Crass Transit: The Depressing Necessity of the Embark Bus Service

When I was in the hospital recovering from my hemorrhagic stroke, I was informed by a doctor that I’m not allowed to drive an automobile again, mostly for fear of a sudden reoccurrence while I’m behind the wheel, leading to my death and, possibly, the vehicular manslaughter of others.

As one could easily presume, it has limited much of my life in this big league city. For longer trips across town, be it for various doctor appointments, some food reviews or even trips to the record store, I usually have to wait on people to make a sliver of time for me, which, sadly, is becoming rarer and rarer as the days drag on.

So, with a limited set of options in front of me, I have started to rely somewhat heavily on Oklahoma City’s revamped public transportation, Embark. With over 25 routes including weekday trips to Norman and Edmond, the city bus is a mostly cost-effective way—if your whole day is free, natch—to get to that one place you’re supposed to be going and, if you’re lucky enough to have one, back home.

Most days, I stand alone at the bus stop on N.W. 16th Street. With just a metal sign designating the area, the route I take to the downtown transit center is the 10. The fare is $1.75 and I have the quarters counted and separated, my sweaty palms fumbling with them in my pocket, always nervously looking to the horizon—there’s a paranoid fear that I somehow missed the bus constantly lurking.

The winner of the 2016 American Public Transportation Association’s Outstanding Public Transit System Award, I regularly feel like a winner myself when I make it through an entire ride without some kind of low-rent folly to ruin my day, from tripping over my feet when the bus accelerates before I have a chance to sit down to vague threats of being gutted by one of the numerous dudes with a thousand-yard stare that haunts the seat behind me.

You know, I repeatedly hear those well-coiffed hipsters bray on and on about the importance of mass transit, but I have never actually seen them use it; I suppose they’d rather just leave it to die with us, the impoverished animals with no meaningful futures.

The gears grinded and hissed air when we pulled into the downtown transit center, probably the purest distillation of Oklahoma City that only the blessed proletariat without a car will ever know. Stepping off the platform onto the concrete, it’s easy to notice how the walkway is covered in globs of spittle, as well as cigarette butts, wads of discarded gum and plenty of trash that the wind blows around incessantly.

An untrusting police officer, hands on his belt, scowled nearby. This day, a big dude on a bike asked me for some spare change and I gave him what I got, probably thirty-five cents. He was unhappy, but kept it anyway.

Whenever I sit on the bench, waiting for the next bus to show up, instead of listening to music on my headphones, I pay rapt attention to the abrasive conversations around me; it’s typically men arguing with women who say how they won’t take their “shit no more,” but they still do. There is always a couple or two in the middle of a boisterous fight. Always.

And in case your lonely heart is wondering (wandering?), the transit center isn’t the place to make a love connection; instead, it’s where the romantic dreams that we all once had go to get kicked in the chest a few more times. Don’t make eye contact, by the way.

Across the street is an ancient bodega where the EBT card-swiper is used more than the cash register. Shining brightly off to the side is a heated display case of deep-fried burritos, surrounded by shelves of snack cakes, cans of soda and strange European treats that I’ve never seen anywhere else. The money that gets earned panhandling at the depot usually comes right back here; it’s a great way to keep the money in the community, I say.

As the bus that I’m transferring to parked and unloaded—I’m hitching a ride on the 9 to make an appointment at the Indian Clinic—I ran into a kid that used to go to my old church. He’s grown considerably taller and wider, but he’s dropped out of high school and spends a good part of his day hanging at the transit center, just looking for something to do.

He was back out there when I was at the transit center the following week, exchanging only subtle hellos as we brushed by each other. I was headed south to Norman on the Sooner Express for the last time; it’s free to ride that route, in case you’re wondering.

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Follow Louis on Twitter at @LouisFowler and Instagram at @louisfowler78.