A Lesson in Letting Go

We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the life that is waiting for us.
Joseph Campbell

This morning I boarded the bus and quickly found a seat.  I was eager to begin reading an article a friend had shared with me related non-profit work.  Like many, my time is limited, and I was hoping to make use of my morning commute to read this material.

Open Book Pic

Instead, the teenagers who filled the seat behind me, talking loudly and laughing more than one should so early in the morning, made it nearly impossible for me to concentrate.

After reading the same paragraph three times I felt my frustration growing.

And that is when my “transit training” kicked in.

For me, riding the bus has become a way  to learn how to let go.  I have used my time on transit to practice being in the moment.

Letting go of expectations is a challenge for me.  I have expectations of situations, of places, of people, and when things are not as I expect I find I can become frustrated or I will try to control things.

Learning to let go of expectations and to respond to change has been one of the most valuable experiences that has come from riding the bus. To_let_go_Baloow Pic

On the bus you have to give up control of so much – the arrival and departure time, the route and the stops along the way, who you share a seat with – everything about the journey is out of your control.

So, instead of allowing frustration take over, I tucked my papers away, settled into my seat and listened to these high school students share stories and laugh. I let go of my expectations and and accepted the moment, noisy teenagers and all, for what it was

What You Put Into It Is What You Get Out of It

I haven’t been writing as much because I haven’t been riding as much.

You see, I recently left my job in order to make a career change and now my daily commute is just a flight of stairs. When you live walking distance from a Trader Joe’s, public library, farmers market and a neighborhood pub (let’s not overlook the importance of being able to walk home from a bar) you just don’t need to ride the bus so much.

Coming home from a networking event the other evening I was feeling both stimulated and a bit worn out.  As an introvert it can be draining chatting with strangers, but I do love meeting people, making connections and learning from others, so it was a rewarding evening. Bus Downtown Portland

Boarding the bus, a particularly busy bus line at rush hour, the driver was cheerfully greeting each and every passenger with a cheerful “hello there!” or  “welcome aboard!” She even gave a grumpy fellow with no ticket a pass, telling him to, “go and find a seat and next time remember about the fare”.

The driver’s engaging interaction with the dozens of people she was picking up at each stop reminded me that what you put into a task is what you get out of it.  Most riders responded to her greeting with a smile or a greeting of their own.  You could see, immediately, that her positive effort resulted in a return positive reaction.  People looked up, smiled and return her greeting with a nod or a kind word of their own.

Riding home that evening I thought about how her taking a brief moment to acknowledge passengers changed the energy on the bus.  A bit of kindness, an extra bit of effort can go a long way.  As a job searcher this was a good reminder that what you put into something is what you get out of it.

Portland Downtown Evening


Today, on my ride home, I spent the time gazing out the bus window.

On a side street I saw a black dog running, all out running, tail in the breeze running, straight up the middle of the road.

I followed the taunt line of the dog’s red leash to a young man stationed atop a skateboard, knees slightly bent, whizzing along behind the dog with a wide smile spread across his face.

I couldn’t imagine who was happier at that moment, the black dog, the man on the skateboard, or me.

Over the River and Through the Woods

He is a regular at my neighborhood bus stop, he looks to be in late 20’s, has sandy brown hair and is disabled. He walks with a labored gait, one leg dragging slightly, and his speech is impaired.

This morning the bus was early, leaving the two of us waiting together for some time before the next bus arrives.

We exchange general pleasantries about the weather and then, in his halting speech, he asks me where I am going.

I share that I am on my way to work.  In an attempt to fill time, I go on to tell him that I take this bus and then the train to my job every day.  I grumble about having to make that connection.  Then I share that I think my job is a drag, complaining about having to sit behind a desk all day.

I ask where he is off to this morning.

As he begins to speak I listen carefully, it is hard for me to understand exactly what he says.  He speaks slowly, due to his disability but also, perhaps, because he has grown accustomed to people like me who fail to understand him.

