Monthly Archives: April 2006

Midday on the 3

College-age girl: “I think I’m gonna rent Footloose. I’ve been craving a little Kevin Bacon.”

Friend of college-age girl: “Yeah. I’ve always wanted a boyfriend who like, when he gets mad, he like, goes to a barn and dances, to like, burn off some steam.”

Even glamazons ride sometimes

Today is the 33rd birthday of my former college roommate and one my very bestest friends, Monique (aka, Original Glamazon).

Monique is tall and gorgeous and as glamorous as they come (hence, the nickname), but it wasn’t always so. Well, she was always tall and gorgeous, but back at Rice, she was less than glamorous. She was broke, as was I. For a good part of our college careers, Monique and I were car-free, and not by choice. Both of us worked (Moni more regularly than I), were much too cool for campus (grown women lived in apartments, after all), and were therefore forced to figure out how to get ourselves from work to school and back again without wheels.

Monique is a true Texan and comes from a town where, as far as I know, they don’t even have buses. When I met her, she had never ridden public transportation (other than a school bus, if that counts) in her entire life. I, on the other hand, had been riding pretty much since birth but was terrified of learning a whole new system.

We learned the ropes together, despite Houston’s mediocre public transportation and car-focused development. We got lost together more than once, got off on streets we knew (unfortunately, far from the correct cross streets) and walked for miles in 100-degree heat and 100% humidity. I got fired from a job for being late on one-too-many occasions. (That last one was on a day the bus drove right past me while I stood dumbfounded at the stop. I think the driver was trying to make the light.)

In those days, getting fired was a reason to laugh. So was seeing a guy talking on his cordless phone at a stop downtown; and riding the route everyone called church, because of the driver who’d sing and praise the Lord for the entire ride; and avoiding the stalker guys who would immediately pounce on any woman sitting alone (thank God we had each other).

Moni isn’t a bus chick anymore (I think those days might have put her off the bus forever), but she sometimes rides the light rail that Houston recently built (a Super Bowl is a powerful incentive). She also rode the bus with me (still waiting on that light rail) the last time she came to Seattle. Of course, she created quite a stir, but then, glamazons always do.

Happy birthday, OG. Your friends in Seattle (and the stalker guys, I’m afraid) are patiently awaiting your next visit.

Bus Chick and Moni on a bus-enabled excursion in Seattle
Moni at the bus stop

Will it make the 27 run more often?

It’s probably no surprise that I support the county’s Transit Now initiative. It’s not perfect (and Lord knows I’m no policy expert), but I support anything that will help get people out of their cars.

At this point (other than fares, which provide only 20% of Metro’s revenue) the sales tax is Metro’s only source of funding (MVET, as you know, is no more). I want the measure to pass, but I also want to find more progressive and sustainable ways to fund public transportation–especially since, after this increase, Metro will have raised the sales tax as much as the law allows.

The state should revisit the requirement that gas taxes only be used to fund roads. And what about all those people getting tickets for driving on 3rd Avenue (at $105 a pop) since they closed the bus tunnel? That’s money that we didn’t have a year ago. Let’s turn those people’s pain into some transportation gain.

Bus Chick meets her bus hero

Today, I had coffee with Anirudh Sahni. I first heard of Anirudh several years ago, back when his efforts to change the 545 route were getting a lot of attention. At that time, I worked at Microsoft and rode the 545 every day. Though the changes he was advocating wouldn’t have affected me, I thought they made sense, and I was impressed by his (please excuse the Microspeak) “drive for results.” Anirudh researched. Anirudh organized. Anirudh met with transit officials. Anirudh wrote letters to the editor. People like me responded to surveys and said stuff like, “I hope ‘they’ hurry up and make those changes.”

In the end, all that work changed the route only slightly, but it changed Anirudh fairly dramatically. What started as an attempt to make his commute to Microsoft more convenient became a full-fledged crusade, and the crusader became, as he puts it, “obsessed with transportation.”

Anirudh no longer rides 545; he no longer works at Microsoft. These days he spends a lot of his time working on transportation issues, and (lucky for me) he is a walking encyclopedia of knowledge about public transit in this region. Two (of the many) things I learned from him today:
1) Fully 79% of Metro riders own cars.
2) During peak travel times, the average car rider takes up 25 times the amount of space on the road as the average bus rider.

People are choosing to ride, and they’re choosing to do so for good reason.

Anirudh with his “545 file”

Lourdes waved back

This evening, as Bus Nerd and I were getting off the 3, an elderly woman asked the bus driver where to catch the 4. She seemed confused by his explanation, so we told her to follow us. We walked her to the stop, and, since the 4 goes past my house, decided to wait with her instead of walking the rest of the way.

Her name, she said, was Lourdes, and she was trying to catch the 14. She had known all along that the 3 wouldn’t take her to the transfer point, but she had gotten on it anyway, because her friend always insisted on waiting with her until the bus came, and she didn’t want her friend walking home in the dark.

Lourdes lives in Mt. Baker–has for 40 years. She has lived in Seattle for 45 years, but she was born in the Philippines.

Lourdes doesn’t drive anymore because she is getting older and doesn’t feel she can do so safely. She doesn’t like visiting her children, who live in the Houston suburb of Sugarland, because Sugarland doesn’t have buses, and she can’t get around without asking for help.

Lourdes’ house is right next to the last stop on the 14 route. All the 14 drivers know her, she says, and watch to make sure she makes it inside.

Lourdes is Catholic. She celebrated Easter at St. James Cathedral. After church she ate dinner at the home of a friend, the same friend she was trying to spare from walking home in the dark when she purposefully got on the wrong bus.

