Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Robbie's First Mass Observation (Bus)


Today I had lunch at Texadelphia on the drag (Guadalupe Street). After finishing my meal, I needed to get from the drag to the east side of campus, where the art building was. I could have walked; that’s how I got to the restaurant in the first place. But, because my class started in less than a quarter of an hour, and also because it was quite hot outside—I knew if I rushed to class on foot I’d be uncomfortably hot and sweaty when I got there—I decided to use the Forty Acres bus. I still had to walk to the nearest Forty Acres bus stop, located where the West Mall meets Guadalupe Street. I saw the bus approaching the stop when I was still a good distance away, so I crossed the street before I got to the designated crosswalk and ran towards the bus. I was the last one on the bus before it began to head towards the next stop.

On that stretch of the journey I was standing just behind the yellow line that divides the driver’s area from that of the passengers. The bus was completely full, but not uncomfortably so. I noticed that from where I was standing, I could see out the front windshield into the street and keep track of where the bus was heading and what was in front of us. However, a drawback to my extremely frontal position in the bus was that I was not at a place where I could see the clock—it was behind me, above my head, and out of my view.

The first stop the Forty Acres bus made lasted for what seemed to me to be an inordinately long time. This feeling was certainly exacerbated by the rapidly approaching start of class at 1:00 PM. As passengers got off the bus I was able to snag one of the sideways-facing seats in the front section. I noticed a girl get on the bus being led by a dog—I could tell by the harness it was wearing and her tentative motions that she was visually impaired. As the dog directed her to an empty seat, she reached out in front of her and gently felt for a place to sit. At first she inadvertently touched a male passenger’s knee; soon she had located the empty seat next to him and carefully sat down. As she sat, her guide dog parked itself under the seat. The handle of its harness bumped into the girl sitting beside her, and she quickly apologized. I noticed that most people around her kept silent as she tried to take her place on the bus, yet looked uncomfortable or awkward as she made an effort to do so. I marveled that she was even able to use public transportation—how did she know where the bus stops were? Was it not extremely disorienting to be dropped off in a new location without knowing which direction to head in to reach your destination? Her presence led me to pay closer attention than normal to the automated/computerized bus voice, checking its announcements for accuracy. I found it to be satisfactory, though not very specific—it announces the intersection of the upcoming stop and what other buses that stop is a transfer for, but not where those buses pick up. It was unclear whether you had to make a trek to a different stop to catch those other buses.

I was dropped off at the intersection of 23rd and San Jacinto, about two minutes after my class had already started. I rushed to the Doty Fine Arts building and made it to the classroom without having missed too much of the lecture. I was disappointed to have been late, but glad that I wasn’t uncomfortably warm as I would have been had I walked.

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