Tag Archives: Real Change

Nights out, bus-chick style

Car free but like to party? Some tips from last week’s Real Change column:

A few weeks ago, you learned how to look fabulous while riding the bus. Now, let’s explore how to take your fabulous self out for the evening.

If you’ve followed the first rule of car-free living — move to a transit-friendly neighborhood, preferably close to downtown — you’ll find plenty of options for eating, drinking, dancing, watching, listening, and meeting a short walk or bus ride from your home. With no car to worry about, you can hop on the bus to Benaroya Hall or Belltown without giving a second thought to parking availability or costs. If you want to have a few drinks while you’re out (remember, I said a few), go ahead. After all, you’re not driving home.

Going out without a car does require some adjustments. Even in the most transit-friendly areas, your travel is limited by bus schedules. (I call this phenomenon the Buschickrella Syndrome.) If the last bus leaves before you are ready to end your night, you can use a few of the thousands of dollars you’ve saved on transportation to take a cab.

Spontaneous trips to inconvenient locations will require planning and will therefore happen far less frequently, but if you are willing to take advantage of the many dining and entertainment opportunities you can reach on the bus or on foot, you will hardly notice this.

Attending private parties without a car can also be a challenge. Unlike a movie or a concert, a party doesn’t have a specified end time. If it’s fun, you’ll probably want to stay until they kick you out of the joint. Unfortunately, unless all your friends have been wise enough to choose transit-friendly neighborhoods, many of the parties you are invited to are likely to be in areas with spotty (or nonexistent) late-night bus service.

You can rent a Flexcar for these occasions, but since Flexcar charges by the hour, and the car will spend most of the evening parked in someone’s driveway, I recommend it only as a last resort. Carpooling is sometimes an option. (Evite has streamlined this process by building a carpooling option into their software.) If you carpool, make sure to offer the driver gas money so the ride is mutually beneficial.

Usually, the best option will be to work with the bus service that’s available. If you opt to ride the bus, make sure you:

• Know how often the route you’re riding runs and when the last one leaves.
• Let the host know in advance that you have to leave at a specific time. A sudden and unexpected departure is often met with protest.
• Plan to leave at least 15 minutes earlier than you think you need to. It’s no fun to rush out the door without a proper goodbye.

Besides, you wouldn’t want the other guests to see you without your glass slippers.

A bus to the pass

After Friday’s storm, I’ve had enough excitement for the season. For those still looking for a thrill: I provided some suggestions for getting to the higher elevations without a car in this week’s Real Change column. (Thanks to Laura from Bellevue for the tips.) Winter sports aren’t really my “thing” (plus, I have word count limits), so please let me know if I missed any good options.

A Bus to the Pass

I have to admit it: I’m not much of a winter sports fan. My first clue that snow-related activities weren’t for me was in 7th grade, when, less than an hour into my first skiing lesson (bundled from head to foot but still teary-eyed from the cold), I asked the instructor if I could head into the lodge for the remainder of the afternoon. A few years ago, I tried snowboarding. It was fun and all, but after every fall, I thanked the man upstairs that I didn’t break, tear, sprain, strain, or hyperextend something. And the thing is: I need my legs to get around.

Many of my fellow Seattleites, on the other hand, take their winter sports seriously. For those who actually like performing death-defying acts in ungodly temperatures: If you’ve decided car-free living isn’t for you because you can’t imagine giving up your weekends on the slopes, it might be time to reconsider. After all, you can take the bus to the Pass!

One of the coolest options is Snowbus (www.snowbus.com), which heads to Snoqualmie Pass every Thursday night during the season. It leaves Seattle (from Pyramid Alehouse) at 5:30 p.m., stops again in Bellevue at around 6, and arrives at the pass by 7. For $49, you get a lift ticket, a sandwich and beer courtesy of Pyramid, and a round-trip ride on a luxury bus (with a bathroom). If you don’t need a lift ticket, you can ride the bus only for $25. Snowbus is reputed to be as much a social event as a form of transportation, but you must be 21 or older to ride. (Hey, they can’t be handing out pints of beer to teenagers.)

Beeline Tours (www.beelinetours.com) offers daily trips to Snoqualmie. It leaves the 65th Street Park & Ride at 7:00 a.m. and makes two stops — Colman Dock and the South Bellevue Park & Ride — on the way to the Pass. The ride costs $35. On weekends, you can buy a ride/lift ticket combo for $75. Beeline offers the advantage of daylong trips, and children are welcome.

For those who’d rather head farther afield for their winter adventures, Crystal Mountain (www.crystalmt.com) operates weekend shuttles to the Pass from Seattle and Tacoma. Cost for adults is $70 with a lift ticket and $35 without.

