Category Archives: living the life

Fully embracing the role

After 11 years without a car, I have made a purchase that will enhance my bus cred by an order of magnitude–at least. For bus chicks of a certain generation (OGs—OB’s?—like my grandma), it is the most basic tool for shopping, one you wouldn’t think of living without.

I, on the other hand, have made do with backpacks, stroller compartments, biweekly produce delivery, and a lot of schlepping. I have carried so many heavy bags over the years that I am certain to develop some kind of condition in the future.

I digress.

I passed this beauty on my walk home from work every day for weeks. Eventually, its call was too strong for me to resist. Fellow bus chicks, behold.

new shopping cart

I have a new cart!

new shopping cart

And it transforms!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of course what got me was the seat. (A built-in bus bench? Yes, please!). But, as it turns out, the seat is actually the part I don’t like about it. It’s rare that I use the bus to shop for groceries (I stick to the store within walking distance), so I don’t get to use it much. And, when I tilt the cart to pull it, the seat comes loose and drags on the sidewalk. (Looks like I’ll be “securing” it with duct tape until I can find a suitable Velcro strap.)

On the other hand…

new shopping cart

Transporting Father’s Day pie to Paw Paw

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The world is new.

Multimodal Monday: 180 miles

Here is my Chicklet, on the last Monday of the academic year, heading to school the way she has every day of her kindergarten career.

Chicklet walking to school

She and sweet B, who attends preschool on site at her elementary school, have walked (and sometimes run) in every kind of weather, a hilly half mile each way, without missing a single day–or ever being late. A half mile is nothing to my little people, but over an entire school year, those short walks have added up. My babies walked to Portland!

Numbers aside, though, our walks have always been some of our best times together. We meet neighbors, inspect plants and insects (usually on the way home, since we’re almost always in a hurry in the morning), make up games, and talk. When we are walking, they tell me how their days went, what they dreamed the night before, and who they enjoy playing with. And, they ask a lot of questions. The kinds of questions that take time to answer. The kinds of questions that spark more questions.

One of the things I will miss most when my children are grown is our time spent on the ground together, hand in hand in hand.

The bus life with “big” kids

One of the values Bus Nerd and I bring to parenting is a strong belief in keeping it simple. We try not to overschedule our kids because we fundamentally disagree with the idea that good parenting = schlepping your offspring from one organized activity to the next. On the contrary: We want to build a life that affords time for unstructured play, time with neighbors and extended family, and time to take on responsibilities at home.

Not having a car reinforces this way of living. It is possible (and very common) for driving parents to sign their kids up for back-to-back lessons/classes/sports that are miles apart and for any number of activities across town. It is not possible for us to do this, and I am grateful.

This doesn’t mean that Chicklet and Busling don’t get to participate in activities (though at six and four, they would hardly be deprived if they didn’t); it means that we focus on priorities and on what’s available in our own neighborhood.

Unfortunately for me, there’s a little too much available in our neighborhood.

Chicklet attends our neighborhood public school, which offers a number of great before- and after-school enrichment programs, including chess, soccer, double dutch, and drumming. She wanted to try chess (one of the few activities available for kindergartners), so she stays after school for an hour every Friday to play.

Learning to swim is a requirement in our household, so our kids take swimming lessons. Fortunately, there is a city pool an easy walk from our home. (Unfortunately, Chicklet and Busling aren’t exactly naturals, so I see many, many sessions in our future.)

Sweet Busling has been begging to take a dance class since he could walk. (Note that he danced–on his knees–even before he could walk.) This spring, I finally relented and signed him up for a creative movement class at the community center, which happens to be right next door to the public pool. If it turns out he’s a dance prodigy who simply must take lessons at a “real” dance school (maybe at our friend Maya’s dance school!), we’ll make the effort to get him there. Until then, the community center works just fine.

Against my better judgment (and per her request), I signed Chicklet up for t-ball this spring. The practices are once a week at a neighborhood park far enough away that walking on a weekday evening is not practical. So, we walk a little less than half a mile to the closest 48 stop (don’t get me started), and then bus the rest of the way. Her games are on Saturdays at a field an easy walk from the house.

Whew! How’s that for keeping it simple?

After school’s out, there will be no more t-ball or chess, and I’ll make a rule: one activity per kid, period. Well, plus swimming, I guess—at least until they can both stay afloat.

We’re still here

Since the last time I posted (in August—ahem), the Bus Fam has been through a few transitions.

For one thing, Chicklet started kindergarten (!), moving us to yet another stage in our bus lives: parenting a school-age kid.

At some point, I will share more extensive thoughts about our experiences so far. For now, I’ll say we are extremely fortunate that there is an amazing preschool on site at Chicklet’s elementary school. Having one drop-off is helpful to all parents; it is the holy grail for bus parents.

