The outside of the bus is green, in a very local style. Buenos Aires has an esthetic from the glory days of Tango. Days when those nostalgic songs poured out of clubs around the city and trams ran over cobble stones. Lovers held each other on sweltering summer nights, sharing mate in mornings when the great vault of the austral sky hung impossibly high. Or nights like this when the winds of the approaching winter roll off the Andes and sweep across the city on their way to peter out in the doldrums of the South Atlantic.
The green bus with its retro paint job rolls up to the stop. It’s a fancy stop on a high density line, though the bus takes off on its own path after here. I hop on and tell the driver my destination. The doors close, three sets of them. With a jolt we begin our journey in earnest across the city. I make my way back to a seat in the raised section of the bus between the second and third door.
The busses here ply their routes 24 hours per day. A never ending cycle of busses running their paths across the teeming capital. The bus passes Plaza Italia and heads on to a wide, empty road. For the next several blocks you can still see the tram tracks in the road. They have been without trains for decades, yet somehow through what must be many repavings they have been left alone- silent monuments to a different time.
I look around the bus, at the interior reflected by the windows. The seats are mostly full, and there are a few standing passengers. I can’t help but wonder what they are all doing riding this bus at this hour- any 24 hour public transport must inspire the same question in all riders.
I boarded in a bar district. Most people who got on are in a similar frame of mine as I. The bar district is a bit on the yuppy side, so the revelers are not exactly getting wasted on box wine, though some like I could have had their fair of street beers or cheap bottles at parties.
Others range in age from teenagers to old people. Some look like they are dressed for work, perhaps some shift that ends late. Others seem to be perfectly normal- they’d look the same at this hour or at 3 pm. I watch this odd room travel down the road in fits and starts as it halts at stop after stop and accelerates to the next.
The 24 hour busses are one of my favorite parts of Buenos Aires. There is something special about these vehicles carrying people from destination to destination across the darkened city. Some must ply routes that are far from safe, others connecting one high class area to another, most though are like this one, a bit of both in the long arc it cuts across the city.
One feeling I always get in big cities is the overwhelming yet fascinating feeling that everyone has a life as rich and complex as mine. The Germans call it ‘sonder.’ In moments like these you feel it acutely. A bus of people all starting at different places and ending at different places. All probably just want to get home, some to lonely apartments, some to bustling houses, some will sleep in the arms of lovers, some alone, some in the arms of temporary lovers both free and paid for.
On these nights, between the booze, the green, and the community of the bus I feel part of humanity, and on nights of sadness which seem to never be strangers, it is greatly comforting. I’ve wanted to spend a whole night riding various buses just picking up the feelings and seeing the city glow in the night.
But they don’t allow beers on busses, well sometimes they do, but it’s a risk and, well, some experiences are best experienced in tipsy moderation and with cold beers saved for the end of the night.