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When I was 16 years old I got a bus pass, not a car. My parents insisted that it would teach me something, not to mention save a ton of money. Of course that’s not quite the present most expect on their sweet 16th, but it made sense to me coming from a sustainability mindset. However, the biggest lessons the bus taught me far exceeded lowering my carbon footprint. Probably the most important lesson I learned back then was how to wait—something my generation doesn’t really know how to do. For us everything has to be instant at the push of a button. I guess scanning your bus pass upon entrance isn’t quite the same as the push start feature in cars.

Being in DC this summer, I’ve transitioned from the bus to the metro, an underground electric railway connecting people from one corner of the city to the other. Although I thought the DC Metro would be a similar experience to the city bus back home, it’s pretty different. The bus back home wasn’t super crowded, and since I rarely stood or sat shoulder to shoulder with someone, I could easily distance myself from the other passengers, especially when I tuned everything out by putting in my headphones.

On the metro here I’ve never not been shoulder to shoulder with someone, which has been surprisingly enlightening.

I’ve come across a diverse range of people on the metro. I’ve heard women in pantsuits gossip about the new policy analyst from Harvard their firm is bringing on and I’ve also heard women in worn DC sports team shirts tell their kids that they’re going to have to skip lunch this week before they can get their next paycheck to go grocery shopping. I’ve also seen that when there’s only a couple seats open next to strangers, people will overcome their reservations, sit down, and strike up a conversation (I’ve done this quite often). Because the metro is full of such a wide range of demographics and due to the high volume of passengers, everyone is almost forced to mingle and cross cultures.

This has made me realize that distancing myself on the bus back home allowed me to exacerbate some of the pre-existing stereotypes I had of the culture of public transportation … ”there’s always a couple of wackos”…. ”that person must be riding just for the immediate shelter it provides” … ”make sure you sit as the front of the bus because that’s safer”, etc. Simply put, those phrases are not at all representative of what public transportation is.

At Duke we have our own transportation system we use on a daily basis, and my experience in DC has got me thinking that if we all unplugged from our Beats on the C1, looked up from our phones, and decided to sit next to someone we didn’t know, if we’d witness some type of transformation in our own stereotypes we harbor within the Duke community.