We live too close to the school to qualify for a yellow bus, so we walk the half mile both to and from. The route I catch from there to work comes every half hour at peak, so timing can be tricky. Also, there’s weather. But the frantic morning rush and occasional drenching downpours are more than made up for by the joy of spending the beginning of each day on the ground in our neighborhood, hand in hand in hand.

I digress.

To solidify her full-fledged kid status, Chicklet went and turned six (sniff!), which means she has reached official fare-paying age. (More on this in a later post.) We bought her an Orca card of her own for her birthday, and she wears it on a lanyard as needed. (Otherwise, it’s stored in my bus bag.) The first time she used it was on an 8-ride to Seattle Children’s Theatre, to celebrate her birthday with her oldest friend.

Sweet “baby” Busling grew all the way up; he’s four these days (!!!). On our morning walks to school, he likes to pretend we’re a family of animals—dolphins or lions or cheetahs or ponies—which can be helpful when we’re in a rush. (I’ve never heard of a slowpoke cheetah.)

We’ve taken two 8 rides to meet actual babies (C & B’s new cousins) at the hospital. And, we’ve taken several rides–on multiple routes–to visit them since.

I marked another anniversary of living without a car—11 years last month. Apparently, I owe Metro jewelry or something made of steel.

Me? I don’t need anything–other than for my buses to keep running, that is.

If this month’s emergency ballot measure fails, and Metro is forced to make cuts, our family will lose our three most-used routes. Two of our remaining regular routes will be reduced. Only one will remain untouched.

These are not minor inconveniences that require slight adjustments. This is a wholesale dismantling of the bus system as we’ve known it.

Unlike many people who will be affected by the cuts, Bus Nerd and I have the option to buy a car. (By that I mean, we can afford one, we are able-bodied, and we know how to drive.) I have tried to prepare my mind for this possibility and have found that I am completely incapable of imagining it. Not to get all Thelma and Louise, but something has crossed over in me. This bussin’ birdie can’t go back in the car cage.

But not wanting to live a particular way is not the same as not being able to. If we cut bus service, we will cut off basic mobility for thousands of people across the county who don’t have the luxury of deciding whether to buy a car. We will take away people’s access to employment, education, health care, and vital community connections. We will marginalize our elders and our youth, our neighbors and friends with disabilities, and people who don’t happen to have $8,000+ to spend on transportation every year.

And “vulnerable populations” aren’t the only ones who are vulnerable. All of us, no matter how we get around, breathe the same air, drink from the same water supply, and suffer the effects of our warming climate. All of us pay the health, economic, and environmental costs of our car-dependent culture.

I am hoping hard that the citizens of King County do the right thing next Tuesday–because we simply cannot afford not to.

10 years in

This month marks the 10-year anniversary of my full-time relationship with Metro. The milestone snuck up on me, which is actually a good thing, since I’m not in the mood for a retrospective, and I don’t have any wise words about what I’ve learned in a decade of living, working, and parenting without a car. Honestly (in case the five full months without a post didn’t clue you in) I haven’t felt much like writing about the bus at all.

What’s on my mind most of the time is how our family is going to continue to make this bus life work. We’ve lost a lot that we counted on: two of our nearest bus stops, frequency and hours of operation on two of our most-used routes. If the legislature decides–for the fifth year in a row–not to let local communities decide how to fund their own transit service, we stand to lose much, much more.

And we’re not the only ones. All over the state, people are losing transit service they rely on, while we profess a desire to care for our most vulnerable citizens and wring our hands over global warming, air pollution, and ocean acidification. The fact that transit advocates have to scrap and hustle (and beg) just to get enough money to preserve basic bus service leaves little hope that we will ever find the will to make the long overdue, revolutionary changes our transportation system desperately needs.

So the thing is, I’ve been tired–of trying to make things work with diminished access and diminished service, and of fighting an uphill battle to fund transit statewide. I allowed myself to feel discouraged. And really, really angry.

But then, I had coffee with Christine.

Like me, Christine is a bus chick. Unlike me (knock wood), Christine is expecting. Earlier this year, she contacted me over the internets to pick my brain about busing with babies, and I was more than happy to share what I know. I suggested meeting for coffee, because I knew she’d never read the 300 pages I would have typed if I had shared my thoughts over email. I don’t like to brag, but if there was such a thing as a PhD in riding transit with kids, folks would be addressing me as Dr. Bus Chick.

But I digress.

At some point during our conversation, Christine remarked on the relative dearth of negative posts on my seven-year old blog and noted that I almost never write about the challenges of bus parenting. I do intentionally try to keep my blog positive, but until my chat with her, I hadn’t really considered why.

It’s not that there aren’t challenges (are there ever!). It’s not that I am trying to paint an unrealistic picture of what it is like to parent without a car. It’s not even that I have an optimistic nature (see above). I tend to write about the positive side of carfree parenting because the challenges of living this way are already known—or at least, they are imagined.