As he speaks his smile broadens and I make out the phrase, “over the river and through the woods”.

His eyes are now twinkling and his smile so broad that I cannot help but smile too.“Over the river and through the woods” I repeat, questioning what I have heard.

“Yes” he responds quickly.

“To grandmother’s house I go” I state, almost instinctively, remembering the childhood rhyme.

At nearly the same time he says, “But not to grandmother’s house”.

We laugh together.

He explains, again slowly so that I can follow, that he is on his way to work in Tigard, a suburb outside of Portland, and will travel over the Willamette River and through wooded suburban neighborhoods to arrive at work.

It is over an hour commute and he changes bus lines more than once.

He goes on to tell me he likes his work at a fast food restaurant because everyone, his co-workers and customers alike, are nice people.  Plus, he shares, his work keeps him busy.

Our bus arrives and we both board, me feeling rather small after my morning complaining and him smiling as he starts his journey over the river and through the woods.

Coming Clean

In rainy weather the bus is crowded. Fair-weather bike riders and those who would otherwise walk join the ranks of the regular transit riders, filling seats and turning bus rides into standing room only events.

One blustery winter day I boarded my regular bus, crowded with rain soaked riders.  The wet jackets and so many passengers made for a steamy environment, the windows clouded over and the bus was warmer than usual.

Soon I started to notice an odor – the unmistakable scent of cat pee.

I did a quick survey of the riders to see if I could figure out who the offending rider was.  Which one among us stank of urine?

This was my regular bus and most of those on board were, like me, daily commuters taking the bus in to work.  I searched the isles wondering who it might be.

As the bus continued on more people boarded, the bus heated up and the smell was more pronounced.

I could not imagine who was walking around stinking of pee.  I looked for a stranger, certain that some unknown rider was responsible for this offense.  Before I could discover the stinker the bus arrived at my stop and I made my way to work.

After a full day at the office I made a dash through the rain and caught my regular bus home. The ride home was just as crowded.

Soon enough I noticed the offending odor again. This time, I thought, I am going to figure out who it is.  I searched the crowd for a familiar face, looking for someone who had been on the bus in the morning.

Each person I suspected – the old man who always looked a bit shabby, the teen who didn’t appear to ever wash his clothes, the woman in a cat sweater and carrying bag of yarn – eventually got off at their stop, yet the odor persisted.

And as the bus neared my stop I suddenly realized that I was the only person still riding who had been on both the morning and evening bus.

I was the one who smelled of cat pee.

The Pissers - Jack (r) and Louie (l)

Granny Had a Life

I found my seat on the bus, settling in behind an older, grey-haired woman and a young woman wearing a PSU sweatshirt.  The old woman was speaking loudly, making it easy to listen to her conversation.

“My grandson was watching something-or-other about Haight-Ashbury on the TV the other night,” the older woman stated, “I told him ‘I was there, I lived it!’ I lived in Haight-Ashbury, you know. Granny had a life”

The younger woman giggled at this.

The older woman turned to look at the younger woman and asked, “Do you know about marijuana brownies?” The younger woman giggled again and sheepishly said, “Yea, I know about them.”

“Well, that’s ok. That’s ok.  But you shouldn’t know about LSD.  You just don’t know what’s going to happen with that”, she continued, “I saw it, I was there. You know, I was working as a nurse then, and let me tell you, I saw it all”.

She paused briefly before adding, “But I had my fun too.”

Then, almost before I realized it, I had arrived at my stop.

Still Riding

I realize that I have not shared any bus encounters here in some time.

I’m still riding and still experiencing small moments of beauty on transit.  I’ve even continued to jot down my encounters in the notebook I always carry.

I have been busy with a few other things lately – projects at my day-job that keep be working long hours and board meeting work for the non-profit I have started – which has kept me for sharing my transit tales.

Stick with me friends and fellow riders, I’ll share new stories soon!


With the New Years often comes resolutions; resolutions to lose weight, exercise more and save money are common.  Though I do not generally make resolutions I do take time to reflect on what I value and how I can focus on what is truly important.

