Category Archives: Uncategorized

Singin’, prayin’, and parlayin’

Last week, Laura from Eastlake sent me this note:

You often talk about Smooth Jazz and I must admit that I have been jealous. I would LOVE for the ride home to be to some music. So I thought I would send you a quick email to tell you about a great driver I had the other day coming home. It was on Wednesday night on the 70 at about 6pm. The bus driver sang a song to the entire bus about “humoring your bus driver so he doesn’t leave you at your stop while waiting.” It was really funny, he said he made it up on the spot, and the entire bus applauded and laughed (with him).

A bus driverHer e-mail was the inspiration for last week’s Real Change column, which was about some of my favorite drivers (including Smooth Jazz and one I used to call Preacher, for his tendency to pray on the job). Then, last evening, the woman who helped me at Nordstrom rather spontaneously launched into stories about her favorite 49 drivers: the one who looks just like Dave Chappelle–not as funny but really nice–and the one who is so cute she sometimes flirts with him on her way off the bus.

All this talk about cool (and sexy) bus drivers has me wondering: Who are your favorites? Why?

The things she carried

Spare bus fareFor some reason I have yet to understand, Bus Nerd has entirely too much change. Everywhere he goes, change follows. It is in his pants pockets, in his coat pockets, in his busnerd bag. If you’re ever short bus fare, search the cushions of a couch he has recently sat on; you’re sure to find at least a couple of trips’ worth. And don’t get me started on his (former) bedroom. His spare-change jar filled up at least a year ago, subsequently overflowing onto his nightstand and into his most recent ad-hoc container, a plastic bag on the floor.

Last Thursday, to prevent this change from overflowing its way into our current bedroom, I offered to take it to the free coin-counting machine at the credit union near my office. The plan was to stop there on my way to work, which would have been an unremarkable errand–except that I am a bus chick, and the change I offered to carry weighed almost 35 pounds. Despite Busnerd’s warnings and admonishments, I carried the money in my backpack, along with my laptop and other bus chick necessities, for the entire 15-mile (two buses plus a very long walk) trip. Fortunately, I managed to remain upright for the journey, and I was rewarded at its end. The change added up to $360. I think I’ll use it to buy Busnerd an extra-large piggy bank.

Of course, a 35-pound backpack full of change is far from the oddest thing I’ve carried on the bus. Last month, I carried my wedding dress home on the 27, to the dismay of the clerk at the fancy shop that made it. A couple of Thanksgivings ago, I rode the 3 with a still-warm fried turkey.

And those are just the two of the many. Anyone else carried something odd/unwieldy/embarrassing on the bus?

Transportation in the news

• Today is the first day of school! It’s also the first day of the Metro transportation pilot for Franklin and Ballard students. Wonder how it’s faring
• Speaking of schools: There’s a new elementary in Redmond Ridge that’s named after my all-time favorite bus chick, Rosa Parks. Ironically, Rosa Parks Elementary doesn’t currently offer bus transportation. (This is not necessarily a bad thing, since all students live within a mile of the school, and there are organized groups of walkers. But still.)
• A couple of the major travel websites have recently launched programs to help guilt-ridden travelers offset the ecological damage their of their vacations (air travel, car rentals, etc.). Customers who participate pay an additional fee at the time of booking. That fee is then donated (as far as I know, in its entirety) to an organization that works to preserve the environment.
PCC and Metro are teaming up to reducing driving in the region:

The “Metro Challenge” program at PCC is designed to let residents throughout King County add down-to-earth meaning to the broader policies King County is putting into place to reduce the harmful greenhouse gases that cause global warming.

The goal is to show PCC members that they actually can make a difference and improve the quality of life in their neighborhood by taking the bus, walking, bicycling, or even sharing a ride. And, if they try these alternatives just twice a week over a ten-week period instead of driving, Metro and PCC are betting they just may discover there’s a lot more to green than meets the eye.


Speaking of love…

On Saturday, I received a surprise in the mail from my future mother-in-law (too cool for that title and so to be known henceforth as “my Gail”). My Gail lives in Detroit, a city that, despite plans for a fabulous new Rosa Parks Transit Center, is not known for its buses. It is, however, a city known for its cool t-shirts, and my Gail managed to find me the coolest one of all. It has a picture of a vintage 53, a route that travels the length of Woodward Avenue, one of the longest of Detroit’s very long streets. (I think I rode the 53 to a museum on one of my visits.) I can’t find the shirt on the Internet, but here’s what the picture of the bus looks like:

Detroit Transit apparel

I wish I could wear it every day.

A bus chick by any other name…

A couple of months ago (yes, I have a serious backblog), a reader e-mailed to point out the irony of my first name (which, for those who don’t know, is Carla). As surprising as it might sound, I haven’t thought about my name’s association with automobiles since elementary school. Back then, the class clown (incidentally, the only other kid in my grade who rode the 2 to school) got a kick out of making fun of it. “Truckla! Trainla!” he’d tease on our morning ride. Later, on the way home, he’d pick up where he left off: “Boatla! Planela!” And so on, ad nauseam, until we parted ways downtown.

Not surprisingly, Busla (not to be confused with bus luh) was the name that stuck. It was also the name he was screaming at the top of his lungs when he “accidentally” (on purpose) threw my backpack (an early form of the bus chick bag) into the pond at the Denny-Blaine stop. But that’s a story for another post.

“Busla” back in the day. That’s me in the back on the left–yes, the one with the oh-so-fresh shag–or, as my brother Jeremy (front right) calls it, the “whip cut.”

Deja vu, tell you what I’m gonna do

Last night, I reminisced with my friend Aileen about the days when the Madrona Ale House was a corner drugstore, the same corner drug store that she and her neighborhood playmates frequented for candy fixes, the same one I passed every day on the 2 on my way to school. It was at this drug store that Aileen bought her very first tube of lipstick–a purchase responsible for a lifelong obsession. (I believe her current collection is in the three-digit range.) But I digress.

