Monthly Archives: February 2007

February Golden Transfer

Golden TransferThis month’s Golden Transfer goes to Charlie Tiebout, a retired full-time and current part-time Metro driver (notice a theme this week?). In his years at Metro, Charlie has driven almost every route in the system, but in the last 15, he’s stuck mostly to North Base routes: 31, 41, 65, 66, 67, 68, 71, 72, 73, 76, 77, 79, 312, and 306.

Back in his full-time days (1973, to be exact), Charlie was Metro’s first Santa.

I asked Metro if it was okay. [They said yes,] and they even paid for the Santa suit rental. $50 for the first day and $25 each day after. Big bucks in 1973!

One of Charlie’s “Bus Santa” stories:

Mom and five year old son hop on the route 21 bus headed downtown. The kid’s mouth drops [when he sees me in my Santa suit] and he gets excited. It turns out this kid is a regular on this bus and even knows how to call out all the stops. So I arrive at 1st and Spokane and turn around and announce to the bus passengers (while looking at the little boy) “Santa has no idea where to go next. Does anyone know where the bus goes?” The kid was by my side all the way to the Pike Place Market announcing the stop and even transfer points. So dang cute, the little old ladies on the bus were in tears. Thank goodness for my big beard because I was in tears too.


These days, Charlie volunteers as a concierge at Seattle International Hostel (which, unfortunately, will be closing next month), using his expert knowledge to tell visitors how to get around our fair city on the bus. He even gives away free bus tickets, courtesy of his wife, Marti. Marti has adopted a bus stop and so receives 60 free tickets from Metro every three months. If Charlie doesn’t give her tickets away at the hostel, she donates them to Noel House. (We stop adopters from Good Shepherd have been wondering what to do with those…)

Thanks, Charlie, for spending 30+ years helping folks get around Seattle–oh yeah–and for marrying such a cool, generous, bus-lovin’ woman’.

Charlie and Marti
Charlie and Marti at Marti’s adopted stop, the 68 stop at NE 75th & 20th NE

Speaking of bus drivers…

Yesterday I attended the first day of a two-week class for bus drivers who are converting from part time to full time. (The part-time class, during which they actually learn to drive a bus, is six-weeks.) It was cool to learn a little bit about how Metro operates from the inside, and it was really cool to spend the day with 24 bus drivers.

What I learned (the condensed version):

• You have to be a part-time driver before you can be a full-time driver. Part-time drivers have set hours and tend to be assigned to the straightforward (and relatively drama free) commuter routes. Full-time drivers get benefits.
• The coordinators (those people the drivers talk to over their radios about reroutes, breakdowns. emergencies, etc.) receive 450,000 calls per year.
• During morning and afternoon rush hours, there are over 1100 buses in operation.
• Bus drivers (and the people who love them) pack a mean lunch: po’ boys and sliced grapefruit and cut veggies and fancy chips…all arranged neatly in a mini Igloo cooler. Those of us spoiled by easy access to restaurants and cafeterias (and who barely managed to throw a pb ‘n j and an apple in a bag) did our best not to be jealous.
Drivers don’t like the 174, either.

More on all the statistics and stuff later.

Bus driver class
Bus driving, 201

At lunch, I talked to a woman who, after over ten years as a beautician, has decided to make bus driving a career. Her father is a bus driver as well and has been driving buses in Seattle for 32 years. Right now he drives the 8. She showed me his picture, so I’m on the lookout.

I talked to another Seattle OG, Alan Brooks, who told me that one of his passengers on the 255 actually ate a transfer. Something about Alan makes me think he’ll have many equally insane stories for me in the future. Another thing about Alan: His goal as a driver is to educate passengers not to stop a bus that with a sign that says “University District” and ask if it’s going to Federal Way. Good luck on that, my friend.

Irony of the day: The class instructor, Jeffrey (aka, “the man who brought me Busfather“), included an article about the high cost of car ownership in the class materials. One of the students, Rene, who has been car-free for 15 years, said that his job as a bus driver makes this choice extremely difficult. After all, someone has to get to (or from) the base when the buses aren’t running.

Rene went on to say that, according to his calculations, if he took a $10 cab ride to work every day and rented a car for two months out of the year, the total cost would be less than half the cost of a year of owning the two-year old vehicle he was considering purchasing. “I’m going to try that,” he said. “I’d really like to avoid buying a car if I can.”

