There is a certain happiness sighted when your bus comes along. It is of course a small specialized form of happiness and will never be a great thing.

-Richard Brautigan, The Old Bus

Friday, March 30, 2007

Scheduled departure

Fridays are mean. The tide of work floods, never ebbing. Before I started relying on Sacramento Regional Transit I would find myself underwater.

I get to work before 10 a.m. each day. How much before depends on which train I catch. But I'm never later than 10, even when I get off at 29th Street and walk the eight blocks to work. I'm finding that walk to be a wonderful start to the day before I'm locked up in an office.

On a good day, I walk out of the office at 6:05 p.m. to catch the Folsom-bound train. On an average day I leave at 6:35 p.m. to catch the next Folsom-bound train. This schedule is ideal because the 82 bus is either waiting when the train arrives at the 65th Street station or arrives soon after.

Friday's are hell, though. The 7:05 p.m. train is the last one that will align perfectly with the 82 bus. Keeping that fact in mind works wonders for keeping me focused.

At about 6 p.m. tonight I realized that things weren't looking good. I had a lot to do and it was all the sort of stuff that just takes time. There are no shortcuts. By 6:20 I was getting worried.

Before I started taking the train and bus to work I would often find myself giving up, surrendering to the inevitability of the pressure. I would leave an hour or more late. The "freedom" to set my own departure time left me "free" to let the job push me around.

Tonight I realized just how useful it is to have that 7:05 p.m. deadline to lean against in order to push back against the tide. By 6:40 p.m. I was focused entirely on getting everything done. There were no distractions. I plodded methodically through the menial details that fill the end of my workday, and when I finished I even had a couple of "free" minutes to take care of some chores that will make Monday a bit easier.

I left my office at 7:05 p.m. My back ached from the job strain (and my chronic bad posture), but it was such a relief to stroll the two blocks to the 23rd Street light rail station. Later, reading my book on the bus ride home, I was thankful for having given up the "freedom" of driving myself to and from work.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Notes on the bus

I'm not a big fan of striking up conversations with strangers. I find it painful. There's no rational reason; it's just me. And yet I crave insight into these people who ride my bus each day.

There was quite a crowd on today's bus as I took a seat on the first elevated seat in the back of the new-style, split-level bus. Seated immediately in front of me was a young lady who was busy applying makeup. I've written before about the marvel of women who can apply mascara without injuring themselves as the bus jerks and bounces and stops and starts. But what I really wanted to ask her about was the compact she held in her left hand. "Playboy" was etched in the mirror. Instead I put my head in my book and read.

About halfway along the route the bus stopped for a woman and young man. The woman showed her pass as she boarded. She walked past me and sat on the bench in the back of the bus.

The young man was having a discussion with the driver that I couldn't hear. As he turned to get off the bus I went back to my book.

"Hey!" called the woman who had just boarded.

I looked up to see the young man turn and walk up the aisle. He continued past me to the back of the bus. I didn't turn around to see what happened, but the man walked back down the aisle to the driver and paid his fare.

The young man took a seat immediately in front of the side door. He wore the standard uniform of black youths, although his sagging pants weren't quite as outrageous as a youth who had boarded earlier, and his tightly wrapped dreadlocks extending from under his knit cap gave him a look of someone who cared for his appearance.

He did not acknowledge the woman who had helped him as he sat down. The woman behind me remained silent. The young lady in front of me was busy taking advantage of the stop. I went back to my book.

When we arrived at Sac State most of the passengers left the bus. The woman who had been working on her makeup waited until the other students had departed before getting up. As she crossed the aisle to the door she placed a bright pink Post-It note folded in half on the seat next to the young man and exited.

The young man was looking out the window as the woman left. He watched as new passengers boarded the bus. He looked everywhere but down at his seat where the bright pink Post-It note screamed, "Pick me up!"

Now, this presented a dilemma. Should I get up and tap the guy on the shoulder and suggest he look down? Or should I let the Fates decide?

I was of two minds about the whole note idea. My internal parent voice was yelling, "Girl! What are you thinking?! The guy doesn't have enough money for bus fare!" But my guy thing was saying, "Way cool. Dude, you got a note from a girl."

The Fates eventually intervened as the bus was coming to stop at the 65th Street station. The young man looked down and noticed the note. He examined it a moment and then looked around, a grin spreading across his face.

"The lady who got off at Sac State left it for you," I offered.

His grin had grown to a toothy smile.

"The one who was sitting here," I said, pointing to the seat in front of me.

The young man nodded and put the note in his wallet.

I followed him off the bus and headed across the street to wait for the train. I was going to make the early train. I smiled: Two lucky guys.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Reading for pleasure on the bus

Working on the bus would be OK, but only if it were free-lance work outside my day job. One of the overriding reasons why I am willing -- and free will is important here -- to spend more than two hours traveling to and from work using Sacramento Regional Transit is the opportunity to use that time for something other than my day job.

