Bus Whisperer

Working in D.C. means that public transportation is a routine part of my day. When I moved here a few years ago I balked at the notion of waiting every morning for a bus to take me to work, and another to take me home. I wasn’t going to stand in rain or snow or heat and wait! I decided to drive myself to work for a week to see how it might be. Could the commute be that bad? I only live four miles away.

It was four miles of unholy misery.

Realizing I would rather take a bullet to the groin than drive into D.C. again, I waited for a bus the very next Monday. There would still be traffic, but I wouldn’t be driving in it. That first morning I felt a little foolish waiting at the bus stop. I felt out of place, silly, and conspicuous. All I lacked was a yellow rain slicker and a Sesame Street lunchbox with matching thermos.

Over time, however, my daily bus rides have become a great source of entertainment. At least weekly I see or hear something fascinating, interesting, or completely puzzling. I began to notice over time that while most people don’t speak to each other during the commute, I seemed to be the one person on the bus that others felt compelled to sit beside when they had the urge to talk.

Once, a woman once sat down, turned to me, and asked a question in what sounded like perfect Spanish. I replied, “Oh I’m sorry. I can’t speak Spanish.”

She then said, in perfect English, “Yeah, me either.” and turned away never saying another word.

The very next day a man wearing a kilt, a hunting vest, and a Hello Kitty wristwatch asked me how much it would cost him to fly to D.C.

I said, “Sir, you are in D.C.” He thanked me profusely for saving him the money.

Incidents like that occur so frequently that it was no surprise when an elderly woman sat beside me not long ago, looked at me and said, “You’re going to love this.”

That’s when it dawned on me. Did I have a special talent? Something bus riders saw in me that they didn’t see in other passengers? Was it a special gift I had that made people speak to me during the commute when they spoke to no one else?

Suddenly, I understood. I am the bus whisperer.

The elderly woman roused me from the daze of my realization by poking me in the arm with her bony finger. “Yes, you’re going to love this.” she repeated.

I wasn’t willing to bet as much, but it was Friday, so we’d see.

“Why is that?” I took the bait.

“Well, I had to have an operation. It took a while to recover so I stayed with my daughter. I love her but was happy to go home.” she said.

After she explained, at great length, every gory detail involved in giving a seventy year old woman a hysterectomy, she launched into even greater detail about her daughter’s increasingly unhappy marriage, her unruly grandchildren, and she reached back in time to tell me about the death of her husband.

I listened. She occasionally asked a question but before I could answer she started on the next sad extension of her conversation. I remembered what my grandmother, Nannie, used to say when we grandchildren wanted to help her with her chores. Not wanting to discourage us from being helpful, but also knowing that our attempts would likely slow her down, she would tell us “Watching is helping.” We then sat back at a distance feeling good about how much we were helping by watching, and Nannie was able to get on with her chores.

So maybe “Listening is helping”, I thought. I continued to listen as the elderly woman finished the part about her husband dying, which morphed into a story about his sister who died of the same thing. Each time she stopped to catch her breath before expounding on the next gloomy topic she would again say, “You’re going to love this.” By the time we reached the end of our commute I began to think, I do love this. I was simply listening, but this woman seemed as happy as if she’d been given a wonderful gift. But, I am the bus whisperer, after all.

The bus stopped. As we all moved slowly to the door to step out onto the street, the elderly woman poked me again with that bony finger. “You’re going to love this.” she said once more, “I’m having dental work done next week on top of it all!”

I smiled, nodded, and waved as she walked off down the block. I felt good about my newfound superpowers and wondered who I would help the next day.

It was endearing the way she had insisted “You’re going to love this.” before nearly every sentence. I had a few minutes before the shuttle came to take me the final mile to work so I walked over to a bench to wait and sat down beside another elderly woman. I thought this complete stranger might enjoy hearing what had just transpired so I decided I would tell her. I leaned over grinning and said, “You’re going to love this.”

“Creep!” she said with disgust, and moved to the next bench.

I guess she hadn’t yet heard. I am the bus whisperer.

Stuart M. Perkins



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34 responses to “Bus Whisperer

  1. Guess some people have that sympathetic attitude that draws others to them. enjoyed reading this

  2. Love this. Makes me want to be a bus whisperer too. To listen really helps. Everyone just wants to be heard. That bus route is lucky to have you.