Now that’s my kind of driver.

“The Tiger Woods of the system”

According to my new, second-favorite* driver, that’s the 48, because it’s a “long drive with a short putt to the beach.” The thing is, a long drive with him at the wheel wouldn’t be half bad. The man kept us entertained over the loudspeaker for the entire (not-so-long) ride on Friday afternoon, announcing landmarks and businesses of note at every stop. At Union, the transfer to the 2 (“you know how those lake routes are”); at Cherry, Catfish Corner (“wouldn’t mind a piece of peach cobbler right about now”); at Jefferson, Medgar Evers pool (“it’s Black History Month–make sure you learn who that is“). Between stops, he also shared his other nicknames for the route he drives–“Dr. 48” and “the heavyweight of the system”– and reminded us that, courtesy of Metro, we were “rollin’ on big wheels.”

And yet again, I find an occasion to quote the 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.

*Smooth Jazz continues to hold the top spot.

A bus rider’s glossary

Speaking of transit-inspired language…

[Note: This post is updated regularly as new terms are added.]

Bus luh, n: A bus-based interaction between two people who are attracted to each other. The interactions vary widely, but participants are always: riding on or waiting for a bus; in love, lust, or very deep like; and engaging in some sort of physical contact.

Bus mack, n: An attempted bus hook-up, in which one rider approaches another in a way that indicates romantic and/or sexual interest. On rare occasions, a bus mack can result in future instances of bus luh (see above).

Bus foul, n: An action or behavior–on a bus or at a bus stop–that negatively impacts other riders; a bus equivalent of a party foul. An example: taking up more than one seat when the bus is full. (For more examples, see above.)

Bus chick bag, n: A reusable bag that experienced riders use to carry bus necessities. These necessities might include: bus pass, wallet, book, cell phone, laptop, bus schedules, umbrella, gloves, hand warmers, flashlight, glue stick, Swiss Army knife, compass, notebook, pens, pencils, hair implements, plastic bags, chapstick, mascara, mp3 player, snacks, to-do list, city maps, lotion, antibacterial gel, digital camera… Bus chick bags take many forms but are most commonly backpacks.

Pack jam, n: An unfortunate incident that involves a strap or buckle of a rider’s bus chick bag (see above) becoming entangled with (or trapped beneath) some part of the bus or another rider at the moment the rider is preparing to disembark. This usually results in frantic shouts for the driver to “Wait!” and is often followed by extreme embarrassment.

Bus-wide discussion, n: A conversation that involves at least three passengers who were not previously acquainted and is conducted for the benefit of everyone on the bus. Common topics for bus-wide discussions: weather, elections, major sporting events, “the good old days.”

Lentement, a, n: Slow, either literally or figuratively; uncool; a person or object that exhibits the aforementioned characteristics.

This term can be applied beyond the world of public transportation.

Schmipod, n: A non-Apple (read: affordable) mp3 player (preferably with a radio tuner) that one can use to listen to music, podcasts, recorded books, and other audio delights on buses and at stops.

Bus crush, n:
1. Feelings of overwhelming admiration–occasionally, though not necessarily, of a romantic nature–for a fellow passenger; excessive interest in, or curiosity about, a fellow passenger.
2. The object of such admiration or interest.

BWI, v: Busing while intoxicated. Riding any form of public transportation while under the influence of alcohol or other (less legal) drugs. BWI is usually identified by the telltale scent of the intoxicating substance and its associated bizarre, antisocial, or otherwise transit-unfriendly behavior. (See also: bus foul, trife, Seahawks Special)

BDP, n: Bus driver’s pet or bus driver’s pest, depending on the circumstances. A person who sits in the front of the bus, in the seat nearest the driver, and engages the driver in conversation for the duration of his or her ride. BDPs tend to be regular riders and commonly offer advice and assistance (solicited and otherwise) to other passengers.

BCiT, n: Bus chick in training. A young person, usually under the age of 12, who is learning the bus-riding ropes. A BCiT always rides with an experienced bus chick while she masters basic bus survival skills, such as when to ring the bell, how and when to pay, and appropriate bus behavior–and then more advanced skills, including schedule-reading, trip-planning, and street safety. If she shows promise, she is permitted to ride without a mentor, and, eventually, initiated into the sisterhood of full-fledged bus chicks.

Bus legs, n: The ability to effectively balance oneself while standing or walking on a moving bus, no matter how unpredictable the traffic or inexperienced the driver.

