Do we paint on placid faces out of fear of interaction as Simmel (Simmel 14; Simmel, Frisby, & Featherstone 154) suggested or merely avoid encounters in our goal of anonymity as Makagon postulated (3)? Instead, provided with the fertile conditions to converse (proximal seating and a common, or general knowledge, topic), it appeared that many individuals choose to talk rather than avoid. In some cases, such as that of necessity or pre-existing familiarity, to not speak, moreover, would result in either a missed bus stop or a slighted friend.

In fact, it is probably the ready availability of common topics, what we could also term “common ground,” that not only enables immediate interaction among strangers, but could also account for the development of bus relationships such as the ones I shared with Chris, Ed and Justin. According to several interpersonal communication studies, common ground knowledge accumulates as we self-disclose and learn more of the Other, and, subsequently, communication becomes more accurate and efficient (Clark & Wilkes-Gibbs, Wilkes-Gibbs & Clark). Additionally, Planalp and Benson discovered that individuals were able to correctly choose between conversations of friends over those of strangers through identification of artifacts of mutual knowledge (Planalp & Benson). For these developing bus-relationships, the greatest potential lies in repeated conversations, a build up of the every day. Not only does the range and depth of topics of conversation increase, but so does the potential for deepening the friendships. Conversely, in a spare encounter of a few minutes, even when individuals find a topic of mutual knowledge or interest, time will nearly always limit interpersonal interaction, particularly if the interaction is not repeated. Such limited interactions are underscored by the reality that nothing exceptionally bad will happen, but nothing brilliant either.

When I get on the bus, a black male rider in his 50s up front is talking to the driver. They both say “hello” as I get on the bus. It’s all men and me for the first few stops. I would never feel unsafe here. In many ways the bus is more a place of civility than the sidewalk downtown or the middle of campus where you hear about crimes against women. No, on the bus I am safe, protected from the ills of society.

Adam Gopnik articulated just such a sentiment as he traveled on the bus in fearful post-911 New York City (Gopnik 3). Is the bus the "best" place to be in the city, then? No, if you think about it, I’m also deprived of the best of the culture here, too. The bus is so temporally constructed with each one getting on and off, that neither the very good nor the very bad have time to develop here.

A pass or money is required to ride.

Personal maps likewise play into this theory. Although I struggled to find examples of individual’s specific personal maps, hints existed that they informed personal topic choice. As the one man said to the other as we passed Central Baptist Hospital, he was “thinking about you as we got close to the hospital” and as Mary pointed out the concrete foundations of many UK buildings, she recounted the life of her concrete-laying father. Obviously, private maps, the evolution of a physical place and a personal meaning, linger beneath the surface of many, if not all, riders. At the very least, public maps such as that of the drowned women’s memorial at the drainpipe, lingered very shallowly in the collective conscious and became a topic of common ground in our conversations.

I bring my experience and my personal maps as an individual to the bus, but it is our combined experiences and public maps and the possible communication of such experiences that create the collective experience that Augé (2002) celebrates on the Paris subway:

…the law of the metro inscribes the individual itinerary into the comfort of collective morality, and in that way it is exemplary of what might be called the ritual paradox: it is always lived individually and subjectively; only individual itineraries give it a reality, and yet it is imminently social, the same for everyone, conferring on each person this minimum of collective identity through which a community is defined (p. 30)

Ending on such a hopeful, happy note would be encouraging, but so is the dark side to such a theory--after all, as postulated in the theoretical framework of this project, Lexington is much more like LA than Paris. Not every interaction and map builds this collective. Instead, in every case I witnessed or experienced, inappropriate talk isolated the individuals involved. And, not only was it an experience to which most individuals in the collective could not relate, or that civil society would condone, the experience also had the power to polarize:

In the back, the young man is talking to the Hispanic female that sits two rows behind me. I cannot turn around to look at them; it would be obvious I was looking at them because there is no other reason for me to turn around. So I listen, she says, don’t I know you?” to the man? “Yeah,” he says, “aren’t you Louise’s friend?” “Yeah,” she says. They chat for about 30 seconds about Louise and then he asks about her “old man.” She loudly says, “I found out he was married in Mexico with kids, you know. He beat me and then he left.” He asks rather matter-of-factly, “what are you going to do?” to which she says defiantly “I don’t care.” There is a very long, audible silence.

In an interview, Eric described a similar isolating/polarizing example. Two women argued vehemently over an open window while the other riders listened silently. Then, when he disembarked with one of the women later, he commented in camaraderie, “Whoa! She was a real bitch!” The woman turned on him and spat out, “Yea, well I didn’t see you do anything about it!”

Invisible cultural boundaries appeared to possess the same extreme results of splitting the collective. While my favorite and most intimate interview was with a woman of color (Mary), I couldn’t help but wonder about my exclusion from the Northside bus. More troubling was the possibility that I was rejected on no other basis than my color (white) in another incident:

In the meantime, a 17- or 18-year old black female enters the transit center waiting room with a two-year old girl. The little one wants to play peek-a-boo with me. The mother turns so her back is partially toward me and tells the girl to come over by her. “It’s ok,” I say, “she’s adorable. Now that my daughter’s older I miss this age.” She doesn’t say anything, just looks at me and tells the girl, “Let’s go.” They walk right outside the waiting room. The little girl wants to come back in but her mother won’t let her. After a few minutes, two other African-American women walk up and the mother chats animatedly, happily. The mom and girl then get on the bus in front of me. I can see them, laughing and talking to the others on the bus.

Am I looking for ethnic issues and community divide? The woman’s obvious non-communication was surely a rejection, although my sister-in-law, a social worker of two decades, pointed out that this girl was also a teenager and that’s another issue altogether.

It is in the margins, the inappropriate talk and the invisible cultural maps that have the potential to isolate individuals and polarize the collective, that I see as a direction for future research. Not only were these the most elusive instances during the two months, but such incidents brought up more questions than they answered. What exactly makes a message inappropriate? Is it a moral or a privacy issue? When does self-disclosure cross the line? But mostly, were do the cultural/racial boundaries lie?

Future projects need to go beneath the romantic gloss, examine the history and deeply held maps of individuals and groups. What is the story behind what we (don't) see? I didn't see many cultural maps, but I also didn't really, truly look for them. While the study did confirm relational interaction and cultural maps on a surface level, approaching these issues subsequently needs to be about dialog and discourse, about what is and is not observable.

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