  3. Love reading your posts! πŸ™‚

  4. I used to drive a Greyhound into DC several times a week. I could have used a Bus Whisperer riding shotgun. It’s hard to be both Bus Wrangler and Whisperer…

    DC Traffic, always an issue at any time of day, would intensify as commuters that worked outside the city peeled off into Springfield, Alexandria and the Beltway Their place soon taken by inner city workers merging in to join the long distance commuters from Quantico and Fredericksburg. This ballet rarely went smoothly as Those already in the flow would jockey for the recently vacated slots. They just never seemed to ‘get’ the concept of pick a lane and stay there.

    It was at this point, as we neared the city, a passenger would casually disregard the “Do Not Step Past This Line While Bus Is In Motion” sign, step down into the stairwell, and lean comfortably against the dash of the bus, face me and begin a conversation. I’m afraid on more than one occasion I failed to whisper “Would.You.Get.The.Hell.Out.Of.My.Mirror!!!!”

    Yep, sure could have used you on those trips….


  5. Awww. So good of you to listen. I should tell you abou my recent bout with leukemia.
    But I thought maybe this story would have an interesting twist at the end. Something like, “Then when I got home I discovered I was missing my wallet. Granny was a con! No wonder she said I was going to love this.”

  6. I did love this!!!
    We are a similar species…you see whilst I’m not the bus whisper I do have one of those faces I guess that elicits complete strangers to seek me out for conversation everywhere i go. AND I apparently look as if i am an employee wherever i’m shopping because i’m always asked where tings are, etc.

  7. I love your blog. I think you exude an aura that attracts people to open up to you. I think that God-given gift is just to let you listen to others. The last incident on the bus with a woman showed how much patience you have. I am not sure but I think I came across an article about people whose job is just to listen to other people’s woes and problems – over the phone. And, they earn money in doing that. I think with your patience to listen, you also have a talent in giving suggestions, not necessarily advice. The world needs people like you!

  8. Love your writing style – simple yet engaging πŸ™‚

  9. Heheh – I loved the ending! I really enjoy your stories.

  10. Your perception of self is humorous and endearing.
    How the lady could not have liked you is beyond me. It could have been worse though. She could have called you a pervert.

  11. These are all such great comments! It sounds like everyone can relate to bus experiences, one way or another. I honestly did dread that bus-riding process in the beginning, but it’s now actually a fun way to start and end the otherwise mundane work day! Thanks again.

  12. I have a similar issue with my elderly neighbours. I get to know all sorts of gossip and whispered details without the faintest idea how I got into it.
    and the funny thing about this is that I surprise myself when other less seasoned ones mind their business.
    love that lesson your memoms taught you.

  13. Pingback: Blogtrotter July Tour | Free Little Words

  14. laurie

    Magical powers create magical moments!

  15. kissysmom

    I laughed out loud on this one!!!!!!! I can just see it.

  16. Cynthia

    Absolutely hilarious. Good luck with that superpower. πŸ˜‰

  17. I had to laugh! You have quite the way with words. I so enjoy reading your blog!

  18. Kat

    I’m in favor of taking the bus, but thank God I’m not a bus whisperer. What a great essay!

  19. Very entertaining story. I was hooked.

  20. You almost make me want to ride the bus…..almost. You should try the DMV….I found that most illuminating, especially sitting near the help desk!

  21. Reblogged this on JC Lynne and commented:
    Lillie and I had a most interesting Seattle bus experience….this makes me want to ride the bus….almost. The DMV proved quite fruitful yesterday as well! This is fabulous!

  22. Wonderful! Thank you! I am so excited to know the identity of the Bus Whisperer.

  23. Kern

    I love your stories and smile a little extra every time you mention a Perkins πŸ™‚

  24. Siobhan-Ellen Carroll

    Your blog reminds me so much of my frequent experiences on public transport! Frequently crazy but always enjoyable. Thanks! πŸ™‚

  25. I wish we had public transportation out here in the country. You make the riders sound divine, except for the surgery stories. Yikes.

  26. Ramsha Jamil

    Oh I love this!

  27. Great story. Love the ending!

  28. Nicely written. The human comedy in action. Write more.

  29. Thanks for the smile!!!

  30. Great story! I was a regular on the bus in Honolulu. Lots of bus stories that I haven’t told yet…

  31. “Listening is helping” what a great truth πŸ™‚

  32. johnlmalone

    well told. I loved this and the concept of a ‘bus whisperer’

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