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

Monday, April 30, 2007

Horror and redemption on the bus

When my son was young and saw something that frightened him, he would ask to watch a Winnie the Pooh movie in order to wash away the scary images. After reading "A Long Way Gone" by Ishmael Beah while riding to and from work on the bus, my next book will need to be the adult equivalent of a Pooh movie.

In January 1993, Ishmael Beah was 12 when he was separated from his parents during the Sierra Leone civil war. He wandered for more than a year with other displaced children, narrowly escaping death several times. Eventually he was impressed into service in the Sierra Leone army. He fought for more than two years in the jungles of the west African country. Then one day a UNICEF truck pulled into the village where his army unit was staying. Without explanation, Beah and 14 other boys were told by their commander to put their weapons on the ground and board the truck. Beah was 15 and he had become so immersed in fighting and killing that he couldn't imagine doing anything else. Roughly a third of the book tells of the heroic effort made to restore some measure of humanity to Beah and the other child soldiers. Recovery for Beah took two years.

The movie Blood Diamond involves the same period of Sierra Leone's civil war. Blood Diamond was hard enough to watch. I can't imagine a realistic movie about Beah's life -- the horror Beah witnessed, the brutal acts he committed as a child soldier, the ubiquitous cruelty.

Beah's memoir is riveting. Or it is heartbreaking. Or it is terrifying. Mostly it is inspirational. But it is decidedly not for the faint of heart.

Personally, I was impressed that UNICEF played a role in saving the child soldiers. My favorite football team (soccer for you Americans) is FCBarcelona. Unlike nearly every other major professional football side, Barcelona has never sold advertising space on its jerseys. Last year, Barcelona signed a five-year deal with UNICEF in which Barcelona pays UNICEF $1.9 million a year for the honor of having the UNICEF logo on its uniforms.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The art of getting settled

I know why the dog circles several times before finally laying down. In a previous lifetime, the dog was a transitarian. A transitarian just can't get comfortable immediately.

Or so it seemed this week.

I've rearranged some prework morning activities, which has left me ready to leave for work at 8 a.m. instead of 8:30. Rather than puttering around the house for a half-hour, I've been going to work early and devoting some of that extra time to walking.

Having used the 30 line bus the previous week, I decided try it again.

Monday and Tuesday worked well. I arrived at Sac State on the 82 bus. The 30 bus was parked and waiting. I got off and walked over to the 30 bus and boarded. Better than the torment of just missing the early train at the 65th Street station and waiting for the scheduled connection 15 minutes later.

This was looking good. The transitarian circled again and considered committing to this route. Then Wednesday arrived and when I got off the bus at Sac State there was no 30 bus waiting. Before I figured out I could just get back on the 82 and take the train, the 82 bus was gone. So I sat down on a bench and waited.

Shortly a DASH bus -- the special 15 minute service for J Street -- arrived. The driver got out, shut the bus doors and left. So I waited.

Eventually the DASH driver returned, and as she walked toward the bus, I got up and walked over to join several passengers waiting outside the closed bus doors. But the driver stopped before she got to the bus. The passengers and I watched her, but she kept her distance. She didn't move and she didn't attempt to explain the nature of the standoff.

The puzzle was finally solved a couple of minutes later when a 30 bus pulled up behind the DASH bus. The DASH driver silently motioned the passengers to board the other bus.

So on Thursday I approached Sac State a little apprehensive. I reassured myself: If the 30 isn't waiting, just continue to light rail. But the 30 bus was there. I exited and hurried to it.

Just as I boarded the driver closed the door and started off. I nearly toppled into a seat. This was new. On the trips Monday and Tuesday the driver had waited several minutes before starting.

So I circled again Friday.

When the 82 bus arrived at Sac State at 8:49 there was another bus waiting, but the "Not in service sign" glowed in the rear.

Remembering Wednesday, I wasn't comfortable waiting for the next bus. I decided to stay on the 82 and take light rail. As the 82 bus left Sac State a DASH bus and another bus were pulling in. The second bus didn't have its rear sign illuminated.

