The MTA rolled out dark blue, accordion-style articulated buses equipped with wi-fi a couple months ago and already I've seen them all over the Bronx, Brooklyn and Northern Manhattan. They look better than the older white ones and they can fit more people, but change – especially in urban design – scares people because of what it represents. To at least one guy I met today, the bus, it seems, is a symbol for a city changing too fast and leaving people like him behind.
I barely noticed a new bus traveling west along 155th Street that passed me while I waited to cross the intersection at St. Nicholas Ave. until the middle-aged white guy standing next to me blasted it.
"Isn't that ugliest fucking bus you've ever seen?" he barked.
I didn't want to get into it.
"It looks European," I said and started walking.
"Yeah well how much is that costing us? You know we're the ones paying for it with our taxes."
This guy was talking about a new bus in Washington Heights the way white guys usually talk about welfare recipients. I felt like I was having a "Just Between Us" conversation – what New Orleans native and author Michael Tisserand called sly, racist exchanges between white people in a New York Times op-ed last month – about a piece of public transportation. The tax complaint made me think his hot take is informed less by a poor eye for design and more by an insecurity about what the shift may mean for him. It's NIMBYesque stubbornness.
To him, I imagine, the bus represents a City culture that prioritizes diversity and progress – change he might fear coming at his expense in a zero-sum social capital game – where the familiar features of a commute get replaced by something newer, more efficient. Meanwhile, guys like him are left bitching about who's using their tax dollars and longing for some nostalgic stability, like a familiar white bus with a Rocking Horse Ranch advertisement on the side.