There’s a woman who rides my bus. We always get on the 704 or 4 (whichever comes first–we know that the time it would take to wait for the express bus in lieu of the local would negate the speed of the bus) shortly after nine o’clock in the morning. We’d wait at the bus stop together, but never say ‘hi’ or otherwise acknowledge each other. Sometimes she’d be sipping coffee, struggling not to nod off on the bench. Sometimes she’d do her makeup. And sometimes she just simply waited. She never talked on her mobile phone at the bus stop, though, as I’ve seen countless do. We get off at the same stop in Century City, at Avenue of the Stars (announced by the recording on the bus with exuberance, but not quite as much exuberance as when it announces “Hollywood!” Boulevard.) More often than not, we’d also catch the 6:32pm 704 (or sometimes the 6:38pm 4).
It’s interesting—in a city of 3.8 million people, one can see the same people every day. Of course, the randomness and extreme size of the city is mitigated by the fact that one always has one’s daily patterns from which we (tend to) rarely stray. It’s thus that we connect with people, even in just a familiar-face manner. The old lady at Whole Foods who walks slightly tilted, the familiar cashier at said Whole Foods who doesn’t need to check your ID since he’s seen you a million times, the crazy guy on the bus every now and then, the daily commuters, the regulars at the bars… they all contribute to reducing the anonymity of one of the largest cities in the world. When I used to commute on the 405 (the most congested freeway in the country during rush hour) I used to see the same people most days as well. If I didn’t see them at any point during my drive I’d wonder about them. Did she finally get in an accident for doing her makeup in the car? Him for checking his BlackBerry (maybe the stocks?) Did he get a better job (like I wanted to) even though he was obviously doing well as he was driving a Lotus?
But now she’s no longer on the bus. I wonder where she is. Was she just temping at one of the banks down there? Did she get fired? What happened to her? Granted, I haven’t been keeping quite the same hours—I usually catch the 9:10am bus and the 6:05pm or 6:18pm bus back. But I’ve been erratic with my schedule the past month and I haven’t seen her once. What happened?
I think it’s the small things like this—the checkers at the store, the passengers on the bus, the familiar bus driver, our coworkers—that make the anonymity of the city bearable. If we never saw the same person twice, I think we’d go insane.
Or would we be freer? What if we were free to be a different person to everyone, without any chance of being caught in a lie? Would we make up stories about our lives, aggrandize ourselves and our situation? Would we humble ourselves and seek empathy or pity from a stranger, just for the fun of it? Or would we still be ourselves, true to our situation and being?
But it’s not that way. We have our patterns and we have our modi operandi. And thus, we have more human connection from the nameless familiar faces we see on our life path.