The Purple Route: A Journey

An inside look at the journey that is a ride on the Charm City Purple Route, by Katie Ewles

The doors opened and everyone rushed to be the first in line. One-by-one we climbed up the steep steps and were greeted by an uninterested nod. I looked around – by now the space was crowded and the seat I normally take (at the back, as close to the rear exit door and as far away from everyone else as possible) was taken. Reluctantly, I took a seat at the front of the bus.


Glancing around, but ensuring not to make eye-contact, I took in the strangers around me: immediately to my right was a woman in her mid-twenties wearing exclusively animal prints, smelling strongly of whatever the best thing in the world smells like, and dancing along to what seemed to be her favorite song (every song was her favorite song…) which was playing loud enough in her headphones for the whole bus to enjoy. To my left, a man sat wearing a hat with the word “SQUAT” printed on it. Just “SQUAT”…

An older woman sat in front of me, armed with at least ten grocery bags; next to her, a girl, late-teens, was dressed in all black, layers-on-layers, complete with hipster beanie, despite the quickly arriving spring weather. At the back of the bus was a gaggle of high schoolers who were loudly showing each other funny ‘fail’ videos on their phones. The older woman with the groceries received a phone-call and went on to have a very loud and very public conversation describing in detail to whoever was on the other end of the phone how to make a Shepherd’s pie (how were they going to make pie if they didn’t have the groceries yet?!) Consequently, every other passenger on the bus was likely now thinking hard about the approaching, but not-fast-enough: dinner-time (I know I was!).

Circulator coming to north Baltimore

The bus momentarily stopped to let more passengers on. The light-hearted mood of the space quickly shifted as a middle-aged woman sombered slowly down the aisle; she had an air of seriousness and sadness about her that was overwhelmingly present. The woman in front of me with the groceries (who had now successfully finished communicating the recipe) somehow managed to make room in the all-too-small seat next to her, and welcomed the grieving woman to sit with her, as if an old friend- she accepted, and sat perched on the edge of the seat with her head down.

Another woman, seemingly very stoned on something, took one of the last remaining seats and continued to mumble to herself for the rest of the ride, interjected with loud apologies to the crowd about things we could not make-out (though I can’t lie, I was curious). She asked someone at every stop if it was her named stop, which inevitably led the audience to sing in unison, “this is your stop” when we did eventually get there. She was followed by a young couple with a five-or-six year old who then also went on to ask “is this our stop?” every stop for the remainder of the journey…


At the next stop, the atmosphere on the bus veered once again as a few people got off, and with the arrival of an older (seemingly wasted) man, who greeted the whole crowd with a big smile, arms waving and a “How y’all doing on this beautiful day?!” –  (I’m going to call him ‘Mambo’ because this guy had so much character, it literally requires me to give him a name!) Mambo then proceeded to greet every woman that got on the bus with the (welcomed) phrase “You look pretty!” and every male passenger with a nod and the words, “good day, good day”.


Another man had also gotten on the bus and took the empty seat next to me (alas, our resident DJ got off at her stop); he apparently caught the eye of the woman who was grieving, because she immediately perked up by 10000000000% and progressed to trying to make eyes with the friendly, but-not-that-friendly man until he got off at his stop.

Nearing my stop, I realized I had not glanced out the window yet once throughout the whole ride; normally I pass the time with my earbuds in, staring out at the disconnected people on the street, however, this time what was inside was much more fascinating, intimate, and real than what was on the outside. I stood and approached the front of the bus to make my exit, and was flattered by Mambo’s last “you look pretty!” to me as I walked past. Passing the driver, I thanked him for the ride, which he received with an uninterested nod.



Katie Ewles is a Baltimore-based writer, composer, vocalist, pianist and visual artist. You can find more of her work at


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