Monthly Archives: June 2006

June Golden Transfer

Golden Transfer This month’s Golden Transfer goes to Dave Johnston, a New Jersey native (the Philadelphia side) and longtime Seattleite who is both car-free and (not coincidentally) a fabulously talented writer.

Dave came by his car-free status unintentionally: The suspension on his Volvo station wagon started to fail, and rather than pay the exorbitant repair cost (or risk losing a wheel on the road), he decided to stop driving it. (From Dave: “…having had that wagon for a number of years, I felt that something fantastic was going to happen. And when I say fantastic, I mean an explosion.”) At first, he considered the choice a temporary inconvenience, but after a few not-so-bad months sans voiture, Dave began to, in his own words, “suck the marrow out of the bus.” He donated his car to a public radio station and embraced his life as a full-time bus rider.

Lucky for Dave, he lives on Capitol Hill and works downtown (ideal conditions for car-free living). Still, because he is a writer, he travels all over the region to conduct interviews (not-so-ideal conditions for car-free living). He has taken the bus to almost every neighborhood in the city and to such far-flung locations as Shoreline and Medina. (Who knew they even had buses in Medina?)

Dave is one of the funniest people I know (not that I know many funny people), and I love hearing stories of his bus adventures. Maybe it’s his sense of humor. Maybe it’s a Capitol Hill thing. All I know is, his stories are almost always more interesting than mine. I’m hoping one day he’ll share a few here.

Our hero, preparing to suck the marrow out of the bus
Dave, again
I think he got it all.

More on the costs of car dependence

The Sightline Institute (formerly known as Northwest Environment Watch) recently published its 2006 Cascadia Scorecard.

Here are some excerpts from the Sprawl and Health section:

In subtle yet cumulatively significant ways, extra driving adds to the burden of death, injury and disease. Car accidents, obesity and physical inactivity, exposure to air pollution, and reduced opportunity for neighborly interactions can all result. And all these things take a toll on our health.

…mile for mile, riding a bus is more than ten times safer than driving a car.

…vehicle-related fees–fuel taxes, license and registration fees, and the like–cover only part of the costs of roads, bridges, public parking spaces, and other public expenses of driving. Taxpayers, even those who drive little, pick up the rest of the tab. If drivers had to pay the full costs for owning and operating their automobiles, they would pay more to drive–and, as a consequence, they would be less inclined to choose places to live where destinations are far apart and where driving is a necessity for every trip.

A bus rider’s full moon

I am a very, very big fan of hot weather. So, as you might imagine, I have been thrilled with our recent (and unexpected–it’s June, after all) Seattle-style heat wave. When it’s nice like this, I tend to walk more often–partly because I want to be outside as much as I can, and partly because the buses get a little weird when the temperature climbs above 80. Folks get on half-dressed, exposing parts of their bodies the rest of us were never meant to see. (Depending on the individuals in question, this can sometimes make the bus another kind of hot.) Irritation escalates to anger in the space of seconds. Passengers will stand in the middle of the aisle (blocking traffic and causing more irritation/anger) rather than sit next to another sweaty body–that is, unless the bus driver has turned on the air conditioning full blast, making the bus cold enough to activate my Raynaud’s. And of course, bus-wide discussions are all about the weather (not necessarily weird but certainly less interesting than the usual topics).

What kind of weird/crazy/different stuff do you see on buses when it’s hot outside?

Metro, unplugged

When Metro and Sound Transit’s wi-fi pilot was first announced, I was one happy bus chick. I fantasized about using it all the time–to leave work early (Why work in the office when you can work on your way home from the office?), to IM with girlfriends in different time zones, to check Tracker for the routes I planned to transfer to. In reality, I’ve used it successfully twice: once on the 545 and once on the 48. I was so excited, I didn’t do anything useful–just sent lots of e-mail with the subject line, “I’m on the bus!” Most of the time, I can’t even get it to work. I can get on the network (or so my laptop says), but I can’t get an IP address. (That’s nerdspeak for, “I can’t get on the Internets.”)

Are you using wi-fi on buses? If so, what are you using it for? Have you had any “technical difficulties”?

On a related note: Whether you are using bus wireless or not, what do you think of the concept? I, for one, am a bit worried that I feel the need to check e-mail during my commute. My youngest brother’s girlfriend just got her master’s in psychology. She might call Metro an “enabler.”

A taxident

Fellow bus chicks,

If you are planning to take the Elliott Bay Water Taxi on a windy evening, remember not to wear open-toed mules with three-inch heels–not even if you are going to visit your fashion-plate mother, who will no doubt raise her eyebrows at your sensible bus-chick shoes. Not even if, after you return from visiting your fashion-plate mother, you plan to attend a house party at a fancy downtown condo. You see, you will have to board the ferry/taxi from a floating dock, a floating wooden dock made from unevenly spaced planks. Sometimes, three-inch heels get caught in the spaces between planks. And you see, in the future (cute shoes or no), you’ll need your ankles to get around.

