Author Archives: bus chick


Green Seattle Partnership sign

The first time I planted trees with my family*, it was pouring down rain. I had signed us up to participate in Green Seattle Day — despite the fact that getting up early on a November Saturday and digging in the mud was not my (or as far as I knew, anyone in my family’s) idea of a good time — because I wanted to plant a seed (if you’ll pardon the pun) in my children. I wanted to show them a concrete way to contribute to their community, educate them about the native plants of the region they call home, and encourage them to get their hands in the dirt.

On the appointed morning, it was raining — not Seattle drizzle or intermittent showers, but the kind of heavy, steady rain that makes you regret all your plans (and question your decision to live without a car). But we had made a commitment, so we pulled on our boots and hooded jackets and headed out to plant trees anyway.

And, we had a blast!

We were fortunate that our planting site was the tiny wooded area adjacent to the kids’ school – a mere half mile from our home. One of the stewards of those woods also happens to be a preschool teacher and the parent of a child in Chicklet’s grade.** She gave thorough instructions and let all of the kids participate fully in the planting process. Chicklet and Busling loved it. They shoveled mulch, dug holes, loosened roots, and gently patted soil around the transplants. They also named all five trees – and many other smaller plants — we made homes for that day. Our favorite was the first tree we planted, a tiny garry oak sapling that Chicklet named Acorn Butter.

Here is sweet Acorn Butter, on her first day in the woods. (As usual, I apologize for the quality of my photos.)

Just planted

It just so happened the stewards of our little woods had won a large grant, and there were hundreds of plants to get in the ground — far more than could be planted in one day. So, after Green Seattle Day, they hosted several additional “planting parties” throughout the fall, winter,*** and early spring. Chicklet and Busling insisted on going to every single one. Over the course of several months, we planted ferns, Oregon grapes, false lilies of the valley, bleeding hearts, dogwoods, red flowering currants, spruce, garry oaks, and many more saplings whose identities weren’t immediately obvious.

Since our first planting adventure, the kids have walked through the woods every day after school, checking “their” plants, talking to them, and looking for signs of growth. They reveled in the heavy winter rain, knowing it was keeping the soil wet for their babies’ new roots. And, they counted the days until springtime, when everything would open and flower and grow. For months, Acorn Butter looked just like she had on the day she was planted: a bare stick. Still, Chicklet checked on her faithfully, stroking her tiny branches and giving her encouragement and — I kid you not — kisses. Finally, in late March, we started to see buds.








Then, there were leaf starts.

Some leaves

The leaves got bigger.

Leaf starts

And here she is on Tuesday. (!!!)

With buds

In many ways, it has been a long winter for our family — and for our world. But thank God for spring, for fresh new buds, and saplings straining toward the sun.

In my dreams, Chicklet and Busling will walk into these woods with their grandchildren one day, pointing to strong oaks and tall spruce, telling the tale of how they planted them, with their tree lovin’ mama, many years ago.


* Not counting the three we planted in our own (tiny) yard: a vine maple, and apple, and a fir (in memory of my mother)
** She is also an all-around amazing person who inspires me with her generosity and commitment to community.
*** Yes, you can plant in Seattle in the winter. Historically, it rarely freezes, and there is plenty of rain; lately, it’s been even warmer than normal.

Reign of terror

On April 7th, one of my dearest friends, who lives in Texas, called to tell me that her cousin, “T,” whom I’ve known since she was in elementary school, and T’s baby daughter had been in a crash the night before. The list of injuries was shocking.

T: broken leg (fixed with surgery and several screws), bruised lung, fractured pelvis, c2 spine/neck fracture

Baby Girl: lacerated spleen, bruised lung, spine/neck c2 fracture, severed arm

After our conversation, my friend sent me photographs of T’s vehicle, which had been hit by an 18-wheeler. It looked like a crumpled aluminum can. First responders used the “Jaws of Life” to rescue them and then sent them via Life Flight to a trauma center in Austin.

Three weeks later, the baby is still in the hospital, finally breathing without a tube but still sedated. She will have to wear a full body cast for an entire year. She will live the rest of her life with only one arm. It is not yet clear what other effects she and her mother will suffer.

