Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

I found out what people on the bus are thinking

Talking to strangers can bring diverse and surprising results

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Free Press intern reporter Jessica Botelho-Urbanski, on the No. 15, asks riders some heavy questions and gets some unusual answers.

JASON HALSTEAD / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Free Press intern reporter Jessica Botelho-Urbanski, on the No. 15, asks riders some heavy questions and gets some unusual answers. Photo Store

My parents always told me: "Don't talk to strangers!"

But I never listened.

Fluorescent lights flicker upon stained seats as I wander to the front of a bus, holding the hand straps as we bump down Dunkirk Avenue.

The No. 16 is mostly empty now except for a teenage couple cuddling on the back bench and a middle-age woman seated just behind me. She squawks into her Bluetooth in a language I can't understand.

I want to ask the driver a question but don't want to seem nosy. I ask anyway.

"When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?"

He scoffs.

"You're asking the wrong person there, girl!"

After hesitating a few moments, he opens up.

"I had a pretty broken childhood. I just wanted to be fed."

I've asked Winnipeg Transit riders about their lives on a weekly basis since September.

As part of our curriculum as Creative Communications students at Red River College, we're assigned the task of writing a weekly blog on a topic that interests us.

I chose transit buses because of the large number of people they attract and affect, and what started out as a school project has turned into something more.

As with any large group, bus riders shouldn't be typecast or stereotyped, yet countless bus trips have afforded observations. Transit-goers generally keep to themselves (i.e., are often into their tech devices), yet are friendly when approached.

When I asked 30 or so bus riders, "What is the No. 1 thing you want to do before you die?" there was a large variety of answers.

"Be successful -- have a house, have a family. I want to not have to take the bus anymore," said Claire, on Route 47.

"Get my PhD in Canadian history," said Allan, Route 16.

"Travel to Australia, because I don't believe it exists," said Matt, the bus driver on Route 16.

My favourite response was from Ahmed, Route 18.

"I want to die with peace of mind. It'll take lots of time, but I'd like to move away from this worldly rush."

Though I believe we're all a lot more similar than we are different, transit talks have taught me the necessity of hearing about those differences to create a diverse, accepting community in Winnipeg.

In September, I asked where people were when they found out about 9/11.

I talked to Frank as he waited for the No. 11 bus in front of the MTS Centre. He'd immigrated to Canada just eight months earlier and hoped to get his driver's licence so he'd no longer have to take the bus.

"I was at home in India when it happened," he said. "I was really sad and disappointed because so many innocent people were hurt.

"I feel safer in Canada than in India -- there's more freedom, privacy and security."

Jody, when asked the same question on the 54 bus, said, "I felt horror at the thought of all these people dying. I think terrorism is more of an issue for Americans; they're more of the military power in the world -- everybody hates them!"

Riding the bus seems to equalize people. Everyone in that enclosed space has their own struggles and stressors. They have lives outside the bus they'd rather be enjoying instead of being squished between strangers.

I try to take photos of the people I interview, though they don't always oblige. I find putting a face to a quote often makes the person's words much more powerful.

There's one young man I really wish I'd gotten a photograph of.

His name was Mackenzie. He donned horn-rimmed glasses while leaning casually against the wall of a bus shack in front of city hall one afternoon.

He had to run to catch the No. 18 right after answering my question.

"If you could have dinner tonight with anyone in the world, dead or alive, who would it be?"

"Rob Ford," he said immediately. "I think he's awesome. Other than the crack thing, he's never really done anything wrong in politics. Other than his addictions, he's not a bad mayor."

He paused for a moment.

"Him or Gandhi."

jessica.botelho-urbanski@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 27, 2013 0

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