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The Rules of the Road : Commuting: Be nice to the driver. The roaches don't bite. Be on time. Here, in Bus Riding 101, are the important things quake-induced rookies should know.

January 31, 1994|DOUGLAS P. SHUIT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Their suits are a little too pressed. Their eyes dance alertly and excitedly, maybe out of fear--but probably because gritty urban experiences are new to them and the novelty hasn't worn off.

I speak of the new breed of bus riders.

It took an earthquake to get them out of their cars and onto the buses, but they aren't committed commuters yet. More like tourists, checking things out.

They give off an E-ride excitement that screams: "Gee-whiz, I'm actually riding the bus. Ain't this fun!"

And when they're not being wide-eyed, they're packing attitude, arriving on board dishing out tons of condescension. This may work in executive suites or health clubs, but not on buses. Buses, like earthquakes, are great social levelers. It is a wise commuter who remembers that in this world, it is the driver who is in charge of dispensing attitude adjustments.

Welcome to the bus culture.

Once you learn a few simple rules, things will get a whole lot easier and you might even enjoy the ride. Lots of us do. What follows is a 10-point program that will help get you there and back with a minimum of aggravation.

Point One: It pays to be courteous to the driver.

Drivers are good friends to have. They'll look and even wait for you at pickup points, and they'll make sure you don't sleep through your stop. On the other hand, riders who openly complain or insult their drivers by telling them how they can cut five minutes off the commute had better be ready to step up when the bus arrives. And if you're running late, you'd better be wearing running shoes because drivers aren't going to wait. They might even give the accelerator a little nudge to speed up a bit. Pay-back time.

Point Two: Look before you sit. You never know what to expect. Gum, puke, food crumbs and other stuff may be there. Bring along a rag to give your seat a once-over.

Point Three: The roaches don't bite.

New riders are sometimes startled to see a fat bug waddling down the aisle, blissfully ignorant of the havoc it's creating. Some people have even been known to shriek. Not to worry. They are harmless. On the other hand, don't pet the creatures. On a bus, you never know where they've been.

Point Four: Be on time.

A popular misconception is that buses run late. Wrong. If the bus stops at your corner at 5:42, be ready to eat exhaust fumes if you arrive at 5:43. On the other hand, don't schedule surgery and expect the bus to get you there on time. Buses overheat, break down and get caught in traffic jams just like cars. Sometimes they are very late. This usually happens when you need them the most.

Point Five: No one talks in the morning.

Exchanging pleasantries and small talk may be more tolerable during the evening commute, but don't try it in the morning. There is a good reason for this: Commuting by bus is a no-brainer from start to finish, so people don't wake up until they have to. They kind of stumble on board half-asleep. In such a state, they don't appreciate being awakened.

Point Six: Do your nails at home.

Clipping nails, putting on nail polish or pulling out an emery board in a bus is inviting trouble. Few things seem to bring out the worst in bus riders, but doing a manicure is one of them. Nail polish is smelly enough to overwhelm even highway stink, which is saying a lot.

Point Seven: Beware the windows.

Nothing, even nails, can touch off an on-board disturbance like windows. Buses have two levels of air conditioning: none or cold enough to refrigerate meat. But opening a window for relief, even a crack, can create a monster draft. Newspapers fly, bad hair days develop and mini-twisters swirl down aisles, picking up dirt, candy wrappers and other bus litter. Best to reach a consensus with other riders on this one.

Point Eight: Buy a pass.

This is the advice from a veteran driver, who says bus passes can help you avoid problems created when you leave your exact change as a lunch tip or have only a $10 bill and must beg other riders for change. Besides, pulling out big bills on buses can be risky. "Some bus lines are OK. You can carry $1,000 on you and not worry. But others, I wouldn't get on with a nickel in my pocket," one driver said.

Point Nine: Learn street-corner camouflage.

Bus riders do a lot of standing around Downtown street corners, so learning how to blend into the background is critical. Grungy raincoats help, particularly if they cover up designer suits. Looking prosperous or compassionate doesn't work here. You might as well hang a sandwich board around your neck saying, "Panhandlers! I'm fresh meat. Molest me." Veteran riders avoid eye contact and master these glazed, bored looks that say, quietly but firmly: "Go away."

Point 10: Think about a survival kit.

When you're all alone out there, with nothing but 20 or so miles of hard road ahead, you may find it handy to pack a radio. Earplugs help for the times when you get stuck next to a noisy window that wants to shake itself loose or if you happen to sit in front of people who shout as if they're in a wind tunnel. Maybe add a book or two so you can look busy when some newcomer gets on and wants to chat.

*

Shuit is a regular rider on MTA Bus No. 457. If he misses that bus, he catches the Blue Line , then takes the 121, 131 or 51 Long Beach Transit lines home.

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