This Isn't Rosa Parks' Bus Anymore
I hate flying. It’s not a phobia, but flying is still a terrible experience for me. I don’t know why this is. It wasn’t until adulthood that I began to hate it. I get myself all worked up. I also tell myself that flying is a lot safer than driving. It doesn’t help. Multiple scenarios are produced by my brain where I end up dying in a plane crash. The worst of these scenarios are the ones where I get sucked out of a moving plane and fall to my death, kept alive before impact by a cruel fate so that I may experience terror all the way down. I know my hatred of flying is illogical and unnecessary. I know flying is one of the safest modes of transportation in the republic today. I still hate it.
I think it was my junior year of college when the family decided to have Christmas in Utah. I was living in Los Angeles at the time and was very much against flying to Salt Lake from LAX. So, I took the bus. Specifically, I took Greyhound. The price of a bus ticket on Greyhound was almost the same as a plane ticket. About five hours into my nearly 24-hour bus ride, I told myself that I should have flown. The irrational fear and the crushing anxiety could have been managed (after all it’s not a phobia), especially since the flight from LA to Salt Lake is only three hours long.
The problem wasn’t the view. It was the clientele. I was obviously one of only two or three students on a large, packed-to-the-brim bus. The rest were people who could not afford an automobile even though they did not spend most of their weekdays in class and most of their weekends at work.
Some appeared to be fresh out of prison. Many were under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Another wanted to trade sex for a place to stay in Salt Lake City. When we pulled up to one of Salt Lake City’s Greyhound terminals the SLCPD boarded the bus and, rather roughly, hauled a man out of his seat and wrestled him into the back of an unmarked police vehicle that had been waiting for us to arrive.
The American bus system has obviously changed since the 1950s. Greyhound, which played an important role in bussing desegregation activists into the deep south, caters to a very different class than it once did. And the bus line that Rosa Parks was famously arrested on was a privately run line, as public transit was not yet conceivable in most parts of the republic.
Mrs. Parks, by the way, was not the first African American to engage in civil disobedience on Montgomery’s bus lines. Bayard Rustin, Irene Morgan, Lillie Mae Bradford, Sarah Louise Keys, Claudette Colvin, Aurelia Browder, Susie McDonald, and Mary Louise Smith all got in trouble for civil disobedience on Montgomery’s bus lines prior to the obstinate stand of Mrs. Parks. They all sacrificed some temporary freedom in order to secure long-term liberty and justice for all.
The bus lines got involved, too. Prior to the civil rights struggle down south, bus companies would have terminals just before the Mason-Dixon line where they would, as a precaution, re-shuffle their paying customers into segregated rows. This was bad customer service and bad for bottom lines, so Greyhound and its rivals spent a good deal of time urging the federal government to actually enforce the 14th Amendment in the deep south. Finally, in uncoordinated tandem with the Freedom Rides that began in 1961, the feds began to comply with the numerous legal rulings that had restated segregation’s unconstitutional nature.
When Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, she was fighting for her right as a hard-working person entitled to equal treatment. But things on the bus have changed.
That long bus ride from Los Angeles to Utah was an eye opener. The struggles of our past, spearheaded by Rosa Parks on that December 1st of 1955, and the vastly different economy Americans now live in, has made the bus line obsolete. Where it once occupied prime social status, now it hosts only the marginal and destitute among us.