Monthly Archives: July 2010

The opposite of progress

From Tom Vanderbilt’s recent piece in Slate:

In Greenberg, Ben Stiller plays Greenberg, a drifting musician-turned-carpenter who’s getting over a nervous breakdown. He’s a needy and casually abusive schmuck, a socially awkward and obsessive crank. And if you need any more clues to the extent of his pathological loserdom, here’s one: He doesn’t drive.


Greenberg is just the most recent film in which a character’s non-automobility–whether for lack of a car or for lack of the ability to drive–is used for comic effect, whether as a metaphor for a deeper personality flaw or as a token of marginality and/or plain creepiness. As the humorist Art Buchwald once observed, “People are broad-minded. They’ll accept the fact that a person can be an alcoholic, a dope fiend, a wife beater and even a newspaperman, but if a man doesn’t drive, there’s something wrong with him.”

We bus, train [ahem], and bike chicks beg to differ.


On a Wednesday morning walk to Chicklet’s preschool, she requests to be carried. Per usual, I decline.

“You don’t need to be carried, you’re a…”

Chicklet, who has apparently changed her tune since our recent discussion of the topic, anticipates my response and cuts me off.

“I’m not a bus chick!” hollers my little Link-obsessed darling. “I’m a train chick.”

Here’s hoping.

And for the record, I was going to say, “big girl.”

On writing and riding

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know that I have many obsessions: libraries, Rosa Parks, Three Girls Bakery, Mount Rainier, and–oh yeah–buses. You might not know, since I have not thus far had occasion to write about it here, that I am also obsessed with August Wilson.

I am a huge August Wilson fan. The first time I saw one of his plays staged (Joe Turner’s Come and Gone at the Alley Theater in Houston, back when I was a student at Rice) was transformational for me. The man has an unmatched ear for dialogue, and [ahem] I happen to enjoy listening to people talk. It’s one of the primary reasons I love the bus.

Apparently, Wilson enjoyed buses for the same reason. Transit geek/novelist Dolen Perkins-Valdez just hipped me to the fact that the famed playwright, a resident of our fair city (incidentally, another of my obsessions) from 1990 until his death in 2005, rode Metro. A lot.

All these years of semi-stalking the man, and I didn’t know. It wasn’t mentioned in any of the zillions of bios I read about him over the years–or at either of the memorials I attended after his death. And yet, all it took was a quick online search to confirm* Dolen’s assertion. August Wilson did, indeed, ride the bus–probably, given the location of his home and his regular haunts–a lot of the same routes I frequent.**

So, it seems that, in addition to providing us time to enjoy the creative work of others, riding transit can also aid the creative process. Toni Morrison (yet another of my obsessions) has said she used her subway rides to work on her first novel, and, as I’ve just discovered, Wilson found inspiration (and probably a lot of material) on the bus. Perhaps I should break out my own (10-year-old-and-as-yet-unpublished) novel. After all, a good quarter of it was written en route.

*This article is in the Boston Globe archives, and I had to pay to read it. I doubt the link will actually show the full text.
**Too bad we never (that I know of) shared a ride. Even my friend Aileen, who boasts of actually meeting him at Red and Black Books back in the day, would be jealous.

Speaking of San Francisco transit blogs (and newbie bus confusion)…

Brenna from That Baby is Cold visited Seattle during a West Coast road trip earlier this month. An excerpt from her trip report:

To be honest, I found the transit a little confusing. I had a rude bus driver that didn’t tell me that you pay getting on sometimes, and getting off other times based on where you get on. My husband had figured that out, but neglected to tell me and I instantly became the annoying lady with the loud kids that’s holding up the bus line.

And nobody wants to be that lady…

Miss(es) Manners for transit types

The SF Muni ladies, who’ve been doing their part to reduce bus fouls in the Bay since ’08, have compiled some of their most popular (or perhaps I should say, most necessary) bus and train behavior recommendations into a book: Muni Manners: An Etiquette Guide for the Mass Transit Savvy. The blurb:

Picking up where Miss Manners leaves off, Muni Manners brings a modern spin to transit etiquette and covers a range of infractions affecting riders – everything from personal space to personal hygiene.

Talk about a required ride read!

The Muni Manners book is self-published and not available at the library (they really should stock some at those cool library vending machine thingies at the BART stations in Contra Costa County), but it might be worth the investment to purchase a few copies. You can keep one for your personal transit geek reference library and carry the others in your bus chick bag–to hand out to the frequent foulers you encounter on your rides.

A New Mexico bus nerd visits Seattle

“Busboy” from Albuquerque hipped me to this blog–and to its author’s recent series about traveling through the Pacific Northwest without a car. I haven’t read the posts about Portland [ahem] or Vancouver yet, but his impressions of the Seattle transit/transportation landscape are pretty spot on. Check it:

Seattle’s new star for public transit is the recently opened Central Link, a light rail line which operates in a subway through downtown before emerging south of the stadiums and running out to the airport. And to be honest, as a visitor the only real use I got out of it was to go the airport (and the neighborhoods along the way didn’t seem that dense, so I can’t say how many commuters it serves). But it’s just one line; when other lines are built (and my understanding is that they’re already under way), it will be a very valuable addition to Seattle’s transit system.

But for now, the real movers and shakers of Seattle’s transit system are its buses. Its insane number of buses – an incredibly complex network of routes that provide very thorough coverage of the city. And the buses are actually quite nice – fairly comfortable, pretty clean, with many running on electricity. But here’s the thing I found difficult about Seattle’s bus network – it’s not very intuitive to people who don’t know it. [Hello!] As I said, the network is very complex, and no route really stands above the others to tell you “Take this one!”

But here’s the real question, Mr. Carfree in ‘Burque: Which city in the PNW did you love best? No pressure, of course.