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The View from the Middle Back Seat

Remember the ride to school on the bus every day? Or maybe you’ve taken a public bus lately and can picture this in your head: The long, narrow aisle, the many seats on both sides, and on some buses, the special seat in the very back of the bus, right in the middle, at the end of the aisle.

I like that seat. In fact, I like it so much I’ve been sitting in it for more than 20 years.

Let me back up a bit and be very clear: I used to sit by a window. A window on the left, in fact.  Like others who had window seats, I’d stare out that window on my left, completely oblivious to those next to me and especially those way on the other side of the bus. Partly this was my youth, my need for excitement, and my self-centeredness, but partly it was because my view was ever-changing, ever-fascinating, and ever so much more interesting than the interior of that bus and the others along for the ride.

Did I notice the driver? Well, yes, I knew there was a driver, and I knew it was his job to get us where we were all going. Every four years I’d enthusiastically like or dislike this driver, and sometimes we’d get a new one. But overall, the trajectory of our bus stayed mostly straight and we did indeed stay on the road and not crash, so I didn’t complain—much. What I was paying attention to outside my window was much more interesting, anyway.

Finding a New Seat

But a couple of decades ago (it’s complicated), I got up from my left window and changed my seat. I considered moving to the window on the right side of the bus. Oh, I considered it very strongly—many of my new friends were there. I had been on the left side of the bus for so long that I could see that even though I liked many of the people there with me, and wanted them to like me back, they were far from perfect. In fact, they worried me a little and I definitely didn’t want to spend my whole life at a left-hand window. But would my ride be any different on the right side of the bus?

I sat by the right window for a short time. But as I suspected, it wasn’t any different, or any better, than the left window. Sitting far to the left and far to the right gave you the benefit of lots of stimulation, and you could easily tune out what was going on inside the bus with those nearer the aisle, but it wasn’t the right place for me. I tired quickly of the rapidly changing scenery and only having the same view as those along my own side of the bus. I felt like I wasn’t getting the full picture of what this bus ride with so many other people was all about.

So I moved. I now sit in the back, right at the end of the aisle, in the middle.

What It’s Like in the Middle of the Bus

It’s not a hotly contested seat. It can sometimes feel lonely. Many people seem to want the window seats; they say they’re the “best seats” and they eagerly grab them and sometimes won’t give them up for anything. They seem so confident, so comfortable with their seats, yet they are also always defending them, which must be exhausting.

Here in the back middle, nobody is clamoring for my seat. But it’s a good one. Let me tell you why.

I can easily turn and see directly behind me. In fact, I can see for miles where we’ve been, which gives me a better idea of where we’re going. It’s not a blur, either. It’s clear and moves at a pace that’s easier to comprehend and contemplate. I can also see ahead—right up the center aisle. I can see and hear everyone on the bus, not just those on my side or who are looking out the right- or left-hand windows. I can see the driver, keeping his eyes on the road (we hope) and getting us all safely where we need to go. Sure, we may encounter a storm or a flat tire along the way. We have to stop and change drivers every so often, but from my seat, I can see this happen over and over again and the bus just keeps on going. Sometimes I like the driver and sometimes I don’t, but my bigger concern is all of those people filling up the space behind him. So many people.

How This Ride Has Changed

Over the past few years, it’s been harder to sit where I sit in the middle of the bus. You see, the few people who hold the seats all the way on the left and the people who hold the seats all the way on the right have been arguing (this is why I ended up in the middle back seat in the first place—not for lack of caring but instead for lack of wanting to be continually angry). These arguments, while seeming to energize those with window seats, have been especially hard on the many more people who sit nearer the center of the bus. Because I’m in the back, I see this pretty clearly, and it’s painful to watch and hear.

It’s hard to believe, but here’s how bad it’s gotten: The people who sit at the left-hand window seats think that everyone on the right side of the aisle are racists, bigots, xenophobes, misogynists, science-deniers, and uneducated deplorables—not worth living. The people who sit at the right-hand window seats think that everyone on the left side of the aisle are communists, socialists, America-haters, rioters, science-deniers, and uneducated idiots—not worth living. What’s particularly scary is the recent cries from both sides of, “We’re doomed! It turns out that HALF the bus is this awful!”

From where I sit in the middle back seat, none of these things appear to be true. Oh, there are outliers, to be sure, and those with window seats can be very loud and proud about their unique but distorted perspective. But the vast, overwhelming majority of people on this bus just want to keep moving and to get where we’re going peacefully and enjoy this trip with those around them, on both sides of the aisle. Those of us in the middle, observing the whole picture, have also noticed how the driver is just one part of a much larger, complex system of checks and balances designed to keep our bus moving along in traffic smoothly and safely.

I wonder sometimes if those at the left and right window seats ever move their eyes in another direction, toward the center, even across the aisle, to truly see and hear the others on this bus. Do they mingle when we have rest stops? Do they eat lunch with someone from the other side? Do they stop with their loud right-window or left-window play-by-play long enough to listen to the conversation coming from nearer the aisle?

The window seats are coveted posts, I hear. But fighting over them can tear this bus apart.

6 thoughts on “The View from the Middle Back Seat

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