The Madrona of today bears almost no resemblance to the Madrona of our childhoods. And so, in the custom of so many who witness the transformation of a place they love, last night we waxed poetic about the “good old days,” decrying the changes and all those associated with them.

On the 48 on Saturday, the driver and a few other Seattle oldheads were engaged in a similar conversation, talking about how much better the city was in the 70s, back when, to paraphrase, folks had some sense. “If I had my way,” the driver said, “I’d send all those Microsoft people out to the middle of the state.”

A common trait among us changephobes is our desire to keep a place the way it was when we found it. We tend to forget that we found it at single a point on a continuum of change. (I imagine, for example, that many Duwamish people have a different version of the “good old days” than I.) So, as deeply as I’ve felt the losses I have endured as my hometown has grown up (and, unfortunately, out), I understand that change is both inevitable and necessary. Resistance to it is, after all, largely responsible for our current transportation nightmare.

And therein, ladies and gentlemen, lies the root of my current internal struggle.

Last Friday, I participated in one of Sound Transit’s lunch bus tours of the light rail construction. Not surprisingly, I am beyond excited about this project. I absolutely believe that we should build light rail in Seattle. I would even go so far as to say we don’t have a choice.

Still, as the tour guide took us by site after site and street after torn-up street, my excitement and anticipation were tempered by a deep, deep sadness. Despite years of opposition by groups like Save Our Valley, I hadn’t really understood the profound impact that light rail will have on the southern end of our city until I saw it up close. Some of it will be good, of course. Rail will reduce traffic and pollution and improve access to key destinations. Sound Transit is basically repaving all of MLK, widening sidewalks and burying power lines while they’re at it. But the process is painful. Homes have been demolished make room for tracks and the aforementioned sidewalks. Decades-old trees have been removed, to be replaced by many more new ones. Beacon Hill is actually being hollowed out, so that one day a train can run right through it. And, of course, property values are rising in anticipation of the neighborhoods’ increased desirability.

I wonder if I’ll recognize the Hill or the Valley in 20 years. Truth be told, I kinda liked them the way they were.

So pete rock hit me, nuff respect due
When they reminisce over you, listen

Speaking of sexy…

Last night I got gussied up and hopped on the 4, headed downtown for a “changing jobs” party for a friend. I love riding the bus at night. There is something about the traffic-free streets, the deserted sidewalks, and the darkness outside the windows that creates camaraderie among those of us who have found ourselves together inside the warm, brightly lit vehicle.

Last night’s ride was better than usual. My favorite 4 driver, the one I call Smooth Jazz, was at the wheel. Smooth Jazz always drives at night, and he’s as cool and laid back as they come. Every time I ride his bus, he’s playing music–usually jazz–from a radio in the front. It’s loud enough for everyone to hear (especially on those quiet, nighttime rides), but not at all intrusive. When you get on, he nods and lifts his eyebrows, gently but firmly imparting the rules of his Smooth Jazz world: no funny business–just lean back, chill, and enjoy the ride.

Which is what I did.

The ride put me in just the right mood for the party, which turned out to be fun. The DJ was on an early-to-mid nineties hip-hop kick, and the bartender was excellent. (Another benefit of the bus-chick lifestyle: a built-in designated driver.) If I hadn’t violated Bus Chick Rule #37 (when going out, wear shoes that are both cute and comfortable) the night would have been perfect.

Car-free vacation: Vancouver

This weekend, Adam and I took the train to Vancouver for a short vacation. We were in the city for only two days, and though we used TransLink (Vancouver’s public transportation system) quite a bit during those two days, we didn’t have enough time to get a feel for what it’s really like.

For what it’s worth, here’s my quick and dirty assessment:

What I liked:
• The fare system: One ticket buys you passage on all the TransLink services (the SkyTrain, the buses, and the SeaBus). Tickets are available at convenience and grocery stores, and at SkyTrain stations.
• Mini-buses: The buses for some routes were smaller than standard buses (picture an airport shuttle). Instead of limiting the frequency of routes with lower ridership, TransLink limited the size of the vehicles.
• Rail: Public transit that’s not dependent on traffic or gasoline and always runs on time? Yes, please! As it happens, construction on Vancouver’s newest rail line (the Canada Line) begins this month.
• Hybrid cabs: We saw these everywhere.

What I didn’t like:
• Signage at bus stops. The bus schedules were often incomplete and confusing.
• Feeling like a newbie. I love riding public transportation in other cities, but, as a self-proclaimed expert on Seattle’s bus system, I’m always slightly uncomfortable in the role of ignorant newcomer.

What I’m still trying to figure out:
The SkyTrain honor system: Both times we rode the SkyTrain, we bought tickets but were never required to use them. We got the impression (from the text on the back of the ticket) that someone from TransLink might board the train and ask people to prove they had paid, but I find it difficult to believe that this is really the only method used to ensure that folks actually pay the fare. Is there anyone out there from Vancouver who can shed some light?

Even with a limited knowledge of Vancouver’s public transit system, I am convinced that it is relatively painless to live there without a car. The city (not by accident) is small, densely populated, pedestrian friendly, and (mostly) freeway free. There are grocery stores, pet stores, dry cleaners, and pharmacies in almost every neighborhood. We took public transit because we wanted to see how it worked, but we could have easily made it to all of our destinations (with the exception, perhaps, of Stanley Park) by walking for 10-15 minutes.

We enjoyed every minute of it. When you’re in a busy, vibrant, international city (that just happens to be surrounded by stunning natural beauty), walking is not just a method of getting from A to B; it’s part of the experience.