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
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.
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2. The people on the bus go up and down
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.”
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3. The horn on the bus goes beep beep beep
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.
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4. The wipers on the bus go swish swish swish
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”
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.
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6. The babies on the bus go wah wah wah
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.
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7. The mommies on the bus go shhh shhh shhh
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!”
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8. The daddies on the bus go “I Love You”
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.
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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?”
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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