“My life is just a series of embarrassing occurrences.” This was the text message I sent to my roommate Jazmine after nearly falling onto a bearded gentleman’s lap while on a moving bus. Her reply: “jajajaja”. For the culturally ignorant, that’s Spanish for “hahahaha”.
This never would have happened before I chose to attend UCSC. Well, the embarrassment certainly would have found a way into my life wherever I went, because that’s just who I am. But the gaffe wouldn’t have taken place while on public transit, because I never was in the habit of taking the bus until I came to Santa Cruz.
At first, the prospect of sharing a moving vehicle with hoards of strangers was both enticing and terrifying. (My inner monologue: I hate when girls wear nylons as pants like that. I could count the number of teeth that man has on one finger. Hey, I love that band on her iPod! Is that woman pregnant or just fat? Better offer her my seat just in case. Oh, I hope the guy with the high-waders that just got on doesn’t sit next to me. Shit, she has the same bag as me. Wait, is this my stop or the next one? I can’t hear what the driver just said, hopefully it wasn’t important. Can you sit in the wheelchair seat if there aren’t any disabled people on, or does it have to be available at all times? I wish these poles were lower. Etc, etc, etc.) But eventually I grew accustomed and it became just another part of my day—although I still find the people-watching priceless. And being a part of an ever-shifting group of people who all share the same goal of getting somewhere, although always different places, gives me an odd sense of both community and isolation. From one stop to the next, you are with a highly specific and highly random group of people, and this group is ephemeral and will never be brought together again. That’s why tripping on a bus is simultaneously mortifying and not a big deal—on the one hand, yes, you just fell in front of a crowd of strangers. But everyone is busy getting somewhere, so no one has time to laugh.
That night wasn’t the first time I humiliated myself on public transportation, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. I’ve tripped, slid, and stepped on feet more times than I could count, but probably the worst thing to happen occurred on my way to sushi with some friends during the first quarter. The bus was crowded and I was standing up, enjoying some gum. Actually, I was probably enjoying it too much, blowing bubbles ever other half second. As sometimes happens when one gets overzealous with these things, I ended up accidentally spitting the gum out of my mouth. Not a huge deal, except that it landed right onto the lap of a girl sitting near me. And here’s the biggest catch: she didn’t even notice.
And there I stood, faced with an ethical dilemma: do I tell the oblivious girl chatting with her friends, or do I leave the gum for her to find later? In reality it only took me a few seconds to decide, but as the weight of what had just happened sunk into my psyche, I swear I aged about ten years. Just as gum sticks to jeans, I realized that this occurrence can never fully be scrubbed out of me. I can go on to live a great life, finding love, accomplishing things, winning awards, but as I look out at the audience before starting an acceptance speech for whatever it is I win, I will know, somewhere in the back of my mind, that I am nothing more than the idiot who spit her gum on someone on the bus.
I ended up telling the girl, and reaching down to get the gum from her knee, and this gum, because it was old and well-chewed, actually didn’t stick. Looking back, I see that this was a small miracle. I really don’t know how many apologies I would have had to give if the gum stuck, or how much guiltier I would’ve felt. As it was, I was able to get off at the next stop, feel the chilly evening air against my skin, laugh about it all with my friends, and go to dinner. And that girl probably went home and washed her jeans, getting rid of my germs and making the memory fade. And that bus went to the Metro Center, changed route numbers, and got a whole new cast of passengers. That’s the nature of buses, and of life—nothing’s permanent, and yet the feelings will always last.