Tag Archives: community

10 years in

This month marks the 10-year anniversary of my full-time relationship with Metro. The milestone snuck up on me, which is actually a good thing, since I’m not in the mood for a retrospective, and I don’t have any wise words about what I’ve learned in a decade of living, working, and parenting without a car. Honestly (in case the five full months without a post didn’t clue you in) I haven’t felt much like writing about the bus at all.

What’s on my mind most of the time is how our family is going to continue to make this bus life work. We’ve lost a lot that we counted on: two of our nearest bus stops, frequency and hours of operation on two of our most-used routes. If the legislature decides–for the fifth year in a row–not to let local communities decide how to fund their own transit service, we stand to lose much, much more.

And we’re not the only ones. All over the state, people are losing transit service they rely on, while we profess a desire to care for our most vulnerable citizens and wring our hands over global warming, air pollution, and ocean acidification. The fact that transit advocates have to scrap and hustle (and beg) just to get enough money to preserve basic bus service leaves little hope that we will ever find the will to make the long overdue, revolutionary changes our transportation system desperately needs.

So the thing is, I’ve been tired–of trying to make things work with diminished access and diminished service, and of fighting an uphill battle to fund transit statewide. I allowed myself to feel discouraged. And really, really angry.

But then, I had coffee with Christine.

Like me, Christine is a bus chick. Unlike me (knock wood), Christine is expecting. Earlier this year, she contacted me over the internets to pick my brain about busing with babies, and I was more than happy to share what I know. I suggested meeting for coffee, because I knew she’d never read the 300 pages I would have typed if I had shared my thoughts over email. I don’t like to brag, but if there was such a thing as a PhD in riding transit with kids, folks would be addressing me as Dr. Bus Chick.

But I digress.

At some point during our conversation, Christine remarked on the relative dearth of negative posts on my seven-year old blog and noted that I almost never write about the challenges of bus parenting. I do intentionally try to keep my blog positive, but until my chat with her, I hadn’t really considered why.

It’s not that there aren’t challenges (are there ever!). It’s not that I am trying to paint an unrealistic picture of what it is like to parent without a car. It’s not even that I have an optimistic nature (see above). I tend to write about the positive side of carfree parenting because the challenges of living this way are already known—or at least, they are imagined.

There is a reason why so many people think I’m crazy. Why I’ve been interviewed for TV and radio for doing something that thousands of parents in this county do every single day. Why, after a decade of watching us live this way, friends and family still regularly offer us rides. It is because most people who have a choice would choose differently. This means they have already considered, imagined, and just plain made up all of the reasons why it would be stressful and inconvenient to try to get around with two kids and no car.

What most people haven’t considered is just how exhilarating, bond-enhancing, and three-dimensional it is to ride the bus with your children. How your kids get to experience their city from ground level. How they come to know each season intimately. How they run into church members, neighbors, school mates, family friends, and medical assistants from their pediatrician’s office. How so many of the regular drivers recognize them and give them suckers and transfers and high fives. How they learn every sidewalk crack, every overgrown bush, and every window display in your neighborhood. How they love the silly games you make up to pass the long waits. How you have time to read them so many books that soon they are reading books to you. How you can hold them close and talk in their ears and smell their hair while all of you zoom past the Space Needle, or across a bridge, or through a tunnel.

That is what I write about because that is what I know. It is why I ride. And it’s why I never stay tired for long.

 

Speaking of busing with babies…

Today after church, at a southbound 48 stop, I spotted one of my bus parenting heroes, a man I’ve never actually met. Back in ’08, when Chicklet was but a wee lass, I saw him playing Connect Four with his kid at a northbound 48 stop (in the shelter that advocates for what Bus Nerd refers to as “the right to safe trife“). Having already begun my bus reading adventures with young Chicklet, I was inspired by the concept of bonding in transit–and by the way the two of them interacted. Also, I love Connect Four.

But I digress.

Today, Bus Dad Extraordinaire had two children with him (the boy he’d been playing with that day, and a little girl, who was probably around two). By the time I realized who he was (and started elbowing Bus Nerd like I’d just spotted a celebrity), I heard the boy say something about Crazy Eights. There was no doubting BDE’s identity after that.

On the ride, the three of them sat near enough to the four of us for me to keep my eyes (and ears) on them. And you know I did. By the time we were getting off, the boy was shuffling.

