Riding a bus in the Midwest: a snapshot of American society

When I lived in the American Midwest I took a bus ride to visit a job centre. Here’s what I observed. 

A passenger chatted to me while we waited for the bus to arrive; she asked if it was the right stop. She explained she was taking the bus instead of driving to save gas money.

An elderly man and woman joined us on the bus. They had a large cart. The back of his jacket read “Mr. Justice” in large letters.

The bus is warm but the heating system is noisy. No-one is talking except for a young woman at the rear of the bus who is using her cell phone. I can’t make out what she is saying. The driver waits until exactly 2pm to drive off.

Always True

The woman who talked to me at the bus stop has opened a yellow binder. It looks like her handwritten notes from a course of some kind. She has underlined the phrase “always true”.

I can see snow through the dirty windows. Bleak.

The elderly couple with the cart exit the bus, outside Arby’s. We continue on.

Flowers and a wreath tied to a post, in remembrance of someone. Tragic death? We pass the Country Club. A broken branch hanging from a tree.


I am committed

Trailer park homes on the left. Houses among trees. The bus is silent. Is the woman revising for a test? She turns the pages in her yellow binder.

I am committed. I am Mercy says the hospital advertisement. RCC Pub. More trees and more snow. Crave Photography. Circus Frozen Yogurt. Marine Corps League. Open ground.

Wheelchair seating area. Securements are located below these seats. A red truck is moving through the snow. Mobil gas station. $12.99 18 pack. PAC-RAT Mini Storage. No-one.


Mulrooney-Mayflower with matching trucks outside. Blackhawk Technical College. 3-way receiving. Day Care Drop-off. Open fields. Bleak. The fields of snow are dotted with lumps of soil. Curse of the Crypt. A Haunting New Adventure. Bright whiteness, dull sky. No-one is smiling.

A man of about 70 years of age boards the bus at a No Trespassing sign. As we drive along Sunny Lane the sun does shine briefly. Stop sign. We stop, and make a right turn.

Caring for Our Friends and Neighbors. I spy something green! Lamar. Auto loans. Southern Registered Airport. Simmons Fence. Check us out on Facebook.

The bus rattles and shakes. Ramp capacity 600lbs. Terrace Trailer Park. Kwik Trip. Bobbleheads.

Job Center

I follow the woman with the yellow file into the job center. There seem to be more staff members than job seekers. The resource room is closed today. Vending machines that continually hum. Noticeboard with posters in Spanish and English.

I choose one of the grey tables and sit down on one of the grey chairs. This place looks like a hospital.

People coming and going, carrying trays of food and kettles; they look like staff members who are leaving an event. They chat together, but the noise from the vending machines makes it difficult to overhear their conversation.

Young mom

A mom is reading through paperwork while her son sits at a different gray table, playing with his dinosaur action figures. Faint murmurs of conversation in the background.

At the bus stop waiting to return home I meet someone I know; a student that I tutor at a program for young people who dropped out of high school. She is talking on her cell phone but asks me if this is the right bus stop and says hi when she recognizes who I am.

She tells me she was here collecting food stamps for herself and her baby.

Baby daddy

I overhear her phone conversation She don’t know who her baby daddy is, I don’t know what’s going on. The bus arrives with the same driver as before. I let the student on first. She continues to talk on her cell phone. We are the only passengers on the bus.

Forever Memories, Jackson Monument. Boarded up home. Christmas card trees, sprinkled with snow. The phone conversation continues: You don’t like me and I don’t like you, what are we doing?

Time to be a dad today

 Rock Disposal Inc. Think Green! Parking, please. A huge billboard says Time to be a dad today.

Let me call you back. Oh, alright. Then she immediately calls someone else, You don’t wanna be into all that girl drama shit, that shit lame. No Trespassing. Marine Corps League. Impact Cycle. Need help? Contact first call

Grow up

He like don’t man, alright man. Please grow up, please grow up, please. So I don’t know. I can’t help but hear every word.

Sun reflecting on the river, it looks calm, in contrast to the student’s conversation which is getting louder. Boats covered in snow. The American flag is positioned in a front yard. I wanna delete her off my Facebook but I don’t know how. 

Speed limit 40. An empty bird’s nest in a tree. I got my own crib. You got your own crib. 

Arby’s. Bumper to Bumper. The bus ride ends but the phone conversation carries on, heading away from me.

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