Category Archives: transit culture

Doors closing

One of my favorite things about public transportation is the culture that develops among riders. There are things we just do, regardless of our life stage or social standing, that identify us as bus (or train) people. If you’ve never hollered for the driver to open the back door, panic rising in your voice; woken from a nap just in time for your stop; or engaged in at least one book discussion or sports debate with a stranger, you haven’t been riding long enough.

And if you’ve never hurried to catch a vehicle, only to have it close its doors (or pull away) just as you arrive, well, then you can’t call yourself a transit rider.

Watching this Gothamist video feels like looking in the mirror.

Poetry on Buses (and trains), 2016

poetry on buses 2016

The folks at Poetry on Buses have announced their 2016 theme: “Your Body of Water.” Last year’s theme, “Writing Home,” was provocative — so much so that I thought it might actually inspire me to write a poem (it didn’t) — but props to the new poet planner, Jourdan Keith, for selecting this one. Wow.

“Your Body of Water” is a poetic exploration of our connections to water and how it is protected and cared for by Seattle Public Utilities and King County.

We are all bodies of water, connected to one another through the water web. Your body of water is connected to streams, rivers, lakes, tides, waterfalls, toilets and faucets, to present homes, childhood homes and ancestral ones by memory, by the water cycle, by stories. Come, tell your story through poetry.

Yes, please.

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.

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!”

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.

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