BDE then, plus one:
Connect Four

 

 

 

 

 

BDE now, plus two:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

***

Update, 10/11: Kathi from Ballard just emailed to tell me that she knows BDE. Even crazier? So do I! Her description of him made me realize that I have met him–at a transportation event, of course. (Yes, I realize it is beyond odd that I remembered seeing him at a bus stop three years ago but not meeting him in person much more recently. I blame it the short-term memory loss related to sleep deprivation.) Back when we met, he mentioned that he lived not far from me, and later, we emailed about getting our families together for dinner. It didn’t happen, but now, of course, I have to follow up.

How much do I love my bus community?

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.

Still more on community

In honor of Black History Month, I’m reposting this entry from last February.

What I learned on the 27

This is not a totem pole.

Douglass Truth Soul Pole
The Douglass-Truth “Soul Pole”

I never really looked at this library landmark (despite the kajillion times I have walked and ridden past it) until a late-evening bus conversation with a history-loving fellow native of the 2-0-sickness. After I explained the origins of Chicklet’s name, he decided we were kindred spirits and so proceeded to school me about–among other things–the history and meaning of this particular work of art.

Soul Pole dedication
“The First 400 Years”

I am grateful that he took the time to talk to me. I am also, as ever, grateful for the bus–and for the many opportunities it provides for me to form deeper connections to my community.

Happy last first day of Black History Month!”

A memorial for Memorial Day

On a recent Wednesday, I got to talking with the man in line in front of me at the grocery store. He was an older man, probably a good decade older than my father, and he showed a lot of interest in Busling. His eyes lingered long after the initial “Look at the baby!”, and he asked lots of questions–the kind asked by people who are missing the days when their own were still tiny. So, to keep the conversation from being completely one-sided, I asked the man if he had children.

“Yes, two grandchildren,” he said, “a boy and a girl.” He paused a moment, then added, “My son was murdered on a Metro bus in 1987.”

He told me a few of the details–that it was a robbery, that his son had been counting his recently cashed paycheck in the back and then had refused to surrender the money to the gunman who demanded it. That it was the first ever murder on a Metro bus.

We talked a bit longer–about his grandchildren (who live in Portland but visit him often), and about how he wished his son had used better judgment on that April afternoon 23 years ago–and then went our separate ways.

Our encounter didn’t last longer than five minutes, but I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. About all the hours and days and years that kind man had spent loving his child, watching him learn to smile and laugh and roll over and crawl; discovering his preferences, his quirks, his weaknesses, his gifts; attending games and graduations; giving advice about important tests and first dates.

I felt compelled to honor his loss by learning all I could about his son–not about the way he was killed, but about who he was, what he cared about, and who would miss him. Here’s what I know:

His name was Larry Curtis Walker. He was 30 when he was killed, an employee at The Plush Pippin at Southcenter. According to his boss, David Jensen, he was wonderful to work with.

“Larry sparkled with integrity and loyalty,” he said in a PI interview a couple of weeks after the murder. “[He was] the best employee I’ve ever had.”

Larry left behind two children, a son and a daughter. His son was six when he died. His daughter, from what I could gather, was younger. Many people knew and cared about Larry, including parents, students, and staff at his son’s school. They started a memorial fund (administered by David Jensen) for his children.

And he had a father who loved him dearly.

My new favorite bus rider

Last night, on a late-evening 71, I sat next to a man who was really into cigars. He was carrying a handful, which he had apparently just purchased at a nearby smoke shop.

“They’re rejects,” he told me. “Maybe they’re rolled too tight or something. They normally sell for 15 bucks* a piece.”

Of course, that prompted me to ask about the qualities of a cigar that costs the equivalent of eight peak-hour bus rides (not including transfers) which prompted him to explain about fine tobacco, and timing, and hand-rolling. It was quite an education.

Somewhere in the course of the conversation (as I am wont to do), I mentioned Bus Nerd. The cigar aficionado, who was definitely my elder, but not by more than a decade (decade and a half, tops), raised his eyebrows.

“You’re old enough to have a husband?” he asked.**

Were it not for said husband and my own unwillingness to commit a bus foul (oh yeah, and those cigars), I would have kissed the man.

* Apparently, $15 is nothing. They can (and do!) go much higher, and (as with everything else expensive) there are people who actually buy them.
** And how! Perhaps it was my neon-green 12th Man gloves (thanks, Luke!) that cast a youthful pall–er, I mean glow.

