Tag Archives: bus books

Bus riders have sense

Stop sense, n: The ability to detect when one’s transit destination is approaching without looking out the window or at the digital display at the front of the vehicle; a subconscious awareness of the location of one’s transit stop.

Not to brag (ahem), but I have a highly developed stop sense. When I was nine, I would automatically wake up from bus naps about a block before it was time for me to ring the bell. These days, I can feel my stop approaching no matter where I’m looking or how many children I’m managing.

But yesterday, I started rereading Sula on a solo ride home from the Eastside. I was four stops past mine before I even looked up.

The bio of this bus chick’s dreams

I’ve been leading a charmed reading life of late. Almost everything I’ve carried in my bus bag for the last year (plus) has been worth its (considerable) weight in gold: informative, compelling, inspiring. But even all this good bus reading didn’t prepare me for my most recent ride read, which absolutely rocked my world.

The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks, by civil rights scholar Jeanne Theoharis, is the most comprehensive—really, the only—political biography written about my sweet Chicklet‘s namesake. It is the book I would have written myself, had I more impressive credentials and initiative.

There is so much to learn from Theoharis’s research, even for someone who has read essentially everything available to read by (and about) Mrs. Parks. Rebellious Life examines the Rosa Parks beyond the fable. It explores her lifetime of activism—including her half century in Bus Nerd’s hometown of Detroit—and all of the ways she contributed to the struggle for freedom and justice. I am in awe of the depth of her sacrifice and commitment to her ideals. As Theoharis says in the book’s introduction:

It is a rare gift as a scholar to get to deconstruct the popular narrative and demythologize an historical figure, and in the process, discover a more impressive and substantive person underneath.

This, of course, means you’re in for many more (and more substantive) Parks-related posts in the future.

Eastbound 3, 5:30 PM

The bus is packed, per usual, so I make my way to the very back and squeeze into one of the sideways seats. After a few minutes of settling in, I break out my current ride read, Hotel Angeline.

The young man in the seat diagonal from mine, who has been holding court since before I boarded, asks, “Is that a good book?”

“It’s interesting,” I reply, and then explain that it was written by 36 different authors, on stage.

“So, what,” he counters, “It’s like the Bible of Broadway or something?”

Well, yeah.

OK, so the guy was a little bit nuts (wish I had time to share the rest of our conversation) but, he was also a little bit right. One of the things I find most compelling about art is the fact that it has a life separate from its creator. I often hear writers say that a story “wrote itself” or that the characters they created took over a novel. The concept of author as vessel becomes even more meaningful when a story has more than one writer. The story that takes shape from the collective mind of 36 people does not belong to anyone and can therefore convey a kind of truth that’s hard to achieve through a single point of view.

Don’t get me wrong: Hotel Angeline’s no Holy Bible. (For that matter, it’s no Home.) But it does provide an interesting insight into how we create and understand art. We think of writing as a solitary endeavor, but even writers who write alone get ideas from other writers–and from interactions and experiences with the people who surround them. And, of course, the true power of a story is only realized when it is read. In other words, no book is the creation of a single individual; every one is, at least to some degree, a product of the community.

Told you Books on the Bus would spark conversation.

Books + buses = goodness

Coolest stickers ever

Coolest stickers ever

Almost exactly a year ago, I started a job at a nonprofit I’ve admired for many years. I believe deeply in the organization’s mission and enjoy my work a great deal, but I almost never write about it here. This is because, up until July of 2011, my transit “advocacy” (such as it was) was completely independent of any organization and influenced only by my own opinions and experiences. I’ve never been paid to write my blog (or, for that matter, for any talks, panels, or other appearances related to it), and I’ve never accepted advertising on my site.

Now, for the first time, I’m affiliated with an organization that works on issues I write about. I don’t want the opinions I express outside of work to reflect on (or be confused with) those of my organization. And, I don’t want my personal musings to be motivated by any kind of work-related interest. So, I’ve held myself to a single, fairly simple rule: Don’t blog about work stuff, and don’t talk about my blog at work.

But folks, today I’m going to break my self-imposed rule, because there’s a project I’ve been working on at my day job that is just too cool not to write about, and I think you should sign up and participate and tell all of your friends to do the same. Fellow rider/readers, today marks the launch of the coolest book club in the history of humankind, Books on the Bus.

We are excited to announce Books on the Bus, a collaboration among Transportation Choices and King County Metro, King County Library System, Richard Hugo House, and Pacific Northwest Booksellers.

The Books on the Bus concept is simple: It’s a book club for transit riders. Here’s how it will work.

Every quarter, we will select a book for participants to read on their bus rides. (In the spirit of community, we will make an effort to select books written by local authors or that take place in the Pacific Northwest.) Our current selection is Hotel Angeline: A Novel in 36 Voices. Hotel Angeline was written live on stage by 36 of Pacific Northwest’s most interesting writers. Half of the proceeds from sales of the novel go to support local literacy nonprofits–this year, Powerful Schools and 826 Seattle.

At the end of the three-month reading period, we will host an event to celebrate and discuss the book. Then, we will repeat the process with a different book.

Though the final event will certainly provide plenty of stimulating book talk, it is during the reading period where the “magic” of Books on the Bus will happen. The magic maker, of course, is the bus.

Buses are perfect places to, as our friends at King County Library say, “take time to read.” Public transit allows you to use your travel time as you please, and for many people, daily commutes are the only times they find to read for pleasure.

