UPchicago Field Guide, Chapter 1: The CTA Bus

chicago transit authority bus
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Urban living is an adventure. This manual provides information and describes basic techniques that will enable you to not only survive, but more importantly enjoy city life.


Chapter 1: The CTA Bus

Rush hour CTA bus travel can be a lot of things. Mostly it’s an adventure not suited for the faint of heart. There’s a wild range of people who ride the bus, but—if you’re lucky—you may have a buddy to pass the time with. Most likely, you go it alone. So as someone who has the privilege of taking the bus twice a day Monday through Friday, I’ll be your field guide on how to win friends and influence people on the bus. My goal is to make two friends by Friday.

Monday morning: Maybe too eager to start my research I’m one of the first on the bus. Choose a seat in the middle by the window. Shrek-like bald man sits next to me, and growls a little every time he exhales. Mission temporarily put on hiatus.

Monday evening: Not wanting to repeat this morning’s catastrophe, I hang back in line. So far back that I actually have to stand on the bus. I’m sandwiched between a lady with three purses and a man who refuses to touch the handrails and thus sort of falls on me at every red light.

Lessons from Monday: As one of the first to board you don’t have the luxury of choosing your seatmate. Wait too long and a woman next to you wielding a Fendi “purse” (more like a suitcase) may give you a mild concussion every time she turns around.

Tuesday morning: Wait for bus next to attractive guy. He and I both wearing headphones. We do that awkward “look over at different times” thing. Next he lets an elderly woman board the bus in front of him. I resist proposing marriage to him on the spot, but curse having my headphones in that prevent me from making conversation.

Tuesday evening: Ridiculously empty bus. Get two seats to myself. No one on board under age 65. Next stop: Buena Vista Social Club.

Lessons from Tuesday: Leave at least one headphone out of your ear if looking to make friends, otherwise it’s impossible to start a conversation.

Wednesday morning: Bus driver peels away from curb, rocket boosters in the back probably flaring, while I am still making my way to find a seat. Use handrails to navigate my way to seat in the front. Lucky, right? Wrong. Quickly realize seat was empty because the weirdo next to me alternates between deep, frightening wheezes and hacking coughs.

Wednesday evening: Waiting for the bus, headphones not in, I ask a girl who looked my age if she had seen a #134 bus come recently. She said no and that she waited for the #134, too. We continued to abuse the inaccuracies of the CTA’s timing, and it turned into a friendly conversation. Dear diary: I made a friend today on the bus. One down.

Wednesday’s lessons: Don’t sit in the front of the bus—it’s where the sick and the weak sit. Use route time questions as conversation starters.

Thursday morning: 30-something professional woman sits next to me. Returned my smile with a scowl. Fail on all accounts.

Thursday evening: Tonight I catch one of those giant buses (two buses with an accordion-like band connecting them). Sit near the middle. 50-something woman stands to give 70-something woman her seat. 20-something man jumps up and insists they take his seat. Crazy argument ensues. More awkward than a middle school dance. I don’t want any of these people as friends.

Lessons from Thursday: You can’t win ‘em all. You’re not going to make friends on every ride, and sometimes it’s better to observe the hilarity ensuing on the bus instead.

Friday morning: I need one more friend by tonight in order to win this self-imposed challenge. It’s go-time. I ask people around me if they have change for a $5. Lame, I know, but I don’t want to lose this self-bet. One older guy has the cash, and we continue to chat about the weather, the Cubs, and life. Second friend made. Win.

Friday evening: Very few people on the bus. I don’t even care because I made my two friends this week and I proved the CTA bus ride doesn’t have to be a hellish chore.

Until next time, urban safariers, I’ll see you out there.

Jamie Hansen

About Jamie Hansen

I like piña coladas and getting caught in the rain. And I still love reading newspapers. After growing up in the suburbs I took a four-year Chicago hiatus to the University of Iowa where I majored in journalism and English. Now I’m back and ready to help you make the most of the Windy City. As Kanye says, I’m a Chicagoan until Chicago ends… but I wouldn’t mind a vacation home in Florida.

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