If you’re not into tour buses, Rideshare Online (www.rideshareonline.com) has a special section for folks looking to carpool to the slopes. For the cost of a few gallons of gas, you can probably find a ride to any pass in the region.

Of course, if you don’t know how to ski or snowboard yet, you can always sign up for lessons with a ski school like Fiorini (www.fiorinisports.com) and travel to the Pass in style: on a yellow school bus.

Speaking of Santa…

For you holiday shoppers, last week’s Real Change column:

Ah, the holiday season: the time of year when we gather with family, give thanks for our blessings, and spend as much money as humanly possible. What better time to review my bus-chick-tested shopping tips?

Tip 1: Buy less. The simplest and most effective way to avoid the hassle of shopping without a car is to stop shopping so doggone much. Your decision to try life as a bus chick means you’re probably interested in conserving — your money, the world’s resources, or both — and spending less time at the mall will surely help you accomplish this.

Tip 2: Use a different kind of highway. If you don’t need a particular item immediately, consider ordering it online. If it’s a gift that has to be shipped, you save two trips: the first, to the store to buy the gift, and the second to the post office to mail it. In cases where you want to see an item before you buy it (or you don’t want to pay shipping costs), you can still use the Internet to research products and prices. That way, when you’re ready to buy, you’ll only have to make one stop.

Tip 3: Concentrate! The bus-based life is not well-suited to the “running around” that has become the norm in our consumer-oriented, car-centric culture. (And who says that’s a bad thing?) Shop in places that have a wide variety of stores concentrated in a small area, so you can take care of several purchases each time you make a trip. I tend to shop downtown, mostly because it’s the concentrated shopping area that is most easily accessible to me. And speaking of downtown…

Tip 4: Shop on your way. The next time you’re in the center of our fair city waiting for a transfer, try using that time to take care of business. When I’m downtown and in need of a particular item, I decide how much time I’ll need, check the schedule of the bus I’m waiting to catch, and then head to the nearest store that has what I need. If I’m not in the market for anything in particular but the wait between buses is especially long, I’ll use the down time “pre-shop” for stuff (greeting cards, vacuum-cleaner bags, printer cartridges — whatever I’m closest to) that I know I’ll need in the future.

Tip 5: Be Flexible. Most of the items people regularly shop for can be easily reached and carried home on the bus. (Note: If it’s big enough to take up a seat of its own, consider traveling during off-peak times.) For those times when you want to purchase an item that is outside the bus’s coverage area or that exceeds your carrying capacity (and the limits of your fellow riders’ patience), rent a Flexcar. For all you Craig’s Listers and garage salers: They even have pickups.

Speaking of suburbs…

From BusinessWeek:

A new report from the Washington-based Center for Housing Policy finds that in major metropolitan regions around the country, the money you save on housing by moving away from the city is about the same amount you will spend on additional transportation costs.

And this:

Frequently, families that move away from cities such as San Francisco fail to prepare for the high cost of the car culture they enter. “Transportation means not only going to work, but if you’re living in one of the outlying suburbs, it means you need a car to do absolutely everything,” says Barbara Lipman, the research director for the report. “I think it’s important to consider your total costs.”

In this week’s Real Change column, which is about the importance of location to a successful car-free life, I also touch on the issue:

If you’re settling for a sidewalkless suburb with spread-out strip malls and hourly bus service because you think it’s cheaper, consider this: According to the American Automobile Association, the total annual cost (including gas, insurance, parking, maintenance, and depreciation) for an average mid-sized sedan in 2004 was $8,410. If you move to a transit-friendly neighborhood, you can drop that expensive habit. Spend $700 for an annual Metro pass, throw in another $700 for fare upgrades, Flexcar rentals, and occasional cabs, and you’ve still got an extra $7,000–almost $600 per month–to contribute to higher housing costs.

On the bus, looking fabulous

I’m heading out to a party tonight (27+28), despite the fact that I’ve been under the weather since Monday. (Red wine might be just the medicine I need.) In honor, last week’s Real Change column:

I have great empathy for my fellow Seattleites who are struggling to shake their addiction to cars. I know quite well how difficult it is to kick a powerful habit. How? Because, dear readers, I, too, struggle with an addiction — to my flat iron.

That perfectly smooth, bone-straight look I’m rockin’ in the picture next to my byline? That look required a potentially lethal appliance, a parting comb, at least a dozen hair clips, and far too much of my precious time. Any contact with water will make short work of my efforts, which is a problem, considering that my chosen form of transportation requires frequent exposure to the elements, and the element I am exposed to most frequently is rain.

Does this confirm the suspicions of many women I know — that a girl must exchange her style for the benefits a bus-based life? Nope. We bus chicks can be just as fabulous as our car-dependent counterparts (more, even), provided we’re willing to prepare ourselves accordingly.