Three things I will focus on in 2012 are (1) building more friendships, (2) being open to new perspectives and, most important to me this year, (3) being a better listener.

I am going to use my time on the bus to focus on my resolutions.

Building more friendships

I have already made some strong friendships on the bus.  My book club, The Seventeenth Line, was formed on the bus (we are even named after the bus line we met on) and I recently pulled together a small happy hour gathering for other friends I met on transit.

In 2012 I hope to connect with more strangers and by the end of the year count them among my friends.

Being open to new perspectives

Riding the bus give me a chance to rub elbows (sometime literally) with people from all walks of life.  There is Peter the window-washer who refuses to get a driver’s license because he does not want to government to track him and Maryanne the artist whose paintings are inspired by people she sees while riding transit, each sees the world differently that I do.

In 2012 I hope to be open to different perspectives and learn to see things from new points of view.

Being a better listener

I love listening to people’s stories, it is one of my greatest pleasures. I shared in my About Me page that I appreciate the work of Studs Turkel, I also regularly listen to Fresh Air (what is it about Chicago!) and to The Sprocket Podcast, Portland’s own Brock Dittus and Brandon Rhodes irreverent conversationalists. For me, being a good listener helps opens the world up and teaches me so much.

In 2012 I hope to become a better listener, to quiet myself and give others the time and space to share their thoughts with me.

Everybody Loves Flowers

Everybody Loves Flowers

From the bus window I could see her standing just behind the bench at the bus stop.  Her umbrella was up and in her arms was a colorful bouquet of flowers.

The bus came to a stop and passengers exited the bus.

I watched as a young man walked toward her, her smile widening.

“Look”, I said to the woman seated next to me on the bus, “she met him at the stop with flowers”.  I could not help smiling as I watch the couple embrace.

“Oh, so lovely” the woman next to me replied, her accent heavy.

A moment later the woman next to me said, “Thank you for showing me, I feel so good now”.

My 3 Favorite Things To Do When Riding The Bus

3 Favorite Things To Do When Riding The Bus

There are many things I like about riding the bus, but I think these are my three favorite things to do when riding the bus.


Eavesdropping is one of the greatest pleasures on the bus.  Those small snippets of conversation give you a peek into another person’s day or give you something to wonder about.

Sometimes you need to listen carefully and sometimes you cannot help but hear the conversations of strangers.

While riding the bus I’ve heard couples fighting, vacation plans being made, someone calling in “sick” to work, a woman bragging about her upcoming plastic surgeries (“I’m getting everything taken care of at once”), college students chatting excitedly about their new classes, and a price negotiation over drugs.

I shared a story here about listening to a phone conversation on the bus (turns out another rider was as well).   Admit it, you like eavesdropping too!

Giving Directions

I am not sure why, but I love being able to give people directions while on the bus, especially out-of-towners.  Anytime I see someone with a suitcase and a map I’m ready to spring into action.

I’ll never forget the time I gave a couple of business men from Texas, “just in town for a conference”, directions to Powell’s Books .  We were on the streetcar in downtown Portland, making small talk on the way to our destinations and as the streetcar entered the South Park Blocks, tall trees lining the busy Portland State University campus, they both fell silent, looking amazed at the scenery.  And I fell even more in love with Portland.


Riding the bus means I’ve got quiet time for reading built into my day. On my way to and from work I have a half-hour or so to get lost in a novel or catch up magazine articles. I’ve read many a book on the bus, I just finished The Wishing Year and now I am reading The Outlander.

I always have something to read with me, I even have criteria for what I carry.  It has to be light weight, a paperback book or magazine do nicely, it cannot be something I’d be sad to lose should I happen to leave it behind and it should not require intense concentration.

Reading can be a good way to start a conversation.  Maybe you’ve read a common book, like I did here with someone who had read My Stroke of Insight or, if it’s a book you are curious about, a great opportunity to ask how the book is.