Eastbound 3, 4:30 PM (or, Learning to love sardines)

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.

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