Category Archives: living the life

Multimodal Monday: Link, then lake

Waiting for the trainOne of my close girlfriends lives in Renton. Not Renton as in, near the Renton Transit Center. Not even the Renton Highlands. No, this friend lives deep in Renton–miles from the nearest bus stop, a long way even from a sidewalk.

Every once in a while, I take a Zipcar to visit her at home, but usually, we meet somewhere–either for dinner near RTC or downtown, or with our kids at a bus accessible park, library, or similar.

For our most recent get together, we agreed to meet at Coulon Park, because she had somewhere to be in Renton right after our visit; the kids and I had the whole day free; and when the weather is good, I am always (always) down for a transit adventure. Especially when the adventure includes a train.

On the big day, we got up early to pack a picnic lunch, swim suits, towels, and a few toys, then headed out the door at 8:30 for a long-ish walk to our first bus: the 48. We took the 48 to Mount Baker Transit Center, where we transferred to Link. (Just for today, I’ll refrain from complaining about how horrible that transfer is.) We rode the train all the way to Seatac–easily the best part of the adventure–then transferred again to the 560. Our stop in Renton was less than a half mile from Coulon, and we arrived at the entrance about an hour and twenty minutes after walking out our front door–a few minutes early for our 10 AM meeting time.

Yes, 80 minutes is a long time to travel from Seattle to Renton (twice the amount of time it would have taken to drive with average traffic), but we really did enjoy the trip. Our waits were short, our rides were smooth and air conditioned, and we had plenty of interesting scenery–inside and outside of the vehicles–to entertain us on the way. When we go on transit adventures, we think of our travel time as part of the fun.

The rest of our Coulon adventure was even better than the ride. The kids played on the playground and the beach for hours while I caught up with my girl. After she and her daughters had to leave, we played for at least an hour more. And after everyone had thoroughly exhausted themselves, we made the long trek home. Chicklet insisted on the exact same itinerary, so we could have one more chance to ride the train.

Perfect adventure. Perfect day.

On busing and bad language (or, the “s” word, according to Chicklet)

As I’ve mentioned on numerous occasions (here and here and here and here), my fellow bus riders are a creative bunch. One of the many areas through which they express their creative energy is cursing. If there were a world cursing competition, it would be held in the back of a bus. Or at a stop.

As I’ve also mentioned, the two mini bus riders with whom I travel most frequently are big talkers. And imitators.

I think you see where I’m going with this.

I am prepared to (and in fact regularly do) talk to my children about what we witness, experience, and overhear on our travels. I think of it as their opportunity to learn about the world they live in and my opportunity to teach compassion and reinforce our family’s values. Still, I have a hang-up about bad language–especially certain words–and have always been slightly fearful that my kids would join the ranks of advanced potty mouths before they even had any middle-school friends to impress.

As it turns out, it has (so far) not been an issue. Oddly, neither one of them has ever uttered a bad word—nor seemed even the slightest bit interested in those that are hurled past them with infrequent regularity. In our six and a half years of bus parenting, curse words have never come up.

Until last weekend, that is.

On Saturday, as Chicklet was sitting on the couch, obsessively reading a My Little Pony comic book, she suddenly gasped.

“Mommy, Mommy come here! Come here! This book has a BAD WORD!”

I hustled over, almost excited for an excuse to finally ban this bane from my household for good. (I have no idea why I allowed my children to be introduced to these insidious, equine, purveyors of platitudes, but I rue the day.) Looking simultaneously embarrassed, outraged, and horrified, she pointed out the offensive language:

“shut up”

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.