Bus drivers are the best people. I wasn’t able to ride the bus on Bus Driver Appreciation Day this year, so I was very glad to have the opportunity to participate (along with my two bus sidekicks) in this video.
God, this is hard.
I’m just going to say it: 2017 was trash. Black women — both my own loved ones and those courageous souls who stood up to evil in the public sphere — were primarily responsible for keeping me sane this year. Other than that, it was bus drivers.*
As you probably already know, bus drivers are my version of superheroes. I am consistently awed by their kindness and humor and professionalism. (And yeah, I have had more than a few bus crushes on drivers.) Here are a couple of recent examples of the goodness they add to my life.
Thursday before last, Chicklet had a restroom emergency on the 48. By the time we reached our stop, she was approaching panic mode, and we hustled off the bus in a bit of a distracted state. Somehow, in the commotion, my phone fell out of my coat pocket. I realized I had dropped it just as the bus was driving away.
After we made it home, I tried calling the phone a few times in case there was someone sitting near it, but no one answered. I kicked myself for my mistake, filed a lost item report on Metro’s website, and let it go.
When Bus Nerd arrived home, I filled him in on our (mis)adventure. Ever the problem solver, he texted my phone with a message for whomever found it to please call his number. I wasn’t optimistic that this would work, since, like most people, I have a password on my phone. Miraculously, about 20 minutes later, Bus Nerd got a call. The 48 driver had found the phone! He let Bus Nerd know when he would pass through our neighborhood again so that someone could meet the bus and get it. Like the last time I lost something important on the 48, my beloved was kind enough to handle the retrieval.
I still have no idea how the driver saw the text (was he holding the phone at the exact right moment?); there was no time to ask during the quick exchange. But superheroes can do anything, right?
A few days after the miraculous phone recovery, this delightful human drove the 27 I rode home from a Saturday morning appointment.
She had left a sweet surprise on every seat.
On the way off the bus, I complimented her on her decorations — and her kindness. She said, “I figured, if I have to work the holiday, I might as well bring it with me.”
You guys. BUS DRIVERS ARE THE BEST PEOPLE.
* Quadruple bonus points for black women bus drivers!
Today Chicklet turns 10 years old. My tiny little bus buddy is now a fourth grader, a self-described “horse crazy girl” who loves Prince, PAWS, books, trees, her baby cousins, and politics. Seriously, politics. She is the kid who insists on helping me fill out my ballot (which reminds me: gotta get on that), who enjoys watching debates and could easily name every elected official who represents her, from the senate to the city council. Despite her introverted nature, Chicklet wants to be one of those elected officials someday — and not just to make the world a better place. She has admitted (more than once) that she wants to “be in charge of people” just for the sake of it.
Having a decade-old daughter means I’m 10 in bus mom years. I’ve learned a lot of lessons in 3,653 days of life on the ground — schlepping stuff and managing disasters (mostly minor) by bus. Here are 10 of them.
1. Creativity and flexibility are a bus parent’s most important tools. There are plenty of parenting practices — and even some products — that will make busing with kids easier. But the key to a successful bus parenting experience is an ability and willingness to adapt to whatever circumstances you are presented with.
Long bus wait? Play Connect Four. Heading to the beach? Pack tiny buckets. Struggling to keep up with youth ORCA cards? Get a lanyard (and a label). Toddler throws up on the 8? Use everything in your bus bag.
2. A plastic bag can solve almost any problem. A plastic bag is an essential item for most bus riders but especially essential for parents. Plastic bags are (unfortunately) abundant, free, easy to carry, and incredibly versatile. They can be used for on-the-way shopping (though these days, I carry an actual shopping bag, too), trash collection (for those random snack wrappers, banana peels, dirty tissues, diapers, etc., etc.); laundry (remind me to tell you about the time Chicklet sat on a mysterious brown substance at a bus shelter downtown), seating (to cover wet benches or ledges), and even, in a pinch, vomit (expelled by sick kiddos or those unfortunate individuals who are busing while pregnant).
Even if you’re not great at packing, it’s easy to keep at least one plastic bag in your backpack, purse, or pocket. And it’s worth it. Reduce, reuse, recycle.
