Bus drivers are the best people. I wasn’t able to ride the bus on Bus Driver Appreciation Day this year, so I was very glad to have the opportunity to participate (along with my two bus sidekicks) in this video.
God, this is hard.
Back in the Before Times (aka, two months ago), when I actually went places, I would sometimes rent a Zipcar for the day, usually to visit family and friends who live outside of reasonable busing distance. Of course, when it comes to buses, I’m not above pushing past what is reasonable, but other obligations and service limitations do occasionally constrain my ability to spend an entire day traveling 23 miles.
On those Zipcar days, every time I found myself driving near a bus or rolling past a full bus stop, I would feel a pang, even a bit of FOMO. Seeing a bus when I’m not riding hurts my bus chick heart.
This is how I feel every day now when I go outside—usually to walk in circles around my neighborhood—and I see 3s and 4s and 8s and 27s and 48s rolling by, often completely empty. Except these days, it’s not a just a brief pang. It’s an ache, a cracking open, an interior crumbling.
As a naturally anxious person who has lived through many of Metro’s ups and downs, I have rehearsed a fair number of transit disaster scenarios in my head. But never, not even in my worst anxiety spirals, did I imagine the current reality: that the bus would become a vector of a global pandemic, that anyone with the option to stay home would be asked not to ride, that loving your community would mean not riding the bus.
How can I explain what the bus means to me? I have been writing this blog for 14 years and still have not managed to put it into words.
On the bus, I am invisible but also seen, alone but in community, moving but sitting still.
I know that this is bigger than my personal loss. Drivers are risking their lives to transport people who must travel. Major service cuts are limiting those people’s access to food and jobs and medical care. The economic crash caused by this disaster will make it near impossible for Metro to restore service when it’s finally safe to ride again.
But the thing about the bus is that it is both personal and collective. My loss is the community’s, and the community’s loss is mine.
And right now, it feels like a cyclone has hit, and we’ll never get back home.
For as long as I can remember, the bus has been a part of my life. At certain times, it has loomed large, like when I was eight years old, riding across town by myself and feeling like someone who could be trusted with responsibility.
Or when I was 21 and couldn’t afford a reliable car but needed to get to work and school and wherever else I was going back then.
Now, I am 47. I have been living without a car for 16 years. The bus is still a big part of my life, but it doesn’t have the same surface importance. It is always there, facilitating my life—cherished, but not so much in the forefront of my awareness as a Really Great Transportation Option. My appreciation has moved to a deeper place.
I have always know that buses connect us by providing opportunities to share space, experiences, and conversation. I am just beginning to learn that riding the bus, if you are open and humble enough to accept the lessons it offers, can be a spiritual practice. This is true whether you love the bus or hate it. Maybe especially if you hate it.
Here are some of the spiritual lessons I have learned from my longtime love.
More often than I would like, I have to wait a long time for my bus. Sometimes this happens when I am in a hurry, or managing children (though mine don’t need much bus-stop management these days), or exhausted. Sometimes, it happens when it is raining, and there is no shelter at the stop. Sometimes (oftentimes), it happens when I am feeling impatient: wanting to be in motion, in progress, on the way already.
Occasionally, in those moments, when I feel the urge to pace, or check my phone, or pull out my book or to-do list to “kill time,” I decide instead to surrender. Surrender to being “bored,” to getting wet, to maybe even being late, and just accept the moment for what it is.
Surrendering can mean engaging in an interesting or deep or silly conversation with my kids or spouse. It can mean taking a breath and paying attention to my surroundings. Or it can mean squeezing everyone under one tiny umbrella and resigning myself to wet socks.
We don’t control when the bus comes, and we don’t control the conditions under which we are forced to wait. We do control what we do with the moments we spend at the stop.
About five years ago, I had to attend an evening political meeting for work. By the time the meeting was over, it was close to 9 p.m., and I was in a hurry to get home. Back then, I didn’t have a smart phone, so I headed straight for the bus stop—which was several blocks away and in an isolated area—without checking a schedule.