It was too late to change my mind. I had the 30 bus schedule in my backpack, but it didn't matter now. I should have consulted it before the 82 arrived at Sac State.

The rest of the trip to work was uneventful. At my office I pulled out the 30 schedule and discovered that the next 30 bus leaves Sac State three minutes after I arrived. The second bus I had seen as I left Sac State was undoubtedly the 30 bus arriving.

And so the transitarian circles, seeking that comfortable spot.

Culture war on the train

It was late and I was tired as I boarded the last Folsom-bound train at the 23rd Street station. A crowd was gathered around the landing inside the car, listening to a black man singing. I made my way past the singer and his audience to the forward mid-car door.

As the train started up I made eye contact with a middle-aged white woman seated by the door. She shook her head. Obviously, she didn't appreciate the performance.

The guy was facing the wall in the center of the car. With one hand he tapped out low notes and with the other he used something to tap out high notes. He was singing a pleasant melody when I boarded, accompanying himself with an intricate rhythm of low and high taps.

This was not your average kid rapping on the train. This guy had skills. He looked to be in his 30s. He was dressed in a t-shirt and pajama-like baggy pants.

And then he shifted to rap and the melodic song was transformed into a discussion of servicing in the agricultural sense and the need for Vaseline and on and on.

The man's immediate audience was roundly cheering each turn of phrase. The remainder of the mostly white, middle-class passengers were at best pained and some were visibly steamed.

I have a 15-year-old son and when he plays rap loud enough that I can hear it, I tell him to turn it off. He says I don't understand. I tell him he doesn't understand. It's your standard parent-teen understandoff.

Why can't rap be good without being so misogynist? My son argues that rap without the sex isn't rap. Too bad.

The guy finished his song as we pulled into a station. As the doors opened a security officer boarded at the front of the train. A middle-aged white man with gray hair near the door got the officer's attention and complained about the singer. I could hear him telling the officer that the singer was pounding on the walls. That was a bit of a stretch, I thought.

The officer walked to the middle of the train and talked with the singer. I didn't hear what was said. It appeared amicable enough. The singer and the officer got into a discussion of whether this was the last Folsom train. The singer wanted to ride to Folsom. He understood the train just stays a couple of minutes and then returns. I gave the singer a copy of the train schedule I keep in my backpack. He took it and consulted it with his audience and then returned it, thanking me.

As the train continued toward Folsom the officer returned to the front of the train and watched. Nothing was happening and so he got off at the next stop.

When the train pulled out of the station the singer decided to visit the front of the train.

He was smiling, but this was culture war with attitude. As the singer walked toward the front of the train he started talking to the passengers as a group, a group of while Folsom residents. He suggested white Folsom residents just don't understand. He reached the front of the train and started back, directing some of his words to the man who had complained but mostly to the passengers in general. He explained that he was a professional singer and this was how he made his living. This is what he does. This did not appear to impress any of the white Folsom residents riding home on the train.

As he walked back to the middle of the car, the singer said, "I'm Robin Hood, I take from the rich and give to the poor." As he passed me he leaned over and, with a conspiratorial whisper, said, "I'll split it with you" and laughed. I smiled.

Unfortunately, the singer's remaining audience was egging him on and he started a discussion of lollipops and licking and I was fairly certain he wasn't talking candy. This wasn't going to stay nice.

And then my stop arrived, and I was relieved to get off.

The black singer and the white Folsom passengers live in separate worlds. Even light rail can't span that divide.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Hope and life

UPDATE: After I published this blog post Trevor's mother announced that Trevor had died this morning at 8 a.m.

On April 4 I posted a story about Trevor Kott and his need to find a life-saving bone marrow donor. Now it appears Trevor won't make it.

I don't know what to say.

I couldn't be a bone marrow donor and therefore couldn't be tested, but I donated the $52 cost and convinced the wife to have the test. I was able to encourage another blogger to post about Trevor's plight and she was tested. Perhaps others joined the bone marrow registry.

I wanted to do more.

People can still join the National Marrow Donor Program and get a cheek swab test. The cost is $52 per test. There are programs available to defray the cost.