3. Busing prepares kids for life. Several years back, I wrote a post about how busing makes kids smarter. It might have been a bit of a stretch (and it definitely scored high on the smug scale), but I am convinced that bus kids are more ready for the world than kids who are driven everywhere.
Busing involves waiting. In the early years, this can be challenging, but kids do get used to it. They learn how watch the world, or daydream, or make conversation, or read a book when they’re bored. This comes in handy when they’re in line at the grocery store, in the dentist’s office, at a restaurant, or pretty much anywhere kids are expected to keep their bodies calm and minds occupied for more than 30 seconds.
Bus kids build physical stamina from all the walking they do. Kids who walk a lot are healthy, ready for almost any outdoor adventure, and able to keep up with parents on shopping excursions and other walk-intensive outings.
Bus kids learn to interact safely with people they don’t know. They practice setting and respecting boundaries, and they are exposed to people of all different ages, colors, orientations, incomes, temperaments, and abilities. This helps them understand that everyone belongs. And the way I see it, there’s nothing more important to learn.
4. Policies matter. Back in the dark ages, when my kids were still portable, Metro’s stroller policy required parents to remove children from strollers and collapse the strollers before boarding the bus. This made some sense from a safety and space use perspective but absolutely no sense from a parent’s perspective.
Long before I became a bus mama, I knew I would never bring a stroller onto the bus if I could possibly help it. And when I did have kids, I wore them in a carrier as often — and for as long — as possible. When they started getting too big to be carried in a pack, I struggled. There was a good six-month stretch when I was willing to walk very long distances in bad weather to avoid the bus, because the stroller hassle was just too much.
The benefit of this excruciating period was that I was very motivated to get my kids walking on their own. Both of them started their “walk training” before they turned two and were full-time walkers by two and a half. To this day, they have incredible stamina and patience and can out-walk most adults.
Again, I digress.
These days, Metro has a sane stroller policy. Parents can leave their child (and stuff) in the stroller and can use the lift and wheelchair area if it is not being used by a wheelchair passenger. It’s not a perfect solution, since parents sometimes must unhook, unpack, and fold in the middle of a ride, but it’s impossible to perfectly balance the needs of a diverse group of riders in a vehicle with limited capacity. And certainly, the current policy is significantly better than what I dealt with — so much better that I sometimes wish I had another baby just so I could take advantage of it.
OK, no I don’t.
There are so many examples of the positive impacts that thoughtful, people-focused agency policies have on riders. (There are also plenty of examples of the negative impacts of poor policies.) I hope Metro continues to incorporate feedback from folks on the ground into all of their decision-making processes.
5. Bus drivers are the best people. I’ve always been a bit in awe of bus drivers, so it’s beautiful to see that my kids feel the same way. I’ve written so much about the ways drivers have cared for and entertained our family over the years, I don’t have much more to say on the subject. Except this:
6. Seattle needs more public bathrooms. One of the most common challenges we deal with on our bus adventures is the restroom emergency. (The fact that the emergency is mine as often as it is one of my children’s is a minor detail.) Being stranded at a bus stop with a potty training kid who has to go (or a diapered kid who already did) is a not awesome aspect of busing with babies.
If the world were as it should be, there would be clean, safe restrooms at Link stations and all major bus stops. The world is not as it should be (so very not), so bus riders (and everyone else) must fend for themselves. I make it my business to know all the restroom options in the neighborhoods I visit frequently. My preferred restroom hierarchy: public (library, community center, government building, park [except YUCK]), private but accessible (hotel lobby, large restaurant), private but inaccessible (small restaurant or coffee shop with a key or code).
In case you’re not a restroom savant, there’s — obviously — an app for that.
7. Bus parents don’t “run errands.” When Chicklet was a baby, I was desperate to prove that our family could live like everyone else. Or, at least, that we could do everything other middle-class families did. This was in part because I was still in my “bus booster” phase (Who am I kidding? I will always be in my bus booster phase.) and was therefore more interested in proving that carfree living was possible than I was in analyzing its limitations.
Yes (thanks mostly to our proximity and access), my kids get to dance classes and sports practices and birthday parties and doctor’s appointments. Yes, we have food in our refrigerator and clothes in our closets and all the essential hygiene products in our bathroom. Yes, we go on fun outings. But the effort, time, and physical and mental energy that is expended to make all that happen can sometimes feel overwhelming. (Carrying capacity has always been, and as far as I can tell will remain, a huge challenge for me.)
