I Miss Staring Out of Bus Windows

Will we ever ride public transport with the same ease again? I'm not so sure.
Daisy Jones
London, GB
illustrated by Lily Blakely
​Bus Windows Lockdown Coronavirus Staring Self Isolation
Lead illustration by Lily Blakely

Previously in "What I Miss Most": Live music.

When I was asked to write about what I miss from "before", my first guilty thought was: nothing. Obviously I miss family and friends and not being anxious about a deadly pandemic and having no money etc. But otherwise? I didn't enjoy it so much out there. I hate offices, desks, strip lights. I hate running around from place to place, huffing in exhaust fumes, checking the time. I know you're not supposed to say it, but I don't know what you're supposed to say: I don't want to go back to how it was before.


That said, some pleasures are so subtle I didn't notice their absence – until suddenly I did. Being at a food market, slowly turning a plump scarlet tomato around in my hand like a sun. The cool rock-salt splatter of the sea and hot chips dripping grease into paper. Ordering breakfast at 11AM and sinking my fork into a runny yellow yolk that someone else has cooked for me. But mostly, weirdly, I miss buses. More specifically: I miss sitting at the top hand left corner of a bus in London with my headphones on, staring out the window and watching the world below.

Staring out of bus windows is a very specific and yet hard to define type of joy. You're part of the street without being an active participant within it; the closest I think we have to being invisible, ephemeral, flying above. And that strange objective detachment – being able to watch the world without it watching you back – puts you in a sort of loose, meditative trance. Or at least it does for me. And that's a state I've not been able to recreate under lockdown. While I recognise that many key workers have had to continue riding buses, I'm fortunate enough to have not stepped foot on one since mid March. You can't fashion a bus without a bus. You can't glide above the pavements.

Riding buses is a treat anywhere, but it's the London routes I crave. Watching grey, glass-blocked buildings open out into leafy south east suburbs and back again. Seeing groups of teens in purple uniforms share boxes of chips and fried chicken on their way home from school. Flashes of people’s back gardens and inside shop windows and secret sunbathers on gravelly roof tops. I miss that perfect blend of introspection and aloneness combined with being part of an always moving, impenetrable city. There is no other way to watch these tiny pockets of world, not in the same way.


I don't want to romanticise buses too much, I haven't completely lost it. Buses can be gross too. The seats have at least a decades worth of other people's bacteria and skin dust and probably piss, hidden beneath violently garish patterns. There's usually someone on there stinking of K Cider and stale sweat, or else shouting or spitting or pressing their legs into your legs. It was worse when I was a teenager I'm sure: some bearded guy leaning in for a kiss, no one saying a word, me not either. I've thrown up on buses, been dumped on buses, had arguments on buses, cried. Yeah there are things I don't miss.

But when a bus ride is good, it is lovely. A mid-temperature spring day, empty seats beside and behind you, sitting right at the top. A collection of songs floating through your headphones, pushing you somewhere far off, above the passing trees. Or, on the flip side, that 12 AM night bus ride home, orange streets glowing below, neon shop fronts glinting, high-heeled groups falling over each other on the way back from the pub, faded alcohol buzz making you think this could be the most content you've ever been, maybe, on this bus, looking out the window.

The perfect bus ride lasts around 25 minutes I think. Any more and it gets sluggish, any less and you can't relax into it. But for those 25 minutes, you are there and you are not there, present but somewhere else, moving through the city as a noncommittal passerby.

I don't know if I'll ever go back to the enjoyment of staring out the window from the top of a double decker bus. Things might not ever be the same after the pandemic. Even in the months or years it takes for us to get a vaccine – when coronavirus turns into a story to tell people much younger than us, about how we spent one summer locked away – even then I don't know if we'll move through the city with the same sort of ease. Getting on the bus without noticing if someone's too close, without thinking about where they've put their hands, who's coughed, who's been sitting on this seat and touching the bus rails, seems like something far off right now.

That said, humans have a remarkable knack for forgetting everything and going back to normal. They're kind of already doing it already. So who knows, maybe this time next year we'll all be back on a bus somewhere, staring out the window, thinking about nothing and everything all at once.

@daisythejones / @lilyblkly