My heart, across the aisle:
Back in May, Bus Nerd’s mama (aka my Gail) gave him a subscription to a Detroit city magazine for his birthday. (As you might already know, the man is rather partial to his hometown.) In last month’s issue, there was a profile of an artist who makes replicas of old-school Detroit bus scrolls.
On the old busses and streetcars passengers learned of the various stops by way of signs on destination boxes [which] contained a continuous, two-sided canvas scroll with an alphabetized list of street names. The destination boxes were manually operated by the drivers and operators, using a hand crank.
I sort of hate to admit it, since this will no doubt brand me a “pseudo,”* but we ordered one. (How could we not? Buses + the D + history = goodness x 3.) We chose one that included the name of one of the streets Nerd lived near when he was growing up, so now he has a reminder of home (other than the Vernor’s ginger ale that occupies a full shelf in our refrigerator, that is) out here in the 206. But back to the scroll. Fellow bus chicks, behold:
Of course, being both a transit geek and a history lover, I was immediately compelled to research the specifics of how the scrolls worked. I didn’t learn much about that (MEHVA types: a little help, please?). What I did learn is that having a bus scroll (or, at least, a bus-scroll-like poster) in one’s home is apparently a “thing.” They’re everywhere on the internets—in Etsy shops and on dedicated sites galore. One of these sites encourages visitors to “design your own scroll for that special someone.”
If your special someone is a bus chick, you probably should.
* This is not a term for the bus glossary, since it’s not transit related (or transit inspired). It is, instead, a Saulty special. “Pseudo,” used as a noun in this case, essentially means a pretentious person. (My brother would provide a more colorful description, but I’m hoping you get the point.)
If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you probably know that I’m not a gadget person. I’m no Luddite (hey, I appreciate a useful tool as much as the next bus chick), but I’m no early adopter, either. I believe in using stuff “till the wheels fall off,”* if you’ll excuse the auto-inspired metaphor, and it feels wrong to get rid of something that works perfectly fine just because there’s something newerfasterbetter out there.
But folks, on Friday my Bus Nerd surprised me with a fancy new smart phone (which, by the way, he managed to obtain gratis), and I think I’ve found religion. Yes, I can use the phone to check e-mail and find restaurants and update my Facebook status and blah blah blah, but none of these is a good reason (in my book, anyway) to upgrade. What is a good reason? One Bus Away!
OBA makes an app for my fancy new phone, which means I am (finally!) able to experience its true power. I realize that this is old news for all you gadget geeks and hardcore transit nerds (Bus Nerd has to work not to roll his eyes every time I start a sentence with, “Did you know it can…?”), but bear with me. This is the best thing that’s happened in my bus life since I stopped experiencing motion sickness.
In the old days, checking bus times on my phone meant looking up a stop number or searching through a huge list of stop locations to find the one I needed. Most of the time, doing that work was more of a hassle for me than just waiting for the bus (and usually took just as long). Now that I have One Bus Away, I don’t have to do much more than tap my screen a couple of times. After I open the app, the GPS locates all the stops within a half mile of me, then tells me which routes stop there and which directions the buses are traveling. I click the stop I want, and it tells me how many minutes I’ll have to wait for each route. The end. The entire process takes less than 30 seconds.
The uses for this amazing (free!) application are almost innumerable. Some recent examples from my world:
Sunday, after church: It’s pouring. We’re close to missing the next 48 and don’t want to stand out in the weather for 30 minutes (or schlep kids + stuff +umbrellas back to the church building) if it passes the stop before we get there. OBA tells us that the 48 is three minutes late, which means we have time to make it. And we do.
Today, late morning: I have a meeting downtown shortly after the babysitter arrives at our house. I need to catch the next bus heading west, but the three options all serve different stops that are several blocks apart. I use OBA to determine my best option and make it to the stop seconds before the bus, which gets me downtown in plenty of time for my meeting.
I could go on, but I’m too lazy.
Every bus rider should possess this kind of power. Real-time arrival info at stops is helpful (Can we have this now, please?), as is real-time info in businesses and public buildings (using “transit appliances” like this one), but neither is as empowering as having the information at your fingertips.
* For example: my laptop, which, after many years of regular use, has started making a frightening crunching/grinding sound every time I turn it on
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.
Sliding onto the 4 in a basic black dress and your favorite vintage shoes* after an evening of Dwele and chocolate cake at Triple Door with your love, only to find that that 4 is being driven by none other than Smooth Jazz, who’s broadcasting just the right tunes to help you (and your love) continue the Triple Door/Dwele vibe all the way home.
* We won’t speak of the incident running for–and almost missing–the 27 (pregnant!) in said vintage shoes on the way to Triple Door.
My beloved Bus Nerd celebrated a birthday on Wednesday. He’s not old enough for a midlife crisis yet, but it did get us to thinking:
How, exactly, does a bus nerd of a certain age attempt to recapture his youth? Yes, he can chase after younger bus chicks or get hair plugs, but what’s a middle-aged bus nerd’s equivalent of a red sports car?
Any thoughts? I’d like to be prepared.
And to all my fellow Husky fans: Here’s hoping.
A warning for bus wireless users: Bus Nerd suspects a hacker.
This morning I was on the 545 (coach 9549) that left Montlake around 9:30 (yes, thanks to the 48 I was running late). When I tried to connect my laptop to the coach’s wireless Internet connection, I saw an unsecured network, identified as “bus_pwnage,” in the wireless network list.
Translation of “pwn” from hacker-speak (leet-speak) is “own,” the concept of “owning” a victim’s laptop, web site, etc. by hacking it. The bus has likely been pwned by some hacker (h4x0r). [This means that] a connected user might try to visit seattlepi.com, but the compromised bus could redirect her to a hacker site that hands control of the machine to the attacker.
Note that a suggestive network identifier is not definitive proof of breached security, but a hack is the simplest explanation for what I observed. Other supporting evidence: The signal strength for “bus_pwnage” was a constant 100% the entire ride, meaning the originator was travelling with the coach, consistent with the normal bus wireless scenario.
How could this happen? Presumably some bus rider with a laptop + skills + nothing better to do exploited a vulnerability in the access point that ST uses to provide wireless Internet access on the bus. The attacker gains control of the access point and, among many resulting powers, she could change the name of the network from something like “Sound Transit” to “bus_pwnage” to announce to the world (well, maybe just the passengers) her defeat of the oppressive regime of Sound Transit. Such a feat isn’t that hard since IT security professionals consider unsecure wireless networks (the kinds found in cafés and yes, public busses) to be as safe as Clay Bennett at Seattle Center. [You had to go there?]
If this was indeed a hack, is the vulnerability limited to just this vehicle? That’s better than a fleet of vulnerable coaches. I let the driver know what I saw, and he seemed hep to the danger and indicated he’d take some (unspecified) action.
As for the alleged bus hacker, will she / he be satisfied with coach 9549, or will she tag every bus ST wireless-enabled bus? Is this a vanity vandalism ploy, or a real threat to bus riders’ computer security? And think of the pandemonium that would ensue if hacked wireless were the jumping-off point to taking over a coach’s external route display – 43’s that advertised themselves as 48’s and other such tricks would be the bus apocalypse.
My guess is it’s just vandalism (for now). I like bus wireless, so I hope ST can demonstrate that my incident was actually benign or let us know they’ve taken steps to prevent intrusions. Until then, bus web-surfers must watch for sharks…
I don’t know, I’m kind of digging the idea of changing (and not just the numbers on the front) some of those ubiquitous 43s to 48s.
Good lookin’ out, Bus Nerd.