A sixtyish man is sitting in front of me, looking out the window as we creep up James. We pass a handful of people standing on the sidewalk near the jail. Among them is a black priest.
The man snorts in disbelief. “Why would a black person take a vow a poverty? We’re born poor!”
Yesterday, after tiring of the wait for my six-, then eight-, then ten-, then twelve-minute late 27, I resorted to the 4. I was immediately glad I did, despite the fact that the bus was (per usual) extra crowded, and I ended up standing in the no man’s land with poor pole access.
You see, Smooth Jazz was at the wheel.
Riding on Smooth Jazz’s bus always feels a bit like a celebrity sighting for me. (Not surprisingly, many of the people I consider “celebrities” are bus drivers.) As soon as we finished our excruciating creep up James, he turned on his trademark mellow music. (One of these days, I’m going to start making requests.) By then, I had a seat, and a view of all the goodness that was taking place around me: Small talk. Flirtations. Coworker gossip. Laughter.
A man got on a few stops past Harborview with a box of various goodies, including fruit and some Easter-related toys. Across from him was a woman with infant twins and an older girl, who was probably around eight. The mother was holding one of the babies on her lap while her daughter struggled with the other. The double stroller was stowed awkwardly nearby in the wheelchair area.
Before Box Man had been on a full block, he offered some of the toys to the girl, gesturing to the babies to indicate that the gifts were to be shared. The girl looked to her mother for approval before accepting, then held the toys at arms’ length, either out of amazement at her good fortune or healthy suspicion.
A few minutes later, the mother rang the bell for my stop, so I offered my assistance getting everything–stroller, babies, big kid, bag, and new toys–off the bus. She matter-of-factly handed me a chubby, sweet-smelling baby and proceeded to gather her things. Together–each of us balancing a little one on a hip–we maneuvered the double stroller contraption down the bus steps and set it on the sidewalk, stowed the new toys, and strapped everyone in. Then, we headed in our respective directions.
It is likely that I will never see that woman or her children again. It is even more likely that in two months, or a year, or five years, I will forget the beautiful surprise (the gift!) of being handed a stranger’s precious baby, of cooperating with her to overcome a challenge I know well. Of smelling that sweet chubby cheek for a few moments at the end of a challenging day, on my way to see my own precious (not so) babies. (Chicklet’s about to be in Kindergarten, people!)
But whether these experiences are remembered consciously is not particularly important. (This is a good thing, since my memory has been basically shot since I was busing while pregnant the first time.) It is these daily interactions that inform who I am and how I view my community. Sometimes, they change my perspective. Often, they deepen my compassion or my gratitude. Always, they make an impression.
A bus-wide discussion about how hot everyone is (par for the course on any [non-air-conditioned] Seattle bus on any day above 80 degrees) is in full swing before we even reach Harborview. Folks express all the usual (uninteresting) weather-related sentiments, until a middle-aged man sitting directly behind the driver adds his two cents.
“I’m about to go home and get naked. Yep, I’m going to get naked with a little, tiny fan.”
The bus theme for 2011 was “adjustment.” It was a tough year on several fronts.
1) Busing with babies
I started the year grappling with the awkwardness of traveling with a toddler and a preschooler. The challenges increased as the year progressed (and baby #2 grew heavier, squirmier, and more opinionated). We still got around, of course, but I always felt like I had to choose something to sacrifice: convenience, physical comfort, carrying capacity, or sanity. Usually, it was two of the four.
I’ll admit that problem-solving isn’t my strong suit*, but I’m still convinced that most of the challenges I’m dealing with are inherent to our situation** and are just going to have to be endured. I’m hoping that by this time next year, things will have (mostly) worked themselves out.
2) Bus cuts
What’s a little kid-related bus inconvenience compared to no buses? Those of you who live in King County no doubt remember this summer’s terrifying, “we might have to cut 17% of your service” moment. The County Council passed the (temporary) congestion reduction charge, but the problem hasn’t gone away–for KC Metro, or for transit agencies across the state (CT and PT have already implemented drastic cuts) and the country. If the state doesn’t figure out a real solution to the transit revenue problem ASAP, those barely averted cuts will become a reality.
In the meantime, riders (including this one) are already feeling the pinch. Metro is closing stops, reducing hours, eliminating routes, and taking other steps to save money in anticipation of its bleak revenue future.
3) Bus access
2011 was the Bus Fam’s first full year in our new home, which, though only five blocks from our old (and beloved!) one, sometimes seems worlds away. We still ride all the same routes, but instead of being across the street from three major stops (two of them sheltered), we are blocks away from even the closest. Only one of the nearby stops has a shelter—if you can call it that. (No bench? No windows? No thanks!) Being off the busy thoroughfare has plenty of advantages, but I’m just now beginning to realize how spoiled we were, bus-wise, at the old place.
Further complicating my adjustment to our new bus reality is the fact that the stop where we used to catch the 4 and 48 was recently (and rather unceremoniously) closed by Metro. Now we walk close to half a mile to catch those routes–not so fun when traveling with two small people in the rain. Our bad for basing our home selection on the location of bus stops, I guess.
And speaking of…
Choosing a home based on access to particular routes is also probably not the best plan. Metro’s proposed service revisions include the elimination of the 4 and the drastic reduction/alteration of the 27.
Apparently, “transfer” will be my bus theme for 2012.
*I almost always prefer continuing to do what I’ve been doing to actually putting in time (and research!) to figure out a new way to approach a problem. By the time I figure out a good way to handle a situation, there’s a new problem to deal with.
