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Light rail could become a heavy topic

By Jan Basina

No one knows if the proposed high-speed and light-rail transit projects will ever come rolling down the tracks here in Wisconsin. Word is it would provide a lot of good jobs, a nice bonus for construction workers.

But passengers might also reap some benefits: not rewards measured in tangibles — money or achievements — but moments shared with strangers that take us by surprise and turn ordinary events into magical moments that bring smiles to the soul.

I’ve experienced these brief encounters with strangers before, but was recently reminded again of this phenomenon that brings a smile to the soul.

On a Friday evening commute aboard a Milwaukee County Transit System bus, I heard “Welcome Aboard” upon entering. And as I settled in for the 45-minute ride I noticed that most people did a double take — as I did — as they were greeted by the bus driver. (A clue that this wasn’t going to be an ordinary ride home.)

“The bus is now rolling. Please keep your hands and feet inside your seats,” the bus driver boomed in a tone reminiscent of train conductors from the past.

“People in the back of the bus, can you hear me?” No answer. “Can you hearrrr me?” Finally, a weak and reluctant “Yeeeees” came from the back of the bus.

At first, most people tried to ignore the non-stop chatter coming from the front of the bus. But our driver asked trivia questions, joked with passengers, provided route information and even pointed out an historical marker along the way.

“Please look out the windows to left,” telling his captive audience the story of a horse trough that long ago served as a watering place for horses at the end of the line.

Indifference turned to smiles. There was no need for words. For a brief moment, a group of strangers were united by an experience shared by all.

As I stepped off the bus, I heard “Thank you for riding the bus.”

Thank you, Mr. Bus Driver for bringing a smile to my soul.

Trains, planes and buses are wonderful places to meet strangers and even once in awhile capture the magic.

I wonder, though, is the possibility of other magical moments, this time on regional trains, too expensive? Is it just one more luxury that Wisconsin might not want to maintain.

Jan Basina, a frequent rider of the Milwaukee County Transit System, is a data reporter at The Daily Reporter.

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