El people vs. bus people? Bus people are weirder

In a motherly moment of guilt and mercy, I picked my sons up at their bus stop Wednesday, sparing them a four-block walk home in the pouring down rain. I don’t like that they have to walk to and from the bus stop in the dark, much less in the weather, but I take solace in the fact that there are two of them, they’re both over six-feet tall and they’re both black belts in Taekwondo. Little did I know, it’s the bus ride itself I should be worrying about.

As a bit of a public transportation aficionado myself, I’ve noticed there’s a marked difference between “bus people” and “El people”.  How shall I put this nicely? Let’s see…How about, “the bus people are weirder.” Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of weirdoes on the El too, but it seems in general, the ratio is higher on the bus and I think I just blocked this fact because even though my sons are almost grown, they’re still my babies and I’m their mother and it’s my job to worry about them having to be around too many weirdoes, that free trial day at Gymboree notwithstanding.

While riding the bus, I’ve had a woman in fake military fatigues berate me for taking out my iPod because, I never know what might happen if one of the Germans saw it. I had an elderly Asian man open a photo book and tell me his life story while showing me pictures. Apparently, on the bus my boys take, there are quite a few regulars. A couple of homeless guys. One guy who always sits at the back of the bus with his hand inside his jacket. Earlier this year, I was impressed with their street smarts when one bus weirdo guy began acting erratically and threateningly and they got off at the next stop. In some ways, the bus is good for them, because they are developing their street smarts. Plus it makes my hormonal mood swings look down right innocuous.

So on Wednesday’s rainy ride home, when some dork pulled right in front of me and I quietly pronounced, almost in a whisper, what a silly-billy nut he was, my son Kyle asked me if I’d ever encountered anyone on the road that I thought was truly insane. I thought about it for a while, figured it would be wise to exclude myself, and had to answer, “Honestly, I don’t think so. I mean, I’ve seen some crazy behaviors, sure, but nothing I can recall that would indicate someone was really and truly insane.”

To which my son Ethan replied, “Of course not. They’re all on the bus.”


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  • I completely agree. My wife and I had this discussion the other day also. I hate riding the bus so much that I will ride my bike in weather down to 20 degrees before switching to the bus. The difference is the sound or rather the intense volume of the train. The train is so loud that it drains out music, conversation everything. It's makes it so much easier to check out mentally. On the bus though you can hear every cell phone conversation, every teenagers fight with their girlfriend or some gangbanger and hear every cough and sneeze from sick people. It's just not very fun being squeezed together so tightly with so many crazy people.

  • In reply to Roger G:

    Roger G,
    You are a genius! Of course, the noise level on the train masks all sorts of weirdness! I Admire your dedication to avoiding the bus, especially in a green way. I've been known to avoid it by driving to the Blue line. I know. My bad.
    Thanks for the brilliant comment!

  • OMG!!! I grew up on the bus and EL. I lived on the Southside, (Beverly area)....so I would have to catch the 95stW bus to the DanRyan Train Station every morning in order to go to work at Marshall Fields (now Macy's).

    I remember the everyday regulars and the kids who used their student passes and the people who would try and sneak onto the buses through the back door (that was before they brought in the catipliar buses in the late mid 80's).

    I remember people falling asleep on the El trains and waking up with no wallets or purses.
    I remember these afro-american men selling everything from $1.00 wallets, umbrellas, insense, to candy bars to panty hose....it was so funny and they even had people selling knock-off watches.

    Then you had the real crazy people, like one time I saw a man that looked like he was drunk or asleep, but he had a little girl with him, about the age of 6 or 7, she had her had in his pants, and the girl looked so frightened, and everyone saw it, but did nothing.....I was a teenager, and didn't know what to do at the time, because the guy looked like he could clobber me, so I decided to go to another car.

    There were lots of fights on the train and of course, music and dancing...yes...I did say dancing on the train while the train was moving...it was very entertaining.

    I did see a stabbing once back in '94 at the Cumberland stop on the way from the Airport....but all the Airport workers were all getting off from work and this guy tried to rob somebody, but he didn't know that everyone on that car were regulars and knew each other by their daily ride...so they stabbed him with his own knife.

    I'm in Naples, Florida.....and we just got buses less than 10 years ago.

    Good times!!!!

  • In reply to cheffypooh:

    I think you may win the award for the weirdest weirdo encounters, you know, if there were an award for that sort of thing. And I like how all the airport workers stuck together in your '94 Cumberland story. I'd like to think it'd happen in the same way today, but I'm not so sure. Sometimes employees of my own airline give me the stink eye!
    I hope if you ride the buses in Naples that they're not nearly as interesting as the CTA's!
    Thanks for the comment!

  • In reply to cheffypooh:

    Interesting. The only people you mentioned by race were the "Afro-Americans" (wow, didn't know ANYBODY called us that in 2011) selling knockoff material. Everybody else was just a man or a woman. Why is that? (Just an observation.)

  • I am absolutely cracking up about the Germans/iPod story. That is the best. I'd almost want to thank the lady who said it just so I had a story to tell at every family gathering. As far as the bus and the el, I can't recall meeting one strange person on the bus. Ever. In 30 years. I see people talk loudly on their phones and look out the window, but honestly the only time I took the bus was in high school with a bunch of other kids from school and very sporadically over the years to and from work. Wait, there was the gang fight on one bus when I was a teenager and then another almost fight with some anti-gay guy and a gay guy who kept screaming the n-word at him, which only made me yell out for him screaming the n-word. Total chaos.

