For me, it’s a public bus.
There’s something about the motion, or the white-noise of the engine, or maybe it’s the passing scenery that moves quickly enough to be stimulating but is also familiar enough to ignore.
One of the biggest advantages of the bus is that if I ever need a character, all I have to do is look up. As I write this, I can see a man in an olive-drab outdoorsy coat who keeps checking his watch even though we’re not running late.
A few seats back from him, there is a woman wearing attractive business attire and a sour expression. Her stiletto heels are so long and sharp I think they could puncture a zombie’s skull.
Nearby, there is another woman who, by contrast, smiles pleasantly and seems much happier. One of her arms ends in a stump just below the elbow, and when she boarded she carried her purse strap looped over her shortened forearm.
I’ve seen grungy skater kids with pierced eyebrows, dignified office workers with polished shoes, and burly construction workers with dust-speckling vests. You can’t make up descriptions from whole cloth nearly as well as you can describe what you see on a bus.
You Can’t Make This Up
For the most part, the people on my line are very normal, and I’ve rarely seen any behavior more deviant than eating a PBJ right under the sign that says “no food.” During my years of riding, I’ve never felt threatened or grossed out, and statistically a bus is much safer than driving your own car.
But for a writer, the best moments are the abnormal ones.
Once I sat across from an extremely bulky gentleman with a shaved head, red eyebrows, and patches on his jacket that included swastikas and slogans like “Reich Out And Hit Someone.” He spent the whole ride asleep.
This, I thought, could be Brick’s little brother.
Another time there was a teenager evidently in the midst of a bad drug trip. He switched seats frantically, muttered to himself, and generally caused a commotion. We pulled over and waited until the transit security removed him by force.
As a commuter, this kind of thing means being a few minutes late to the stop. But for a writer, this is a rich vein of ideas and inspiration ready to be mined.
Lucky to Ride
I know not everyone lives in a place where they can take advantage of public transportation. Many areas don’t have service at all, and some that do are completely undesirable for other reasons (I hear riding the bus in Detroit is kind of like sitting in Mad Max’s passenger seat).
But if you have a bus stop near you, I suggest hopping on and seeing where it goes. If you’re a writer, it might bring you a story. If you’re not a writer, it might bring you an adventure just the same.