Once upon a time, my day job included a lot of paperwork. My boss knew it was more work than could be done in the time allotted during the day. He suggested farming it out to others. But I had a real problem with allowing people who didn't care as passionately as I did to do the work. So the paper would pile up until I finally took it home. It got to be a scheduled activity. I would sit at my son's karate lessons looking like a teacher grading class assignments.

Eventually paper gave way to electronic communications and my poor work habits -- or unreasonably fierce devotion to the task at hand, take your pick -- made 10-hour days routine. My company even gave me a computer with all of the work-related software installed and paid for my home Internet access. The company was the enabler, but I was a willing participant. I celebrated the flexibility working from home allowed. I saw it as freedom.

Today I understand that freedom without discipline is an invitation to disaster. By riding the bus each day, I frame my workday. This is my time; that is work time. My time to do free-lance work: Cool. My time to catch up on my day job: Not cool.

After yesterday's free-lance work, I enjoyed getting out my book and reading today on the ride to work. When the bus again arrived at 65th Street station just early enough so that bus riders could wave goodbye to the departing train, I enjoyed sitting down on a bench at the station and sipping the coffee I bring each day and reading. I enjoyed reading and drinking coffee so much that I was surprised when the next train pulled into the station.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Working on the bus

Tried my hand at shifting from pleasure -- book reading -- to work on the ride to work. It was OK.

The other day I answered an ad from a writer looking for someone to review and comment on sample chapters from several novels he has written. For the first chapter, I spent an hour in a chair in the shade by my pool, clipboard in my lap, reading and making notes. I then spent a half-hour or so crafting my scathing review of his work. I didn't expect to be invited back, but the guy is apparently either a hopeless romantic about his work or a glutton for punishment.

He sent me another chapter and today I packed the clipboard and pen with my book and lunch in the backpack and set off on my hour-long (when I get the early train) trip to work.

Reading and scratching notes as the bus bumps along and starts and stops is no more difficult than just reading. Today it also helped that this chapter, which is from a different book than the first, is much more interesting and better written.

Now if I could get, say, two chapters a week, I could turn this bus riding into a profit center.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Who speaks for riders? (Continued)

"Does local transit meet your needs?" reads the headline on the single page, quarter sheet of card stock stuck in the information bin at the end of the light rail car.

I monitor the information bins because ... well, because that's what is expected of riders. How else will riders get information of value about Sacramento Regional Transit. (See this earlier post.)

"Whether you ride daily or occasionally, we want to know if public transit is meeting your needs. Your local transportation planning agency, the Sacramento Area Council of Governments, is looking for feedback on bus service."

The flier invites feedback at or by mail to SACOG, Attn: Barbara Bechtold, 1415 L Street, Suite 300, Sacramento, CA 95814. Phone comments can be left at (916) 340-6275 and FAX comments can be sent to (916) 321-9551.

SACOG has scheduled six "Unmet Needs" hearings. Three were held earlier in March -- Citrus Heights, Galt and Isleton. The remaining will be held in April:

April 2 at 6 p.m.
RT Board Room
1400 29th Street

April 16 at 5:30 p.m.
Folsom Chamber of Commerce
200 Wool St.

April 17 at 6 p.m.
Elk Grove City Hall
8380 Laguna Palms Way,
Elk Grove

My unmet transit need? An organization that monitors local transit with a focus on the needs of the general riders.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The gentleman on the bus

It was a grand, cheerful day on the bus today.

As I boarded and made my way to my customary seat in the back, I heard the little girl in the front of the bus cry out, "Hiiiii." I turned to see her and her mother both smiling. The kid is just tall enough to stand and see over the back seat. I waved. The girl let go of the back of the seat with one hand, tottered, waved, and then quickly grabbed the seat. "Hiiii," she repeated.

The mother and daughter get off at the stop after I get on. As they left the bus, the little girl said bye to the driver and babbled on about whatever and everything as she was carried down the street in her mother's arms. So cute, and then they become sullen teenagers.

Today was mommie bus redux with a twist.

As I was settling in with my book I caught a quick movement out of the corner of my eye. I looked up to see a man racing to the front of the bus and out the door. Seemed odd, since I hadn't heard the stop request. But then I heard a woman's voice say, "Thank you very much."

There was a shuffling noise and the man reboarded the bus, lugging the woman's collapsed stroller. "Over here is fine," the woman said as she directed the man to put the stroller by the bench behind the driver. She thanked him, and the man nodded and returned to his seat back in the middle of the coach just in front of the door.

Now that's something you don't see every day.

The man, who wasn't a regular on this bus, was dressed in a solid red sweater and clean, loose-fitting jeans. His pants were folded back to create 3-inch cuffs just above his brown leather slip-on shoes. He wore a navy blue ball cap with "New York" stitched in an arc across the back. I couldn't see what it said on the front.

A little while later when the bus took its left turn from Whitney onto Watt, the stroller flew across the aisle and slid into the far wall.

