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Why do busses come in threes?

That was the title of the book my son read for summer reading and it was a fantastic musing about the mathematical principals behind the things we see in every day life. Of course, living in a non-metro area, most of you probably don’t know what they’re talking about, but growing up in the inner city, as I did, we would take the city bus to school each morning for 40 cents.   Back then, unlike today, I was insanely organized and had little piles consisting of a nickel, dime, and quarter, scotch taped together and set up for the weeks bus fees.  For those who’ve taken busses regularly, there’s a known phenomena whereby you wait for your bus fro what seems like an eternity, and then three of them come in a row.  The book went on to explain the math behind why that happens, and how the first bus, simply because it’s first, get’s bogged down because at each stop there are all these people waiting to get on and off, and it takes a lot of time. The second bus, and the third, having left the station 5 and ten minutes later respectively, get to each stop and find only one person there if that, so they move faster, and inevitably catch up.    It was a great book, if you have a chance to read it, and went over a multitude of other incredibly interesting statistical analyses, such as the fact that in a class of 25 kids, the odds that two will have the same birthday is actually almost 50%!

Where was I going with all this? I think it was tied to the thought that like buses, bad things come in threes as well.   This week, for me, it was mechanical things.   First my Yukon with a zillion miles on it that I loaned to my son to take to college blew a part is the transmission.   Now there’s a quick way to spend a two thousand dollars on a car that’s probably worth six thousand.  You quickly find yourself trapped in the circuitous thought of having a car that’s too valuable to junk, but barely valuable enough to fix.

Next, it was my Espresso machine, which is a really slick, and quite expensive one, that basically bit the dust.   Now as a true caffeine addict, I can handle just about anything life has to throw at me, as long as I have my coffee first!  Well, when that thing is the coffee maker, and you have to deal with the problem without coffee, it’s an incredible thing.  That is, if you’re truly an addict.

Last night, was the Wed. School Committee meeting.  It was a great meeting, we finished by 9:30, which is rare, and I headed home only to have my right front tire blow out a few hundred yards from town hall.   Talk about the wrong place for such a thing to happen.  I quickly put the flashers on and crept along the side of Maple trying to get to an empty parking lot where I could park to deal with it.   You know what amazed me though, is that nobody stopped to help.   Last week, Jamie saw an older man stuck on Route 9.   He’d run out of gas, could get no help.  His friend walked over to the Shell station and they said they had no gas cas so they couldn’t assist.   She called me, and I ran out with gas for the guy, filled him up on Route 9, and got him on his way.  Now, a few days later, here I was, car disabled on the side of the road, and nobody stopped to help.   Well, I shouldn’t say that, because the person who lived in the house I stopped in front of came out to ask what I was doing, but I’m not sure that was for my benefit as much as to make sure I wasn’t going to break into his home.   Either way I did appreciate it.   I was just surprised that no drivers stopped.  Not even other folks leaving town hall.

While I waited for Jamie to pick me up, four people came to the parking lot where I stood outside my car, flat tire and all.   They parked, went to take money out of the ATM machine, got right back in their cars, and drove off – never giving a second thought to whether I needed help.  Clearly I was well dressed, coming from my meeting, and standing with my Porsche with it’s flashers on, so I’m assuming their excuse isn’t that I looked like a crazed killer.  I have to assume, instead, that they just really didn’t give want to go out of their way to help, which is just such an odd commentary on our society.  I know I stop all the time for people, on highways, in ditches of snow, change tires, get gas etc….   I just think it’s what we as a civilized society need to do for each other.

So, why do busses come in threes?   Well perhaps it’s not a mathematical algorithm after  all.  It could just as easily be so that if one get’s a flat tire, the one behind them will be able to stop and help them out of a jam.

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