Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

More Ways Than One, Bus Rides Can Be a Moving Experience

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

More Ways Than One, Bus Rides Can Be a Moving Experience

Article excerpt

A middle-aged woman in career casual looks grimly at the purse on her lap as the bus doors open. A young mother struggles on board folding a stroller, with a toddler on one hip. The young woman shoehorns herself into a seat across from the purse lady and props the child on one leg.

The bus rumbles north. The mother raises a cell phone to her ear and the child starts to blubber. The kid's distress escalates, and soon she is screaming. The knee under her begins to bounce.

Purse lady is looking at the child. Her downturned slit of lips softens as she tries to gather the little face into her eyes. She leans forward and makes puckering motions with her mouth.

Soon she is rooting in her purse and pulls out a lollipop. Motioning to the mother with it, she raises her eyebrows. Still on the phone, the mother moves her head. Acquiescence.

The child reaches for the lollipop, and the bus is quiet.

At the next stop, a hub, 20 people file on from both doors and a few get off. One is the purse lady. As she stands, the young mother gives her a shy smile.

I am on this bus and have been on many North Side buses -- the 13, the 15, the 16, the 17 and, before that, the 500 -- on my way home from work on a cold or rainy evening. With few exceptions, these rides are crowded with weary people lugging kids or just their own tired bodies, jangled nerves and weary workday expressions, backpacks, briefcases and grocery bags banging against knees and backs. They are sometimes fraught with screaming kids or loud teenagers as the driver calls out, "Move to the rear, please!"

When someone does something like the purse lady did, it's an almost unconscious counterbalance to rescue a little world from its shifting, anonymous disorder.

Purse lady won't forget her small act, and neither will the young mother.

I won't forget the steadying hand of an older man as I was trying to get off a bus from near the back. The aisle was a scrum of passengers who hung onto rails and straps, curving into seated passengers trying to make their backsides smaller as I said "Excuse me, excuse me" behind them. …

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