"Oh, sorry," said the woman. The apology was probably meant for the driver but everyone had been startled by the racket the stroller made. The man who had helped her lug the thing aboard popped up from his seat to retrieve the stroller. He and the woman worked out a way to wedge it so that it wouldn't move again.

As we rode on, the woman chatted with the driver about bus options. She had a connection she wanted to make but wasn't sure which bus would be best. The driver was as helpful as he could be. There ought to be a way to create a book that each bus would carry that would illustrate connections for its routes. After my experience with 321-BUSS, I'm hesitant to recommend it to people I want to help.

Eventually, the woman lugged her stroller off the bus and a few stops later the man who had helped her got off. Most of the rest of the riders got off at Sac State.

For the dash to the light rail station I had the company of a man who travels with two kids. I have seen the trio on many homeward-bound trips, but today and yesterday they've been traveling toward downtown on the bus I take.

I was puzzling over different theories about why the kids aren't in school as the bus turned into the parking lot across from the 65th Street light rail station. As the bus approached its parking space, the train was just entering the station.

The man told the boy to get ready to hold the train. As soon as the bus stopped, the boy was running for the train. The man and the girl nearly didn't make it when they ran into the path of a car of Q Street. Luckily the driver was paying more attention than the runners.

I jogged across the street to find the boy still holding the door open for me. As it turned out, the train operator was busy with the ramp at the front of the train. This gave our bus driver time to join everyone.

"Hey, we made it," I said to the driver as he dashed onto the train.

"Yes, we did," he said with his biggest grin.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Zen and the Art of Riding the Bus

From what I could hear of the woman's cell phone conversation, she wasn't happy. Something was wrong at work. Someone was causing her trouble. I didn't want to listen in. I was actually trying to focus on the book I was reading as the woman took a seat across the aisle from me.

Her conversation didn't last much longer. She put her phone away. For the rest of the trip she sat looking forward. Her expression loudly warned of her dark mood. She didn't need to say a word.

It is just a matter of perspective when riding the bus. It's a mind game of wanting either time to slow down or the bus to speed up. I've succumbed to this before, but I try to discipline myself.

According to Google Maps, it should take about 6 minutes to get from the bus stop at Sac State to the intersection of Elvas Avenue and 65th Street. This is the route the bus takes each day.

Once on 65th Street, it is less than a half-mile to the bus parking lot across Q Street from the 65th Street light rail stop. Google Maps says the trip should take less than a minute.

Riding on the bus, time is distorted. The six minutes from Sac State fly by, with the bus hurtling around the loop from J Street onto Elvas, sending passengers leaning against the centrifugal force. The bus rattles and rocks as it races down Elvas.

And then time stops.

On 65th Street, bus riders can see the position of the light rail crossing lights. As the bus creeps toward Folsom, riders can watch the cars crossing the light rail tracks in the distance and see that the train isn't in the station yet.

To torment riders, the new buses display the current time. It's 9:16. The train is due at 9:18.

Waiting in the left turn lane at Folsom for the equivalent of a perceptual hour, riders can continue to monitor the crossing, trying to will the light rail train to delay its arrival.

Then, finally, the bus turns left and riders can no longer see the light rail station. The bus slowly, slowly rolls the half block to Redding Avenue and turns right into the road leading to the bus parking lot.

As the bus makes the turn, riders can now see that the train is just entering the station.

The bus makes a leisurely right turn into the bus parking lot entrance driveway and, amazingly, slows even more.

The train is rolling to a stop.

A half-block later, the bus makes a stutter-step left turn, coming to a full stop before proceeding in a deliberately slow, looping left turn.

The train doors open and waiting passengers board.

It doesn't really take another six minutes for the bus to come to a stop in front of the 82 sign and open the exit doors. But that is certainly the perception of the bus rider who is now watching the light rail train doors close and the train leave the station.

"He did that on purpose," the woman said. "The driver stopped back there deliberately so we'd miss the train."

I smiled and tried to cheer the woman. I explained that it was all an ironic twist of being early. If the bus was actually on time, you would never see that train.

She wasn't impressed.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The mommie bus

Since I travel outside the morning commute hours my fellow riders are more eclectic. For instance, the bus a half-hour before my regular bus gets many more CSUS students. On the first day I rode that bus it was standing-room-only as we pulled into the campus. On my regular bus, we've never had all of the seats filled, let alone people standing in the aisle.

But we get more mommies.

When I boarded the bus today I was greeted with a soft "Hiiiii" and a wave from a little girl. The mother was a bit surprised. She and her daughter, who must be less than 2, are regular riders. This was the first time the little girl had said Hi and waved.

I waved back and said Hi and took my seat in the back of the bus.

We had just one mom today. Often we have two moms with infants too young to walk, and yesterday we had three.

In my observations, I have decided the bus-riding skills of the moms can be judged by the size of their strollers.

Our regular mom brings a very light collapsible stroller. With the baby on one hip and the diaper bag over her shoulder, she exits with ease, carrying the stroller in her free hand.