The first priority is to find a hairstyle that can withstand our challenging climate. What works for each bus chick is different, but the key is low maintenance. I’ve learned to limit the straight styles to sunny weather and special occasions. On most days, I either embrace (with the help of some good leave-in conditioner) the naturally curly Carla, or opt for a simple, sexy chignon.

And speaking of sexy…

What bus chicks lack in elaborate hair styles, we make up for in other areas. For example, because we get exercise naturally — walking to and from stops and running to catch buses — we tend to have fit bodies. Fit bodies look good in just about anything, including bus-friendly gear like jeans and boots.

And speaking of boots…

While all that walking and running might be good for our bodies, it’s not so good for our footwear. Polish can remove scuff marks, but scuff marks are the least of a bus chick’s worries. Nothing ruins the appearance of shoes like worn-down heels. Thankfully, there’s a solution: taps. (Get the rubber kind to avoid announcing your approach from three blocks away.) Of course, when your outfit demands shoes that aren’t walk-friendly (taps or not), you can wear reasonable substitutes for the trip and carry the cute pair in your bag.

And speaking of bags…

Fellow bus chicks, walk softly (on your rubber taps) but carry a big purse — and not just for your extra shoes. In addition to your day-to-day necessities (wallet, cell phone, keys, book), you’ll need it for your umbrella, natural-bristle brush (to smooth the chignon), lotion (to apply after public-bathroom hand-washing adventures), and unflattering waterproof jacket. For those fancy occasions that require a small purse, bring a bus nerd along to help with carrying. If you follow these guidelines, you won’t have any trouble attracting one.

Speaking of funny bus conversations…

Here are some I compiled for my August 9th Real Change column:

Monday evening, northbound 48:

A woman and man in the seats across from me are getting to know each other.

Woman: “Oh, my God, you’re funny.” [short pause] “Take me home with you.”
Man: “No.”
Woman: “You got a wife?”
Man: “No.”
Woman: “Then take me home with you.” [another short pause] “I’ll cut your hair.”

Tuesday evening, westbound 545:

A man and two women, probably coworkers, are making small talk on their commute home from work.

Woman A: “Where did you go to grad school again?”
Woman B: “At University of Oregon.”
Woman A: “Oh. Is that next to California, or am I missing a state?”

Wednesday, midday, westbound 10:

Two women get on at 15th and John, talking music.

Woman A, to Woman B: “I’ve got all kinds of stuff. I’ve got everything from Shania Twain to Kid ‘n Play. Gospel, hip-hop, every genre. The sad thing is, since I’m not going to have kids or anything, when I die, my music collection is just going to go in the trash.”

Thursday afternoon, eastbound 4

A group of teenagers is cutting up in the back. The bus reaches a crowded stop, where another group of teenagers is waiting to get on.

Girl in back: “Lord, my sister’s about to get on this bus.”
Boy in back: “Oh, that one with the backpack?”
Girl: “No, the one with the pajama-bottom-lookin’ pants and corner-store flip flops.”

Saturday, noon, northbound 36:

A man and a woman are sitting in the elevated seats behind me, apparently discussing family business.

Man: “I have to communicate all that stuff through Mom. I can tell her stuff to tell him, but if I say, ‘Hey Jason…,’ that’s breaking the no-contact order.”
Woman: “What no-contact order?”
Man: “For saying I was going to kill him, which I did. I said I was going to blow his f-ing head off for chasing me around the house with a machete.”

Saturday afternoon, southbound 16

A man and woman who are both sitting in the back are making conversation to pass the time.

Woman, to the man: “How did you tattoo yourself? Never mind — I don’t want to know.”

Singin’, prayin’, and parlayin’

Last week, Laura from Eastlake sent me this note:

You often talk about Smooth Jazz and I must admit that I have been jealous. I would LOVE for the ride home to be to some music. So I thought I would send you a quick email to tell you about a great driver I had the other day coming home. It was on Wednesday night on the 70 at about 6pm. The bus driver sang a song to the entire bus about “humoring your bus driver so he doesn’t leave you at your stop while waiting.” It was really funny, he said he made it up on the spot, and the entire bus applauded and laughed (with him).

A bus driverHer e-mail was the inspiration for last week’s Real Change column, which was about some of my favorite drivers (including Smooth Jazz and one I used to call Preacher, for his tendency to pray on the job). Then, last evening, the woman who helped me at Nordstrom rather spontaneously launched into stories about her favorite 49 drivers: the one who looks just like Dave Chappelle–not as funny but really nice–and the one who is so cute she sometimes flirts with him on her way off the bus.

All this talk about cool (and sexy) bus drivers has me wondering: Who are your favorites? Why?

