There’s no experience like riding a Buffalo city bus at 7 a.m.
While I’m sure city buses across the country carry a variety of passengers, there is a distinct difference between the average bus rider and one in Buffalo. From tired retail workers carrying groceries to ninth graders on their way to school, Buffalonian passengers can take many faces.
Like many of my Buffalonian brethren, I frequently ride the bus.
And I can absolutely confirm that nothing encapsulates Western New York better than its bus service.
Buffalo is defined most clearly by its citizens, so what better way to express the core of the city than the two-dollar-per-ride transportation used daily by its inhabitants? From its quirky passengers to its air of familiarity, I’m most comfortable when riding along the bus’ straightforward routes.
Driving the thin line between predictable paths and unpredictable people, most days are bizarrely enjoyable and reminiscent of home.
Tourists and Buffalonians can be easily differentiated by their first steps onto NFTA certified transportation.
Notice their gait; if it’s shaky and hasty, then you’ve spotted either a first-timer to the bus or a general tourist.
But, if those first steps are the beginning of a slow swagger to an open seat, you’ve likely seen an experienced bus rider in the Queen City.
While appearances differ between riders, Buffalonians are able to relate to each other just enough to carry on a conversation throughout the ride.
Neighbors fall into habitual gossip and students barely notice their upturned grins as they huddle close, all waiting to reach their respective destinations with friends by their sides. Daily commuters exude boisterous energy toward themselves, and, of course, newcomers.
With an emphasis on boisterous, Buffalo natives aren’t always mild in their approach. Buffalonians who ride the bus reach out to strangers with goodwill. Of course, like all cities, always proceed with caution. But, drawing from personal experience, most riders just enjoy a good conversation.
And those people are the best part.
Buffalo connects everyone, even if they only meet briefly. The unpredictability yet trustworthy excitement of riders’ co-passengers resonates the true meaning of this beloved city into the steady thrum and movement of each city-sponsored bus.
On my various trips, I’ve noticed the homey touches left by previous bus riders, which vary in levels of sincerity.
Bright peeling stickers find their homes under rails while sharpie signatures are scrawled near the base of plastic seating. Posters advertising local bands and downtown events cover the walls, while dancing mud and footprints are pressed into the floor.
However, your average metro bus is generally well kept.
But, much like the iron will of Buffalo’s inhabitants, some pieces don’t fit in with the rest.
If you should ever be so lucky as to ride the bus around midday — especially before they undergo a quick clean up — you can find treasures in the most unlikely spots. Left behind by forgetful predecessors, pieces of a narrative long gone can be found roaming aimlessly across slanted aisles and nestled in the dark, sticky corners hidden by vents. Food is a common sight, but lucky travelers can see school projects and shoes, among other surprising objects. It makes you wonder how these things get left behind.
For sanitary purposes and from personal experience, it’s best to leave such precious talismans to the experienced hands of bus drivers who are well equipped in dealing with the usual junk left by Buffalo’s citizens. The bus drivers themselves have merged with their environment, blending into the subtle background, as they offer soft-hearted grins as quiet and shaded eyes dart across the road and sidewalks in front.
Even in periods of absence between stops, there is an unspoken understanding between rider and driver. On quiet mornings where mutual silence is understood, objects found around the bus make me question what kind of Buffalonian dropped such a piece. In a way, such scraps are a reminder that I am among many other native citizens going to scheduled places on an unstoppable rhythm.
While a humbling thought, these observations also function as a comforting reminder that neighbors, friends and family are only one bus ride away, despite the empty chariot during cold and bitter mornings. All in all, the people of Buffalo leave a lasting impression with their strong, friendly personalities and the souvenirs they leave behind. This speaks to how impactful Buffalo citizens are, how we shape and mold our surroundings to create a “home away from home.” .
Tomorrow, and every day after that, I will tread down the cracked sidewalks spanning between sleeping neighborhoods. The air calm yet chilled, slowly dragging me down my path toward the unfolding warmth of a nondescript Route 5A Metro Bus. I will ease into the soft lull of the bus rambling down the street and find solace in the drivers’ familiar hand signals.
The cycle of conversation between passengers will begin long before my first ride, and will likely continue long after. The confidence and creeping curiosity will set in long before my first steps onto the bus, but will, only start to bloom when I first notice the bottles of nail polish left haphazardly on the rim of a cushioned bench.
Time melts, as usual, and I will inevitably pull the string and stop the bus full of people whose stories I will never hear, to leave. An exchange will occur, one home for another, all located in an overarching home named Buffalo.
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