Natasha L. Williams

70 and 71 Bus Reflect Character of Community

Transit up and down Georgia Avenue may prove to be a daily adventure for residents of Northwest DC. While most prefer the comfort of their own cars, or the convenience and quickness of the Metrorail, the Metrobus up and down the Georgia Avenue Corridor has been an easy route for those that live and work along the strip, which is the longest street in the Washington, DC region.

Riding either the 70, which travels from Silver Spring to O street and Half street SW, or the 71, which goes from Silver Spring to Buzzard Point, is not the usual ordinary quiet bus ride. The Bus travels through contrasting neighborhoods and sections on the 5 mile stretch, and some people that board the bus are very colorful and unique, as well as annoying and disrespectful.

Most of the time riding the 70 is a calm ride, but many times the ride can get quite rowdy, such as man in a rush pushing over a woman and her baby could rile up a crowd, or a homeless man who defecated on himself would have the entire bus covering their nose trying to gasp fresh air.

“Driving the bus is fun,” said a Saturday driver of the 70, who chose not to identify himself because of Metro policy. “Something happens on this bus everyday. But I have fun doing it. I just look at females all day.”

He added, “It’s a haven for trouble. I’m out here by myself so I have to be safe. Its crackheads and bums on the bus. It’s fights everyday. I just let people ride free when they fumbling around for money because they don’t have the money. I get paid regardless.”

Some wild experiences on the bus inspired the late Henri Edmonds, a former playwright, actress and professor at Howard University, to write a book appropriately titled the “Georgia Avenue Bus,” which is a collection of short stories using characters she witnessed while taking the bus from Silver Spring to Howard on a daily basis.

“Riding the bus is a novelty,” said Edmonds before her death. “There are so many different characters on the bus. I imagined characters I saw on the bus and their background, and wrote about them.”

Characters in the book, which had real-life stories with made-up experiences, included a paranoid Vietnam veteran named Ninety Swee, who made the bus laugh with his jokes. Also featured is Maple Hill, an older heavy-set woman who married a man on the bus.

“Anytime you get public characters in one spot, you get a great story.”

Although Edmonds had fun writing about her experiences, for everyday passengers who don’t have other access to transportation, the 70 can be a daily nightmare.

“Not a damn thing is good about the 70,” said D.Y. of Northwest D.C. “Something always bad happens on the bus.”

His father, V.Y. of Northwest, said “At least the bus makes the monotony go by.”

“Aint nothing but hell on this bus. Nothing but rude people and drama,” said Shauna, an employee at the Howard University Punchout. Before the interview, Shauna got in an altercation with a man who bumped into her with his umbrella, and said to him, “Watch you where you goin, or yo face won’t be looking like that.”

D.Y. , while laughing at the altercation said, “I have seen it all on the bus. People come on here smoke weed, have sex, they do it all.”

V.Y. said, “I once seen a man come on here and take all of his clothes off, and then sat down!”

On a daily basis, riding the 70 is a usually a crowded bus ride, often with standing room only, filling up 60 foot buses for most of its route. It is a key point for passengers that work at major employers downtown, as well as at Howard University and Walter Reed medical center. It’s a major bus line for school students traveling to Roosevelt High School, Banneker, Cardozo, and Coolidge high school. It also serves 8 metro stations, and several grocery stores, as well as transfer points to other major streets like Rhode Island Avenue, Florida Avenue, and Columbia Road. This variety of locations brings in a mix of people in one small setting.

Neighborhoods and districts up and down the Georgia Avenue line are also a collection that brings different backgrounds on the bus. The bus starts at the Silver Spring metro, which is a fairly affluent city. As the bus cross is over the border of Washington, it rides through other affluent neighborhoods such as Shepherd Park and Brightwood. The neighborhood becomes to switch to more of a working class background after passing Kennedy Street into the Petworth area. Lower-income housing starts to pop up more after passing the Georgia Avenue-Petworth metro station, and more and more people begin to load the bus.

That trend continues as the bus passes Howard University, and the Shaw neighborhood. Once the bus hits the convention center on N street, it hits a wall of traffic, and many passengers get off to different work sites, downtown, or around at the federal buildings around the National Mall. After the bus passes thru the Mall area it hits Southwest, which is a mixed bag neighborhood with many high-end condominiums, but also low-income housing projects.

The addition of the Metro Extra 79 bus has eased congestion slightly, as it is a rapid line that makes only limited stops during rush hour.

Edmonds started writing a sequel to her first book, with stories from a more recent time period,reflecting the changing demographics of Georgia Avenue as more Hispanics, Whites, Asians, and Caribbean-Americans moved into the neighborhoods.

Edmonds also defended the behavior of many of the “crazy,” people that ride the bus. “The people are funny, but they are also very tired emotionally, and if you understand why they got to where they are, then you can have empathy. Nobody is born crazy. There is a fine line between sanity and insanity.”