Attempts At Adulthood

The Wheels on the Bus: A Misleading View of Public Transit

If someone came up to me and said, “Hey– if you had a choice between listening to the song ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ for four consecutive hours or eating a bowl of bacteria-ridden fingernail clippings, which would you pick?”  I would go, “So wait…are they my own fingernail clippings?” or “How much bacteria is on them?”

I’m sure there are people who love this song.  I’m sure there are a few women going, “Wheels on the bus?  I danced with my father to that song at my wedding.”  I’m sure there are women who have incredibly fond memories of singing “Wheels on the Bus” and are considering getting the lyrics tattooed on the smalls of their respective backs.   I am not one of those people.

I don’t love this song, and it’s not just because it’s mind-numbingly repetitive and unnecessarily upbeat and boring.  It’s also because, as someone who doesn’t own a car and travels almost exclusively on public transit, it has nothing to do with reality:

1.  The wheels on the bus go round and round

aa wheels bus the ugly volvo

The only thing spinning round and round is my head when I realize how late I made myself by trying to travel via bus.

No they don’t.  Anyone who thinks the wheels on the bus go round and round has clearly never traversed Manhattan on the M42 or M14A.   The wheels on the bus stay completely immobile, often in the middle of an intersection, often while other vehicles are honking at you.  In a best case scenario, the wheels on the bus turn slowly for a few seconds and then abruptly stop.  And then turn, and then stop.  And then you look out the window and a snail is passing you, and also you have an appointment in five minutes.

*               *               *

2.  The people on the bus go up and down

aa people on the bus the ugly volvo

People on the bus go emotionally up and down and you might want to watch out when that happens.

Sometimes they do, depending on the road conditions and frequency of potholes, but I wouldn’t list that as the “defining characteristic” of the people on the bus.  In addition to their “up and down-ness,” the people on the bus:

-look at their watches every fifteen seconds, then angrily up at the driver, and then angrily back at their watches

-exert loud, passive-aggressive sighs

-have unnaturally loud cell-phone conversations about how slow the bus is moving

-go, “Hey– hey, can you just let me off here?  JUST LET ME OFF THE BUS.”

*               *               *

3.  The horn on the bus goes beep beep beep

aa horn on the bus the ugly volvo

If a child is driving your bus it is usually a good indication that today is just not going to go well for you in general.

The horn on the bus stays silent most of the time.  When used, it rarely goes “beep beep beep” but rather is leaned on for three to four minutes at a time, usually because someone four cars up is texting and hasn’t noticed that the light has changed.

*               *               *

4.  The wipers on the bus go swish swish swish

aa wipers on the bus the ugly volvo

Anyone who thinks wipers go “swish swish swish” is living in a dream world.

You know that sound when it’s 6PM on a Thursday and you’re sitting in a fluorescently-lit bus during a rainstorm, fighting off your seasonal affective disorder, overcome by a deep, hormonal sadness that makes you wonder if you did the right thing bringing a baby into such a cruel, unfeeling world?  That’s how the wipers sound.  They sound like that, but with the added “squeeeeeee” of something rubbing against wet glass.  I have no idea who came up with “swish swish swish.”  It’s wrong.  “Swish swish swish” sounds like the tail of a saucy cartoon cat trying to seduce someone.

5.  The driver on the bus goes “Move on back”

p1 busdriver

Or, judging by this photo, the driver of the bus goes “text text text.”

In my experience, the driver on the bus says, “Sorry, exact change only.”  If you ask the driver something like, “Is this going to Houston and Avenue A?”, he or she will nod yes or no but will say nothing.  Occasionally he or she will say something like, “Two Zone transfer, $4.00” without looking at you.

*               *               *

6.  The babies on the bus go wah wah wah

aa baby on the bus

Yes, this photo is a baby on a plane but really is it that hard to ignore the tray table and use your imagination?

Close, but the actual cry is less rhythmic.  It’s more of an ear-splitting “whhhhaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhh,” with that nails-on-a-chalkboard sound that immediately makes young twenty-something women remember to take their birth control pills.

*               *               *

7.  The mommies on the bus go shhh shhh shhh

aa mommy on the bus the ugly volvo

“Someday, sweetheart, maybe we can afford a Zipcar account or something.”

The mommies on the bus maybe go shhh shhh shhh for thirty seconds before they realize it isn’t working and start going, “What do you want? You want cheerios?  Do you want juice?  What’s wrong?!” and the babies on the bus keep going wah wah wah, and the mommies on the bus go, “What do you want?!  Just tell me what you want?!?!” and the mommies on the bus sit on the hard plastic seats, their faces buried in their hands, going “What am I doing with my life?  I love my kids but am totally wasting my graduate degree!”

   *               *               *

8.  The daddies on the bus go “I Love You”

aa dad on the bus

This guy is half, “I love you” and half “I’m so glad you’re sleeping, please keep sleeping.”

So I’ll give tons of credit to the daddies who are actually going “I love you,” but I’d say 40% of the time the daddies are not even ON the bus:  They’re at home or at work, and when the mommy on the bus gets home, the daddy goes, “Hey, how was the bus ride, honey?”  and the mommy has to hold herself back from punching him in the neck because she knows it’s not his fault but she’s filled with rage and anxiety about having to ride public transit with a one-year-old.  If the daddies are on the bus, maybe 5% of them are going “I Love You” and the other 95% are playing a hand-held video-game or staring off into space, fantasizing about being single and childless and maybe having sex with a cocktail waitress.

*               *               *

9.  The Crazy Person on the bus goes, “Hey, do you mind if I sit here?  I know we just met three seconds ago, but can I tell you about how they faked the moon landing?”

aa crazy person the ugly volvo

The entire bus could be empty and still they will walk over and sit in the seat directly next to you.