And even with the basics covered, there are plenty of things we choose not to do, or do less often than we would like, because we don’t have a car. There are other things that we only do when we decide to rent a car.
What I have learned over these years is that we aren’t, in fact, trying to “live like everyone else” by bus. Instead, we are building and modeling a different way to live. And really, that’s always been the point.
8. The journey is the adventure. Sorry to resort to a cliché in an already cliché’ “10 things I learned” listicle, but folks, we’re talking transit here. Schlepping kids across town on the bus for an everyday errand like shoe shopping when you’re tired and pressed for time can be a hassle. But riding transit to go on an adventure is, well, an adventure.
When we take the bus (or train) to an event, or to a beach or park we rarely visit, we try new routes, walk in new neighborhoods, and enjoy new scenery. We spend our travel time focusing on each other instead of the road. These transit adventures have made some of our best memories as a family, and they’re a beautiful reminder of why we ride.
9. Our “sacrifice” is a privilege. While it’s true that our decision to live without a car requires determination and some amount of sacrifice, it’s also true that it wouldn’t be possible at all without a number of privileges lots of people don’t have. Living the way we do is possible for us because we have work that is flexible and accessible by transit, reliable internet access, and sufficient income. We are able-bodied and live in a centrally located neighborhood with sidewalks, pretty good transit, and nearby services. Because we are fortunate enough to own a home, our housing costs are stable, and, barring some unforeseen disaster, we can count on the access we need to keep doing this.
Back when I started my carfree adventure almost 15 years ago, Seattle was already an expensive city. But, it was possible (if challenging) for many carfree families to save enough on transportation costs to afford to live in a small space in the city. Now, city living is inaccessible to almost everyone. It is no longer a matter of tradeoffs or determination; it’s a matter of not having enough money to make it work, no matter how you get around.
And it’s not just about access. If any number of circumstances in our lives were to change, we wouldn’t be able to live this way anymore. If, for example, someone in our family developed a medical condition that required regular appointments or procedures or that made it difficult for them to walk long distances, we would need a car. If we decided to foster another child, who might attend a different school than our other kids and would almost certainly have family visits and other appointments outside our neighborhood (not to mention his or her own share of middle-of-the-night illnesses), we would need a car. If one of us started a job that involved a non-bus-friendly commute or that required us to travel around the region during the day, we would need a car.
For a few years now, I’ve been wondering about the point of it all. Why make a choice that constrains our lives in so many ways if it’s not a choice most others can emulate? Is there value in doing something so outside of the norm if it has little to no real impact, especially if we could be of more service to our community and extended family if we drove?
All I’ve got is this: You have to start somewhere. Sure, lots of people can’t get by without a car. But some of people can. And those people should. If they don’t, we cannot expect to see change in our lifetimes. Or ever.
So, the way I see it, our family needs to make the tradeoffs and feel the occasional discomfort and keep living this way for as long as we are able. We also need to fight like hell to make sure the privileges we have are available to more people. We must insist on affordable housing, so that working people can live in the city. We must insist on sidewalks in every community. We must advocate for more and better transit and safe bicycle infrastructure.
We must do this because living without a car should not be a choice only for the desperate or dedicated. It should be an option available to everyone.
10. Holding hands is awesome. The challenges of bus parenting change over time. You go from the physically exhausting infant period, to the squirmy, bathroom centric (and also physically exhausting) toddler phase, to the payment logistics and window-seat battles of the early school years, to the scheduling struggles of the older kid years, to … Lord only knows.
But the joys of bus parenting? Those remain constant. Playing “telephone” while waiting for the 8 on a rainy night. Reading books — together or separately — on the way to visit cousins. Running into school friends or church members or neighbors on almost every ride. Holding hands, sitting close, telling jokes.
I will continue to be grateful that we can do this, even on days when I’m exhausted and resentful and over it already. Because the truth is, busing with babies is beautiful. And we are so fortunate.