Lourdes liked the coat I was wearing today. She wanted to know if had worn it to church. I told her I had, but I didn’t mention the roller blades or the laptop. I also told her that my mother had given me the coat, that it was a gift to her from my father over 30 years ago. Lourdes said I was lucky to wear the same size as my mother, and lucky to have a mother who took such good care of her clothes. She had thought the coat was brand new. Except that they don’t make nice coats like that anymore.

I offered Lourdes some of my Easter candy. She wasn’t hungry, having just eaten with the friend who had waited for the bus with her, but she took two pieces and put them in her bag.

When the 4 came, we rode with Lourdes to our stop, then told her where to get off to catch the 14, even though we knew she already knew.

We waved at Lourdes as the bus drove away. Lourdes waved back.

For better or worse, cont’d

For better:
Bus chicks never need AAA.
Last night, we went to dinner with some friends. Since they live in the neighborhood, they were kind enough to pick us up at my place on the way to the restaurant. I must admit, I was grateful for the warm, door-to-door service (what is with this wind, anyway?). After dinner, we returned to their car to discover…a flat tire. And just like that (wind or no wind), I was missing my short wait for the bus.

For worse:
Bus chicks sometimes embarrass their mothers.
Since it’s Easter, I decided to attend church with my mother. I knew I’d go back to my parents’ place after church, and since they live across the street from the best blading path in the city, I decided to bring my roller blades. I also decided to bring my laptop, in case I had time to work. I arrived at church, dressed up in my Easter best, with a shopping bag loaded with roller blades and wrist guards hanging from one shoulder, and my laptop-and-power-cord-laden bus-chick bag slung over the other. If my mother hadn’t let me store all that stuff in her trunk during the service, I would have taken up an entire pew by myself.

Speaking of sexy…

Last night I got gussied up and hopped on the 4, headed downtown for a “changing jobs” party for a friend. I love riding the bus at night. There is something about the traffic-free streets, the deserted sidewalks, and the darkness outside the windows that creates camaraderie among those of us who have found ourselves together inside the warm, brightly lit vehicle.

Last night’s ride was better than usual. My favorite 4 driver, the one I call Smooth Jazz, was at the wheel. Smooth Jazz always drives at night, and he’s as cool and laid back as they come. Every time I ride his bus, he’s playing music–usually jazz–from a radio in the front. It’s loud enough for everyone to hear (especially on those quiet, nighttime rides), but not at all intrusive. When you get on, he nods and lifts his eyebrows, gently but firmly imparting the rules of his Smooth Jazz world: no funny business–just lean back, chill, and enjoy the ride.

Which is what I did.

The ride put me in just the right mood for the party, which turned out to be fun. The DJ was on an early-to-mid nineties hip-hop kick, and the bartender was excellent. (Another benefit of the bus-chick lifestyle: a built-in designated driver.) If I hadn’t violated Bus Chick Rule #37 (when going out, wear shoes that are both cute and comfortable) the night would have been perfect.

Too sexy for my car

Woman Seems Too Hot to Be Riding Bus (from The Onion)

Let’s face it, folks: The bus has a reputation as a less-than-sexy form of transportation. One of the biggest reasons for this is our culture’s longstanding tradition of associating cars with sex. We are constantly bombarded with images of partially clothed women spread-eagled on hoods (for now, let’s leave aside my many other issues with this type of marketing). People (especially men) buy nice cars to get dates. Couples take romantic drives into the country. Teenagers drive to a view point and “park.”

While I will admit to a definite weakness for candy paint and big wheels (blame it on my years in Houston: What You Know About Switchin’ Lanes on the Wood Grain?), I don’t see anything sexy about crashes, traffic, noise, pollution, overconsumption, or isolation.

The bus, on the other hand, has plenty to recommend it. People who ride frequently tend to have firm glutes from all the extra walking (don’t sleep on those downtown hills). College students ride buses (try the 48, 13, or 3) and so do many of those big, strong fish-throwers at the Market. Back in the day, lucky bus riders in the Bronx rubbed elbows with Jennifer Lopez. Buses are great places to meet people (I should know–I met Bus Nerd on the 545) and, apparently, good places for couples to share quality time. And really, what’s sexier than having a driver?

Because so few people know that riding the bus is sexier than driving, I’ve decided to embark on a campaign to change Metro’s image. Sexy bus chicks and bus boys in Seattle, I’m going to need your help. This summer, let’s follow in the footsteps of our feminist sisters and get some baby-doll/muscle t-shirts with slogans like, “This is What a Bus Rider Looks Like.” Let’s require people to ride the bus to all of the fabulous parties we throw. Let’s get The Stranger to add “sexiest Metro driver” to its annual “Seattle’s Sexiest” issue. Who’s with me?

I’m confident that my campaign will increase ridership, but I’m worried that it might become too successful. I don’t want to start seeing “Bikini Babes on Buses” at my local newsstand.

Caffeine is a kind of fuel

I caught the 14 outside of a Starbucks yesterday. The guy who got on behind me asked the bus driver to give him a free ride downtown, and she obliged. This would not have been especially unusual, except that he spent the entire ride in the very front of the bus (within sight of the driver) slurping loudly from the triple-deluxe-super-macked-out-chocolatey-explosion he had purchased while waiting for said free ride.

I understand that there are circumstances when people are not able to pay the bus fare. (Shoot, even bus chicks find themselves in a pinch from time to time.) But come on, man. Next time, save your game for the barista, so you can waste Howard Schultz’s money instead of mine.