On the other hand, another semi-regular mom boards the bus with this huge collapsible stroller that she must lug behind her and wrestle into an open space on the bus before she can sit. The struggle is reversed and just as difficult when she exits. I want to introduce her to the other mom, but she gets on after the other mom gets off.

Yesterday, I sat across from a very young mom without a stroller. Exiting the bus, she had to set the baby down on the sidewalk to arrange her diaper bag and purse before setting off for Wal-Mart. As I watched her, I was hoping she was shopping for one of the very light collapsible strollers.

Monday, March 19, 2007

No Other Choice to read on the bus

Finished another book while riding to and from work.

No Other Choice is the autobiography of George Blake, a man who spied for the KGB while working for the British Secret Intelligence Service. This is another of the books that I've been meaning to read, and it pairs nicely with the Breaking the Ring, the story of American John Walker and his spy ring.

Where John Walker was a craven traitor who spied purely for financial gain, George Blake was a naive ideologue who gave away his adopted country's secrets in service to an imaginary world where Communism would bring egalitarian happiness.

The title of the book sums it up: Blake feels he had no choice. In fact, one of the rather compelling images of the book is provided by Blake's discussion of God and predestination. For Blake, if God is all-knowing and all-powerful, then everything must be by design. He flatly rejects the idea of free will. Blake had no choice. Nothing he did was wrong. It was all by God's design.

Blake has an interesting tale to tell. As a youth he worked for the underground in Holland and France during WWII. He eventually went to work for the British and first offered to spy for the KGB while he was a prisoner during the Korean War. His spying is eventually discovered, and he was tried and sentenced in 1961 to 42 years in prison. After serving 5 1/2 years, Blake, with the help of sympathetic ideologues on the outside, was able to escape and flee to the Soviet Union, eventually settling in Moscow.

The book was published in 1990 and by that time Blake had seen the beginning of the collapse of the old order. I found Blake's description of life in Moscow fascinating, not least because it is such an awakening for him. The grand Communist ideal that he sought to advance by helping the KGB was nowhere to be found. But he is not disillusioned. He still believes in a mythical Communist ideal.

One of the most profound observations is offered in his discussion of life in prison.

"Many inmates, because of their bitterness and the lessons they have learned in prison, are a greater danger to society when they leave prison than when they come in. This is not surprising when one comes to think of it. Imagine a hospital in which all the patients, irrespective of their disease or injury, whether it be cancer, cholera, pneumonia, appendicitis or a broken leg, are all put in the same ward and given the same treatment, say, a strong dose of purgatives. Nobody would expect many of the patients so treated to leave the hospital cured. The mast [sic] majority of them will carry their disease back into society and may well have been infected with the new ones. Yet that is how the prison system works."

If you like reading about real spies, you'll find this book fascinating.

Friday, March 16, 2007

T.G.I.F.: Odds and ends

The joys of cell phone alarm clocks.

Many years ago I would say I was going to return to using public transit to get to work, but the idea would die after a day or two. The most common reason was that I would keep missing the bus. While I never lived quite as close to the stop as I do today, what has really made life easier is the invention of the cell phone alarm clock.

My bus leaves American River College at 8:34 a.m. That's when I should be gathering up my stuff and walking out the door. The bus arrives right round 8:39.

In years past, I would see I had 10 minutes before I had to leave, and I would go putter around the house. Invariably it would be the sound of the bus going by that would alert me to the fact that 15 minutes had just sped by in the space of a normal 10 minute wait. Since there was no way to rewind time and catch the bus, I would get into my car and drive to work. A couple of times like that and the enthusiasm for relying on the bus wanes.

Today, through the magic of cell phone technology, I'm never late. (Hollow sound produced my knocking on my noggin.) I set the alarm for 8:34 a.m. and putter about to my heart's content. When the beep-beep-beep of the alarm goes off, I drop everything, pick up everything and proceed to the stop. I generally have a three-minute wait before I board the bus.

A crowd at the bus stop

Today wins the prize for most passengers waiting for the bus. Three of us. There was the young man who works at Emigh Harware. He brings his bike. Then there was a new guy with his left arm in a sling. Waiting for the bus I mused that global warming sure makes for a fine spring day.

Here's your get off reminder

I've been known to fret about forgetting to get off the bus. This isn't a problem going to work, but I've missed my stop once already on the return leg of my commute.

Today, a woman boarded the bus and talked with the driver about whether the bus went where she wanted to go. I didn't catch any of the specifics.The lady sat down in the bench across from the driver and the bus proceeded on its route. I was deep into my book and soon forgot about the lady.

Later, I happened to look up as the bus pulled to a stop at Howe and Fair Oaks. No one had pulled the stop request, and no one was waiting to get on. I looked on the sidewalk to see if someone was waiving for the bus. No one. The driver made the bus kneel and opened the door. Nobody got up, and nobody got on. The puzzle was solved a moment later when the driver alerted the lady this was her stop. Another courtesy from the courteous driver.

