Amy B. Smoyer, PhD

Incarcerated Lives, Health & Social Work

Walking to the Bus

After the morning commute.

I biked to work today. Unremarkable because I am living in Copenhagen where structures are in place to make biking easier, cheaper, and faster than any other mode of transport. Remarkable for me, however, because it was raining. I have previously avoided biking in the rain because it seemed cold and slippery but today as I walked out of my building, I noticed that all the bikes (except mine) were gone so I got peer-pressured into it.  If my little 5 year old neighbor can bike in the rain, so can I. Lean in.

Overall the trip was uneventful. The huge elevated bike path means that passing cars don't splash you and I wasn't going at any speed that risked slamming on brakes or sliding into traffic. However, it did become immediately apparent to me that I did not have the right gear. I definitely need a pair of those rain pants that everyone was wearing.  Not a very stylish, to be sure, but neither is all morning at work with soaked blue jeans. As the Danes say, "There's no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes."

And then there was the issue of my eye make-up which is, apparently, not waterproof. See my Viking friend Floki above for the visual. Together with the soaked blue jeans, a pretty chic look.

What I really want to write about today, however, is not the famous Copenhagen bike system but the less renowned bus system. For me, the buses are one of the most remarkable and telling parts of life in Denmark. What I have noticed every time I take the bus is that no one ever runs to the stop. 

Most of my bus riding experience comes from taking the J and D lines in New Haven, my lovely hometown on the Long Island Sound. The hearty bus riders of Elm City will tell you, if you see the bus coming down the road, you better run for it. Fast. Bags? Children? High heeled shoes? No matter. You better run because the next bus might be coming in 20 minutes, or not. Really, you have no idea when the next bus is coming so you better get that one you can see if you intend to get to your destination any time soon.

Here the 2A bus that runs through Vanløse and Frederiksberg into the center of Copenhagen seems to run every 5-10 minutes, all day, every day. What that means is that you don't have to run. If you have just missed a bus, you will wait only 5 minutes and then another bus will come. To further reassure you, each bus stop has a little digital board that indicates when the next bus will arrive. And so all you have to do it stand patiently and wait, observe the street life, practice breathing, send a text, but don't worry, the bus is on its way.

In my mind, this reliable bus phenomenon epitomizes what it means to live in a large social welfare state. There is a lack of anxiety that really takes the edge off of everyday life. You can breathe deep and relax knowing that if you miss the bus, another one will come and you will still be on time to your destination. If you fall and break you arm, you will go to the hospital and be mended without risking bankruptcy. If you want to further your education, university and professional schools are free and you will receive a small salary while studying. If you lose your job, you will receive adequate unemployment compensation until you get your next job. If you make a mistake, you will be punished but your life will not be ruined. Worst case scenario, you end up with wet jeans and messy make up. Don't panic, don't stress. The next bus is just around the bend.