But public transit also provides opportunities for interaction. Buses create spontaneous, mobile, and very diverse communities–all over the county, all day long. Buses can certainly lead to lasting relationships, but perhaps more meaningful, and certainly more common, are the incidental interactions: the good-morning nods, sympathetic smiles, and relinquished seats–the history lessons, sports debates, and occasional flirtations–that add richness and texture to every bus rider’s life.

It is these incidental interactions that we hope Books on the Bus will provoke and strengthen. We want buses to be places where people in King County “take time to read,” but also where they connect and communicate.

We hope you’ll sign up for Books on the Bus and make Hotel Angeline your summer ride read!

With so many service cuts (actual and looming) and no stable revenue sources on the horizon, I am grateful for this small bright spot in my bus life.

Stop that Alabama bus!

My most recent bus read was the autobiography of OG Detroit activist, Grace Lee Boggs. Come to think of it, it was the bus read before last; I finished Home last week. (I’m currently experiencing some rather extreme Toni Morrison withdrawal and am still carrying it around in my bag.)

I digress.

Among the many things I learned when reading Ms. Boggs’ book is that this amazing song exists.

I realize that it isn’t December 1st (or February 4th), but I couldn’t wait that long to share this. And really, is it ever a bad time to acknowledge the power and significance of the Montgomery Bus Boycott? Right. Moving on…

“Alabama Bus” was recorded in 1956, at the height of the year(+)-long boycott. The artist, Will Hairston, was a friend of Grace and her husband, James Boggs. Mr. Hairston, also known as “the Hurricane of the Motor City,” was an auto worked and preacher who was deeply involved in the struggle for social justice and economic equality.

Thank you for your contributions, Brother Hairston. And, as always, honor and respect to the Original Bus Chick, Mrs. Rosa Louise McCauley Parks.

How riding the bus will make your kid smarter

One of the biggest benefits of riding transit with little ones is that you can actually pay attention to them while you travel. Instead of hollering in the general direction of the back seat (or worse, resorting to an in-vehicle entertainment system to keep order), PT parents can have meaningful, even educational, interactions with their little darlings. Here are some examples of brain- and bond-enhancing ways to use transit travel time.

  • Read! Reading is a great PT pastime for children of any age. Research shows that reading to infants and young children helps with bonding, language development, and imagination. Books are also portable and compact—an essential addition to any parent’s bus bag.
  • Watch the world. Talk to your tiny ones about what’s going on outside the bus window, and they’ll learn to identify natural wonders (mountains, bodies of water), city landmarks, different types of vehicles, and various animals and plants. Bus time is also great for pointing out seasonal changes (leaves changing color in fall, tulips and daffodils coming up in spring) and explaining traffic rules.
  • Meet your community. What’s going on inside the bus is often at least as interesting as what’s outside. Infants love to look at faces, and babies who ride buses are exposed to a great variety of them. They learn early that people of different ages, shapes, and colors are part of their world. Older children will learn how to share space and how to interact politely with strangers. Being exposed to difference will help them develop empathy, or, at the very least, a more realistic picture of the world they live in.
  • Practice number/letter recognition. Long wait with a preschooler? Use the time to identify the route numbers that pass your stop, or practice reading the destination signs. (Kids who can identify letters can usually memorize simple letter combinations and sight “read” short words. Children who are working on phonics can practice sounding out the signs.) You can also make up games, such as putting the child in charge of telling you when your route arrives, or of finding all the routes with a certain number.
  • Learn to get around. Bus riding offers plenty of opportunities for school-age children to practice map and schedule reading and other skills, such as assessing direction of travel. Give your little BCiTs some trip planning/wayfinding responsibilities when you still travel together, and they’ll soon become experts at getting around town sans parents.
  • Talk. There’s nothing better for teaching, learning, or bonding than a respectful, reciprocal discussion between a parent and child. Transit rides and waits (not to mention the walks to and from stops and stations) are perfect for good, old-fashioned, heart-to-heart “tawks.”**

I am not naïve enough to believe that my children will always be thrilled about taking the bus every-dang-where. What I do know is that, so far, our bus time has been great for just about every aspect of their development. (Folks, for your sakes I have exercised restraint and not mentioned even one of their many demonstrations of genius.) It has also been great for our relationships. Bus time is as much about togetherness and adventure as it is about getting from point A to point B, and every time we travel, we create amazing memories. As I’ve said before, I could never trade that for easier access to the mall.


*Tip: Always carry a few tried and true favorites, but make sure to keep your selection fresh. The library is your friend.

**As my friend Aileen would say.

When buses were more than buses

The New York Times recently published an interesting piece about Worcy Crawford, a black man who owned his own bus company in segregated Birmingham, Alabama. (via: Orin)

Photo credit: New York Times)

Mr. Crawford’s work was simple. He kept a segregated population moving. Any Birmingham child who needed a ride to school, a football game or a Girl Scout outing during the Jim Crow era and beyond most likely rode one.

So did people heading to dozens of civil rights rallies — including the 1963 March on Washington where Dr. King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech — during a time when chartering a bus from a white-owned company was impossible and driving past the city limits was dangerous for a busload full of African-Americans.

Worcy Crawfrord died last year, at the age of 90. Fortunately his son, Donald, has written a book about his long-unacknowledged contributions to Alabama’s civil rights and transportation history. The book is not widely available (if you don’t live in Alabama, Amazon is pretty much the only option), but (SPL-checkout or no) I’m definitely going to read it. The Wheels of the Birmingham Civil Rights Movement will make its way to the top of my bus reading queue before the end of 2011.

Thanks, Orin.