I’m never going to use public transportation again.
The first time I boarded a city bus last semester was on a Wednesday morning before class. It was cold enough where I could no longer justify the windy, masochistic 25 minute walk from my host family’s apartment to the plaza where all of our classes took place. The specific WhatsApp instructions lit up my phone, “Board the 3, not the 6. The top has to say ‘Por Plaza Mayor.’ If you take the 6, you get off after 3 stops.”
When I arrived at the station, a bus opened its doors at the exact moment with timing too convenient to ignore. I hopped up the steps, proudly swiped my card and picked a pole to cling to, trying not to bodycheck the scarf-swaddled woman suspiciously clutching her grocery bags every time the bus came to a jolting stop. With J Balvin blasting in my headphones, I watched the matching couples gossip and schoolchildren bounce in their seats. After two dirty looks from the woman, four or five stops and the recently released Bad Bunny song, the bus took a right unexpectedly. Something felt off.
Unfamiliar buildings cropped up around me — closed stores, a hospital, a technical school and old apartments. The golden monuments of the university flashed through the windows — far off in the distance. I mulled over my mistake as the bus continued its course towards the opposite side of the river in a part of town I had never seen. Calling a taxi, getting off at the next stop to trek back, or crying to the old man sipping his coffee were the only three immediate plans of action that floated into my mind. A girl about my age, holding a leather satchel, stared out the window a few rows in front of me.
I took a deep breath, slid into the seat next to her, “Excuse me, I think I got on the wrong bus, do you know if this one goes back to the Plaza Mayor?”
She shook her head, “Sorry, it doesn’t. It goes to the Barrio de San Jose,” and flashed a pained smile. She absolutely knew I was a dumb American who cannot follow simple transportation maps.
I glanced at my watch and realized class started in seven minutes, “So if I get off, what line will take me back?” At this rate, I would arrive two hours late.
She tapped the window to indicate a passing bus, “The 3. You should get off and cross the road to change directions,” and shrugged before replacing her headphones.
I thanked her a million times and leaped out of the bus. There was not a single bus in sight. I could call a taxi, given that the odds of boarding the wrong bus again were too high. The operator, barely intelligible, asked me for a specific pick-up location. I looked wildly around, unable to find a street sign or building numbers and read off the name of a police station. What if I stormed in, broke down and begged a handsome officer to take me to class instead? She wanted an actual address, of course she did. I had no idea what neighborhood I was in. I thanked her and hung up, ready to sit down on the curb in defeat.
I shuffled across the road over to the two women huddled under the stop, disinterestedly scrolling on their phones and not raising their heads to acknowledge my arrival. There it was, a gliding white and blue chariot, my shining savior, the elusive and glorious 3. Twenty minutes later, I ran past the old cathedral, coffee shops and shocked tourists to finally stumble into the building. Puffing from the stairs, I triumphantly opened the classroom door. It was empty. Class had been cancelled. I hate everything.
Later the bus became a familiar space for last minute reviews for exams, gossip and conversations with strangers. Now I know, you should always check the bus number before jumping on, be aware of your general surroundings and always refresh your email in the morning.