The transfer trade, n The system of exchanging bus tickets, paper transfers, and bus passes for money or other items of value.

Stop sense, n: The ability to detect when one’s transit destination is approaching without looking out the window or at the digital display at the front of the vehicle; a subconscious awareness of the location of one’s transit stop.

Stop sense is essential for those who enjoy transit catnaps, regularly read while riding, or frequently find themselves sucked into the black hole of their smartphones.

OBC, n: Original bus chick. A person who has actively chosen transit over other forms of transportation for several decades; an extremely experienced transit rider.
OBCs have all the necessary skills and equipment for bus successful bus living and tend to have encyclopedic knowledge about routes and rules. Most have personal friendships with their regular drivers.

Transit-inspired language

In May of 2005, Bus Nerd and I took a trip to Paris. I speak French fairly fluently and so gave him a few lessons (enough so he would feel comfortable ordering in restaurants and reading the odd sign) before we left. He decided, in true nerd fashion, to practice his newfound skills by speaking only French on the trip–even to me.

On the RER ride from the airport, which was taking longer than he expected and jeopardizing an appointment in the city, he turned to me and blurted out the only French word he knew that could communicate his frustration: “Lentement!”

Lentement (my best attempt at a phonetic interpretation: lontmaw), you see, is the French word for slowly.

I fell out. (So, I assume, did most of the French people riding near us on the train. At least they had the decency to do it in their heads.)

Thankfully, the ride was not as “lentement” as it originally seemed (turns out, the map was somewhat misleading), and we arrived in the city right on time. For the rest of the trip, the word became our private joke. If we were stuck behind slow pedestrians or waiting to cross the street at an interminable traffic light, one of us would whisper it to the other. Line too long at a museum? Grounds for a “lentement.” And etc.

The tradition continued after we returned to Seattle (often, not surprisingly, when we were riding the 4). Over time, it has evolved to encompass anything that we consider to be figuratively slow, or, to put it more succinctly, uncool. Some examples: SUVs, public displays of bus luh, Flavor of Love (Moni, I’m looking at you), modeling a ball gown at an art walk

Lentement can be used as almost any part of speech, but it is most commonly used as an adjective (“That is so lentement!”) or a noun (“What a lentement!”). You get the picture. (I hope.)

Why am I telling you this? Because, almost two years after the Paris trip, I still use the word all the time. At least once a week, I am tempted to use it in a post. And then I realize that no one, other than Bus Nerd, my brothers, and a few unlucky friends, knows what the heck it means. Now you do. That makes you a lentement, too.

My 48 ride home

The bus is late and crowded, so I am forced to sit in the very back.

To my left: Two dudes rolling joints, counting change, and discussing the relative fluid levels in their lighters.

To my right: A young woman talking on a cell phone, apparently to another young woman who is taking care of her child. She alternates between coaching the caretaker in the fine art of potty training (Ask him if he wants to go poo-poo.), giving orders to the child over the speaker (Darrell, I’m not playing–you’d better eat that sandwich!), and gossiping.

To my far right: A mailman in short shorts, showing way too much thigh for February (OK, ever) reading a car-racing magazine.

Folks with car commutes: What you got?

The new transit advertising debate (or, Bus wraps: “so last year.”)

Because I’d like to see more and better public transportation in this region, I’d also like to see more–and better–sources of public transportation funding. In my ideal world, we’d fund transit with gas taxes, parking taxes, tolls, and congestion charges–instead of just sales tax. For now, I’ll settle for advertising as a source of revenue.

Which brings me to my point…

In December, the King County Transit Advisory Committee, “an appointed County board drawn from King County Metro Transit riders,” sent a letter to Seattle City Councilmember Jan Drago encouraging the city to allow “tasteful” advertising in bus shelters. (Apparently, this is currently not allowed.) An excerpt from the letter:

The King County Transit Advisory Committee respectfully requests that you and your Seattle City Council colleagues study the potential for Seattle to join with Metro Transit in placing revenue-generating, tasteful advertising panels on Seattle-area Metro Transit bus shelters.

Our committee has researched the use of bus shelter advertising in municipal locations within the United States and internationally. We have learned that municipalities can tightly control advertising content and images, while striking revenue deals that greatly enhance the ability to provide shelters and another important customer amenity, signage. Given the urgent need to upgrade customer service and amenities during the coming decade, the King County Transit Advisory Committee strongly favors the use of such advertising-enhanced revenue to increase the number, cleanliness and quality of bus shelters, adjacent lighting and informational signage within the City of Seattle.