Last Thursday, my son’s teacher told me that her husband was in Louisiana for the funeral of their two nieces, ages four and six, who had been killed when their family’s car was hit by a drunk driver two days earlier. The surviving family members (one child and one adult) were still in the hospital with serious injuries.

These horrific, shocking incidents have brought far too close to home the devastating violence of cars. It’s not just the gore — the crushed bones, bruised organs, shredded skin, and severed limbs. It is the pervasiveness. It is the fact that everyone is at risk, almost all of the time

Most people in the United States rely on cars to get through their days. We have built our communities and our lives in ways that all but require us to drive. Those of us who are fortunate enough to have access to alternatives (and lifestyles that make those alternatives feasible) must still share space with cars. We use the same roads (or attempt to walk across them). We walk on narrow sidewalks — if we’re lucky, shoulders and ditches if we’re not — as they whiz by. We cross parking lots to shop or visit the doctor.

All of us live under constant threat that an inattentive, or unskilled, or negligent driver could end our lives in an instant, and there is no transportation “choice” we can make to insulate us from this danger.

This isn’t about drivers and non-drivers, good guys and bad guys, “us” and “them.” We’re all in the same (terrifying) boat.

What are we going to do about it?

People of color and the planet, part I

“If you breathe air and drink water, this is about you.” – This Changes Everything

Almost all of my adult life, I’ve received the message that environmentalism isn’t for black people. Black people aren’t “outdoorsy.” (Don’t tell these folks!) We don’t camp (ahem) or hike or kayak, and we damn sure don’t mess with wildlife. And anyway, we don’t have time to worry about polar bears and glaciers when we can’t even walk home from the corner store without fearing for our lives.

But here’s the thing: Preserving the natural environment is critically important to black people — not just because we live on this planet with everyone else, but precisely because we are black.

Mainstream discourse causes us to think of “the environment” as some special, pristine place, far away from our day-to-day lives and immediate needs. This encourages us to believe that the only people who should concern themselves with environmental issues are people who have the luxury to focus on niche causes. In other words, white people.

In reality, our environment is directly connected to us. It is what we eat, drink, and breathe every day. What affects our air and water affects our health and well-being and our children’s ability to thrive.

In the United States, it is poor communities and communities of color that are most likely to experience the effects of pollution. Freeways are built through our neighborhoods, factories bury hazardous chemicals near our homes, and municipalities locate landfills in our backyards.

Often these polluting forces are brought with the promise of jobs, most of which are provided at the expense of our health — sometimes our very lives. More often than not, they are forced on us, because we do not have the money, political clout, or connections to stop them.

Natural disasters often disproportionately affect black people, both because we are more likely to be living in substandard housing and because the country as a whole just gives less of a damn about our well being.

On a global scale, the effects of climate change are not being distributed equally. The nations that will be most affected by climate change are in the global south, while the global north, which is largely responsible for the problem, sets emission targets that will protect its own people and then does nothing to meet even those.

So-called “developed” nations have built their wealth by appropriating resources from brown and black people across the world and by placing the disproportionate burden of their extractive, wasteful, greedy culture on those same people.

What this means is that we cannot truly improve the well-being of black and brown people without fundamentally changing the way we treat our environment. Rather than rejecting environmentalism as a hobby for people who already have everything, black folks should be at the very forefront of the movement to protect our planet and demand justice for its inhabitants.

This is not about buying recycled toilet paper or organic bed sheets. Certainly, individual choices have a role (though to be clear buying stuff is the exact opposite of what we need to be doing), but to counter the forces that are destroying us, we must build something bigger than our individual choices. We must come together as communities to protect our land and water. We must demand affordable, accessible transit service and safe places to walk and bike. We must insist on healthy, whole food grown sustainably. We must share with our neighbors.

We must refuse to accept rapacious corporations into our communities because they promise us a handful of jobs. Instead, we must insist that our young people be the first hired to build the sustainable, healthy, and safe communities of the future.

We no longer have the luxury of leaving environmentalism to others. As the tragedy in Flint makes painfully clear, our very lives depend on it.

How to make a bus mama proud

Parenting is really hard. It’s harder than I ever imagined, and I imagined that it was going to be hard. My baby whispering skills are legendary, but with actual children, I have no idea what I’m doing. Most days, I feel like I’m messing up motherhood — and maybe even my kids.

Then yesterday, at the 8 stop, I looked over at my progeny and saw them doing this.

My rider-readers








It wasn’t a surprise — they read every time we wait at a bus stop (or anywhere else, for that matter) — but in that moment, after a morning of whining, arguing, and selective hearing, it was a gift.

It looks like I’ve managed to get at least one thing right.

Dear Danielle

Around midday today, I boarded the 27 behind a young woman wearing white pants, a gorgeous green and blue blouse, a Seahawks cap, and a long, light-blue wig. Her magnificent outfit alone is reason for sharing, but there’s more.

As I passed the woman to sit down, she said hello as if she knew me and then asked about my kids. I couldn’t place her at all, so I assumed she was someone I see when I’m out and about walking. But this woman interacted with me as though I must know her as well, announcing almost immediately that she was a mother now, too, and walking over to my seat to show me the adorable baby photos on her phone.

I am ashamed to say that I pretended to know her, which made our interaction somewhat awkward. (Of course, bonding over babies can take the edge off of almost anything.) Finally, our conversation revealed who she was: “Miss Danielle,” a young woman who had interned at Chicklet’s preschool one summer. Chicklet, who has always been a tough customer, adored Danielle, because she was patient and compassionate and a good listener.

Back in those days, Danielle was a student at Garfield. After her internship ended, the kids and I would sometimes see her on the bus or around the neighborhood. She always made a point to say hi to Chicklet.

On the bus ride today, I learned that Danielle lives in Puyallup now, and that she has started a job at a sandwich chain all the way downtown. She lives near the transit center, so we spent a good long time talking Sounder versus 578. Sounder is more expensive and doesn’t run often enough, but it has bathrooms, great views, and predictable travel times. Plus, she was given an free unlimited ORCA card through a school program, so for now, cost isn’t an issue.

After she got off the bus, I thought about the Danielle I had known when Chicklet was in preschool, so different in appearance from the young woman I had met today. I thought about the fact that neither of us could have pictured the future she had walked into, one choice and changing circumstance at a time.

This is not an idealization of the past, nor is it a self-righteous hand-wringing about the perils of young motherhood. It is, at least in part, a rage against the unfairness that pushes a young mother searching for housing to the distant exurbs. But mostly, it is a meditation on change.

In the few years since Danielle left our neighborhood, it has become a place she might not recognize. (The preschool where we met her, which has been serving children in the same location for over 50 years, is one of the few institutions that endures.) In those same few years, she became a person I did not recognize. I wonder what changes she saw in me.

Dear Danielle, tenderhearted preschool helper, mama of beautiful babies, hot mama wearing the heck out of her blue hair and white jeans: I hope to meet you again on your journey.

Wisdom from a walker

“Part of the mystery of walking is that the destination is inside us and we really don’t know when we arrive until we arrive.” — John Francis

I recently watched this very interesting talk by John Francis, aka “Planetwalker.”

I don’t remember how I came across the talk, because I had never heard of Francis or his extreme walking before I happened upon it.* A little background:

In 1971, when John Francis was in his 20s and living in Inverness, California, two oil tankers collided under the Golden Gate Bridge and spilled close to a million gallons of oil into the San Francisco Bay. The resulting devastation disturbed Francis deeply. He volunteered to participate in cleanup efforts, but it didn’t feel like enough. So, after some soul searching, he decided to give up riding in motorized vehicles and walk to get around.** According to his official bio, Francis “started walking because he felt partly responsible for the mess that washed up on the shore.”

A few months after this decision, Francis also decided to stop talking – at first to take a break from the arguments with friends and family that his new walking lifestyle had prompted, and then as a discipline. Not talking helped him learn to listen and, paradoxically, strengthened his ability to communicate.

Over the next 22 years, this silent walker (and occasional cyclist and sailboat rider) earned several degrees, including a PhD in land resources; taught university courses; wrote oil spill regulations for the US Coast Guard; started a nonprofit; and traveled the world as a UN ambassador.


But what is interesting about Francis’s talk is that it is not about the decades he spent walking. It is not about the struggles, triumphs, accomplishments, or even the recognition that resulted from his steadfast adherence to a decision he made as a very young man.

No, Francis’s talk is about the reasons he decided to stop walking — or, to put it more accurately, to start riding again. He didn’t change his mind about what he believed, nor did he simply grow weary and disillusioned and give up. Instead, he evolved. Over the years and miles, Francis’s understanding of humanity’s abuse of this planet deepened and broadened.

“Environment changed from just being about trees and birds and endangered species to being about how we treated each other. Because if we are the environment, then all we need to do is look around and see how we treat ourselves and how we treat each other.”

He began to see the connections between our disrespect for other human beings and our disrespect for other species. He began to see justice and ecology as intimately intertwined. And he began to see that he had an obligation to spread this message as broadly as possible. To do this, he would have to put his days of taking years to travel across states behind him.

“I realized that I had a responsibility to more than just me, and that I was going to have to change. I was afraid to change because I was so used to the guy who only just walked. I was so used to that person that I didn’t want to stop. I didn’t know who I would be if I changed, but I [knew] I needed to. I [knew] I needed to change because it would be the only way that I could be here today. And I know that a lot of times we find ourselves in this wonderful place that we have gotten to, but there’s another place for us to go, and we kind of have to leave behind the security of who we’ve become and go to the place of who we are becoming. And so, I want to encourage you to go to that next place, to let yourself out of any prison you might find yourself in, because we have to do something now. We have to change now.”

I relate to John Francis on many levels. I relate to his love of walking. I relate to his deep appreciation of the natural world. I relate to his horror and sense of helplessness in the face of unprecedented environmental destruction, motivated by unprecedented greed. I relate to his extremism, which in my case, has its roots in part in an “all or nothing” mentality and in part in a self-righteousness that I have only in the last few years begun to acknowledge and attempt to address.

I relate to his conviction that racism, war, inequality, colonialism, environmental destruction, and all forms of abuse are symptoms of the same sickness: the sickness of disconnection and separation, of viewing “self” as being contained within the walls of one’s skin, rather than as one essential part of a beautiful, connected whole.

I relate to the way he tied his identity to his mode of travel — and especially to his eventual chafing at this connection. For many years, my identity — or at least, my public persona — has been built upon how I choose to get around. Yes, public transportation is something I deeply value. It speaks to me on many levels, and I intend to keep riding as long as I am able, which I hope is for the rest of my life. But my identity is not dependent on my transportation choices.

I will never tire of writing about buses, because they are much more than a way to get around. But I have more to say – about motherhood, and community, and spirituality, and justice, and history, and ecology. And I, like John Francis, believe I can do a better job saying it without the yoke of an identity that is no longer serving me.

Though our family will continue to live without a car, and I will continue share my love of public transit — here and elsewhere — I’m ready to write about more than just buses. And really, it’s about time.

* Of course, after the talk, I went straight the library and checked out his book. I’ll report back.
** I have no idea why he didn’t consider using a bicycle to facilitate his travels. Perhaps he has the same mental block that I do.

2016 is the year (no foolin’)

Some months ago, I turned 44.* One of the many blessings of being over 40 is a deeper understanding that right now – this year, this day, this moment – is your life. There is no ‘maybe someday’; there is only now.

One thing that’s been on my “someday” list for a long time is to try riding a bike to get around. In the 13 years I have lived without a car, I have taken fewer (probably far fewer) than 13 bike trips. This is mostly because I am terrified to ride in traffic.** But, it is at least partly because I don’t have a bike. Or at least, I didn’t.

The grown-ups in our family rarely request or receive non-edible birthday gifts, but this year, I requested. And folks, I did receive. Behold, my bicycle:

My new baby, showing off in the sunshine

I call her the 6*** (thanks, Justin!), since there is no King County Metro route 6. That way, I can say stuff like, “I’m taking the 6 there,” and confuse everyone with my clever bus chick tricks.

I digress.

The good news is, I’ve had a ridiculous amount of fun on the two recreational 6 rides I have taken with my family: one along the path at a neighborhood park (in the pouring rain — still fun!), and one several times around our block after dinner. The bad news is, those are the only rides I’ve taken in the over two months I’ve owned a bicycle.

I have many reasons for resistance, even in addition to my aforementioned fear: weather, locking ineptitude, helmets, hills, etc., etc. But, I rarely even get to those. The main issue is, when I have to go somewhere, it simply does not occur to me to take my bike. My deeply ingrained habit is to walk out the door and head to a bus stop – or just keep walking. Most of the time, I forget that the bike is even there.

My car-free life generally (ahem) works pretty well for me as it is. A lot of my regular destinations are within walking distance, and most of the rest is bus-able. But there’s a category of travel — when it’s too far to walk in a reasonable amount of time, and there isn’t a decent bus option — that I want to use a bike for. There are plenty of trips in this category that I simply don’t take, because I’m not going to transfer and wait and deal with infrequent schedules just to travel a couple of miles. I want to expand the number of trips I say yes to, to experience the kind of freedom and access and point-to-point, on demand travel that a bicycle provides. And I want to do it while my body still works well enough to allow for the option.

So, I have promised myself that 2016 is now for me and Miss 6. At least once a week, from today until the end of September, I will use my bike to get somewhere I need to go. I will figure out how to lock it correctly. I’ll deal with the helmet. I’ll even attempt a few hills.

Maybe I will develop a habit. Maybe I’ll decide to stick to park paths with my kids. Either way, I’m going for a ride.


* Yes, I realize that I’ve pushed far beyond the years that one can reasonably call herself a “chick.” Unfortunately, there’s already a bus lady, but I’m seriously considering a change to “bus hag.”
** No, I am not trying to perpetuate the idea that bikes are dangerous. Quite the contrary. I am very clear that cars are the vehicles that are dangerous. Because of this, I believe that there should be safe places to ride them – places that do not include cars or vulnerable pedestrians.
** Chicklet has proposed a different name, “Orca Sparkle,” which her brother fully supports. Fortunately, the bike is flexible and will answer to either name.

When I grow up…

I have a lot of sheroes. Some of them are world renowned, or breathtakingly talented, or otherwise leading big, public lives. Many are ordinary people who conduct themselves with dignity and integrity. And a few are just ridiculously good at riding the bus. Today, I add another person — one who has integrity in spades and a PhD in busology — to my list of ordinary sheroes. Fellow bus chicks, I present Ms. Janis Scott, “the Bus Lady.”

It just so happens that I attended the same university as Miss Janis. After I finished school, I stayed in Houston to teach, so I am familiar with the particular challenges of riding the Houston Metro. Of course, I lived there before the city had light rail, and long before the agency’s recent restructure, so I don’t have a very good understanding of what it’s like to ride these days. I do know that, in a city that is 627 miles square, with precious few sidewalks, it would take a miracle-working transit system to make busing convenient. But I digress.

Like Miss Janis, I love cultural events, and, theoretically, I take the bus to partake of them. (I say theoretically because I have kids, and I don’t get out much these days.) But there’s more. I, too, have served on innumerable transit-related advisory committees. (Too bad the committees in Seattle don’t offer free rides as a perk.) And finally, almost exactly seven years ago, I, too, had the honor of being featured in a Streetsfilm.

Maybe this means that my destiny is to follow in the footsteps of the Bus Lady. In my vision of my own future, I will be living much like Miss Janis does: doing my life on the bus, sharing my expertise with others, and helping to elevate the needs of riders.

“Common sense and mother wit.” Yes, indeed.

“Mix, mix, mix!”

Southbound 106 stop, Rainier & Henderson, 4:45 PM

A group of young women are passing the long wait for our bus with conversation.

Woman 1: “It’s the body’s attempt at achieving equilibrium. I learned that in psychology.”
Woman 2: “Girl took one psychology class, and now she’s an expert.”
Woman 1: “Two, honey. Two. I failed one and then took it again.”