Category Archives: reasons to ride

A February adventure, Bus Fam style

On Saturday, my crew took a transit trip to the Tacoma Musical Playhouse. We rode three routes on three different systems: the 14 (King County Metro) from our neighborhood to downtown Seattle, the 594 (Sound Transit) from downtown Seattle to downtown Tacoma, and the 1 (Pierce Transit) from downtown Tacoma to the theater. It was a two-hour trip, including walks and waits. Good thing we had our books, cubes, and snacks packed and our adventure hats on.

Even though we ride the 14 regularly, there is something about traveling during “off” hours that makes it more fun. When buses are less crowded, drivers are more relaxed, and there is a solidarity and camaraderie among passengers that leads to conversations — and frequent bus-wide discussions. Our early Saturday morning 14 was one of those special rides, and it put us in just the right frame of mind to enjoy the rest of the day.

The 594 was exciting for Chicklet and Busling, who are used to city buses and did not know what to make of a Sound Transit commuter vehicle. When I showed them that their seats could recline, they just about fell out.

The 1 ride to the theater was a 30-minute trip down Tacoma’s busy 6th Avenue. Who needs expensive vacations when you can take the bus through a neighboring city? It was fun to notice the differences : the velvety bus seats (which are easier to ride on because they are not slippery but which kind of freak me out because I once read that they’re teeming with scary bacteria), the location-specific bus ads, and the shops and other sights.

It was also pretty amusing to experience all the things that were the same. There was the bus breakdown. Two stops into our first 1 ride, our driver had to “switch coaches” because of an unexplained mechanical problem. There was the Inappropriate Questioner — this time, a middle-aged white woman who yelled across the aisle to a young, light-skinned black man that he looked just like Gregory Hines (he didn’t) and then proceeded to interrogate him about his knowledge of the famous dancer. There was the Manspreader (in his defense, the bus was half empty, so he wasn’t actually encroaching on anyone), who spent the better part of the ride scratching his back with a butter knife. And, at the stop where we got off, which is a half block off of one of Tacoma’s busiest streets, there was this.

Different city, same bus problems. Exhibit D: junk blocking the sidewalk.

Despite the minor setbacks, we arrived at the theater with plenty of time for a stop at the restroom (which had a chaise!) and a little exploring before the show started.

And about that show…

And now, perhaps, you understand my motivation to travel all the way to Tacoma to watch a “family musical.” The show was absolutely wonderful and somehow managed to please all four of us. Not only was it historically accurate — it even included the story of Claudette Colvin and dispelled many myths about Parks’ life — but it was also entertaining and incredibly inspiring.

We tend to see history’s heroes (and sheroes) as Chosen Ones, special people who embrace their destiny as our saviors. The truth is, heroes are almost always regular folks with families and fears and bills to pay. This was certainly true of Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, E.D. Nixon, Joanne Robinson, Virginia Durr, and the countless unrecognized people who risked and sacrificed for 381 days.

Their resistance was radical and dangerous. They faced violence from terrorists and from those who were sworn to protect them from terrorists. They had no reason to believe that their boycott would be successful, and they had every reason to believe that tremendous harm would come to their families if they continued. Yet day after day, setback after setback, they faced down their fear and doubt and chose to act with hope and courage. Their example is an enduring reminder that justice is not inevitable. It requires struggle. It requires us to persist in moments when it would be far easier not to.

I am grateful to Sue Greenberg and the Tacoma Musical Playhouse for bringing this beautiful struggle to life for my family.

And speaking of family…

My other motivation for a bus adventure to Tacoma was (and will remain) my hilarious, adorable three-year old niece, HD. After the show, HD and her mama met us for lunch at a fun burger joint near Wright Park — another 1 ride in the opposite direction. They also took us on a tour of Stadium High School (which is a short walk from the restaurant), so my Harry Potter-obsessed children could pretend they were visiting Hogwarts.

Coolest high school ever

Stadium’s stadium

After our rainy tour, we decided to continue our sightseeing on foot. We said goodbye to our guides and walked the mile to the nearest 594 stop. Then we headed back north, spending most of the ride napping contentedly in our reclining seats.

Sure, our excursion had its share of wet socks, waiting, and whining (mostly, in the form of begging for treats at the theater), but those irritations will be quickly forgotten. What we will remember about our February Tacoma adventure is that it stimulated our curiosity and imagination, fortified our courage, and connected us with our family and community. In my book, that’s as close to perfect as an adventure can get.

Small moments

Last Thursday, I met with a woman named Rachel about a bus-themed event she is planning. Not surprisingly, Rachel and I bonded over our love for buses. We talked about the connections that happen on transit, how they influence us, instruct us, and ground us in our communities. Rachel called these interactions “small moments,” which — leaving aside the association with elementary school writing curriculum* — is exactly the right way to describe them.

