The Berkeley Bus

By Eilene Lyon

(for SB)

My recent trip to California included a four-day stay in Berkeley to do research. My hotel was a few miles from the UC campus.

I don’t often take public transportation – it isn’t an option where I live. I asked at the hotel desk about the bus to campus. It stopped within a block and so I made my way to the curb in the morning.

When I boarded the next 51B to come by, I was confronted by the fare machine and a kind-faced driver, a black woman. Not small, not large, a good size, lush eyelashes curled heavenward.

“Can you tell me which stop I need to get off at to go to the library on campus? Near the clock tower?”

She pondered the matter carefully, not seeming the least inconvenienced or impatient. “I think you want to get off at College Drive – that’s where I turn around. Yeah, I think that’s the best place.”


I thanked her, put my $5 in the fare machine for an all-day pass and took a seat near the front.

As we got further downtown and closer to UC, the bus filled up quickly. Soon it was standing-room only. An older white woman boarded – maybe early 70s, hair dyed black, looked like a woman I met on my last trip to California (oh geez, I hope it wasn’t her).

She took a place standing not far from me.

A short time later, the driver pulled over to the curb and parked the bus. She released her seat belt, got up and walked back to two young women.

“Ladies, these seats ah reserved for the older fokes. Get up and let this woman here have a seat.”

Sheepishly, they complied. Raven-hair and I exchanged a look. I got it. But she dutifully took one of the now-vacant seats.

But what really charmed me by the time I had departed the bus was this:

Everyone who exited the bus – front or rear door – said “Thank you” to the bus driver. Surprising enough, but then…

She warmly replied, “You’re welcome!” to Every. Single. One.


Feature image: by Manki Kim on Unsplash

44 thoughts on “The Berkeley Bus

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  1. I haven’t ridden on public buses in years. Not an option where I live. I’m charmed by the polite exchanges between driver and disembarking passengers. Nice to read about real people being kind.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I have ten brothers and sisters which means my mother was “always” pregnant and she impressed upon me that being a young strong boy, I should surrender my seat to pregnant ladies, or old people or men who had been working hard all day and needed a rest. (Note the distinction here between blue and white collar).

    The thing is, years later, when I faithfully follow that tradition, people are shocked.

    And that is shocking.

    As an aside, one day (too soon) I fear some young woman, maybe even a pregnant one, will stand and offer me her seat. 🙂 🙂 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. An engaging slice of life, Eilene, I enjoy your travel pieces , particularly the ones about the outdoors and nature. But you can do urban too! Vancouver has a good transit system and I use it a lot….the etiquette around giving up seats resonates! JIM

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the compliments, Jim. I don’t spend much time in cities, so it’s an unusual experience for me. Most of my public transportation experiences have been in Europe, not the U. S.


  4. I never know whether to be flattered that I don’t look 70+ or annoyed with young people, but here in MN (supposedly where the “nice” people reside) I have never been offered a seat on a crowded bus. Young people here seem oblivious, or simply ignorant. Good story, and I’m glad to see that things are different in my home state of CA.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. That is a great story! And I’ll say not only good for the driver but good for the two young women who were chastised for accepting the counsel. I wonder if that would work in the high-stress/aggressive Northeast. I hope it would!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I haven’t ridden public transportation in years. Glad to read your story. And to have it be uplifting in a simple, lovely way.

    Hope your research was successful.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The research yielded some great bits, but not necessarily where I was expecting. I wish I’d spent more time in the newspaper room and reference stacks than in the archives. Guess I’ll plan another trip!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Me, too. Especially after Amsterdam last year when I misread the train table. What should have been a 5 or 10 minute trip took over an hour. Had to get off the train and catch one going back the way we came!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. London bus drivers are a mixed bag. Some do greet you, and others just ignore you. It seems like the single decker drivers are friendlier than the double decker ones – some of them have said “you’re welcome” to me when I thank them, instead of just ignoring me. Most people do thank the driver when they get on and off, though I can’t quite bring myself to refer to the driver as “driver” like many older people do, as in “Thank you Driver!”

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I really enjoyed your story a lot, Eilene, and you did a great job of sharing it. As a Bay Area resident, I found it espec. lovely. I thank every driver as I am getting off a bus, ferry, train, or whatever, often they will respond with a “you’re welcome.” I have not, however, ever seen a bus driver pull the vehicle over, walk back, and make behavioral order among riders. You had a special moment and a special driver.

    Liked by 1 person

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