People-Watching on the JHMI Shuttle

The JHMI shuttle is a popular option for travelling around Hopkins Campuses, including Homewood, Peabody, and the medical campus. I’ve used it several times for my own errands. When an assignment in my Invitation to Anthropology class prompted me to spend an hour in a public place and describe my observations, I chose the JHMI shuttle as the subject of an ethnography.

A wave of people exit the shuttle as I step into the front entrance. The driver doesn’t ask to see my ID, presuming I’m a student based on my big freshman backpack. I’ve driven with this shuttle driver before; he honks his horn a lot. Next stop is the Interfaith Center where the drivers sometimes take a bathroom break, or even switches shifts with another driver. This time, the same driver gets on after a few minutes, and no one else with him. We go. Honk. The next few stops are either a huge wave of people getting on or off or just a few individuals boarding the shuttle. There are folks with earphones tucked in their ear, some read books, some stare out the window. Most have backpacks or briefcases with them, carrying the weight of their day with them. Honk. Friends meet here by accident: I see three girls who exclaim when they see each other and spark up a conversation about wedding rings and engagements. The shuttle is a long ride with many stops and crowds of people, but a friend to converse with makes the time seem much quicker.

I move towards the front to vary my vantage point. I notice an elderly woman accepting the seat a student offers her in the front where there is room in for her to place her cane. Honk. She might have a disorder, as she makes twitchy movements with her head. This doesn’t stop her from making conversation with the woman beside her. I look around and notice quite a few discussions between vastly differing age groups. Honk. The shuttle becomes very crowded as people from the medical campus board it. The driver honks and says “Move back, people!” His tone is irritated, but he opens the door for every new person running to catch the shuttle. Honk. There are more people standing than in seats. I see a short woman who looks like she came from the hospital and must be on the shuttle for the first time. She looks around fearfully as she grips onto a metal bar. Honk. Slowly, the shuttle empties as we hit various stops: Peabody, St. Paul, Barnes and Noble.

I exit the shuttle at the stop in front of my dorm, noticing the wave of people who follow with me. The driver tells the people who move to board the shuttle to go around and catch this same shuttle at Barnes and Noble. It must be time for him to switch shifts. Hopkins life isn’t vibrant on the shuttle. As I note the weary faces of those who choose public transportation, I see observe the tiresome minutiae of everyday life. But, in little details, I also see a remarkable presence of human connection.