To dash or to dally? That is the question

I have explained in several posts that the bus is supposed to arrive about 10 minutes before the downtown train. This is designed to produce a calm transition from the rubber wheel to the steel wheel. But, alas, my bus keeps arriving just as the earlier train is pulling into the station.

As the bus winds its way through the parking lot to is designated spot, the train doors open, departing passengers descend the stairs and the waiting passengers board.

As the bus finally comes to a stop and the doors open, I find myself teased by the train: "Come on! Run! You can make it."

It is maybe 30 yards to the train. I could run across the street that separates the buses from the train station. Or I can casually saunter over to the station and ignore the train, and pretend its siren song has no effect on me.

Today, is a fine spring day, and I am near the end of my book. I sit on a bench, get out my coffee and drink and read for the 15 minutes until the next train arrives.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Who speaks for riders?

Today, I received a response from Sacramento Regional Transit to my "Bus Driver Appreciation Day" post. I had sent a copy of the post to RT's "Customer Advocacy" e-mail address

Thank you for contacting Regional Transit, it is always a pleasure to receive favorable comments from our satisfied customers. A commendation has been filed for bus operator for route 82. We at Regional Transit are continually striving to provide the best service for our passengers.


Robert H. Beverly
Customer Advocacy
Sacramento Regional Transit District
916.456.1752 fax
Looking at Mr. Beverly's title, "Customer Advocacy," I was reminded on something that I had been wondering about. So, I replied to his e-mail and asked:

Is there an independent organization in Sacramento Regional Transit's service area that represents the riders? If so, can you provide any contact info for the group?
I apparently wasn't clear in my question because the response I got back said:

The bus operators are represented by the Amalgamated Transit Union local 256, I don't have a contact name or number.

Robert H. Beverly
Customer Advocacy
Sacramento Regional Transit District
916.456.1752 fax

So I tried again:

You misunderstood my question.

Do the RIDERS who use Sacramento Regional Transit have an independent organization that represents their interest?

The interests of the management of RT and the interests of the employees
do not always align with the interests of the passengers. A management change in working conditions might harm passenger interests. An inflexible union contract provision may harm passenger interests. Who speaks for riders when service changes are contemplated?

Does there exist an organization of the users of the RT system that takes an active role in such discussions?
To which, Mr. Beverly responded:

Disabled riders have an independent organization to represent them. Regular passengers can voice their concerns with the elected officials who serve on the board of directors for Regional Transit. Listed below is the link to members of RT Board of Directors.

Robert H. Beverly
Customer Advocacy
Sacramento Regional Transit District
916.456.1752 fax

Anyone else beside me think "regular passengers" deserve
an independent organization to represent them?

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


buss -- n., vt., vi. [Now Chiefly Dial.] kiss, esp. in an unrestrained or playful manner

I had an opportunity to experiment with transit options beyond my regular commute today. I needed to get to an 8:30 a.m. eye exam at Hurley and Fulton. I did a little research at and figured out that I couldn't make it on time, but I could be close enough to make it work.

The 82 line goes to Morse and Hurley, which is just a half-mile walk from Fulton. After the eye exam, I would be able to catch the 26 bus on Fulton, which goes to the 65th Street light rail station. A simple two-bus and light rail trip to work. Not painful at all.

Unfortunately, I didn't know when the eye exam would be over. I knew I wanted to be at Fulton and Hurley before 10 a.m., but I didn't bother to write down the 26 line schedule.

Taking the 82 to Hurley and walking to the eye doctor worked like a charm. The exam lasted an hour and I was at the bus stop on Fulton and Hurley by 9:40 a.m.

It was a good thing I wasn't driving. My eyes were dilated and the spring sun burned. Even the sunglasses the eye doctor's office gave me offered little respite. I was tearing and blinking and trying to squint into the distance in hope of getting a glimpse of the approaching bus.

Nothing but pain and waiting.

A few minutes after I arrived a woman dressed in a nice suit walked up to the bus stop. She spoke with an accent that suggested she was an immigrant from the former Soviet Union. She asked if I knew when the bus was due. I looked at the clock on my cell phone. It was 9:47 a.m. Since I expected the bus to arrive around 10 a.m., I told the lady it would be about 15 minutes.

"15 minutes?" she asked. She sounded disappointed. If so, she must be really new to the area and very unfamiliar with the bus system.

Since I couldn't keep my eyes open to watch for the bus, I decided to call 321-BUSS and ask when the next 26 bus to 65th Street would arrive.

I worked my way through the automated system until I reached the point where I could ask to speak to an operator.

The recording said all of the operators were busy helping others and I would have to wait -- pause to think this over -- 3 minutes.

The 321-BUSS automated system has some of the worst -- really really bad -- hold music. At least I think it was an attempt at music. Mostly all I heard was static.

After waiting four minutes, a man answered the line. I explained that I was at Fulton and Hurley and I wanted to know when the next 26 line bus to the light rail station would be along.

"Which light rail station?" asked the operator.

"65th Street," I said.

There was silence on the line and then the operator returned.

