bus people

In the lobby of the LA motel, the breakfast crowd thinning out, I phoned Kimberly. 'Which train do I catch to Orange County?' I asked. There was a pause. 'I'll come and get you,' she said.

While public transport is thankfully much more integrated into British life than it was in LA ten years ago, I'm still noticing a difference with Argentina.

During my three years in Buenos Aires, I only met two people who owned a car. Everyone caught the bus. And they ran day and night. Packed jam full. Sure, I sometimes got a taxi. But - as long as you had got hold of enough monedas - the bus was how you traveled.

It feels different here.

I don't know if it was the smell of cigar smoke tonight, or how the bus queue seemed to merge with the overspill from the city pub. Perhaps it was something about how we stood hunched up, a couple of Tesco bags resting on the shelter seats. Or how the man in a bright yellow jacket moved around us picking up rubbish with a stick. But waiting for the bus this evening, I felt poor.

Years ago, friends in LA told me that the term 'bus people' implied the very poorest, most marginalized people who, in that city of cars and freeways, had to take the bus.

In my city, plenty of people catch the bus or train to work every day. But with my 'off-peak' travel pass, I don't share my bus with the workers. In the mornings, the seats are filled with elderly neighbours and school kids. But in the early evening, we seem a desperate bunch - tired from the day, waiting in the drizzle, we file on and shuffle down the aisle. The day's dirt imprisons us, smearing the windows. There is a dank smell.

But we settle down. Warm up. Maybe say a few words to the girl next to us. Maybe peer out to see the park. And soon we are home.

Bus people.

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