Yesterday, a local public radio station aired a story about the Seattle roots of Bus Driver Appreciation Day (now known to everyone except me as Transit Driver Appreciation Day). Eight years after Hans Gerwitz first proposed the idea, the day is celebrated across the US and even in a few other countries. Honoring the work of bus drivers is not a tough sell.
But the thing is, pronouncing one’s appreciation for bus drivers is not the same as showing appreciation. And it’s actually pretty hard to figure out how to do something nice for a bus driver. Every March, there’s a flurry of social media action and lots of official acknowledgement; a number of municipalities have even issued proclamations. But very little of that professed appreciation actually trickles down to drivers. Most of the time, we riders come in contact with them while they’re doing they’re difficult, demanding jobs, so there isn’t time for much more than an enthusiastic, “Thanks for the ride!”
This year, I was determined to do something a bit more meaningful. So, I found an energetic and enthusiastic partner — my friend Myesha, who also happens to be a licensed massage therapist — and the two of us spent a decent chunk of this rainy holiday parked (under a borrowed pop-up tent) at Mount Baker Transit Center, offering drivers on layover free chair massages.* We figured, given the nature of their work, they probably have their share of aches and pains.
I’m not sure how many massages Myesha did today, but I’m guessing it was fewer than a dozen. Most of the massages were shorter than we would have liked, because the drivers had only a few minutes of free time. Still, I hope we brought some joy (and relief) to the drivers who took us up on our offer. We certainly enjoyed the time we spent with them.
Now that I’ve gotten my feet wet, I’m ready to build on the momentum. Fellow bus chicks, let’s make BDAD/TDAD 2018 the best, most creative, most love-filled, most driver-pleasing holiday ever. Let’s work with agencies and with other riders to come up with delightful surprises that do more than pay lip service to our appreciation. Next year, let’s really do this.
Who’s with me?
* Since I wasn’t giving the massages, I was the official Bus Driver Thanker. I also kept track of the time, so that everyone made it back to their vehicle on schedule.
There are not enough words in my limited (yet stank) vocabulary to describe the level of nonsense bus riders in my neighborhood have endured since the Seattle Department of Transportation embarked upon its interminable 23rd Avenue Corridor improvement project.
Theoretically, after the work is done, the streets will be better and safer for all users, though those users will not necessarily be the people who are enduring the construction chaos. Independent businesses are stretched to the breaking point, and, as anyone in a gentrifying/fied city knows well, improvements almost always result in even more displacement.
Bitterness aside, safer crossings, wider sidewalks, smoother pavement, and whatever other stuff work crews have been doing for the past 11 months (and counting) are good. What is not good is how bus riders have been affected by the poorly managed — and terribly communicated — construction. Bus routes are constantly rerouted and re-rerouted, with precious little (if any) notice. Riders wait for long periods at stops that have been closed because signs are placed in locations where most riders are unlikely to look.* Those who are fortunate enough to learn about a closures in advance often go to the updated pickup point, only to have the drivers blow right past them, apparently unaware that passengers of their route will be waiting there. And don’t get me started on the reroutes that happen mid-ride.
I am not telling you all of this to complain about SDOT’s and Metro’s poor coordination and communication (OK, maybe I am a little) but instead to provide context for yet another example of why bus drivers who are good at their (incredibly difficult) job are so important to our community.
Last week, our family went out to dinner to celebrate Bus Nerd’s birthday. While we waited for the 3, which was supposed to be arriving in a couple of minutes, a Metro supervisor arrived — I assume to put up signage — and let us know that SDOT was closing the street at that very moment. Before the work crew could finish putting out the barrier, a bus came through the intersection. The bus was out of service, heading back to base, but the driver pulled over to ask the supervisor what was happening. (Not surprisingly, he hadn’t been notified of the closure.)
After the supervisor told him what was up, the driver offered to take us to our destination, which was less than a mile down the same street. A woman who had been waiting at the stop with us tentatively told him she was going downtown. He smiled and waved her on board.
“I’ll get you there,” he said. (Indeed.)
I have no doubt that it had been a long day for that driver.** He was probably ready to be finished with passengers and stop-and-go travel and hightail it back to the base for some rest (and a bathroom break). But, he proceeded to stop at every stop along the road, picking up folks who would otherwise have been waiting (and waiting!) with no clue what was going on. He did his best to answer their questions, despite his limited knowledge of the situation. And he did it with a smile.