Carfree Sundays, part II (or, Now this is more like it)

The sun did, indeed, shine on Columbia City today.

No cars allowed (except police cars, that is)

For a few minutes after I passed the barricade, I stayed on the sidewalk (30+ years of conditioning are hard to overcome)–until I realized I didn’t have to. What an exhilarating feeling to step off the curb and stroll down the middle of the street!

Columbia City Bakery's sign
Carfree Columbia City

Hoops, hopscotch, and hula hoopin’:

Street b-ball
Street hopscotch
Hula hoopin' en masse

Dancin’ in the street:

Dancin' in the street

Props to the excellent DJs, who quadrupled (at least) my enjoyment.

A bicycle-powered blender:

A carbon-free smoothie

A streetwalk cafe:

Nerd and Chicklet eat in the street

Folks clamoring (as usual) for undriver licenses:

Undriver licensing

Except these two, that is:

Driving on carfree Sunday

Street art:

Street art in Columbia City
Street art in Columbia City
Street art in Columbia City
Streets are for people
Seattle!

Indeed.

Chicklet and the 27, part II

On Wednesday, as Chicklet and I settled into a seat on our favorite route, an elderly woman I had never seen before sat down next to us, looked at Chicklet like she knew her, and said, “I just saw your uncle over at the University of Washington.”

I was about to tell her that she had us confused with another bus riding mother-daughter team when she said, “I had to get a few x-rays and some work on my crown.”

Aha! She had indeed seen Chicklet’s uncle, my brother Joel, an almost-dentist who sees patients at the UW’s dental clinic. But how did she know that? Good question.

Around this time last year, Joel told me he had a patient who knew me. “I see her on the bus sometimes,” she had told him. “Isn’t she expecting?”

Back then, I wondered briefly how the woman had known Joel and I were related (we don’t look that much alike–do we?) and then forgot about it. Until Wednesday, that is, when I came face to face with this same patient, a bus chick whose powers of observation put my own to shame. (She’s got a few years on me, but still.)

Her name is Ida (I should say Miss Ida, as she is my elder, and I don’t know her last), and she recently returned from a trip to Arkansas to visit family. She rides the 27 and the 48 (among many others) and sees Nerd, Chicklet, and me out and about around the neighborhood. She even knows which church we attend. Miss Ida is enjoying the summer and doesn’t mind the heat at all, especially compared to what she dealt with in Arkansas. Her July Sears bill apparently got lost in the vacation-mail shuffle, so she was headed to the store (off at 3rd and Yesler, transfer to the 21) to pay it in person. She never, ever pays bills late.

Chicklet pulled out all her best tricks to impress our new friend (some of her favorites: clapping like crazy and hitting herself on the head) and was rewarded with an appreciative cheek-pinch as Miss Ida stood to go.

“It was good to finally meet you,” she said to both of us.

Oh, yes. Yes it was.

Not even candy paint and big wheels can compare.

And I thought a ride on the 358 was an adventure…

On our first 358 ride to visit Jeremy, Chicklet and I sat next to a woman who, despite getting off on the wrong foot by asking one of those questions, turned out to be alright. She was on a bus excursion–which had started in Ocean Shores at 10 AM and was going to end in Everett late in the evening (!)– to pick up her two-year old granddaughter. (I think she mentioned why she decided not to opt for Greyhound, but I can’t remember the reason.) By the time our paths crossed on the 358, she was on her fifth bus (1. Ocean Shores to Aberdeen 2. Aberdeen to Olympia 3. Olympia to Tacoma 4. Tacoma to downtown Seattle 5. downtown to Aurora Village), and seven hours in.

In case you’re interested in making the trip (or, like me, awestruck and curious), you can find the itinerary details at Evan Siroky’s regional transit site. (Yes, he’s the same Evan who won the January, 2007 Golden Transfer.) Evan knows a lot about how to get around the northwest using transit, and, like a good transit geek, he’s sharing his knowledge with the rest of us. From Evan:

The web page has the complete schedules for all transit connections possible throughout the region. These range from Seattle-Portland, Seattle-Vancouver, BC, Aberdeen to Tillamook, and Yakima to Walla Walla, to name just a few.

And, as I mentioned, he’s covered Ocean Shores to Seattle. I wonder what would happen if I introduced him to “public transportation adventure” Jim