It used to be unexpected for a former garbage man to sit next to me and share insight into how the capital of the country has developed over the years.
Such stories and adventures almost never came my way in Jackson. Living in a campus “bubble” and rarely venturing out without sitting in the isolation of a car is hardly conducive to meeting new people or seeing places off the beaten track.
More than two years ago, I wrote about the public transportation system in Jackson for my very first Cardinal & Cream article.
I was a wide-eyed freshman who knew next to nothing about the city — and next to nothing about how to write an article — but a photographer and I headed to a bus stop a mere block from Union nonetheless.
We rode the bus in a loop as I interviewed Jackson residents, hearing bits and pieces of their stories. By the time we got off, I felt exhilarated.
I had met so many people, heard so many stories and had so much adventure.
But, with the exception of one Life Group trip, I never set foot on a Jackson bus again.
This semester my life is a bit different. I live in Washington, D.C., where I am spending a semester studying at the Washington Journalism Center and interning at Religion News Service.
I take the bus everywhere, and it forces me outside my comfort zone everyday.
On internship days I catch the D6 bus at about 8:30 a.m. It’s almost always packed, so I stand crammed between strangers. Sometimes they’re dressed sloppily and smell rather funny.
Sometimes they wear suits and heels and fairly exude power. Sometimes they have all their earthly belongings in a suitcase, and I wonder how they managed to pay $1.80 for the bus fare.
Waiting for the bus, I’ve met people from all over the world. I met a woman from Liberia once who told me the best places to see in D.C.
I met a man from Spain who told me what it was like to come to the United States from another country and how he had adjusted to cultural differences.
I’ve never met someone from Liberia in Jackson, but I suspect that I can find much more diversity if I only venture beyond the stretch of road between campus and Kroger.
Once, on a rainy day, I observed the aftermath of a fight on the bus. The bus had stopped, the instigators had left and the police had come.
That didn’t stop another woman from screaming obscenities when the bus didn’t move as fast as she liked.
The driver stormed off, saying she wouldn’t drive until the woman left.
The rest of the packed bus sat or stood awkwardly, looking at each other with raised eyebrows.
The police removed the woman, the bus driver returned, and everyone else on the bus looked around, shaking heads, muttering and laughing nervously.
Even though most of us did not know each other and were from different walks of life, we commiserated.
Not long after, the roof of the bus started to leak, dripping cold rainwater on the shoulders of various passengers.
Riding the bus is sometimes — often — awkward and uncomfortable.
But it exposes me to life outside of my little sphere of knowledge. I learn about other people, experiences, cultures, and am thus able to view the city I live in with far more depth.
I’ve stepped off the bus at the wrong stop a few times. I’ve managed to get myself lost. But it’s always worth it.
The bus lines are the veins and the arteries of the city. They go everywhere and they connect people to each other, including people who would otherwise never cross paths.
There are bus lines in Jackson, too.
I, like most Union students, often forget that.
While I love this city and will hate to leave it, I also look forward to returning to Jackson.
Perhaps my time here in Washington, D.C., will leave me with a new sense of adventure, a sense of adventure that will take me outside my comfort zone of campus, church, Kroger and the occasional trip across town made in the safety of a car.
I hope a semester of being forced to face the rest of humanity whether I want to or not will help me return to Jackson with new eyes, ready to engage the city and understand it a little bit more.
Maybe I’ll even start riding the Jackson bus.