My daily commute to and from work hit its first snag today - the bus I was riding broke down only a few blocks after I had boarded in the heart of downtown. Maybe it was the beautiful weather outside or the fact that I was in no particular hurry to get home, but instead of getting mad at my bad luck (I had missed my first bus by not paying attention), the incident forced me to reconsider the way strangers interact with each other in the city.
I first wrongly assumed that the bus driver was just shutting the bus off to save energy during a particularly long stop light, once again proving that I am hopelessly incompetent. The other passengers remained silent for a minute, until the driver unsuccessfully tried to re-start the bus up a few more times.
Once it was clear to all that we weren't going anywhere soon, a female passenger in back broke out into laughter. It was actually an amazing moment. Her laughter somehow broke the tension and stiff silence of public transportation, where passengers go about their own die without even as much as acknowleding each other. As the bus driver emerged from his impenetrable stronghold to explain the situation to us, I realized how bizarre it was that it took a mishap like a broken bus to draw all of us together and force us to interact as human beings.
The passengers that had silently walked by the driver - perhaps going as far as to ask where the bus stopped - were now cracking jokes with him about walking home as if they had been friends for quite some time. I surprised myself by admitting my idiotic idea of bus drivers shutting off their vehicles during stop lights, to which another passenger cracked, "So that's how the Port Authority is cutting costs."
Most of usare so afraid of the unfamiliar faces we encounter that we turn away toward our iPods, novels or out the window to escape. I abandoned the bus soon after in favor of a fully functioning one, but I'm guessing the bus became once again somber and awkward once the problem was fixed. I hope this was not the case. Hopefully the other passengers had something they knew they could talk about, and the tense atmosphere had already been lightened by the laughter that first broke the ice.
While I'm certainly not hoping for another bus to break down, I just might go out on a limb and spark a conversation the next time I board the 67 downtown.