"The next bus will arrive at 10:48," the operator said.

"Ooookaaaay," I said.

It was 9:55 a.m. and the 26 bus was now a half-block away. I considered suggesting to the operator that even in Sacramento Regional Transit's less than perfect bus world, the Fulton line runs every 30 minutes and therefore his answer was nonsensical.

As I boarded the bus, I wondered whether RT's phone operators know that "buss" means kiss. I certainly felt as if I'd been given the kiss-off treatment.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Morning package delivery

At Watt and Whitney, a middle-aged woman boarded the bus. Her speech was slurred as she announced to the driver she was going to Fair Oaks. As she fumbled with her money, the driver explained that the bus would be going to Howe and Fair Oaks. Her response was hard to understand and the driver reassured her more than once that he'd get her to Fair Oaks.

As I watched this I wondered who this middle-aged woman was. She was slightly built and had the appearance of someone who had recently taken a shower and was just starting out on her day. Her blonde hair was tied back in a short ponytail. Her pants and sleeveless top were clean but obviously warn. Was the slurred speech caused by a stroke or some mental illness? She was clearly unsteady on her feet.

The lady stumbled toward the seats, stopped and addressed the driver: "I'll go to Wal-Mart. Yes, Wal-Mart at El Camino." Satisfied with the driver's affirmative reply, she plopped herself down next to a young woman.

For the brief ride from Whitney to El Camino the lady sat slouched over as though she had fallen asleep. The woman seated next to her was clearly relieved that her seatmate had abandoned an initial effort to engage in conversation.

When the bus stopped at El Camino the reason for the slurred speech and unsteady movement became apparent. Clutched in both hands as she exited was a plastic grocery bag tightly wrapped around a square bottle that could only be some sort of liquor. As she made her unsteady passage from the bus and down the street she was very careful with her package.

It wasn't yet 9 a.m.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Bus driver appreciation day

I declare a Good News day. Each blogger on this day should publish at least one blog post devoted to at least one nice thing to say about someone.

Here's my contribution to good blogging.

Each morning I take the same bus. (OK, there were the two sick days and the day I took an earlier bus and the weekends when I sleep in, but let's not quibble.) This means I get the same driver each morning.

I have written before about the extra effort this driver takes (see here about the request for change and the effort to wake the sleeper at the bus stop). Today, as often happens on Watt Avenue, we stopped long enough to answer a woman's question about which of the several lines on that street would take her to her destination. The driver always has a quick and friendly answer. That friendly part is important. In my very limited experience, I have found most drivers are at best curt when asked for directions. Some just claim not to know.

Today, on one of the residential streets the route follows, the bus pulled over next to an elderly woman who was walking slowly in the direction of a bus stop. We were about 20 yards short of the stop, and if the bus hadn't stopped, the lady would have missed her chance to catch the bus. The driver made the front of the bus kneel, opened the door and asked the lady if this was her bus. It wasn't, but I'm sure the lady was impressed with the courtesy of the stop.

And with all of this the bus still got to 65th Street by 9:16 so I could catch the early train downtown.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Walking and talking

Here's something of a blogging movable feast.

On Tuesday, Arranging Matches blogged about the usefulness of walking meetings. And today, Uneasy Rhetoric offered his take on the topic.

Here's the comment I offered to the Uneasy Rhetoric discussion:

I'm a great fan of stories of real spies. The KGB was notorious for holding walking meetings with agents. On more than one occasion in Vienna, a KGB officer walked American spy John Walker around and around in a blizzard to debrief him. When Walker complained, the agent suggested it was more secure to walk and talk.

Walking and talking meetings for non-spies would offer a "personal" feel and would be useful for managers talking to subordinates or co-workers trying to sort out issues on a project.

However, I don't think walking meetings will work for more than three people because communications become an issue, especially if you are walking on a busy city sidewalk.

In the KGB walking discussions the talk was confidential because other KGB agents watched along a prearranged route to ensure that no one was tailing the pair.

The hierarchical relationship of the participants is also important, at least in my office. However, if another worker and I needed to work out how we were going to share responsibilities, why not take advantage of the nice spring weather we've been having?

With more than three people, talking and walking doesn't work. Try to imagine how the fourth, fifth and sixth listeners might arrange themselves to stay close enough to hear the discussion.

Then again, imagine the opportunities to group and regroup for a meeting of say 12 people if the meeting site were a few minutes away via light rail or a bus ride.

During the walk to the light rail station, pre-discussions of two or three individuals take place. During the train ride, new groups combine to discuss other aspects. The walk to the meeting place offers new opportunities to combine. And finally, seated at the meeting site the more formal arrangements are finalized.

On the trip back to the office reverse the process to group and regroup to discuss implementation of ideas discussed at the meeting.

Add a meal and some refreshments and you have the makings a very productive meeting.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Not news

"Pump prices flirt with $3," screamed the top story on The Bee's Business section front page today.

