I dream about driving a Mercedes G-Wagon down Sunset Boulevard on a sunny day. I’m wearing oversized black sunglasses and my hands are perched on the steering wheel. I’m at a streetlight and I offer a smile to someone walking down the street next to me because I’m genuinely happy. It’s not a Porsche sports car or a BMW sedan. It’s the G-Wagon, the SUV. It’s black. I like it because it’s boxy. Because it’s not a conventional small sports car. It’s big and it’s a Mercedes.
I see several when I’m on the sidewalk, actually. I live in Los Angeles. There are many nice cars here. I don’t drive a Mercedes G-Wagon. In fact, I don’t drive at all. I have a driver’s license, though. I’m working toward getting a car, after which I’ll have to modify to install hand controls and a ramp for my scooter. It’s not going to be a G-Wagon. The modifications themselves are expensive. I’m saving money. I don’t know how long it’ll take.
In the meantime, I take the bus. Taking the bus isn’t frowned upon in other cities like London or Seoul, but it is here in Los Angeles. There’s a stigma that only poor people take it. That’s why when I’m waiting for the bus I often stare at my phone even if I’m not browsing anything in particular. I’m embarrassed to take it, to see drivers in their Mercedes, BMWs, Porches see me on the sidewalk at a bus stop.
It’s slow and there are many stops. It takes forever to go somewhere – around an hour from the Westside to Downtown if there’s no traffic. But it gets me to my destination, and I’m thankful for it. As a person with a physical disability, I am immensely grateful for independence. If I want to go out, I’ll go. It’s as easy as that. It is a privilege not to be bound, to move freely at your own will.
My favorite bus is the 720 Metro. It goes down Wilshire Boulevard, all the way from Santa Monica to Downtown LA. I can go to either of them or any part of town that’s on the way: Beverly Hills, Miracle Mile, K-Town. The bus driver knows what to do: he sees me on the sidewalk, tells the people sitting in the front seat to move so that he can fold it and make room for me, activates the ramp (which also activates the blaring, annoying beeps), and lets me board. The bus has enough room for me to do a small u-turn as I position myself before the driver asks me if I want to be secured. And then we’re on our way. I prefer taking it to ordering an Uber because I worry whether or not the Uber driver is going to be able to safely disassemble my scooter. Even if they’re able to (and I check first by calling them after I order an Uber Assist), I feel terrible to have to ask them. My scooter comes apart: the seat and battery are detachable and the driving rod folds down, but the heaviest piece is still 40-50 lbs. When I take the bus, I don’t have to worry. Sure, maybe I’m inconveniencing people sitting in the front who have to give up their seats to make room for me and the driver who needs to secure me, but I’m just like any other able-bodied passenger needing to travel from point A to point B.
I’ll pop my ear buds in and listen to music or a podcast. I’ll read sometimes, which makes the time go faster. I’m never late, whereas my friends sometimes fumble with finding parking and reviewing the dizzying list of LA parking rules on signs. I’ve gone clubbing by taking the bus. I’ve come home after grocery shopping in K-Town by taking the bus, the other passengers having no idea that inside my tote bag sat kimchi, brisket, dried persimmon, microwaveable rice, and frozen dumplings. I’ve grown familiar with taking it that I’ve dozed off during the ride, the bustles and bumps cradling me as I nodded somewhere in between full sleep and complete consciousness.
I’ve met a psychic on the bus. Veterans spewing fiery debates on whether Trump or Clinton would win. Elderly women clutching their handbag. The occasional jogger in his workout gear, unsure when his stop’s approaching. A mom holding one of her toddler’s hands as her other child dashes to the back of the bus. Exhausted employees after their 9-5 shift commuting their way home. Sometimes I get sick of it, when an angry person incessantly talks to herself, curses, and hollers; when a throng of passengers bumps next to me because there just isn’t enough room; and when someone, after boarding, digs in his pocket for coins for too long that the green light turns yellow.
But in the bus I am surrounded by life, by real people – people I wouldn’t necessarily run into if I were driving on my own. There are many differences between us and we don’t know when each of us is going to get off, but the bus brought us together for our ride, and I think that’s representative of life. You never know whom you’ll meet. I’ve always said to myself that I want to meet all kinds of people – and they’re there, on the bus.