Draw in the dirt.
This summer, I was invited to a statewide public transportation conference in Yakima, hosted, oddly enough, by WSDOT. Since my participation was limited to one panel discussion, and since the Bus Fam almost never has an occasion to visit the south-central part of our state, I decided to bring the entire crew along for a mini vacation.
I learned from Ryan, the facilitator of my panel, that there is an airporter from Seattle to Yakima—incidentally, run by the same company that operates the bus we took to Anacortes in 2007. Upon further investigation, I learned that the Yakima airporter has a stop downtown–at the Washington State Convention Center–and one at the Yakima Convention Center/Red Lion, where the conference was being held.
So, early in the morning Sunday before last, we packed our bags and hopped the 27 downtown. We made it to the Convention Center in time for a pit stop, which is a good thing, because, as I learned when making our reservation, the Yakima airporter does not have restrooms on board.
The ride was quick and reasonably comfortable, other than a slightly overzealous air conditioner. The shuttle made four stops between convention centers–Seatac, North Bend, Ellensburg, and Cle Elum–and the trip took roughly four hours, including the wait at the airport for everyone’s baggage and a group pit stop in Cle Elum.
Our adventures in Yakima turned out not to be very adventurous. The Yakima Red Lion is pretty near the center of town, but there wasn’t much—other than hotels and fast food restaurants—in the immediate vicinity. The weather was a bit warm for wandering, and, since we were there on Sunday and Monday (and only a small part of Tuesday), there wasn’t a whole lot to wander to.
Yakima does have transit service: 11 routes, all of which stop running before 7 PM, and many of which offer hourly service for most of the day. But, it was hard to find the stops; there were exactly zero on the main drag through town. Also, the schedules and maps were confusing for us, since we don’t know the city, and they were definitely optimized for folks who know where they’re going. After several attempts, I did manage to ride the 6 to the visitor’s center, but that was the extent of my Yakima busing.
One of the drawbacks of traveling to a predominantly rural area without a car is that many of the places you’d want to visit are not accessible by transit. I would have loved to visit the Yakama Nation Cultural Heritage Center, but it was 20 miles away in Toppenish. Google claims that it is possible to get there using transit (if you’re willing to walk two miles), but the service is very limited—running only once (?) per day and taking over an hour each way—and was not feasible for a Monday afternoon, post panel.
In general, being in a place that essentially requires a car for mobility reminded me of how marginalizing it can be to try to get around without one. When I was in college (and for a few years after), I lived in Houston. For most of that time, I could not afford a car. Bus service in Houston was terrible, and a significant part of the city had no sidewalks at all. I regularly found myself walking in ditches, stranded for long periods, and generally unable to carry out my life. Being back in Seattle, in a neighborhood with sidewalks and passable transit, I had forgotten what it feels like to experience that level of vulnerability and stress just trying to get around. This trip was a good reminder of what life is like for so many people who don’t have the means or ability to drive a car. It was also a depressing foretaste of what life will be like in my own world in just a few months.
We did manage to have some fun on our short trip. For one thing, the scenery was beautiful. (You’ll have to trust me, since my phone photos don’t do it justice.) And exploring the city on foot, even in the heat, was fascinating.
At the restaurant where we had dinner on Monday, I spotted a woman I recognized from the 27. (!) She was with a large group, so I was too shy to say hello. But Bus Nerd, ever the extrovert, marched over and introduced himself. Turns out, she’s also a hardcore bus chick and was also in town for the conference. So, now I have a new friend in my neighborhood. (He-ey Theresa!)
The best part of Yakima, by Chicklet and Busling’s standards, was the hotel pool. Let them tell it, the best part of every trip we’ve taken–ever–has been the pool. This, despite the fact that they’re not big on actual swimming.
Again, I digress.
We headed back to Seattle Tuesday morning, shortly after breakfast.
The return trip was slightly shorter than the trip there, since the airport passengers were being dropped off, and we didn’t have to for wait anyone’s luggage. It’s a good thing. Thanks to a barely missed 27 and an excruciatingly slow 3 ride, the trip from the Convention Center to our house took an hour, door to door.
Yes, our two-mile trip within Seattle took more than a quarter the amount of time of our 150-mile journey back from Yakima.
Welcome to my future.
One 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.
As a veteran bus rider, I have had to deal with my share of unpleasant travel experiences. Like most sane people, I dislike bad bus rides. But—and I preface this comment by acknowledging that I have a rather unconventional world view—for me, it is often the “unpleasant” bus experiences that reinforce everything I love about the bus.
Case in point: Our Friday afternoon trip home from summer camp at Seattle Center. The kids and I decided that we could not endure one more stop-and-go, 45-minute ride on the 8 (the beautiful* thing about Seattle buses is that they sit in the same traffic as Seattle cars), so we zoomed downtown on the Monorail in the hope we’d find a 27 waiting for us when we arrived. We weren’t fortunate enough to catch our infrequent favorite route, but we didn’t have to wait long for a bus; the 3 pulled up less than a minute after we arrived at the stop.
There are few bus experiences less pleasant than a rush-hour ride on an overcrowded, stuffy, slow-moving trolley in the middle of summer. Except, that is, a rush-hour ride on an overcrowded, stuffy, slow-moving trolley in the middle of summer—with two amped-up, overtired young children in tow.
The bus was standing room only when we boarded at Pine. As we started to make our way to a decent hanging-on point, two passengers in the front got up to give us room to sit together. As I sat with Busling on my lap, Chicklet next to me, and our bags at my feet, more and more people crowded on.
By the time we reached James, Busling was asleep, and Chicklet was engrossed in a comic. I silently thanked the bus gods for what was shaping up to be a complaint-free journey. Unfortunately, they weren’t as kind to the 10 people waiting to board at the courthouse. Though we had long since run out of room, the driver jumped on the mic and asked all of us “channel our inner sardines.” Everybody chuckled and squeezed back farther. We managed to fit three more before he shrugged apologetically and closed the doors.
Those of us fortunate enough to be riding managed to keep our cool, despite being pretty dang hot. I offered to help a man overloaded with stuff and struggling to find space. He slid his backpack under my feet next to our bags and handed me his container of takeout, then looked at Chicklet and said, “I have six of those.” (He meant daughters, not My Little Pony comics, as I originally assumed.) As we crept along, I learned that his children ranged in age from 26 to 10, and one of them was turning 24 that very day. He had already called to wish her a happy birthday.
Everywhere around us, riders were having similar interactions. It was one of those magical rides where folks made room, made conversation, and made the best of things. For the time we were together, we formed a tiny, temporary community.
What’s a little crowding compared?
*And by beautiful, I mean idiotic.
A young black woman with a beautiful, medium length, natural hairstyle exits a building near the stop and walks to it. Two middle-aged white men exit shortly after her and pause to chat on their way down the hill. Seconds into the conversation, one of them says, “[Rachel], your hair is the talk of the office.”
She smiles uncomfortably. “Really? Hopefully, my performance is as well.”