It took a moment to sink in. But then it dawned on me:




In fact, the higher the price of gas, the more money I'm saving by leaving my car at home. (OK, that's a lot like the wife spending $200 on Macy's sales because she saved soooo much, but you can see what I mean.)

It felt liberating to realize that no longer would gasoline pump price fluctuations torment me.

As an added bonus this morning, I amused myself by executing a successful side trip to the market on my way to work. Back when I drove to work (and it seems so long ago), I hated to stop and shop and then get to work. All of that finding a parking space, starting and stopping, always seemed such a waste.

Today, I needed some paper towels and some fruit. On the bus ride I figured that if I made the early train, I could get off at 16th Street, walk back to Safeway on 19th and R and then get to work at 21st and Q about the same time I would have arrived if the bus had not been early at 65th Street station. And, sure enough, the bus arrived just as the train was pulling into the station and my little side trip worked to perfection.

Now if only work on a Friday could be as relaxing and successful.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

How sick is that?

Caught a bug and spent two days in bed. After spending 24 hours in bed the first day and 20 hours in bed the second, I actually found myself looking forward to resuming my bus-riding routine. How sick is that?

Monday, March 5, 2007

Options, we've got options

Each morning, about 15 minutes before it's time to leave to catch the bus, I start a cup of coffee. While I go about my preparations to leave, the coffee machine fills up my stainless steel travel cup. At least that's how it's supposed to work.

Today, when I went to put the lid on the cup and prepare to walk out the door, I realized that the cup was only half full. Looking inside the coffee maker I realized something had prevented the water from flowing through the filter and into the cup.

I didn't have time to figure out what had happened, let alone brew another pot. Instead, I grabbed an alternate cup, packed it in my backpack and walked to the bus stop.

People who don't ride the bus (at least people like me in my former solo-commute days), assume you don't have any options once you board the bus. Not so. For much of my ride this morning I puzzled over how I was going to get some coffee before I got to work.

I could get off at 29th Street light rail station and walk to N Street and Alhambra, stop at Starbucks and then walk to 21st and Q streets. Or, I could travel one stop past my regular 23rd Street station and get off at 16th Street. From there, I could walk to 16th and P streets, stop at Starbucks and then walk to 21st and Q streets.

As the bus pulled into the 65th Street station, I watched the downtown train pulling out. At this point, it occurred to me that I had a third option. When I got off the bus, I walked across 65th Street and back to Folsom to the Starbucks. I had the barista fill my travel cup and walked back to the light rail station. The entire trip took less than 10 minutes.

Waiting for the train, I drank a toast to the Starbucks corporation and its goal of world domination.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

When We Were Colored: A book report

Finished up my fourth book since I started using Sacramento Regional Transit to commute to work a little over a month ago.

"When We Were Colored: A Mother's Story" is a reprint of a book originally published in 1964 under the title "The Trouble with Being a Mama."

The author is Eva Rutland, who is the mother of Ginger Rutland, a Sacramento Bee editorial writer.

In the introduction to the new edition, Eva Rutland explains, "Back then as a 'colored' mother, I was seeking common ground with the white mothers, a way to let all mothers know that we had so much in common."

Eva Rutland accomplishes her goal with folksy humor:

Another thing about being a mama is you have to be rich. Only it doesn't always work out that way. Regardless of the Rockefellers and Fords, it is true that the rich get richer and the poor get children.

I'm the children type myself. And it worries me a little that the only people I know who can afford four bathrooms don't have any children at all. What can you do with four bathrooms if you don't have three girls who constantly have to put their hair up in curlers and a boy who constantly has to brush the curls out? You just don't have the pressing need.

Much of the book, like the section quoted above, speaks of family things that know no race. But other parts of the book speak of the unique experience of being "colored" between World War II and the early 1960s.

Living in Sacramento, Eva Rutland tells of the time her daughter came home screaming, "This house is so dirty."

She had a point, I thought, as I collected the books and crayons and rescued the cracker box from one of the twins.

"Not dirty, just a little cluttered," I defended myself.

"Dirty, dirty, that's what Janey's mother said. She said Negroes were all dirty and they kept dirty houses, and Janey can't play with me, even at school she can't, and she can't come over and . . ."

"Well," I hesitated. What could I, the world's worst housekeeper, say to that? "That's not true. Our house isn't really dirty and neither are ..." I mentioned a few of our friends who were immaculate housekeepers.

I wondered later why I was defending myself. Why should I try to prove to my own daughter that we were as good as anyone else and solely through the automatic, superficial process of keeping our faces and houses clean, of putting up a front? What of our hearts and minds? I determined the next time the subject came up I would place it on a higher plane. ...
Eva Rutland tries to distract her daughter, who is waiting in vain at the window for her friend to come over. But her daughter won't be diverted.

"Janey says Negroes shouldn't be in this neighborhood, anyway. Her mother is very careful about here. She can't play with Chinese or Negroes or . . ." Here the bottle-up tears spilled over, and she cried plaintively, "Oh, I wish I wasn't colored!"

