Justin, Travis, and Griffin would be there to make me giggle in My Brother, My Brother and Me on my bus ride to work. I even made a friend at a bus stop because we were both fans of The Adventure Zone!
If you just can’t get on board with podcasts, or your transit ride just has to have music, I highly recommend the soundtrack to one of the world’s greatest movies, The Greatest Showman, which is available for free on Spotify.
1. A Backup Plan
I don’t have a picture for this one, just some sage advice. Have a backup plan. If at all possible, have double the fare you need, or enough money in a PayPal account to call a Lyft. When I had my Emergency Situation last week, I didn’t have any money. I had a dollar, and I used that dollar to get on a bus route that I hadn’t explored yet. It was a bad idea, and if I didn’t have a very supportive family, I’m not sure what I’d have done.
Fortunately, I was able to get money for a backup ride, and things worked out okay because I left way earlier than I had to.
So, if you’re using public transit for the first time, the most important thing is to be prepared.
– explore your route first several days before you have to be there
– have enough money for backup fare or a ride share service set aside (keep in mind most rideshares only accept cards or PayPal – I keep my PayPal loaded up for emergency Lyft rides)
– leave early! This is my favorite trick. I leave early for bus rides and carry a Bluetooth keyboard with me for my phone, which is how I’m able to write blog posts before work, lol!. Give yourself some cushion, and if you ARE early, you’ll have time to get work done, or just chill and relax before you do whatever you’re doing.
I hope this helps anyone who is struggling to get used to public transport! What are your craziest bus or subway stories?
Some of the links in this post contain affiliate links. That means if you buy the thing, I get a small portion of the money you use to buy the thing and get continued access to things that are not free, like food and bus rides.