(Full disclosure. I was recently appointed to the TAC. I attended my first meeting as a member on February 13th.)

I’d love to see more shelters and better signage, but I’m afraid it will be difficult to come to consensus about how we define “tasteful.” I was all for bus wraps (which, in case you missed it, are going away) until I saw McDonald’s-wrapped buses and Fox-News– and Mercedes-Benz- wrapped People Movers in Detroit. I also hate the idea of corporations having that kind of access to our public spaces. (Anyone seen the monument to Starbucks at Powell Barnett?)

That said, I’ve seen bus shelter ads in other cities, and they actually looked nice. Here are a few examples I found in my own photo archives:

Paris shelter ad
Paris shelter ad
Vacnouver shelter ad
Vancouver shelter ad

The TAC’s letter also has a few.

Bottom line: We need more transit funding, and we definitely need more shelters and better signs. I support the shelter ads, but I’ll continue to raise my voice (and vote) for more public funding of public transit.

Your turn.

Big (yet fashionable!) shoes

Unlike my Gail, my mother was not a bus chick sympathizer. Truth be told, she didn’t much like the bus or my decision to ride it every-dang-where. And truth be told, I often wished she was more interested in my ideas about sustainable transportation than she was in my ability to coordinate belts and purses. But despite our surface differences, she was an amazing role model for me, a model of courage I didn’t fully appreciate until now.

This week’s Real Change column:

On Jan. 3, after a four-and-a-half year battle with breast cancer, my mother, Caroline Dunne Saulter, died. She was 61 years old.
Caroline never approved of my choice to live without a car. She blamed herself, for allowing me to ride the bus at such an early age; my father, for showing me how; my husband, for providing my first example of car-freedom; and me, for being my stubborn, willful (and impractical) self. She wanted me to live a mainstream middle-class life, to stay indefinitely when I visited (instead of until the last bus left her neighborhood), to be protected from the elements, and to be inside (either a building or a vehicle) after dark. Despite my unwavering commitment to my choice, she hoped that one day I would grow up, get over it, and just buy a hybrid already.

The irony of this is that it was, in large part, my mother’s example that gave me the courage to step outside the mainstream and choose a life that reflected my values.

Caroline’s commitment to her own ideals began at an early age. Despite her head-turning beauty and easy popularity, she chose not to accept the bigoted views of her peers in the suburban Ohio town where she attended high school and almost always found herself on the “wrong” side of lunch-table arguments. When she was 16, she took a bus by herself from Cleveland to Washington, D.C., to participate in the March on Washington. She remembered the experience as one of the most moving of her life.

In 1966, she left college, joined Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA), and moved to Oregon to help improve conditions for Russian and Mexican migrant workers. It was there that she met my father, a Seattle native and brilliant University of Oregon architecture student who also happened to be Black. They married — at a time when many states still had anti-miscegenation laws — and finished school together.

When Caroline was 28 and most of her girlfriends were shopping preschools, she and my father joined the Peace Corps and moved (along with my older sister, Carey, and me) to Morocco for two years. After we returned, she continued to give her time to the causes she cared about while raising her (eventually four) children.

When she was 57, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She battled the disease with grace and courage — continuing to participate in life to the extent she was able and, in the process, inspiring countless other cancer patients.

So it is not despite, but because of Caroline that I have chosen to live according to my beliefs. Though her life was cut short, she managed to leave the world in better shape than she found it. How could I, presented with her example, not attempt to do the same?

I’ve eased my way into life without her, but there is not a moment of the day when she is not on my mind. I only wish Real Change gave me a higher word count.

Another cool(ish) bus tool

Am I the only one who didn’t know that Metro’s website lets you create custom schedules? Probably, but just in case there are one or two others: Go to any route timetable; click the “custom print” button at the top of the page; and then choose the direction, window of time, and stops that are important to you. I just made custom schedule for the 8 and one for the 4. Easy. For a bus chick, even fun.

This feature would be amazingly useful (Finally–a way to manage the insanity that is the 3/4 schedule!) except that, you can’t create direct links to your customized schedules. (Someday soon, perhaps?) For now, I’ll use the same workaround I use for Trip Planner itineraries: copy the data into Word or Outlook.