Feel the base

The point of a blog, or so I understand, is to chronicle your life as it happens. The problem with this: While life is happening, you don’t necessarily have time to chronicle. Life has been happening to me since my visit to Atlantic Base last Thursday, which is why I am just now getting around to writing about it. Let’s see what I can remember…

First, thanks to Sue Kattar, the (now former) base supervisor, who volunteered to give me a tour and took the time to do it four days before her retirement from Metro.

Seattle Transit trolley
Old school Seattle Transit trolley

The highlights:
• Meeting the bus drivers (some of whom I recognized from my rides) and seeing where they hang out when they’re not driving us around. I’m telling you, if I weren’t already marrying a software engineer, I’d marry a bus driver (or Tayshaun Prince). And if I could operate a vehicle larger than (for example) a baby-blue ’64 Impala with a white ragtop, white interior, and whitewall tires, I’d be one.

• Learning (some of) what it takes to run a bus system. There are tons of people behind the scenes–worrying about safety, and street closures, and route planning, and route assignments. There are even people whose job is to move buses around the lot (and park them in an order that corresponds to their scheduled departure times).
• Walking through the rows of trolley buses–from the cool, vintage Seattle Transit trolleys to the spanking new ones, complete with fancy iPod ad wraps.
• Touring the maintenance facility. Talk about some serious tools! (I even saw Brian Nussbaum–recognized him from his picture.)

The most interesting thing I learned: A single, 60-foot, articulated, hybrid, New Flyer bus costs almost a million dollars. (A standard 40-foot diesel is about 450k.) And again, I am compelled to quote our favorite bus chick pick-up artist:

“A bus is like a massive, pimping SUV with 4000 horse power and lots of 45 inch wheels. Can your ride compete with that, b*tch? I didn’t think so.”

Sanctimonious? Maybe. Suffocated? Definitely.

Yesterday, Adam and I raced for the cure in honor of my mom and everyone else we know who has dealt with a terminal illness. Afterwards, we raced for the 27. We were breathing heavily by the time we got on–a big mistake on this particular 27. You see, another of the (tiny handful of) drawbacks of a bus-dependent lifestyle is the occasional encounter with an unpleasant odor. (I’ll spare you the examples.) Sometimes, the odor can be escaped with a discreet move to another seat. At other times, it permeates the entire vehicle, creating what bus riders across our fair city not-so-affectionately refer to as a “funky bus.” When teen-aged girls, who are at once new to this phenomenon, hypersensitive to smells, and inclined to seek attention, encounter a funky bus, they tend to complain, loudly and for the duration of the ride. Experienced bus chicks learn to sit near an open window, bury their faces in their sleeves, and mentally travel to a happier place.

The foul (and thankfully, short) ride was a minor inconvenience in an otherwise great day, which included: the race (Did I mention that Sound Transit was one of the sponsors?), the Juneteenth parade (Flexcar participated!), a foot-ferry ride, and two graduation celebrations–one of which involved a very big cake, and the other of which involved drinks at the W. The last 27 left downtown at 12:25, right about the time the W celebration was winding down. Thankfully, that ride was funk free.

Are car-free people sanctimonious?

A couple of times in the last week, I’ve been confronted with some surprising assumptions about people who choose not to own cars. First, there was Knute Berger’s unwarranted (and, I might add, illogical) attack on me and a few other extreme “bionauts” who, apparently, mooch off our neighbors while simultaneously looking down our noses at them. (To read rebuttals to Knute’s argument, try Seattlest and The Stranger‘s Slog.)

And then there was the comment on one of my recent posts that ended on a less-than-positive note. After politely articulating his reasons for choosing to drive, the reader closed with this:

“And I’m really tired of the smug, sanctimonious sniveling of the car-free…”

So, I figured it was time to clear the air.

I can’t speak for other car-free types, but the intent of this blog is not to judge people (OK, except maybe the occasional pervert), whether they own cars or not. Hey, some of my best friends drive cars. (In fact, my very best friend–since the 7th grade–has five children and drives an Excursion.) My intention in writing this blog is to share my life choice–admittedly in the hope that others might adopt it–not to ridicule someone else’s.

So what’s with the judgment and presumptions about bussers and bikers?

Here are some of my readers’ thoughts on the subject:

From seabike_emily:

“…it is interesting that car users often protest a sense of sanctimony or superiority they perceive as coming from the car-independent. It’s a familiar objection, and there is a certain defensiveness in it, which is probably a good thing because it indicates at least some recognition of the problems of car use. My own thinking has come a long way from the car-having assumption to the car-free adventure. “Smug” is just bad spin on “highly satisfied” (guilty as charged ;-)). But in the case of typical American car users, their everyday, oblivious choices deliver such heavy consequences to everyone…Once you free yourself, it’s really hard to see all those negative consequences as being as justified as you once perceived them to be (when they remained in your, ahem, “blind spots”). And thus begin the smugness wars…

From ccitizen:

“My morning commute is in general very pleasant, but also includes everything from uninvited encounters with aggressive panhandlers to dangerous and frantic drivers. Smug attitude? Nah, I’m just really, really happy that I made it across the street alive.”

And now, your thoughts. No direct questions from me today. Let ’em rip!