Ok, so fine, this is not actually one of the lyrics but that only speaks to the inexperience of the person who wrote this song.  That should have been your first clue– failing to mention the total lunatic that plops down next to you and begins talking your ear off about how “intergalactic beings are colonizing Delaware and investing in companies that make flat screen televisions” is a pretty good indication that whoever wrote this song has never ridden a bus in their life.


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36 Responses to “The Wheels on the Bus: A Misleading View of Public Transit”

  1. Janet

    I like to think of this song–my son’s favorite–as intentionally ironic. The melody is so sweet while every single bus ride ever is f-ing awful. And the mommies say “Shh, shh shh”?! That has worked never times in the history of the world.

  2. pensitivity101

    Loved it. Here’s another missing line :
    The boys on the bus go Thump, Thump, Thump
    The two I looked after had a punch up. It was the only time I took them for a bus ride.

  3. Brooke

    As the tv show Shameless put it, “the people on the bus all smell like pee, smell like pee, smell like pee…”

  4. Deanna Greene

    I don’t disagree with anything you’re saying. I actually rode the bus with the guy in #9, except he also smelled like stale pot smoke, which added a completely new layer to the crazy.

  5. jimmydavis125

    Sat across from a homeless woman as she ate dry pancake mix straight straight out of the box. All I could think was “this woman’s saliva glands must be a force of nature.” Also, “drugs are amazing.”

  6. Rebbecca

    You are so amazingly eloquent and hysterical with explaining the 11 mo experience! We LOVE your stories, keep them coming! (Poppy Mae and mum, Australia)

  7. T. Dawn

    I know nothing about public transportation outside of a yellow school bus; however, I am quite familiar with that song. Oh how this post took me back a year or so ago when every morning of my life I started my day to this song with my then 3yo. It’s difficult to talk about. Sometimes the wheels on the bus would be going round and effing around BEFORE I had a drop of coffee. We’ve moved on to the incredibly sexist farmer and the dale for now. Life is good. Thank you for helping me associate something other than pain with this song.

  8. dswidow

    I can’t read your posts at work anymore – I end up laughing out loud and then people realize I’m not doing work.

    • Becca

      Ditto. I end up snorting coffee all over my computer screen, which oddly draws a lot of attention. I am SO GLAD I stumbled on this blog. It brings me great joy to share in the hilarity of motherhood. You are the bee’s knees.

  9. michele1allen

    love your description of seasonal affective disorder! Our buses are slightly better, thought the drivers on my route like to go full speed round traffic islands throwing people out of their seats!

  10. sterlingsop

    Thanks for the ear-worm….!

    Haha seriously, we sing this every week at our play group and we have slightly different verses. We have the wheels on the bus, the wipers, the horn etc but we have “mummies on the bus go chatter chatter chatter” with accompanying hand movements, and our final verse is “the babies on the bus go fast asleep, fast asleep, fast asleep” where all the babies and toddlers lie down and pretend to go to sleep. We have about four seconds of peace before we all shout “WAKE UP BABIES!!!!!!” which is hilarious.

    Still got the ear-worm…..

  11. Cooper

    The 2 most amazing sentences ever:
    “You know that sound when it’s 6PM on a Thursday and you’re sitting in a fluorescently-lit bus during a rainstorm, fighting off your seasonal affective disorder, overcome by a deep, hormonal sadness that makes you wonder if you did the right thing bringing a baby into such a cruel, unfeeling world?  That’s how the wipers sound. ”

    So tragically, hilariously perfect.

  12. Liz

    #9 definitely needs to be added! Love it. There really should be a NYC version, because, yes, the wipers on the bus do sound like despair. My 3-yr-old altered the mommy on the bus to go: “Blah, blah, blah.” So, there’s that. And the one time I tried to get on a NYC bus w/ my umbrella stroller, when it was raining, the driver just said: “Please no!” Okay then. I was going to fold it but her plaintive cry of desperation stopped me in my tracks. Could’ve been the wipers though.

  13. Tammy

    This is so funny! I’ve heard this bus song so much it has become mind-numbing – much like that darn song about bottles of beer on the wall.

  14. kheapingitreal

    I agree, it made me laugh out loud. My four year old still wants to sing this one from time to time. I had conveniently forgot the words until now…so kind of you to remind me 😉

  15. Her Royal Thighness

    I just discovered your blog, after reading your December piece in the Huff Post about a 10-month-old baby’s Christmas wish list. You are hilarious. And I am going through a really crappy time with my teenage daughter being in the hospital. So thank you for the laugh! I’m officially a regular reader now.

    P.S. Let us not forget the germs on the bus! Or the big hairy guy with the stinky pits, who is standing right in front of you, holding on with his hand over his head. HYSTERICAL!

    • theuglyvolvo

      There should be an entire additional song about the babies on the bus trying to lick the metal poles on the bus. URGH. Every time.

  16. Libby

    Awesome post!! And I say that as a Wheels on the Bus sufferer and a public transit veteran!

  17. Shannon

    I realized a couple of months ago that most of the kids that sing The Wheels on the Bus have never – and possibly will never – actually ride a transit bus! Of course, if they do, they’ll probably be pretty disappointed if this song is the only thing they know about it. Although it does sound like a pretty annoying bus ride.

  18. Briana

    Wow. What a beautiful phrase. Deep hormonal sadness. Describes so much of my life and pretty much my entire pregnancy.

  19. 4by3

    Clever and funny. Thankfully the Wheels on The Bus song does eventually leave your head, even if the joys of public transport don’t.


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