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Twin Cities Daily Planet: On the bus: public moments, personal stories

TWIN CITIES DAILY PLANET

A woman exposes her breast to feed her infant. A pedantic, self-appointed social and fashion critic disparages four pony-tailed men. Overly energized frat boys mock a Dale Earnhardt fan by chanting “Dale is Dead.” A kooky old man wears a mousetrap on his ear. Have you ever ridden on a city bus and had similar tales to tell? Rett Martin, originator of BusTales.com, encourages you to express yourself and share stories of your encounters while riding on city buses around the Twin Cities.

Martin, a local Web designer, regularly uses public transit and often gets bored during his commute. At such moments, he puts down his book to watch and listen to other passengers.

“They become characters in your life,” he said. Believing that other passengers had similar stories to tell, and inspired by the “Overheard In” series, of which “Overheard in Minneapolis” is a part, he started BusTales.com as a personal project to allow fellow bus passengers to share their experiences, to enlighten and entertain. The site is funded as Martin’s personal project, with some revenue generated by advertising on the site.

Anyone can submit stories to BusTales.com and get his or her story published, as long as the story avoids offense and stereotypes, doesn’t merely complain, and relates a memorable moment. Responses to stories by users of the site entertain nearly as much as the stories themselves. The most popular story of the 250+ available on the site concerns the woman who chose to breast-feed in public. What started as ruminations on the ambiguous and weird moment by a male bus passenger turned into a public forum about the crudeness of the modern man, who has allowed himself to be hypnotized by media and marketing into seeing female breasts as solely sexual in nature and not a functional part of a woman’s body.

The site is set up so that each story includes the route number of the bus on which the story happened. The route numbers are color coded to coincide with Metro Transit bus schedules. To read all of the stories on a particular route, simply click on the route number to bring up a list of stories for that route.

The stories relate a broad spectrum of experiences, but the most popular and those that Martin likes the best are unusual and challenge sensibilities.

“Most of the stuff that sticks in peoples minds is the gross and the weird,” Martin said.

“Bus time is used as a replacement time for…private time at home,” Martin said, giving his reason for what accounts for the heightened occurrences of people doing things like putting on makeup, dressing, breast-feeding, talking on the phone, and eating on the bus. In such an environment, odd and interesting things are bound to happen.

Not all of the stories are negative. Many concern unusual experiences that promote bonding and understanding. One such story relates a conversation between a woman from Cameroon and a white man about the meaning of the word “girlfriend” and the differences in social mores between the two cultures. Another concerns a man and woman who met after riding the bus together for a year before finally dating and getting married.

Martin has only gotten one call from Metro Transit, but it wasn’t a complaint. He said they don’t seem too concerned about his site discouraging people from taking the bus. In fact, Metro Transit advertises on the site. Bus drivers on the routes the stories concern are among those who respond to the stories and are overall good sports about the project. Metro Transit was unavailable for comment for this story.

Evidently, the surge in gasoline prices nationwide has more people than usual experiencing daily life on the bus. MetroriderLA in Los Angeles, Bus Chick in Seattle, and Bus Stories in Albuquerque exemplify similar projects in other major cities where visitors to these sites contribute stories and opinions about their experiences riding the city bus.

You can read stories and reader responses, or post your own story at Bus Tales. For information on bus routes and schedules, see Metro Transit. For an interesting array of random linguistica, log onto Overheard in Minneapolis.

Mark Weaver grew up in Fairborn, Ohio and then embarked on a life journey that has taken him across the U.S. and around the world. He has spent the last ten years teaching linguistics and English as a second language at colleges and universities in Texas, Minnesota, and California. Before that, he worked with a linguistics organization in Ethiopia. He is currently a freelance writer living in Minneapolis.

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