Most of my meaningful bus encounters aren’t stories with a beginning, middle, and end. They don’t result in epiphanies or lasting friendships but instead in a slight opening of my heart, a brief glimpse into another life, a kindness shared or received, a small surprise.

There was the time last Friday, when the kids and I were waiting at the Madrona Park 2 stop while the bus was laying over, and the driver, who could surely have used a few moments to himself to eat, use the phone, or just be blessedly alone, opened the bus doors and invited us inside 10 minutes before he was scheduled to leave. Because it was cold.

There were the four teenagers in the back of a Friday evening 106, talking smack and cursing up a storm, then — remembering my kids —  turning to me and saying, “Oops! Excuse our language.”

There was the time in mid-November, at the height of my post-election rage and panic, when I spotted this graffiti message in front of my seat on the 3.

There were the Thanksgiving rides to and from my brother’s house (three buses each way), populated with passengers (including us) carrying dishes to share and foil-covered plates of leftovers.

There was the time Chicklet and I boarded the 48 on the way to church, and the driver announced to everyone within earshot, “Look — twins!”

There was woman next to me on the 27 having a desperate phone conversation with DSHS, trying to figure out who to talk to and how to get credit for the services she was receiving, so that she could be reunited with her children.

There was the time we played musical chairs on a crowded 4 — an elderly man getting up for a woman with a walker, and then another person offering a seat to that man, and so on, until six people had made room for someone who needed a seat more than they did.

There was the man at the 14 stop showing his birth certificate to random strangers to prove he was born in 98122 – a zip code where he can no longer afford to live.

There was the Saturday when Bus Nerd and I took Busling on separate 8 rides and later figured out we’d had the same driver, because we each returned with a snack bag of chips he’d given to Busling upon boarding.

There was the woman on the 120 who reminded me of a younger version of myself: brownish, with a bus bag, reading a big book. After I snuck a peek at the title, we spent the next few minutes bonding — over books in general and Zadie Smith in particular — until we reached her stop.

There was the time we took my three-year old nephew to the Children’s Museum, and Chicklet left one of her beloved Harry Potter books on the 8. Thanks (obviously) to wizard magic, we rode the same bus on the way home, and Chicklet found her book right where she’d left it.

There was the Link ride back in June, where I saw a woman in a hijab with a Pride t-shirt and a man with a sign that said “LGBTQ solidarity with Muslims.”

There was the time I waited at Mount Baker Transit Center with two senior adults and their 12 preschool-aged charges, who chattered cheerfully — wearing matching backpacks and grins — as they waited for the 8 in a perfectly straight line.

There was the time my kids successfully chased down a 50 for the second morning in a row, and the driver told them they would grow up to be track stars.

There are so many more, every day — every ride. Most are quickly forgotten. They are part of the background of my life, perhaps in the same way as a driver’s daily maneuvers. But unlike drivers, I am reminded every time I travel of the humanity that surrounds me.

And it is beautiful.

***

* Chicklet and Busling have both written their fair share of “small moments” stories in their school careers. So far, none have been about the bus. ; )

Evolution

Last week, between Monday morning and Friday evening, I took 52 transit rides, 30 of them with kids. It was a record for me. It was ridiculous and amazing and exhausting. I was excited to share it on my blog, because where else could I record the magnificence and insanity of a week of 10+ bus rides per day but on a blog about the bus?

I wrote most of the post — which was filled with details* of my bus savvy, my kids’ bus running abilities, and my entire family’s general awesomeness — before I decided against sharing it. It reminded me too much of the posts I wrote in the early days of this blog, which, when I look back at them, make me cringe. I wasn’t all that young (34) when I started writing here, and I’d certainly seen a fair amount of the real world. And yet, much of what I wrote back then – a combination of breathless, pro-Metro posts and tales of all the extreme stuff I did on the bus — comes across as either impossibly naïve or incredibly smug. Maybe both. Metro cheerleader with a side of self-congratulation.

What I was missing back then – or at least, what I failed to give enough attention to – is just how privileged I am to be able to live the life I do. I have access and options and adequate income and support and flexibility and health. Many – perhaps even most – people do not.

Encouraging ridership has its place, but these days, I’m much more interested in fighting for an affordable, accessible, sustainable transportation system that serves everyone.

Back in the day, my Metro cheerleading was based, in large part, on a desire to encourage people to make better environmental choices. Though the desire to live more lightly on the planet had a lot to do with why I gave up my car, it doesn’t have anything to do with why I love the bus.

As I’ve mentioned, my passion for public transit has its roots in a deep craving for community. The concept of dozens of human beings, of every conceivable appearance and experience, sharing space and conversation, passing through each others’ lives, often making a lasting impression, has always struck me as profoundly beautiful. The individual rides are not always pleasant, but there is beauty in humanity, in connectedness, in the messiness of our lives and interactions.

It is the people on the bus who inspire, infuriate, touch, and teach me. And it is solidarity with those people that motivates me to write and — even (especially) after a week of 10+ rides per day — to continue to choose public transportation.

I am so grateful that I can.

***

* Just in case you’re interested in the details: 7 (5x), 8 (9x), 14 (1x), 38 (5x), 48 (6x), 50 (18x), Link(8x).

On milestones, memories, and marriages

Today has been an emotional day. It’s Father’s Day, and I am so grateful for my 77-year old dad — still on this earth and right nearby — and my amazing husband, who is an outstanding parent and role model for our children.

At our church’s annual Dads and Grads celebration, we honored two young people who are graduating from high school on Tuesday. It was so beautiful and moving to see them standing up in front of the congregation as young adults, as we relived all the beautiful memories of them through the years. During the celebration, my mind wandered to the day that (God willing) my own children will stand up there, and I felt excited and sad and terrified all at once.

It was in that weepy and nostalgic state of mind that I stumbled upon –in the process of updating a few links — this post from seven years ago.

Eastbound 14 (et al) stop, 5th & Jackson

A 60-ish, somewhat disheveled man approaches and addresses me in several languages (Amharic, Spanish, Italian) trying to figure out which I speak. We finally settle on a mix of French and English, and (thanks to my growing belly) immediately start talking parenthood. He tells me I remind him of his daughter, who was recently married. “It was in the New York Times,” he says, fishing a crumpled piece of newsprint out of his wallet.

He points to some text under the photo of the handsome, smiling couple, the part that tells about the bride’s family in Seattle, then pulls out his license to show me that his name matches the name of the father listed in the announcement.

“See? That’s me,” he says. “Me.”

We talk for a few minutes longer, about Chicklet, and my due date, and how I am feeling.

Abruptly, he pulls a wilted, slightly blackened red rose from his coat pocket, thrusts it into my hand, and prepares to leave.

“Take care of the babies,” he says, smiling. “Take care of your precious babies.”

His eyes are filled with tears.

Happy Father’s Day, sir. I haven’t forgotten your advice.

Bus driver as superhero

There are not enough words in my limited (yet stank) vocabulary to describe the level of nonsense bus riders in my neighborhood have endured since the Seattle Department of Transportation embarked upon its interminable 23rd Avenue Corridor improvement project.

Theoretically, after the work is done, the streets will be better and safer for all users, though those users will not necessarily be the people who are enduring the construction chaos. Independent businesses are stretched to the breaking point, and, as anyone in a gentrifying/fied city knows well, improvements almost always result in even more displacement.

I digress.

Bitterness aside, safer crossings, wider sidewalks, smoother pavement, and whatever other stuff work crews have been doing for the past 11 months (and counting) are good. What is not good is how bus riders have been affected by the poorly managed — and terribly communicated — construction. Bus routes are constantly rerouted and re-rerouted, with precious little (if any) notice. Riders wait for long periods at stops that have been closed because signs are placed in locations where most riders are unlikely to look.* Those who are fortunate enough to learn about a closures in advance often go to the updated pickup point, only to have the drivers blow right past them, apparently unaware that passengers of their route will be waiting there. And don’t get me started on the reroutes that happen mid-ride.

I am not telling you all of this to complain about SDOT’s and Metro’s poor coordination and communication (OK, maybe I am a little) but instead to provide context for yet another example of why bus drivers who are good at their (incredibly difficult) job are so important to our community.

Last week, our family went out to dinner to celebrate Bus Nerd’s birthday. While we waited for the 3, which was supposed to be arriving in a couple of minutes, a Metro supervisor arrived — I assume to put up signage — and let us know that SDOT was closing the street at that very moment. Before the work crew could finish putting out the barrier, a bus came through the intersection. The bus was out of service, heading back to base, but the driver pulled over to ask the supervisor what was happening. (Not surprisingly, he hadn’t been notified of the closure.)

After the supervisor told him what was up, the driver offered to take us to our destination, which was less than a mile down the same street. A woman who had been waiting at the stop with us tentatively told him she was going downtown. He smiled and waved her on board.

“I’ll get you there,” he said. (Indeed.)

I have no doubt that it had been a long day for that driver.** He was probably ready to be finished with passengers and stop-and-go travel and hightail it back to the base for some rest (and a bathroom break). But, he proceeded to stop at every stop along the road, picking up folks who would otherwise have been waiting (and waiting!) with no clue what was going on. He did his best to answer their questions, despite his limited knowledge of the situation. And he did it with a smile.

I didn’t post about it on the big day this year, so now seems as good a time as any to say: Damn straight they deserve a holiday.

***
* I wish I had a photo of the most egregious example of this, which was at the 27/8 stop in my neighborhood. Unfortunately, the camera on my six(+)-year old phone is no longer working.
** When you’re a bus driver, every day is long, regardless of the number of hours you put in.

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.

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.

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.