* I wish I had a photo of the most egregious example of this, which was at the 27/8 stop in my neighborhood. Unfortunately, the camera on my six(+)-year old phone is no longer working.
** When you’re a bus driver, every day is long, regardless of the number of hours you put in.
Since today is all about appreciating drivers, I want to tell you guys about an idea that I’ve had for many years but have never been organized (or brave) enough to act on.
You know those firefighter calendars? The ones that feature smokin’ hot first responders lounging around the fire house conveniently missing most of their gear? Yeah, those.
We need one for bus drivers. Seriously. I mean, we’ve all seen at least one driver (or six) we we’d like to “appreciate” up close, right?
The calendar could be used to raise money for a transit-related nonprofit, or the ATU—shoot, for some dang bathrooms for our superheroes to use.
We’d need to find a pro bono photographer, of course. And we’d need a way to identify candidates and/or invite them to participate–other than approaching them, stalker-style, while they’re trying to do their jobs, that is. And someone would have to prevent me from giving the calendar a completely inappropriate (but hilarious) name.
But just imagine if we pulled it off!
Who’s with me? If we start now, we could definitely have it together by December.
Today is the seventh year that Bus Driver Appreciation Day has been a thing. In the last couple of years, it has really picked up steam, with transit agencies from across the country–including King County Metro–promoting the day. Along with the agency involvement has come a minor, seemingly innocuous change to the name of the celebration–to Transit Driver Appreciation Day.
Of course all transit drivers are fantastic and important and blahblahblah, but the purpose of this day, March 18th, is to honor BUS drivers. A good bus driver is like a superhero. Maneuvering a gigantic vehicle in traffic while managing passenger needs, trying to keep a schedule, not kill anyone, and deal with occasional (or not-so-occasional) drama has got to be ridiculously difficult—especially if you never get to go to the bathroom.
As for me and mine: We’ll stick with the original name.
This morning, NPR ran a story about a teenager’s first time driving herself to school. A reporter followed Rebecca Rivers, a high school junior in Canton, NY, from the breakfast table to the parking lot of her high school. (It wasn’t my idea of riveting journalism, but then again, I recently wrote a post about all the parks I visited on the bus this summer. To each her own.) The point of the piece was to focus on an important “rite of passage” in the life of an American child.
During the interview, Rebecca talks about why the milestone of driving solo is so important for her.
When you’re driving a car, you’re totally in control—I mean except for the other drivers. You’re in control, and you get to decide which roads you drive on and which route you take home and where you stop, and there’s something incredibly wonderful about that.
While I can certainly relate to her feelings of exhilaration—I experienced those same feelings when I learned to drive (well) over two decades ago—I would argue that they have very little to do with controlling a vehicle and very much to do with experiencing a first taste of independence.
Much of the reason we associate cars with freedom and control (despite the fact that they have actually stripped us of control of our communities) is because we have created a culture in which they are required for mobility. Kids can’t wait to drive because they want to go somewhere without an adult.
Would this first solo drive have meant so much–Would it even have happened?–if Rebecca had grown up with a bicycle and safe, dedicated paths to ride on? Or if there was a frequent, reliable, free (!) transit system in her town? Or if she had been given the freedom to get around without her parents before she was old enough to drive? Or if there were more constraints on when, where, and how fast cars could travel?
We’ll never know. What we do know is that very few kids in this country grow up with dedicated bicycle infrastructure or frequent, reliable transit–or, for that matter, the freedom to take advantage of the options that are available. Instead, they are shuttled to every destination in the back seat of the family car.
As we continue to indoctrinate our children into an archaic, inefficient, dangerous, and irresponsible transportation system, we are dooming them to a future of poor health, frustration, isolation, and unprecedented environmental catastrophe.
We can and must do better.
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.
It is hard to put into words how much our bus family appreciates the hard-working men and women who get us where we’re going safely, day after day. Our prayers are with Mr. Deloy Dupuis, the 64 year-old 27 driver who was shot in the face while doing his job yesterday morning. We also pray for the family of the shooter, Martin Duckworth, who was killed by police shortly after the incident—and for an end to the senseless gun violence that plagues our nation.