There is a reason why so many people think I’m crazy. Why I’ve been interviewed for TV and radio for doing something that thousands of parents in this county do every single day. Why, after a decade of watching us live this way, friends and family still regularly offer us rides. It is because most people who have a choice would choose differently. This means they have already considered, imagined, and just plain made up all of the reasons why it would be stressful and inconvenient to try to get around with two kids and no car.

What most people haven’t considered is just how exhilarating, bond-enhancing, and three-dimensional it is to ride the bus with your children. How your kids get to experience their city from ground level. How they come to know each season intimately. How they run into church members, neighbors, school mates, family friends, and medical assistants from their pediatrician’s office. How so many of the regular drivers recognize them and give them suckers and transfers and high fives. How they learn every sidewalk crack, every overgrown bush, and every window display in your neighborhood. How they love the silly games you make up to pass the long waits. How you have time to read them so many books that soon they are reading books to you. How you can hold them close and talk in their ears and smell their hair while all of you zoom past the Space Needle, or across a bridge, or through a tunnel.

That is what I write about because that is what I know. It is why I ride. And it’s why I never stay tired for long.

 

Two new additions to the bus bag

All the dry, sunny weather we’ve been having of late has me feeling somewhat complacent, as if the rains will never come. I’ve put off buying a new pair of boots, which (after countless seasons of re-heeling and polishing the same favorite pair) has become a necessity. I also haven’t replaced my lost umbrella, unearthed my favorite pair of gloves, or procured enough cool-weather clothes for the kids. But, I am ready with the rain gear*, people.

Fellow bus chicks, behold.

raincoat unfolded

My new raincoat

raincoat folded

My new raincoat!

Given how efficiently packed my bag is, this little number is (or will be) a significant addition. It takes up more space than almost anything else I have in there. But the fact that there exists in the world a professional, versatile, poncho-like garment that will fit over any outfit** and pack up to the size of a medium book without getting anything else in my bag wet is pretty doggone amazing–definitely worth the extra bulk and ounces.

And speaking of amazing…

My friend Lily told me about this ingenious little bag many years ago, and I finally got around to purchasing one (actually, two) in June.

Shopping bag

My handy new shopping bags: one open, one ready to pack

It handles (almost) all of my plastic bag scenarios (I still carry a couple of those as well) and comes in handy for my frequent “on the way” shopping trips–especially now that Seattle’s bag ban is in full effect. Also, it’s tiny (Bus Nerd carries one in his pocket), washable, and adorable.

Look out, world! This fall, I’m taking bus chick preparedness to a whole ‘nother level.

***

*For the past few years, I have owned no outerwear appropriate for rain. It’s a long story I won’t take the time to tell here. Y’all know how I tend to digress.
**Too bad I didn’t know about this back when I still wore a baby pack.

Doin’ the Puyallup, bus-fam style (part II)

A lot has happened since my last post. (This is mostly because I wrote it over six weeks ago, but it was a pretty jam-packed end of summer.) For one thing, my baby brother got hitched. (!) And also, we made a trip to the Puyallup Fair.

The last time we did the Puyallup (way back in ’08), Pierce Transit offered a shuttle from Tacoma Dome station right to the fairgrounds. The trip was reasonably painless but did involve two transfers and a bit of a roundabout route. These days—in case you haven’t heard—Pierce Transit is broke. The agency has been forced to cut a lot of vital service, so obviously, the fair shuttle had to go.

So, when we talked about going to the fair again this year, I assumed it was going to be a hassle to get there. I’m no stranger to transit adventures, but I do have my limits, and a day at the fair with two children is exhausting enough without bookending it with a couple of bus marathons.

As it turns out, the fairgrounds is only a little more than half a mile from Puyallup Station. (Thanks for the tip, Priya!) To get there, we caught the 578* from 2nd & Pike and then walked the .6 miles (through a pleasant downtown area, on sidewalks) from the station to the fairgrounds. The 578 isn’t a straight shot (it stops in Federal Way, Sumner, and Auburn), but it mostly sticks to transit centers and the freeway and keeps the stopping and starting to a minimum. Our total travel time was roughly two hours, including walks and waits. The cost: $2 of extra charges on our Orca cards for the 578 ride.

The ride back was even better (and significantly shorter), since the Sounder was running. We walked the same .6 miles back to Puyallup Station and caught the 4:37 PM train (the first northbound train after the morning rush) back downtown. Have I mentioned that I love the Sounder? It delights me. Our total trip time—from the fair exit to our front door—was an hour and a half, and the train ride was easily as fun as anything we did at the fair. And speaking of…

All four of us had a fantastic time. We ate ice cream. We met firefighters. We watched a pirate show. We ran into many friends. We got (henna) tattoos.

And, yes, we even did some driving.

Driving at the fair

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Driving at the fair

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Driving at the fair

 

 

 

 

 

 

Already looking forward to next year…

***
Note that we wanted to catch the Sounder, but there are only two southbound trains in the morning–at 6:10 and 6:50 AM (too early!). The next train south isn’t until 3:15 PM (too late!).