    But I see nuts on the el all the time. I started taking the bus to work far more in the past 3 weeks because I got tired of the nuts on the el--the guy who yells "I just got out of prison and I promised I wouldn't rob anybody" finally stopped riding from downtown to the southside. Then there was the homeless guy who kept getting on the train smoking cigarettes. I've seen a little boy snatch an iPod from a lady and his two friends blocked her so she couldn't chase him. Then there was the guy who decided to take a dump in his seat (I'm guessing he was homeless) and cleared out almost an entire car. I sat in urine one time a few years back and didn't realize it until I got off the train (thought it was a wet umbrella or maybe a rainy coat at the time). Now I wipe train seats every single time I get on and off and el, but I saw it happen to a little girl a couple years later.

    I could keep going but you get the idea. Whatever bus you and your sons are riding, please let me know so I can keep my naive mindset about the bus.

  • Hey Kim,

    Thanks for writing about this. I agree that bus people are weirder. I don't have kids yet but I'm already thinking about staying in the city to raise them. I just don't want to go back to the suburbs and I do not think that is the best environment to raise healthy and adjusted children.

    How old do you think kids should be before they take the EL? I live in Lincoln Square and think that kids should be able to get everywhere the need with the Brown Line and should not take the Red Line.

    Also - do you think these kids should have smart phones with apps like CTA train/bus tracker?

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to J Nick JD:

    I assume you mean "how old do you think kids should be before they take the L by themselves," because I see kids of all ages on the L and bus with their parents, grandparents, older siblings, et cetera all the time.

    I'm definitely with you that the city is the most reasonable place to raise children...as many people have done since time immemorial. I'd say they can probably take the bus or train by themselves as soon as they're old enough to be at home alone, or basically middle school age on up. In fact, attempting to raise children away from effective public transportation borders on the ridiculous, because most are ready to go places by themselves well before they can drive a car -- if they are able to drive at all, of course, which some people cannot.

  • "El people vs. bus people? Bus people are weirder"

    Perhaps, but I will tell you that car drivers are the worst because you need to be completely batshit crazy to drive in this city.

    Happy Holidays!

  • I have to agree with this article. I would rather ride the El but sometimes the bus is the most direct way. The 36 has a whole cast of interesting characters. I just call it "free entertainment"!

  • fb_avatar

    I would venture that the difference in weirdness on public transportation varies more by route than by mode, though I have found that buses are usually more genteel, probably due to the presence of the driver in the same compartment as the passengers. It's about the same as Metra, and only a little bit wilder than an airplane. Granted, I am sure that some bus routes have more action than others, and my perception may well be a function of which buses I ride.

    As for the train, I've ridden nearly the whole L system and have seen the most interesting characters between Garfield and Roosevelt on the Green Line, and the most drunks on the Red Line during owl service hours, mostly college students (though in that case, I am just glad they aren't trying to drive or bike). The very worst I've seen is one domestic dispute that descended into shoving and phone throwing on an evening Orange Line train in the Loop, but it ultimately got stopped at Clark/Lake by the police...and this kind of action is unfortunately not specific to the L, but goes on in too many homes all the time.

  • The weirdest ones, Ms. Kim, are those who attempt to divide the world into two camps: "Who's weirder, Czech music aficionados or Slovak music fans?" "Well sir, it depends what part of the Czech Republic and what region of Slovakia; if you're into Valassko vs. Saris, definitely the Czechs, cuz those Valachs have many more key changes per phrase..." In other words, which bus and which el? The Red Line riders beat everybody on the Belmont (read: most boring bus in Chicago) #77 line for weirdness. Those who ride the Chicago Ave. #66 bus can ride weird rings around Brown Line users.

    Bus riders and el riders have more in common than they have different. They all should be commended for using public trans instead of running us down with their SUVs.

    Rant over? Yes. Over.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to cimbalok:


    Thank you for the most reasonable response to this lame article. I ride both to work and I've never tried to discern between "L riders" and bus riders. They are the same in my book, people who rely on public transportation to get to their jobs or schools.

    Kim - It also seems your label for weird is for people who have mentally challenging issues or are just plain lonely. Must be nice to cast a net over these types of people and just call them "weird."

  • Thank you everyone for all the great comments!
    One thing for certain, we love our CTA! The green (er) form of transportation and the free entertainment. (Well free for the price of a token--remember those?!)
    Judging from some of the testimonials here, I need to get out more. My CTA "wierdoes" seem quite tame.
    And speaking of weirdoes: remember, every week, I'm out there riding the bus and the train. You've been warned...

  • I am Black and 62yrs old, lived in Chicago all my life (until 3 yrs ago when I moved to the Western Suburbs to be close to my job).

    I have been fighting for over 15yrs to bring improved Public Transportation and thousands of jobs to the Chicago Area, and I won't stop until I succeed: http://bit.ly/GrayLineInfo

    HOWEVER: I will N E V E R - under A N Y circumstances - move my Black azz back into the City of Chicago; you can glean the reason from all the posts in this thread; I found out from living far out in the suburbs that you D O N ' T have to deal with it if you live far enough away.

    Notice that I didn't stutter.

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