I was a block and a half (plus a street crossing) from the stop when the bus pulled up. I knew that even if I ran as hard as a could, there was no way I was going to catch it. But I was so desperate to get home, so motivated to NOT have to stand at that deserted, dark stop for 30+ minutes until the next bus arrived, I decided to run for it anyway.
It was not a pretty run. I didn’t have on the best shoes. My bag and papers and meeting clothes (and, ahem, body parts) were flapping and bouncing all over the place as I stumbled along at my highest speed, fully expecting the bus to pull away before I even came close.
The bus stayed put.
I kept running. The bus kept staying.
By the time I made it to the stop, out of breath and disheveled, the bus was still there. I didn’t then and don’t now have any idea why.
The thing is, it really doesn’t matter.
When you run for the bus, you don’t know what might happen. Maybe (probably) you won’t make it. But maybe there’s a wheelchair that needs to be buckled in. Maybe someone will ask the driver for directions. Maybe a passenger will see you and ask the driver to wait. Maybe the stop is a time point, and the bus is a minute early.
You don’t have to worry about any of that. The only thing you have to do is run as hard as you can until the bus drives away.
Or, until you catch it.
I have the type of brain that likes to judge, label, and categorize. I’m an observant person, so I tend to notice patterns. My guilty pleasure is to sit with my spouse and categorize and label all the different people we encounter—on the bus and otherwise.
But every time I get curious and try to see the person behind whatever label I’ve attached, I learn. The more I practice this, the better I get at it, and the more often I remember:
We all love. We all suffer. Most of us are doing the best we can.
Judgments and assumptions isolate us from the people we encounter every day. Curiosity brings a richness to our interactions. It shines a light on others’ humanity. And it strengthens our own.
Don’t take it personally.
I often say that the best thing about the bus is being surrounded by other people. And, the worst thing about the bus is being surrounded by other people.
Sharing a ride with the people you share the world with can ground you in your community, help you feel less alone, and deepen your empathy.
It can also be annoying as hell.
Over the years, I have (semi-)regularly been cut in line, pushed aside, propositioned, called names, and interrogated about my ethnic identity. And don’t get me started on the bus fouls I’ve witnessed!
What I’ve slowly come to learn is that strangers’ behavior towards me is not about me. (How could it be? They don’t even know me.) Their rudeness is about their own issues and whatever they are going through in the moment.
I can set boundaries (a la Chicklet, who is a pro) or respectfully ask for what I need (for example, a seat, if someone has their bag on one), without taking the behavior personally or letting it affect my own mood.
Take it personally.
Just because a person’s bad behavior is a reflection of their own issues doesn’t mean that we can (or should) accept it. If someone is being harassed, and you are in a position to help, you should help.
Look for the beauty.
Everyone who’s ever been on a bus knows that it isn’t always pretty. But I know that it is always beautiful.
By way of explanation, I offer this.
Unless, of course, that would be a bad idea.
Last Thursday, I barely missed the 8 on my way home from an errand and so found myself alone at a bus stop, loaded down with potting soil and live plants and with a decent wait ahead of me. It was one of those close-to-the-road stops with no shelter or bench or trash can, only a damp ledge in front of a nearby apartment building. I dropped my load and sat on that ledge, feeling restless and ready to get on with my day.
But on this particular Thursday, I decided to push through the restlessness. To not sink into a book or my phone or some other distraction to “kill” the 12 minutes OneBusAway told me I’d be there. Instead, I sat on the ledge and waited.
It’s October, so the trees were showing off, alive with that fleeting explosion of color that always feels like magic. The leaves were falling, not in big clouds like they do on windy days, but one at a time. The maple tree closest to my ledge released each leaf gently, like a mama bird pushing her baby out of the nest. I felt like I was part of something sacred as I watched each one drift to the dirty street.
Those twelve minutes I spent waiting have as much to do with why I ride as the extra time to read and connections with fellow humans. After all these years, my life on the bus continues to transform me. It reminds me that I am not in control, even if these days the waits are shorter and we have tools that can tell us just how long those waits will be. It teaches me to cherish the moments life offers me to simply be still.
And watch a bright orange leaf sail into the gutter.
I’m just going to say it: 2017 was trash. Black women — both my own loved ones and those courageous souls who stood up to evil in the public sphere — were primarily responsible for keeping me sane this year. Other than that, it was bus drivers.*
As you probably already know, bus drivers are my version of superheroes. I am consistently awed by their kindness and humor and professionalism. (And yeah, I have had more than a few bus crushes on drivers.) Here are a couple of recent examples of the goodness they add to my life.
Thursday before last, Chicklet had a restroom emergency on the 48. By the time we reached our stop, she was approaching panic mode, and we hustled off the bus in a bit of a distracted state. Somehow, in the commotion, my phone fell out of my coat pocket. I realized I had dropped it just as the bus was driving away.
After we made it home, I tried calling the phone a few times in case there was someone sitting near it, but no one answered. I kicked myself for my mistake, filed a lost item report on Metro’s website, and let it go.
When Bus Nerd arrived home, I filled him in on our (mis)adventure. Ever the problem solver, he texted my phone with a message for whomever found it to please call his number. I wasn’t optimistic that this would work, since, like most people, I have a password on my phone. Miraculously, about 20 minutes later, Bus Nerd got a call. The 48 driver had found the phone! He let Bus Nerd know when he would pass through our neighborhood again so that someone could meet the bus and get it. Like the last time I lost something important on the 48, my beloved was kind enough to handle the retrieval.
I still have no idea how the driver saw the text (was he holding the phone at the exact right moment?); there was no time to ask during the quick exchange. But superheroes can do anything, right?
A few days after the miraculous phone recovery, this delightful human drove the 27 I rode home from a Saturday morning appointment.
She had left a sweet surprise on every seat.
On the way off the bus, I complimented her on her decorations — and her kindness. She said, “I figured, if I have to work the holiday, I might as well bring it with me.”
You guys. BUS DRIVERS ARE THE BEST PEOPLE.
* Quadruple bonus points for black women bus drivers!
Today Chicklet turns 10 years old. My tiny little bus buddy is now a fourth grader, a self-described “horse crazy girl” who loves Prince, PAWS, books, trees, her baby cousins, and politics. Seriously, politics. She is the kid who insists on helping me fill out my ballot (which reminds me: gotta get on that), who enjoys watching debates and could easily name every elected official who represents her, from the senate to the city council. Despite her introverted nature, Chicklet wants to be one of those elected officials someday — and not just to make the world a better place. She has admitted (more than once) that she wants to “be in charge of people” just for the sake of it.
Having a decade-old daughter means I’m 10 in bus mom years. I’ve learned a lot of lessons in 3,653 days of life on the ground — schlepping stuff and managing disasters (mostly minor) by bus. Here are 10 of them.
1. Creativity and flexibility are a bus parent’s most important tools. There are plenty of parenting practices — and even some products — that will make busing with kids easier. But the key to a successful bus parenting experience is an ability and willingness to adapt to whatever circumstances you are presented with.
Long bus wait? Play Connect Four. Heading to the beach? Pack tiny buckets. Struggling to keep up with youth ORCA cards? Get a lanyard (and a label). Toddler throws up on the 8? Use everything in your bus bag.
2. A plastic bag can solve almost any problem. A plastic bag is an essential item for most bus riders but especially essential for parents. Plastic bags are (unfortunately) abundant, free, easy to carry, and incredibly versatile. They can be used for on-the-way shopping (though these days, I carry an actual shopping bag, too), trash collection (for those random snack wrappers, banana peels, dirty tissues, diapers, etc., etc.); laundry (remind me to tell you about the time Chicklet sat on a mysterious brown substance at a bus shelter downtown), seating (to cover wet benches or ledges), and even, in a pinch, vomit (expelled by sick kiddos or those unfortunate individuals who are busing while pregnant).
Even if you’re not great at packing, it’s easy to keep at least one plastic bag in your backpack, purse, or pocket. And it’s worth it. Reduce, reuse, recycle.
3. Busing prepares kids for life. Several years back, I wrote a post about how busing makes kids smarter. It might have been a bit of a stretch (and it definitely scored high on the smug scale), but I am convinced that bus kids are more ready for the world than kids who are driven everywhere.
Busing involves waiting. In the early years, this can be challenging, but kids do get used to it. They learn how watch the world, or daydream, or make conversation, or read a book when they’re bored. This comes in handy when they’re in line at the grocery store, in the dentist’s office, at a restaurant, or pretty much anywhere kids are expected to keep their bodies calm and minds occupied for more than 30 seconds.
Bus kids build physical stamina from all the walking they do. Kids who walk a lot are healthy, ready for almost any outdoor adventure, and able to keep up with parents on shopping excursions and other walk-intensive outings.
Bus kids learn to interact safely with people they don’t know. They practice setting and respecting boundaries, and they are exposed to people of all different ages, colors, orientations, incomes, temperaments, and abilities. This helps them understand that everyone belongs. And the way I see it, there’s nothing more important to learn.
4. Policies matter. Back in the dark ages, when my kids were still portable, Metro’s stroller policy required parents to remove children from strollers and collapse the strollers before boarding the bus. This made some sense from a safety and space use perspective but absolutely no sense from a parent’s perspective.
Long before I became a bus mama, I knew I would never bring a stroller onto the bus if I could possibly help it. And when I did have kids, I wore them in a carrier as often — and for as long — as possible. When they started getting too big to be carried in a pack, I struggled. There was a good six-month stretch when I was willing to walk very long distances in bad weather to avoid the bus, because the stroller hassle was just too much.
The benefit of this excruciating period was that I was very motivated to get my kids walking on their own. Both of them started their “walk training” before they turned two and were full-time walkers by two and a half. To this day, they have incredible stamina and patience and can out-walk most adults.
Again, I digress.
These days, Metro has a sane stroller policy. Parents can leave their child (and stuff) in the stroller and can use the lift and wheelchair area if it is not being used by a wheelchair passenger. It’s not a perfect solution, since parents sometimes must unhook, unpack, and fold in the middle of a ride, but it’s impossible to perfectly balance the needs of a diverse group of riders in a vehicle with limited capacity. And certainly, the current policy is significantly better than what I dealt with — so much better that I sometimes wish I had another baby just so I could take advantage of it.
OK, no I don’t.
There are so many examples of the positive impacts that thoughtful, people-focused agency policies have on riders. (There are also plenty of examples of the negative impacts of poor policies.) I hope Metro continues to incorporate feedback from folks on the ground into all of their decision-making processes.
5. Bus drivers are the best people. I’ve always been a bit in awe of bus drivers, so it’s beautiful to see that my kids feel the same way. I’ve written so much about the ways drivers have cared for and entertained our family over the years, I don’t have much more to say on the subject. Except this:
6. Seattle needs more public bathrooms. One of the most common challenges we deal with on our bus adventures is the restroom emergency. (The fact that the emergency is mine as often as it is one of my children’s is a minor detail.) Being stranded at a bus stop with a potty training kid who has to go (or a diapered kid who already did) is a not awesome aspect of busing with babies.
If the world were as it should be, there would be clean, safe restrooms at Link stations and all major bus stops. The world is not as it should be (so very not), so bus riders (and everyone else) must fend for themselves. I make it my business to know all the restroom options in the neighborhoods I visit frequently. My preferred restroom hierarchy: public (library, community center, government building, park [except YUCK]), private but accessible (hotel lobby, large restaurant), private but inaccessible (small restaurant or coffee shop with a key or code).
In case you’re not a restroom savant, there’s — obviously — an app for that.
7. Bus parents don’t “run errands.” When Chicklet was a baby, I was desperate to prove that our family could live like everyone else. Or, at least, that we could do everything other middle-class families did. This was in part because I was still in my “bus booster” phase (Who am I kidding? I will always be in my bus booster phase.) and was therefore more interested in proving that carfree living was possible than I was in analyzing its limitations.
Yes (thanks mostly to our proximity and access), my kids get to dance classes and sports practices and birthday parties and doctor’s appointments. Yes, we have food in our refrigerator and clothes in our closets and all the essential hygiene products in our bathroom. Yes, we go on fun outings. But the effort, time, and physical and mental energy that is expended to make all that happen can sometimes feel overwhelming. (Carrying capacity has always been, and as far as I can tell will remain, a huge challenge for me.)
And even with the basics covered, there are plenty of things we choose not to do, or do less often than we would like, because we don’t have a car. There are other things that we only do when we decide to rent a car.
What I have learned over these years is that we aren’t, in fact, trying to “live like everyone else” by bus. Instead, we are building and modeling a different way to live. And really, that’s always been the point.
8. The journey is the adventure. Sorry to resort to a cliché in an already cliché’ “10 things I learned” listicle, but folks, we’re talking transit here. Schlepping kids across town on the bus for an everyday errand like shoe shopping when you’re tired and pressed for time can be a hassle. But riding transit to go on an adventure is, well, an adventure.
When we take the bus (or train) to an event, or to a beach or park we rarely visit, we try new routes, walk in new neighborhoods, and enjoy new scenery. We spend our travel time focusing on each other instead of the road. These transit adventures have made some of our best memories as a family, and they’re a beautiful reminder of why we ride.
9. Our “sacrifice” is a privilege. While it’s true that our decision to live without a car requires determination and some amount of sacrifice, it’s also true that it wouldn’t be possible at all without a number of privileges lots of people don’t have. Living the way we do is possible for us because we have work that is flexible and accessible by transit, reliable internet access, and sufficient income. We are able-bodied and live in a centrally located neighborhood with sidewalks, pretty good transit, and nearby services. Because we are fortunate enough to own a home, our housing costs are stable, and, barring some unforeseen disaster, we can count on the access we need to keep doing this.
Back when I started my carfree adventure almost 15 years ago, Seattle was already an expensive city. But, it was possible (if challenging) for many carfree families to save enough on transportation costs to afford to live in a small space in the city. Now, city living is inaccessible to almost everyone. It is no longer a matter of tradeoffs or determination; it’s a matter of not having enough money to make it work, no matter how you get around.
And it’s not just about access. If any number of circumstances in our lives were to change, we wouldn’t be able to live this way anymore. If, for example, someone in our family developed a medical condition that required regular appointments or procedures or that made it difficult for them to walk long distances, we would need a car. If we decided to foster another child, who might attend a different school than our other kids and would almost certainly have family visits and other appointments outside our neighborhood (not to mention his or her own share of middle-of-the-night illnesses), we would need a car. If one of us started a job that involved a non-bus-friendly commute or that required us to travel around the region during the day, we would need a car.
For a few years now, I’ve been wondering about the point of it all. Why make a choice that constrains our lives in so many ways if it’s not a choice most others can emulate? Is there value in doing something so outside of the norm if it has little to no real impact, especially if we could be of more service to our community and extended family if we drove?
All I’ve got is this: You have to start somewhere. Sure, lots of people can’t get by without a car. But some of people can. And those people should. If they don’t, we cannot expect to see change in our lifetimes. Or ever.
So, the way I see it, our family needs to make the tradeoffs and feel the occasional discomfort and keep living this way for as long as we are able. We also need to fight like hell to make sure the privileges we have are available to more people. We must insist on affordable housing, so that working people can live in the city. We must insist on sidewalks in every community. We must advocate for more and better transit and safe bicycle infrastructure.
We must do this because living without a car should not be a choice only for the desperate or dedicated. It should be an option available to everyone.
10. Holding hands is awesome. The challenges of bus parenting change over time. You go from the physically exhausting infant period, to the squirmy, bathroom centric (and also physically exhausting) toddler phase, to the payment logistics and window-seat battles of the early school years, to the scheduling struggles of the older kid years, to … Lord only knows.
But the joys of bus parenting? Those remain constant. Playing “telephone” while waiting for the 8 on a rainy night. Reading books — together or separately — on the way to visit cousins. Running into school friends or church members or neighbors on almost every ride. Holding hands, sitting close, telling jokes.
I will continue to be grateful that we can do this, even on days when I’m exhausted and resentful and over it already. Because the truth is, busing with babies is beautiful. And we are so fortunate.
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.
594. My Metro babies are in awe of Sound Transit's reclining seats. pic.twitter.com/6ZdiKc9ooG
— water is life (@seattlebuschick) February 18, 2017
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.
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.
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.
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 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. ; )
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).
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.