No, this isn’t a bus stop! When you’re at Rao’s in Thorne’s Marketplace in downtown Northampton, you’re already where you want to be. The coffee’s strong, the tea comes from an excellent assortment, the sandwiches are fresh and tasty, and the pastries — don’t ask! Too tempting, is what they are. It’s a great place to kill an hour or so waiting for the car to get a checkup, or an oil change around the corner at our auto repair shop.
But that’s as close as Rao’s gets to being a place of transportation! So what’s with the “bus”?
Most Americans know, but many folks from elsewhere may not, that one of the several definitions of the word “bus” is a verb meaning “to clear off a table in a restaurant.” It seems that the first time the word was recorded with that meaning was in the early 20th century. It came out of the late 19th century’s use of busboy to mean a waiter’s assistant. And that usage derived from the noun bus, meaning “a hand-pushed four-wheeled cart used to carry dishes in a restaurant”.
Before that, back around 1830, bus was an abbreviation of the word omnibus, meaning “a four-wheeled vehicle with seats for passengers used for public transportation.” It was adopted from the French, voiture omnibus, a carriage for all, a public transportation, and was introduced in Paris in 1820 by one Jacques Lafitte. (Omnibus is Latin for “for all,” the dative plural of omnis “all.”) It seems that, as comedian Steve Martin once exclaimed in mock exasperation, “Those French! They have a different word for everything!”
I’m so used to the verb “to bus” that I don’t even notice its oddity in conversation. But I was taken aback at Rao’s, and couldn’t help wondering how it affects the self-bussed return rate of used coffee cups and plates and cutlery. Encouraging? Or discouraging? Or, more likely, nobody ever even notices — except a blogger, one of a breed that tends to notice everything.
I wonder what kind of bus stop would have a sign as ornate and curlicue as Rao’s sign? Here’s a more conventional view of Rao’s, in case you’re thinking of stopping in next time you get to Northampton: