Author Archives: bus chick

Remembering why I ride

“What’s the Flux?” is a six-month, grant-funded project by KBCS radio that examines commuting in the Puget Sound region from a human level. I was fortunate enough to participate in the project; my interviews with reporter Yuko Kodama were broadcast earlier this month.

Ordinarily, I don’t like doing radio interviews. Time is limited, or the focus is political (which can feel more like a race to make your point than an actual dialog), or the host asks all the wrong questions. But this interview was a lot of fun. I talked with Yuko twice, for well over an hour each time (though fortunately, she edited my ramblings down to digestible segments), and I managed to explain — and as a result, reconnect with — most of what I love about the bus.

I’m sharing the recordings here in hopes that they will help you remember (or discover) what you love about sharing the ride. Also, because it lets me pretend like I have a podcast.

On buses and boundaries

Earlier this month, I wrote a short piece for Seattle’s Child about how Bus Nerd and I teach our kids to interact with strangers. Here’s a taste.

[We] don’t discourage our kids from talking to “strangers.” Like most parents, we have taught them never to go with a person they don’t know. But we also encourage and model safe and positive interactions, including making eye contact and greeting people, engaging in conversation, and helping those who need it.

We teach our kids how to recognize signs that someone is not safe to interact with: erratic behavior, inappropriate or aggressive language, invading personal space. And we empower them to decide what sort of interactions they’re comfortable with.

I certainly don’t have a magic bullet to protect my children (or anyone’s) from danger and violence. But the thing is, the more we isolate our kids and hide them away from the people they share the world with, the more disconnected and dangerous our communities become. We end up with fewer neighborhood friendships (and thus, more strangers), fewer “eyes on the street,” and lots more people in cars. And, as the number one killer of American children, cars are a significant threat to the safety of our communities.

Here’s to saying hi!

Art + buses + community = life (part II)

My former coworker, Kate, bus (and bike) mama extraordinaire, moved from Tacoma to St. Louis over the summer. Kate and her crew are so far enjoying the transit life in a city that offers service after 7 PM (ahem) and have wasted no time integrating themselves into their new community.

Last Saturday, they attended a birthday party for the Gateway Arch and painted a bus.

Bus painting in STL

[O]n Saturday, October 24, children and adults [transformed] a 35-foot MetroBus into a rolling work of art that will travel on routes in St. Louis County and the City of St. Louis over the next year.

You guys. You guys.

How cool would it be to see a bus you helped paint rolling through your neighborhood? How cool would it be to ride on one? What a beautiful way to foster feelings of belonging and build community!

Transit agency/arts organization types who are reading: Make this happen in your area.

Respect to those who came before, part V (Or, Why we need Indigenous People’s Day)

Last Thursday, I heard a story on my local public radio station about the “remaking” of Seattle. The host interviewed geology writer David Williams about his book, which details a series of landscape-transforming projects — razing hills, filling in tide flats, and cutting a canal between two lakes — undertaken by white settlers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. According to Williams, Seattle’s forefathers chose the site for their city based on its useful deep water port, but they found the actual landscape — hilly, and covered with rivers and trees — to be unworkable for their purposes. So, they decided to change it.

During the interview, Mr. Williams described these settlers’ actions as “bold,” “naïve,” and “ambitious.” He even called them insecure, based on his belief that early Seattleites wanted their city to be considered “world class” but weren’t sure it quite measured up.

I paid close attention to Williams’s version of the story, because, only a few weeks earlier, I had seen the documentary Princess Angeline at an event at the Duwamish Longhouse. The film addresses these very same projects, but from the perspective of the Duwamish people, who were the original inhabitants of the land that became Seattle. Far from improving the “habitability” of their homeland, the landscape-altering projects completely destroyed the Duwamish way of life.

Canoe

But there was not a single mention of the Duwamish people — by Mr. Williams or by the host — in the entire seven-minute interview. There was no talk of violence, greed, or racism, despite the fact that the rivers the Duwamish had used for sustenance and travel for thousands of years were either filled with dirt from the razed hills or poisoned by all of the rapid “progress.” Instead, the interview encouraged listeners to imagine brave, industrious settlers taming an empty (and troublesome) landscape.

This kind of revisionist history, this kind of erasure, happens again and again in the ways we talk about our city — and our country. It reinforces the myth that the United States was founded by pilgrims and pioneers who discovered an empty, resource-rich land and built an exceptional nation. We rarely trouble ourselves with the inconvenient fact that the land was already inhabited when these adventurous, freedom-loving pioneers arrived. Nor do we consider that their descendants continue to live among us.

A couple of weeks ago, I attended a talk by one of my favorite writers, Isabel Wilkerson. Ms. Wilkerson is the author of The Warmth of Other Suns, a history — viewed through three first-person accounts — of the Great Migration of former slaves from the American south to northern cities. The Warmth of Other Suns is easily the greatest work of nonfiction I have ever read, and Wilkerson is an extremely thoughtful and sensitive scholar and writer, attuned to the stories of people who are discounted and marginalized.

And yet, at the end of her talk, she emphasized that each of us in the audience, by virtue of the fact that we were in Seattle, were the descendants of migrants, people who had come from somewhere else in search of a better life. She was doing so to illustrate the parallels between the participants in the Great Migration and immigrants who came from other lands. But her statement involved a basic assumption: that no one in the audience (and by extension, no one in the city) was a descendant of the people who are native to this region.

When we receive — and repeat — these kids of messages, we are reinforcing the idea that Native people either never existed or are a people of the past. It is easier to believe this than to face the truth. But we must face it. We must learn as much as we can about what happened, what was lost, and how we can forge a more just path forward.

Duwamish people in canoes on the Duwamish River

So I am beyond pleased that we have decided as a city to honor, celebrate, and especially, to hear the people whose land we now occupy.

Happy holiday, everyone. See you at the celebration?

On cars and community

My love of the bus has always had its roots in a deep craving for community. I have written extensively (here and here and here and here and here, for starters) about how my family’s bus-based life has enriched our sense of community and our connection to our city and neighborhood.

And it’s not just about sharing the ride. Living without a car has forced us to participate in our neighborhood in a way we never would have if zipping* all over the region was as easy as jumping in the car. Out of necessity, we play at local parks, attend the local school, shop for groceries at the local store, and get our check-ups at the local clinic. (Our church is the outlier at exactly one mile from home.) We frequent the library, community center, and city pool. And, we regularly socialize with our neighbors. Instead of spending our energy searching for something “perfect,” we focus on enjoying — and occasionally, improving — what is available. This way of living has added a richness and sense of belonging to our lives that is nothing less than magical.

But for all its community-building benefits, our carfree life also has a disconnecting influence. We have a network of family and close friends that spans the entire region, and we don’t see them nearly as much as we’d like to. Traveling long distances by bus is fine for adventures, but it’s not something you “fit in” to your day; it is the day. Almost as soon as you arrive at your destination, you’re figuring out how you’re going to get back.

So, we rarely eat Sunday dinner with my youngest brother and his family in Tacoma, or spend a spontaneous afternoon with close friends in Renton or Kirkland. We skip most birthday parties that are held at transit-inaccessible venues — in other words, most birthday parties**. We leave evening gatherings earlier than everyone else, because waiting for a transfer with two small people after dark is not my idea of a good time.

It is very important to us  to be connected to the Black community– both for our own social well-being and to foster a strong sense of identity in our children. While we are definitely connected to Black folks through family, church, and neighborhood friendships, we don’t participate in some of the organizations and institutions — specifically, those aimed at connecting Black families — we would otherwise be a part of. With Seattle’s small Black community now so dispersed — “automobility” is essentially a requirement.

Of course we know about (and occasionally use) carsharing, but, with car seats to schlep and no cars nearby, it’s not especially convenient or desirable for us. More than anything, the need to use a car regularly to feel connected reinforces how integral cars are to the way we practice community in the United States in 2015.

I don’t see a path to changing the way of life in this country so radically that cars (or for that matter, airplanes) are no longer necessary for maintaining relationships. Our culture is too mobile and often more focused on opportunity than community. But certainly, we can all work to build connections with the people we share our neighborhoods with. We can think of the places we choose to live as more than just access points to all the other places we want to go. Rather, we can think of them as the places where we build our lives.

As the late activist (and Bus Chick shero) Grace Lee Boggs said, one of “the most radical things [we can do] is stay put.”

***
* I should note that traveling around this region by car involves very little zipping—hello traffic!—but you get the point.
** Having a few friends over for cake (ahem) apparently does not cut it anymore.

Buses are for everyone, part IV

Lava Mae bus

What happens to old buses after they’ve outlived their usefulness as public transit providers? Most are sold at auction and used for parts. A handful are lovingly maintained by an all-volunteer nonprofit and used to provide unique, low cost excursions to the general public. (Ahem.) And apparently, others are given away through various agency donation programs.

Friends, today I learned about Lava Mae, a new nonprofit in San Francisco that is repurposing retired Muni buses in one of the most beautiful ways I could imagine: as mobile showers for homeless people.

This is Lava Mae’s charge: provide sanitation, assist in deterring potential public health problems, and perhaps most critically, provide a much needed service to help a population struggling to retain a sense of dignity and self worth.

In essence, Lava Mae seeks to solve a small piece of what the United Nations and World Health Organization define as, and Lava Mae believes is, a basic human right: access to water and sanitation.

Thank you, Doniece Sandoval, for using your compassion, creativity, and commitment to provide dignity and hope to those in need. I can’t think of a better use for a bus.

Multimodal Monday: Greenway riders

Until recently, I’ve have a complicated relationship with neighborhood greenways. Though I have always been supportive of the concept of making streets safer (and more comfortable) for cyclists and pedestrians, I’ve also been skeptical that minor changes to neighborhood streets* would make much of a difference.

Then they added a greenway to our neighborhood. OK, I haven’t actually ridden on it yet, but I have walked behind my budding bicyclists on a number of excursions. Folks, I’m a believer.

Riding on the greenway

Safe, marked, crossings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PLUS…

Greenway (7)

speed control (with speed humps and traffic circles)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PLUS…

Stop signs at intersections

stop signs at intersections,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

EQUALS…

Greenway (5)

happy riders!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our neighborhood greenway just happens to provide an almost door-to-door connection between our home and our church, so we will be using it fairly regularly.

The little people still ride on the sidewalk (and will for the foreseeable future), but the changes still made a huge difference in their safety and comfort. One example: At all the intersections where there are four-way stops, we allow them to ride across the street instead of getting off their bikes and walking, which increases the fun factor and decreases the tedium by a lot.

When they are old enough, I would absolutely feel comfortable letting them ride in the street. And if I ever make good on my promise to get a real** bike, I will use the greenway (no, really) for kid-free neighborhood trips. While walking will always be my preferred mode of transportation, sometimes you just need to get there already.

***
*As opposed to building more sidewalks and adding protected bike lanes to major streets

**The one I have now is a folding bike I won at a transportation fair in 2007. I have ridden it less than a dozen times.

Power to the people

On Saturday, Bus Nerd and I went to see The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution at Northwest Film Forum. I learned many things from this film, one of which is that founding chair Bobby Seale was the best political candidate of all time.

During his 1973 campaign for mayor of Oakland, the man took his message directly to the people, Panther style.

Bobby Seale, campaigning on a bus (source: NPR)

Yes, please.

Though he wasn’t able to unseat Oakland’s incumbent mayor, Seale’s “long shot” candidacy, masterminded — along with the city council candidacy of Elaine Brown — by the ever resourceful Panther organization, earned him a second place finish in a nine-candidate contest. More importantly, it earned him a voice in the debate.

I have always been inspired by the dedication and sacrifice of the Black Panthers. The young people — average age of a member was between 18 and 20 — who joined the organization gave their whole selves to the cause. They risked personal safety. They sacrificed relationships. They shared resources, including living quarters. And they worked. Tirelessly. Sometimes around the clock.

The fruits of that tireless, dedicated labor were many: chapters in 38 cities (including Seattle), a newspaper with an international circulation of 250,000, a free breakfast program that fed 10,000 children per day at its peak, and free health clinics in cities across the country.

These young people were not willing to sit idle and hope hard for change. They stood up, took action, made mistakes, tried again. From their small corner of this country, they raised their voices loud enough for the whole world to hear.

Black Panther Party 10-point program

Art + buses + community = life

If anything could cheer me right now, it is this goodness from the Twin Cities. (Thanks for sharing, Allison!)

Bus Poster - Ricard Levins Morales

CuriousCity TC is a project of Minneapolis artist Ricardo Levins Morales to put thought-provoking questions and images on Twin Cities (Minneapolis-Saint Paul, MN) city buses.

New posters will be installed on dozens of metro buses once a month from June through November 2015, culminating in a community event.

Viewers are encouraged to discuss the questions with other riders and to post responses on this site or on social media with the hashtag #CuriousCityTC.

Yes to art on buses! Yes to projects that encourage interaction and reflection. Yes to building community.

Love.

A beautiful, brief ride

On October 22, 2014, a chubby, dimpled, charming 16-month old — known for a single post as HBE — joined our family. On July 20th, 2015, he returned to the one he was born to.

It was an unexpected, happy outcome. It was what I prayed for when I prayed for our little guy (which I did, and still do, every night). It was also a heartbreaking, wrenching loss.

I feel a bit at loose ends right now — experiencing emotions that do not have a name, grieving and celebrating and missing and aching and sighing a big sigh of relief. The last time I felt this overwhelmed was when my mother died eight years ago.

Back then, I found solace on the bus. I remember being comforted, as I boarded the 4 for what ended up being my last visit with her, by the man in front of me who didn’t have his fare. A week later, after countless hours staring out my apartment window, I was desperate for the distraction of a ride.

Today, it’s not distraction I am craving; it is communion. It is both the actual community I am part of on the bus and the metaphor of the shared ride that ease the pain of this transition for me.

My family shared a beautiful, brief ride with a remarkable human being. The experience blessed and forever changed us. And now he is off on the next leg his life journey.

Oh how we miss you, my dear, sweet HBE.