"Elsie," I said, "don't, don't ever say that!"

"But I do, I do!" she screamed. "I hate Janey!"

No, I thought, please, Janey, don't infect Elsie.

"Elsie, listen to me," I implored. "You mustn't hate Janey. Just feel sorry for her. Her mother isn't very understanding. She doesn't know the real values. She doesn't yet know how to judge people on their character, so she bases her judgment on false values like color of skin or cash in their pockets or something like that. Do you see?"

"Yes, I see," she said.

Then, "Mama, who can't I play with?"

"Why, Elsie," I answered, "you can play with anybody."

"Anybody? You mean real black people too?"

"Anybody," I said firmly.

"Oh, Mama," she asked, anxiously, "aren't there maybe some Indians that don't speak English that I couldn't play with?"

I folded her in my arms then, and my tears came too.

"Oh, Elsie, baby, look. You mustn't be silly because other people are. That isn't the American way. We judge people by the kind of people they are inside, whether they are kind and good, not how they look or speak." ...
I heartily recommend this book, especially for anyone who was born after 1960. It's important to understand that we are today just one generation removed from legal segregation. Eva Rutland's grandfather had lived as a slave. It hasn't been a long time.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Ghost riders

Beyond the vagaries of traffic, relying on transit to get around means relying on the mechanical soundness of the vehicles.

Ghosts were riding with me today.

This morning at one of our regular bus stops, a rider exited from the door in the middle of the bus. The door wouldn't close. It was if someone invisible were holding the door open. The driver had to turn off the bus, which caused a shrieking siren to sound. Only then would the door close. This happened two more times, with each occurrence taking longer to fix. (Why, I thought to myself, do these people keep using that door? They know it's broken.)

Even with the mechanical delays we made it to the 65th Street station just as the train arrived. I made the dash and boarded the train. Immediately behind me arrived the bus driver. He apparently had an appointment at 59th Street. Helps to explain how we arrived 6 minutes early.

But back to the ghost stories. On the way home I had my head buried in my book. I was riding on one of the "modern" buses that have the stop location display in the front and the female voice announcing each stop. "Stop requested," the lady announced. The bus driver pulled over and opened the door. I looked up. Everyone else looked up. No one got off.

The driver closed the door and moved on. A half-block down the street the lady announced, "Stop requested." And the bus stopped, the door opened and no one got off.

The driver closed the door and drove on. This time all of the passengers watched to see who was messing with the driver. "Stop requested," said the lady. Ghosts. No one had touched the stop request ropes.

This time when the driver stopped he got up and walked back into the coach pulling forcefully on each set of cords. Being new at commuting on the bus, I assume this behavior is supposed to cast out the troublesome spirits. In any case, it worked. No more mystery stop requests.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Celebrating the one month anniversary

The bus arrived at the 65th Street station at 9:16 a.m. I smiled to myself. As an experienced transit rider I knew my schedules by heart, and I knew I would have plenty of time to catch the 9:18 a.m. downtown train, shaving more than 20 minutes off my regular commute time.

It's amazing what a difference a month makes.

Well, OK, it was the shortest month of the year, but I managed to commute to work every workday, rain or shine, and even talked the wife into taking a bus rider's holiday trip to the end of the Folsom line. I managed to run errands after work and before work and still leave the car at home.

Along the way I have picked up an interesting perspective on the demands of relying on public transit. Of course, voluntarily relinquishing control over one's commute, as I have done, is more liberating than finding oneself suddenly dependent on regional transit. I'm sure the bus riders who have no choice would laugh at my esoteric ruminations on the joy of being a responsible, transit-using citizen. After all, I can laugh at missing the train because I went back to get my coffee cup, which happened the other night. I can experience a certain personal enlightenment when I realize that giving up "freedom" and accepting structure can be liberating.

For me this has all been a positive experience. Between my daily walks in the afternoon, something I started on Jan. 1, and giving up solo commuting to work, which I started on Feb. 1, I have found I have a great deal less stress in my life.

When I read rants such as this one, which I came across while monitoring regional blogs, I just shake my head. Sure I've been frustrated. Take the night that I confused the train schedule and then missed my bus stop on the way home (see my A rookie mistake post), and didn't get home until two hours after I left work. Or the holiday that wasn't a holiday and therefore the bus schedule wasn't what I expected. There were ingredients for a real loud rant about the failures of public transit. Damn it, why do trains suddenly shift from once every 15 minutes to once every half-hour? And if a holiday doesn't mean holiday schedule then when does a holiday occur?

By surrendering my ability to jump into a car on a whim and dash to and fro, I have taken on the responsibility for making the transition to relying on public transit work. The train schedule is printed and posted online. It can be checked. Same for the bus schedule. A call to 321-BUSS can answer what effect a particular holiday has on the schedule.

Sure, Sacramento Regional Transit could be more convenient, more like the fabulous transit system that makes cars unnecessary when visiting San Francisco. But the system works. At least it works for me and my rather ideal situation.