There are precious few great places for people watching in this recluse town, but outside of the state fair, I’d put the bus up there with any of them. Where else are you going to see an old white woman and a young black man sitting down shoulder to shoulder for a half hour on a winter day? Where else will a stranger’s toddler talk to you face to face for ten minutes, and you won’t be creeping anyone out?
There are some huge drawbacks to riding the bus, but most of the time the social experience is one of the things that makes you feel good about living in the Twin Cities.
Different routes have different characters. We put it to you, the readers, to vote for which Twin Cities’ bus was the best for people watching. On the one hand, I’m not sure how useful this poll is likely to be. After all, how many bus lines have most of us traversed? Over the years I have only been a “regular” on a few: the 3, the 94, the 67, the 16/51, the 21/53, (and OK maybe the 17, the 144, the 6, and the 18). My window on the bus is but a tiny fraction of the network. I’d bet that’s true for most of us.
That said, there are clearly some buses that are better than others. Empty buses are rather boring, except when they’re not.* Buses that traverse very unlike areas, such as the #16, are pretty great. I have a few wonderful stories about riding the #3. I love watching families, people who still dress like its the 1980s, people who wear nothing but a jean jacket in below-zero weather, young kids excited about everything, and overhearing a conversation that you’d never be likely to hear anywhere else.
The downside of riding the #21 is that the only slower mode of transportation is hot air balloon. The upside is that it goes along Lake Street, the most interesting, diverse avenue in the Twin Cities. It’s one of the few bus lines that avoids its downtown. I’ve ridden the length of it multiple times, from Hennepin Avenue all the way to downtown Saint Paul. It feels like purgatory, and gives you plenty of time for people watching.
(The #16 came in second place, because it was stuck in traffic and stopped every block.)
*For some reason, buses on Saint Paul’s West Side (where I live) are very lively!