This is Bus Face

Flickr user Raymond Larose
by Flickr user Raymond Larose

A couple of months ago during the nighttime commute, I looked up from my book. I had taken the bus almost daily for several months since moving to D.C., but I hadn’t ever stopped to look—really look—at the faces of the people around me, dozens of professionals sitting and standing their way up Massachusetts Avenue. What I took in was troubling.

There were vacant stares, there were pouting lips, there was active frowning. Painful! Awful! The expressions were more troubled than Kurtz in Apocalypse Now. More apathetic than smokin’ Jay Cutler. More tortured than the Dust Bowl lady who was on one cover of The Grapes of Wrath.

In short, this is a serious—and I mean SERIOUS—condition. I call it bus face.

I get that people are stressed out and exhausted and whatever else, but there’s no animation in ’em. Where is the life, people? The couple sitting across from me on the bus that night were the ultimate victims of bus face: the lady had her head cocked to the side, and she was staring blankly toward the floor with a completely dejected expression. The guy next to her was fully wired with smart phone to earbuds. His shoulders were slouching, his neck loose, his eyes glossy. Suddenly I realized, oh my God, this man is a zombie. Commuters are the waking dead.

It’s excruciating to witness such a lack of animation. I wanted to rush over to the smart phone zombie and shake him, shouting, “NO!!! There’s so much more to life than bus face!”

SO much more to life—even for life on the commute! There is eye contact and there is laughter and there are smiles. Watching smart phone bus face zombie made me think of a prompt my teacher assigned in a high school creative writing class: When was the last time you reminded yourself you were alive? Fully ALIVE? Where? With whom? Doing what?

And how long ago was that?

Bus face has been a good teacher for me. I’m sure I’ve had bus face plenty of times—there are days when I go home with a headache, go home exhausted, go home stressed—so I don’t want to be too harsh. But since I first spotted bus face, I’ve started noticing—and appreciating—the other kinds of faces on the bus. I’ve noticed that the people most likely to be smiling or laughing are older women. I’ve noticed that children on the bus get everyone’s attention and most people’s smiles. I’ve noticed that the person who makes eye contact with the bus driver and says “thank you” is usually as far from bus face as you can get.

So here’s to avoiding bus face. And here’s to finding ways to remind ourselves, even on the bus, that we are alive—fully alive.

P.S. As my brother, dad, stepmom, and I discovered over the holidays, bus face makes a hilarious suggested expression for prompting silly photos. “Three, two, one—say cheese! And do bus face!” How dejected and vacant can YOU try to look?

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8 thoughts on “This is Bus Face

  1. Hi Lauren!

    I just used your post to supplement a conversation a friend and I were having. I was pointing out that a positive aspect of the blistering cold temps we’ve been having in the Midwest was that it makes it really easy to talk to strangers. It pulls people out of their shells and brings us together. Most people these days won’t even make eye contact with other people, let alone try to engage in conversation. But today a “Cold enough for ya?” worked magic. There is a guy who has worked in my office for a year and never spoken a word to me. So over the break room sink I brought up the weather, and that was all he needed: I learned where he was from, what sports his kids were in, old cars he used to own that wouldn’t start in the cold… we connected! It was great! We have this shared pain right now that pulls people out of their day-to-day concerns; each of us can relate to one another. I think the world needs more of it. Empathy, that is – not the brutal cold temps. 🙂

    1. Glad this idea could add to your conversation, Rob! I agree, the world does need more empathy. And in the absence of frigid cold temps, I think that studying faces, even bus faces, is a good place to start with that. So many faces, so many stories.

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