A cold rain has started, dark rags of clouds spitting out hard, tiny droplets, the wind kicking up. My bus from the VA Hospital was five minutes late to the Green Road Park & Ride lot, missing my connecting bus home. I know in my sinking heart that I’m marooned. Again.

My body’s in the throes of osteoarthritis combined with fibromyalgia. At times, my bones feel like they’re screaming. But I can’t afford a cab, so I set out for the two-mile walk home, casting curses at the AATA. I’m plodding into the homestretch by the time my bus rumbles by. Half an hour late or 45 minutes early? Who knows?

I watch the bus’s red taillights tick away into the distance, vanishing at a misty crossroads fit for a werewolf. Daylight is playing out, and I’m still not home.

I remember when riding the bus was an adventure. My mom would give us each a dime for fare and send us off on the bus to the movies in downtown Royal Oak. This was an era when buses were fuming hulks, spacious yet intimate, gritty romantic stars of film noir—and oh, to sit perched on high and watch the world stream by below. Strangely enough, adult passengers sat immune, women drifting behind winged rhinestone glasses, men’s fedoras angled over magazines. Grown-ups musing in their pods of silence.

When did the charm rub off? With time? The crazy spectacle of life? With exposure to a city’s low places? Gruesome weather? Frustration? Or being stranded—a chronic stone in the rider’s shoe? Miss your connection and you are stuck, at least here in the Green Road corridor. There’s a reason why bus shelters smell of despair: people just want to go home.

Sad truth is, a neighborhood errand that takes ten minutes by car takes me an hour by bus. A haircut downtown, three to five hours! Yes, The Ride offers RideTrak, giving real-time information on where your bus is at any given moment, but it only works if you have cell phone or PDA web access. I don’t.

Yet Ann Arbor has a bus system, when many cities have trash-canned their services. And at least in my corner of town, the roads are being smoothed out, slicked down—and that’s definitely good. All the construction that has bubble dwellers (my name for car drivers) gnashing their teeth is even more frustrating for bus riders. With so many bus stops “bagged” due to roadwork, we are often forced to detour considerable distances, a quarter mile or more, on foot, through perilous (and unnerving) construction. Today’s walk includes a wary trek along Green Road where road machinery bursting with fevered energy stuns the air around me. As the bubble dwellers zip, unaffected, through bristling traffic cones, I watch myself zoom by in car window after window.

In the long run, better roads will make The Ride smoother, easier on maintenance costs and puny human bones. And don’t the new roundabouts at Geddes and Earhart look spiffy? Even better, the sidewalk along Earhart has been extended down to Geddes! In winter that stretch was impassable on foot; I’ve fallen into drifts, into slush, had to walk the shoulder elbow-to-fender with cars. In spring, the corner became Earhart Lake, and a body had no recourse but to wade through it. Every time this body stood wet and shivering at the bus stop, I asked myself, “How would a person in a wheelchair ever manage this?” That new sidewalk makes all the difference to people who are determined to be independent, but have trouble getting around.

Speaking of which, another good is that the bus is affordable, $1.50 (basic fare) or less, with discounts based on age and status—student or job, income, or disability (too bad I don’t qualify).

Priceless are the soul-lifting days when a day care center brings children aboard, a rainbow of coats, boots, hats, little kid ornaments brightening a bus-colored universe. People are the real heart of mass transit: riders, creators, dreamers. It’s one more reason I’d like to see more car drivers swap their insulated bubbles for the bigger bubble of the bus.

I might be raw, but I’m an optimist, and I can’t help believing that if more people rode the bus, service would magically improve. The Ride offers most attractions of a car, with the added benefit of that pod of silence. Wrap yourself inside headphones, laptop, paperback, thermos, and enjoy your cocoon away from the world’s dirt, noise, commercial stigmata of neon and party stores. And, a bus leaves more of a carbon kiss than footprint.

But most of all, the bubble dwellers are missing living poetry. A scene of Hitchcockian crows pecking at what used to be a burrito. Moments of Zen when monarch butterflies swarm out of nowhere, circling you on tilted wings, or you find yourself standing breathless in hoarfrost’s diamond-dust fairyland. A summer afternoon, the bus rolling home at last over the pocks and hollows of unfixed roads, of your mind as you drift into airy daydreams while your detached body floats through the green light of trees. Go for it.