The Commute

For twenty-three years I have taken the same bus route. It begins at Skerrary Street and ends somewhere in Castlemilk – an hour or so of bland scenery, non-distinct in its familiarity. The 75 has been, over the years, many other numbers, and has made minor changes to its route as Glasgow itself was evolving. The 75 took me to nursery; to primary school; to my grandparents’ house and it now takes me to and from university. Perhaps it’s easy to write the experience off as bland and banal after so many years on it, the faces you see every day all become the same after a while. If you let them.

However, I have a theory: the commute is only as bland as you allow it to be. This isn’t exactly a scientific way of executing an experiment, but I decide to observe the other passengers over the course of one week. When I think about the commute on the 75, I need to think of it as more than a means of getting from A to B. It’s, for forty minutes each way, a strange nexus of life stories and odd chatter which intermingles effortlessly and with a fluidity that boggles the mind. I recall once that while travelling to work a woman began chatting to me, relaying to me such intimate details of her life completely unprompted, and after a week observing, I theorise that this might be the norm on the 75.

I am a solitary traveller for the most part, save for the few occasions where I travel with a friend or with family. I am not an outlier in this: I would say most people I have observed over the last five days seem to travel alone. I am an outlier, perhaps, in that I seem to be one of the few people who doesn’t know every other person on the bus. I have lived in Glasgow all my life and the north of the city is not very big by any stretch of the imagination. You can get to Springburn from Milton in ten minutes and continue from there on to Barmulloch or Possil for maybe the same length of time. It stands to reason that I should at least recognise some of the faces. But if I am being honest, I have found myself really quite struggling.

I begin my observations on a Friday. Fridays are one of those almost-actual-weekend days which means the bus is either very busy or very empty. The 75 rarely has a happy medium and it’s difficult to judge how the ride will be from the beginning.

At the bus stop, I notice I’m wearing my leggings inside out: for this commute, it hardly seems like the strangest fashion choice the others will come across. Milton is occupied by an aging generation: at my stop there are dozens of people pushing sixty and beyond. Every single person seems to know one another, and they chat away politely (this continues right on through Monday through to Thursday, and they often chat about the same things).

A man sits in front of me on Monday, beside what I must assume is an acquaintance, and very suddenly begins to spill his entire life story, ranging from his own ailing health to his late fathers failed criminal empire. I observe similar instances like this over the course of the next week, but the strange dissonance of the subjects conversed, and the upbeat tones in which they happen, make it hard to be uncomfortable. I overhear maybe hundreds of odd stories and observe odd behaviour: on the Tuesday, for example, a girl comes onto the bus with a pram housing a dog. This is turn prompts the passenger sitting beside me to turn to me which such incredulity and ask if I have ever seen such a thing in my life. I have to concede that I have not.

The conversations I hear the rest of the week range from shopping, to bills, to the older passenger’s health. A funny thing I notice is that they will not sit next to each other on the bus, but sometimes they will shout across it to keep the conversation going. Sometimes they sit in silence, until another acquaintance boards later and sits beside them.

I suppose it’s hard to say what I gain in observing these people I share a space with for forty minutes a day, or really what it is I gain from my commute. Sometimes I have found myself endeared by the odd stories I hear and sometimes I find myself nodding off.  Maybe what I gain is simple: the best and worst parts of people, as they go from A to B.


By Danielle Riddell