Photos by Lucia Amieva-Wang
Text by Lucia Amieva-Wang and Jenny Tseng

The Bus Ride Home

Slightly out of breath from running the last stretch to the bus station, Palo Alto High School seniors Brianna Moreno-Alcocer and Allison Salinas step onto SamTrans Bus 21, each swiping a reflective green card across the sensor in one smooth, practiced motion. Moreno-Alcocer slides into the row of seats first, placing her backpack on her lap as Salinas settles into the seat beside her. 

A faint smell of diesel clings to the well-worn and patterned seat covers and the low hum of the bus engine thrums in the background as the vehicle pulls out of the station and onto University Avenue.

With her head resting comfortably on Moreno-Alcocer’s shoulder, Salinas interlocks their arms. They have been best friends since freshman year.

I don’t even know how we became friends,” Salinas says. “I just needed someone to show me where the bus was.” 

Both Moreno-Alcocer and Salinas receive a monthly bus pass from Palo Alto Unified School District’s Tinsley Voluntary Transportation Program. The VTP program, created in 1986, gives students of color from different districts the opportunity to attend school in PAUSD. 

Moreno-Alcocer and Salinas take the SamTrans bus home to Menlo Park and East Palo Alto, respectively. Their bus ride home can take anywhere from 15 minutes to three hours. Though they have experienced harassment, unwanted comments and more, the bus ride to Paly is an opportunity for them to attend a safer high school with more resources, according to Moreno-Alcocer. 

Though most students hardly think about their short journey home from school, Moreno-Alcocer’s and Salinas’ afternoons are consumed by their daily bus ride home. In this issue, Verde documents this uncommon, yet routine, journey home in a series of candid photographs.   

ON MY WAY HOME Salinas and Moreno-Alcocer take their seats in the middle of the bus, leaning into each other as cold air blows through the vents. Stopped in standstill traffic on University Avenue, Moreno-Alcocer talks about her AP Seminar research project. She is looking into the economic and racial disparity between individuals living in East Palo Alto and in Palo Alto. Salinas responds, “It’s like a different world.” While they sometimes try to do their homework on the bus, they do not have Wi-Fi access and the bus is usually too loud for them to concentrate. “Every time they push back the schedule or try to make us stay for Advisory or Tutorial, it’s something that affects me,” Moreno-Alcocer says. “Because then I get home super late … I’m tired and then I have to wake up super early to do my homework.”

SETTING ON THE BUS By 5:00 p.m., the sun is casting its last orange rays and the fluorescent lights on the bus have turned on, illuminating the few passengers left. Keeping to themselves with their backpacks piled on their laps, Moreno-Alcocer and Salinas tell us about the odd and sometimes frightening experiences they have had on public transport. Moreno-Alcocer recalls the time a man, who had been eyeing them, began masturbating in the seat beside them. “We reported it, but no one ever did anything,” Moreno-Alcocer says. “No one really cares.” If a situation escalates, Salinas and Moreno-Alcocer usually get off the bus onto the highway and walk the rest of the way home, which may take more than an hour. They have learned to be conscious of what they wear to escape unwanted attention from strangers. “Obviously I’ve had encounters with good people,” Moreno-Alcocer says. “We say hi, or they think I’m pretty, we talk, we laugh and then they leave, which is cool because sometimes they don’t leave which is kind of scary.”
LAST STOP With two stops left, Moreno-Alcocer begins gathering her things and scans the seats one last time. Salinas had gotten off two stops earlier, collecting her right Airpod from Moreno-Alcocer that they had used to share music during the ride. Though Moreno-Alcocer does not know the bus driver by name, since they are always changing, she thanks him and says goodnight as she gets off the bus. “I fell asleep on the bus and he [the bus driver] just stopped at my bus stop because he knew that was my stop,” Moreno-Alcocer says. “He let me off which was really cool because then I would have had to … walk back.”