BUS CULTURE IN SECULAR, POST-MODERN SOCIETY: A CATCH-ALL OF ECLECTIC SOCIAL DECAY AND DECADENCE.
As a university-educated person who considers himself to be in the ‘moderate income’ bracket, holding down anywhere from 3-4 part time jobs during the year to make ends meet, I often find myself using public transportation.
I do have a car, but, due to the afore-mentioned income situation, coupled with longstanding concerns for frugality and the environment, I often choose to leave the car at home and take the bus to work. Especially since my steady, year-round job is in the downtown core, which is also during the usual Monday to Friday work week, and I live in the suburbs, so taking the special peak period buses that take me downtown in the morning and back home in the evening really make sense, and are a real money-saver.
I can buy a monthly debit-like card bus pass loaded with a month’s worth of transit for just over 74$ and get unlimited usage from it throughout the month.
Also, I actually get downtown faster on these buses than by car, since part of the route is on reserved bus lanes, and the bus goes directly downtown on the highway feeder lane instead of taking the milk run, which the other buses do. This express bus has a definitely better-heeled clientele in it from the suburbs north of my apartment complex of blocks just north of the expressway in the northwest central part of town. They mostly all look like respectable middle-class civil servant/professional, college and university-educated types, all going uptown to their designated, pre-ordained places of work within Québec city’s multi-layered and prosperous civil service, college and university jobs, as well as health sector jobs in one of our many teaching and research-based public hospitals which are mostly located uptown.
The marked contrast is when I work my second job on weekends during the summer tourist season, and I decide to take the bus into the downtown core during the off peak period on the weekend, and the Monday to Friday rush hour express buses are not working.
This then compels me to take the milk-run bus and to leave about 35 minutes ahead of schedule, to give myself time to allow the milk run bus to cut through the entire more low rent part of town below the express way, on the ‘other side of the tracks’ so to speak, and to pick up all of the masses of humanity which do not fall into the socio-economic class of people north of the express way.
The difference is quite an eye-opener, even shocking at times. Today I witnessed a phenomenon which caused me to pause and ponder a rather sad post-modern socio-economic and pop-cultural reality: As the bus put-putted its way through the low rent part of town, it stopped and in walked a categorically grossly obese young man. He couldn’t have been older than his early to mid-twenties at most. But the gargantuanness of his girth was quite disquieting, as was his mode of dress: he had a sort of bandana on his head, reminiscent of some outlaw biker-type look, and a stylized full beard which resembled a trimmed-down version of the two front men from ZZ-Top, the now-iconic Classic Rock band from Texas.
I said to myself that this young man could be from essentially anywhere in North America, even anywhere in the western world, given the insidiously pervasive nature of western-fuelled agri-food conglomerates with their culture of industrially mass-produced junk food from the ‘3 food groups’(fat, sugar, and salt). Not to mention the almost universally pervasive American ‘trailer park’-type of working class, Harley-Davidson-esque, tattoo and piercing counterculture, which seems to have spread throughout the planet through the instruments of America’s dominance of the global production of information, both on TV, films, radio, and the internet.
Another person got on. This time it was a grossly obese elderly woman. She searched desperately for a double seat which was empty so that she could sit in it alone, since you could tell that she was very conscious of being of such enormous girth that sitting in a double seat with another person would have made both she and her seat mate very uncomfortable.
The next specimen to get on was a strange, Heavy Metal-looking type, who looked like he might be of Aboriginal origin. He had long frizzy dark brown hair in some sort of pony tail, with a stylized beard of some sort, and a rather menacing-looking jeans jacket with no sleeves, with studs on it and a skull on the back. It was opened in front, and I could clearly read the lettering of his ‘Slayer’ T-shirt, one of Heavy Metal’s most longstanding and enduring bands, who make no bones about the Satanic content of their lyrics.
He stayed on for a few stops, and then got off near the shopping mall not far from the on-ramp to the next expressway to get onto to go south into the uptown core. I took a look at him as he walked away and saw that he was wearing a pair of battered black army boots with no laces, and apparently, no socks. He looks eminently unhappy with his lot in life.
I could only wonder what this not-so-Holy Trinity of people were doing on the bus on a Saturday morning in July at 8:15 A.M., going through that low rent part of town: Were they going to work like me? Were they going to visit friends or family? Did they know where they were going, either literally or figuratively? I’ve sometimes been on the bus and some of these specimens get on, especially the young skinny male types, usually dressed in a rather dishevelled manner, with a variety of hair styles, metallic protuberances in various parts of their anatomy, pants hanging down their bottoms to varying degrees of ‘fashionableness’, with a variety of T-shirts, usually being one of a number of current Heavy Metal bands such as ‘Slipknot’, ‘Rancid’, ‘Sepultura’, ‘Children of Bodom’, or ‘Korn’.
I get the impression that they’re simply on a ‘geographical’, that they’ve popped some sort of mind-altering substance and have decided to just ‘go on a nowhere’ and ride the buses anywhere in the city all day and just see where they end up. Why is it, also, that two thirds of the people who caught my attention were obese? How does one figure it that the poorer you get, the higher the statistical probability you have of being obese? What does this say about our society’s system of education, family, and its links to the agri-food interests who are increasingly influencing us?
It would seem that social and economic disparities have always been with us. I’ve been reading the Bible recently, and have been ploughing through the Old Testament, after having made it through the New a few months ago. In the ‘Good Book’, there are far worse stories of economic and social injustice portrayed, including gang rape, children being cooked and eaten because of famine, war and slaughter, pestilence, genocide, Kings being disembowelled with swords while they sit on the john doing their business, and a whole host of unholy horrors too grim to mention.
I guess the bus culture in today’s post-modern, secular society is tame compared to most of what went on in Biblical times. At least all of these people have access to indoor plumbing and running water, heating, lighting, social services, medical care, and have the opportunity to learn to read, write, count, and to work.
What worries me is that they’re no longer dwelling in the presence of a power greater than themselves. All of this prosperity wrought by post-modernity has led them to live in a society of material abundance, but spiritual poverty. I think that’s why that young man and that old woman were obese, and why the other young man had turned to his ‘Heavy Metal’ –type of ‘religion’ to fulfill his desire for answers to existential questions.
If only the people of today’s world could re-connect with the notion of being in conscious contact with a power greater than themselves, perhaps they could reconnect with a reality which gives meaning to the notion of the sacred, instead of the tendency, so prevalent in today’s world, to profane and de-sanctify everything and everyone around us, rendering it banal and pedestrian in nature.
We’re all ultimately ‘on the bus of life’, and we’ll ‘get off’ at a ‘final destination’ of some sort. It’s just a question of ‘where’, and ‘when’, ‘who’, ‘what’, and ‘why’ that changes for each of us. I’m sure that the hotel at the end of the line has room for everybody who makes it to the ‘end of the line’, regardless of whether they’ve taken the ‘express bus’ from north of the expressway, or the ‘milk run bus’ through the ‘low rent part of town’ south of the expressway.
At that hotel, we’ll all get a good night’s sleep. Amen.