Beyond buses

Real Change recently interviewed Anthony Flint, author of This Land: The Battle over Sprawl and the Future of America. Here are some excerpts from the discussion:

Real Change: What are the effects of sprawl on the environment?

Anthony Flint:
Twenty-five million acres of land between 1982 and 1997 succumbed to suburban development. That is a lot of wildlife habitat [and] farmland that has disappeared. It is a lot of pollution from cars, which are necessary to get around in these dispersed environments, though it has not been enough to change anybody’s mind about sprawl until now. On a personal level, people are discovering that it is inconvenient and actually very expensive to live in sprawl.

RC: …some commentators have said that sprawl is a sign of a good economy. What is your response to that?

These critics are not addressing the real issues that communities all over the country are wrestling with in terms of planning for future growth… Sprawl has been so popular, not because it is driven by affluence, but because it is seen as affordable, at least initially, by the middle class. The initial sticker price is very attractive and within reach, and then of course [with the price of a car and gas] it doesn’t turn out to be the bargain it’s cracked up to be.

I haven’t read the book yet (on the waiting list at the library), but I appreciate Mr. Flint’s perspective. As we move further and further from walkable, transit-friendly neighborhoods in pursuit of our “American dreams” (good schools, cheap land, “nature,” or a nearby Wal Mart) we trap ourselves in automobile-dependent, unhealthy, isolated, unsustainable communities.

Incremental improvements (more frequent bus service, a couple of new bike paths) are better than none at all, but unless we fundamentally change the way we live, including (and especially) the way we build our neighborhoods, we will never have true transportation alternatives.

Speaking of bus fouls…

Tonight’s 4 was slower than ever and packed with people, people committing every bus foul known to woman, including:

Foul• Refusing to move to the back, despite the fact that the bus was beyond capacity, and there were at least three empty seats back there.
• Eating smelly meals from styrofoam takeout containers (this is not just a bus foul–it’s against Metro’s rules).
• Turning up headphones, as loud as they would go, not placing them near any actual ears, and then chair dancing all over everyone in the immediate vicinity.
• Engaging in (the ever popular) too-loud personal conversations.

Which reminds me: Thanks for submitting all those great fouls back in May. I used many of them to write “Bus Fouls, Part II,” which hit the streets (literally) on Wednesday.

Bus Fouls, Part II


It seems that the Sonics and Storm soon will be leaving us for Oklahoma City (a city that, by the way, does not offer bus service past 7:30–or at all on Sundays). Unfortunately, although we bus-riding Seattleites will no longer be able to watch NBA fouls, we continue to have aisle-side seats to rampant and egregious bus fouls.

Here are some reader-submitted fouls I forgot to mention in April (“Bus Fouls,” April 19):

• Dawdling when it’s time to board. Remember that Spike Lee movie–you know, the one about the Million Man March? When your route comes, it’s time to end the conversation (or bus mack, or argument) and get on the bus. If you decide you’d rather talk than ride, don’t get mad and bang on the side when the driver closes the door in your face.

• Rushing when it’s time to board. The opposite of the dawdling boarder is the overeager boarder. Wait for everyone to get off before you get on.

• Not offering your seat to an elderly or disabled passenger. Whether you’re sitting in the reserved section or not, if you see someone who could use a seat more than you, get up. (A lot of readers complained about this foul, but I rarely witness it. People tend to share their seats on the routes I ride. In fact, I’m not elderly or disabled, and last week, on the 36, a chivalrous young man offered me a seat…on his lap.) And speaking of which…

• Unauthorized touching. Incidental touching (foot-stepping, arm-grazing) is an inevitable (if unpleasant) fact of riding the bus. Taking advantage of crowded conditions to cop a feel is offensive and illegal. If you do this, be prepared to be publicly shamed, or (given the recent report on the aggressiveness of transit cops) even arrested.

• Taking up more than one seat. We all know that this is sometimes unavoidable (if you have a lot of groceries or happen to be larger than the seat), but folks, don’t put your belongings (or your feet) on the chair next to you when other people are standing. And don’t have the nerve to roll your eyes — or worse, refuse — if someone asks you to move over.

• Cell-phone talking. A lot of riders don’t like this, but I’m on the fence. If it is a quiet conversation, it’s really no more bothersome than a quiet conversation between two riders. If it’s loud or too personal, then it fits into the “sharing too much of your business” foul from April’s column. Besides, I’d rather see people get on the bus to talk than to endanger my safety by doing so in their cars.

Who knows? Maybe if we learn to play nice on the buses, the owners of our professional sports teams will learn to play nice in the stadiums we’ve already built.

I forgot to include one of the worst fouls (submitted by Freida): “When the bus is standing room only, parking yourself right by the front door so that the rest of us have to squeeze past you to get to the back.”

Guess that means I’ll have to write part III…