Brown: How to broaden your horizons? Hop on a bigger vehicle

By Jacob Brown

While riding the Port Authority buses regularly for the first time in years, I began getting the… While riding the Port Authority buses regularly for the first time in years, I began getting the impression that I couldn’t do it for long.

Perhaps spoiled from having a car with me for the last three years, I had gotten used to driving everywhere — including to my last three jobs where I’ve gotten to take the scenic tours of Wexford, Coraopolis and other suburbs at my leisure.

But after checking parking rates and thinking of doing battle with the chaos known as morning traffic, I decided to give up on that approach. I made a conscious effort to do what’s environmentally hip these days and take public transportation.

After deciding to go green, I checked the bus schedule a few times, forgetting each time that I had printed it out for the various buses that went near my destination. I made four or five copies of each schedule in all.

Then, I had to pinpoint my bus stop — a half-mile from where I live. I just found out last week that the bus also stops right across the Boulevard of the Allies from my street.

It took a while, but after figuring out this whole bus thing, the actual ridership experience has become an adventure itself.

During the second week of commuting to my new internship Downtown, I developed a cold that forced me to pick up my vitamin intake and make room for what little more sleep I could muster into my schedule. I started wearing my winter gloves on the bus, refusing to take them off no matter how warm I became. And I began washing my hands twice as soon as I’d arrive at work.

Other aspects have been troublesome, too, like finding a seat at times. Perhaps this even led to my cold when I’ve had to grip a rail or strap for dear life, lest I fall on an unassuming senior citizen.

When I have found a seat, though, I’ve had the opportunity to sit down quietly and listen to stories about baby mamas, crack-cocaine dealers and other topics you just don’t hear much about in Oakland. It felt like National Geographic meets Gangland at times, but the conversations were thoroughly entertaining.

It would be incorrect, though, to assume that I have nothing but disdain for public transportation. In actuality, I appreciate it immensely.

The primary benefit it has provided, of course, is that it has gotten me where I have needed to go, and I cannot complain about that. Subsidized through our tuition dollars, riding the bus has saved me about $170 during the course of a month, according to the Port Authority’s Commuter Savings Calculator.

Supposedly, even Ayn Rand took social security money toward the end of her life. To not recoup that which you pay into would be a little foolish. She said so herself.

Sure, it’s no Maybach. When you can find a place, the molded plastic seats with a swatch of cloth on them don’t quite coddle the body, much less make you feel in any way comfortable.

But in an immersion sense, as someone who had not really partaken of the scene Downtown too much, it has allowed me to gain a greater feel for the city. Since starting my forays, I have seen what this city has to offer outside of its suburban boroughs.

From the architecture Downtown to general people-watching, the bus has given me exposure to more than I have seen in the previous four years of living in this city. And it has provided me with insight, too.

Just last Friday night as I rode home from work, I had a conversation with three people on the bus. Now, with the wrong company, that could sound like as much fun as listening to Barry Manilow while filing your taxes. But it wasn’t.

They talked about everything from Penguins to college. They more than held their own in a conversation about sports medicine and cutting too much weight in wrestling, too — something I was guilty of doing in high school.

Dare I say it, but the conversation was more intellectually stimulating than most I have taken part in during college — and more educational, too.

Last year about this time, I received correspondence from a prominent blog founder after meeting with him in New York. After discovering that I had failed to secure an internship with a magazine, I asked him what I could have done better. He gave me a detailed, philosophical response that said I needed to open my horizons.

As I was a native Midwesterner interviewing for a position in New York City, he had a point. But one thing he said that stood out to me was this: “Get on the first bus you see, no matter where it’s going.”

As nice of a place as it is to live, Pittsburgh is a dearth of originality from one day to the next, mostly because we all encapsulate ourselves within the same bubbles, doing the same routines over and over again while expecting progress. That’s also called insanity.

But as impractical as it may be, perhaps the blog founder’s logic holds the greatest truth of all: Go out of your comfort zone, ride a bus, see the sights and hear the sounds. You might just learn something or find something you like.

E-mail Jacob at [email protected] or go to Jacob’s blog at