– An almost two-year old who doesn’t do well in a carrier anymore but isn’t quite ready to consistently walk the kinds of distances we cover
– A reasonably mature four-year old with a tendency to dawdle without a firm hand grip + a mom who is way(!) too paranoid about cars to let said four-year old walk near busy streets without holding a hand
– A transit system with few low-floor buses, a difficult stroller policy, and mediocre stops
– Frequently crowded buses
– Frequently rainy weather
This will teach me to choose a home based on its proximity to bus stops.*
I’m more than a little irritated that Metro posted this notice in August and then never even responded to the feedback they requested–mine or anyone else’s.
I get all the stuff about stop consolidation and blah, blah, blah, and I will even admit to being a bit of a NaMBS (as in, “Not at my bus stop!”) about this. But there are legitimate reasons (other than the fact that I really need it) that this stop–and the one across the street from it–shouldn’t be closed.** If Metro doesn’t consider the reasons legitimate, they should explain why.
*I should have gone with my instinct and moved near a Link station. Call me crazy, but I wanted to stay in my neighborhood.
**And hey, if they’re looking for stops to close, there are two stops less than a block apart slightly further north.
Best ride of 2010: Easy: first ride with my sweet boy. (It didn’t hurt that it was on the 27.) More on the joys of busing with Busling in a few weeks, on his birthday.
Worst ride of 2010: Also easy: that terrible, terrible, morning-after-MLK-Day 4 ride. That one just might qualify as the worst bus ride of my life.
Driver of the year (really, every year): Smooth Jazz, of course.
Route of the year: ST550. Thanks to my role on the Regional Transit Task Force, I rode the 550 more times between March and October of this year than I did in all of my previous years buschickdom. I give the “7 of the Eastside” props for speed and frequency–even if it is always way too crowded.
And speaking of…
Most inspiring transit-related experience: My participation in the Regional Transit Task Force. It was amazing to see such a large group of people—with many different perspectives and priorities—come together to do what’s right for the citizens of this county. I’m proud to have been a part of it.
Most depressing transit-related experience: My participation in the Regional Transit Task Force. As we task force members were made painfully aware: Metro is going to experience deep cuts in the very near future. It was our job to find the fairest way to make the cuts, but “the best we could do under the circumstances” won’t mean much to the thousands of people who depend on transit to get around–or to the many who’d like to see this region provide some real alternatives to SOVs. Hard stuff.
On a happier note…
Best (personal) ride enhancements:
1) Bus info on the go. I resisted for many years, because I generally avoid buying “stuff” (especially electronic stuff) just because there’s something new to buy. (Folks, if you saw my laptop, you might feel inclined to pray for me.) But, I finally broke down and got a smart(ish) phone with a data plan. With two kids in tow, being able to use the internets to find out when the bus is coming (et cetera) is really, really useful.
2) Two-wheeled transportation. The bus is great for a lot of trips, but there are occasions–like when I have to get somewhere that’s too far to walk in a reasonable amount of time but not at all convenient by bus–when I wish I had some bike skills (and, in the absence of separated bike lanes, more courage). Earlier this week, after years of saying I should, I finally swallowed my fear, dusted off that Dahon I won three years ago, and rode to the tailor to take some pants in for repair.
The distance (about a 30-minute walk) was perfect for a trial trip. I stayed on back streets and hardly dealt with any cars, which made me wonder what, exactly, I had been so scared of. Plus, it was fun! I zoomed down hills (though I didn’t much enjoy struggling up them), and I didn’t have to wait (no disrespect to the bus) or (my peeve) rush. My goal for 2011 is to ride the bike (solo–not ready for the big leagues yet) for at least one trip per week. Come to think of it, maybe once every other week would be more realistic. Every month for sure. Hold me to it.
And now, I will return to my glass of Cristal(ino) and my Bus Nerd.
Happy 2011, everyone!
Earlier this month, I celebrated my car-free anniversary. As of March 5th (or was it the 6th?), I’m officially seven years in.
It’s been an eventful seven years. I bought a home, got married, lost my beloved mother to cancer, and had two children. Navigating so many major life events without a car in a city that all but requires one has certainly had its challenges, but it has also integrated the bus into all of my significant recent memories*–and made it impossible for me to imagine my life without Metro. As I wrote in my Real Change column back in 2006, buses have associations for me.
Riding the Water Taxi reminds me of the days I spent with my mother during her last months of life. The first time I rode it to my parents’ Seacrest Park condo the spring after she died, I cried. Sometimes I still do.
The 545 will forever feel romantic to me, since it’s the route Nerd and I rode together in the early days of our courtship. I don’t think I’ve ever looked more forward to a commute–or for that matter, to anything.
The 4 and 27 are my baby buses–the 4 because I rode it to all of my obstetrician appointments–and home from the hospital with Chicklet; the 27 because I rode it to the hospital to deliver Chicklet and home from the hospital with Busling.
And there are many more. The Ballard buses (17, 18) take me to my brother, Jeremy (and also remind me of my rather unfortunate adventure as a ball-gown model); the 55 takes me to my Joelie and the place I still consider home; the 14 is all about TAC meetings, Top Pot (Summit side), and writing group get-togethers at my friend Marchel’s house (Mount Baker side); the 194: Paris, Detroit, and airport goodbyes with Bus Nerd; the 8: Mom again.
And the 36, though it’s not one of my regular routes, reminds me of why I ride: to be a part of my community, and to share my travels with the people I share the world with.
Bring on the next seven.