Maybe another child will benefit.

Each day, my bus goes by the Morse Avenue Kaiser Hospital where the doctors did what they could for Trevor. I've never met Angela and Bob Kott, Trevor's parents. But the picture of their son captured me.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Weapons on the bus

The pen may be mightier than the sword, but the printed book can only go so far to protect your personal space from a determined intruder.

The young man boarded the bus and sat down near the front. His expression and demeanor, his tentative nature, identified him. When I was a child I would have described him as retarded. He reminded me of an elementary school classmate. When he would attempt to do something and get it wrong, he would often get yelled at by the other kids. He would invariably wag his finger at his tormentors and loudly reply with a Daffy Duck lisp, "You didn't specify," spraying spittle on anyone standing too close.

Some of the "...short of a load" analogies meandered around my mind as I tried to come up with an acceptable description.

After a stop, he got up and slowly walked toward the rear of the bus. He was clearly looking for something and apparently found it in the seat immediately behind me.

He sat down next to a young woman. This bus will eventually fill to standing-room-only with Sacramento State students, but at this point of the route several vacant seats were still available. While this guy was clearly a functioning member of society, he obviously didn't understand the needs of others for personal space.

I could hear some of his attempts to start up a conversation, but not enough to lure me away from my book. But apparently the arrangement didn't work out to his liking and a few stops later the guy got up and this time moved back toward the front of the bus. He eventually settled next to a young woman seated across the aisle and in front of my seat.

The woman had a small paperback book that she focused her concentration on in a vain attempt to protect her personal space.

The young man would say something. I couldn't hear what. The woman would offer a one word reply and a polite smile, but her efforts to use her book to protect her private space were not having the desired effect.

The guy would slowly scratch at his hair, apparently in thought. The haircut looked recent. It was closely sheared on the sides, rising to a stiff flat-top. He wore wire rim glasses. He would look down and then stare at the woman. He would try a line and then return to his self-protective position with his arms tightly wrapped around his chest.

Eventually the guy's stop arrived and he got up and exited. Soon the bus was full. A Sac State student with two backpacks squeezed into my seat.

I focused my concentration on my book.

Monday, April 23, 2007

The Transitarian diet

The Sacramento Bee front page attempts to tease readers inside the paper with a list of 'FIVE STORIES TO TALK ABOUT TODAY." One of those stories fit right in with my thoughts about the Transitarian Diet.

"FIT OR FAT? Dieting doesn't work in the long run, study says." The page A8 story goes on to repeat the obvious: The only way to lose weight and keep it off (short of surgery) is to eat less and exercise more.

The No. 30 bus arrived this morning at 21st and L streets at 9:10 a.m. The walk to 21st and Q streets and up to my office on the third floor took 10 minutes.

When I first started riding the bus I didn't appreciate that walking was a benefit of using transit. I figured that if the bus didn't drop you off in front of your destination, then it was somehow less than optimum. Today, I realize I was wrong.

Don't get me wrong. I consider it a bonus that the bus picks me up a half-block from my front door and the light-rail train drops me off at the corner of the building where I work. But that's not required. In fact, I'd say I'm spoiled.

As a New Year's resolution I promised I would walk each day for at least a half-hour. In February I started leaving the car at home and taking transit to work. I don't usually keep New Year's resolutions, but I've found that walking during workdays and stress-free commutes have been helpful for both my physical and mental health. For instance, I have gone from a six-cup-a-day coffee and tea habit to just two cups a day -- one on the way to work and one during my afternoon walk.

It has only been recently that I've appreciated combining the commute to work with a nice morning stroll.

The Transitarian Diet is great. What other activity offers an opportunity to reduce stress and increase physical fitness? If we could just convince people that riding the bus is a cool, healthy habit, we'd have standing-room only on transit.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

'Bury Us Upside Down' on the bus

Finished yet another book riding Sacramento Regional Transit to and from work. I'm going to need another bookcase.

"Bury Us Upside Down" tells the story of a secret Air Force unit officially known as Commando Sabre, but known to the crews as Misty. The all-volunteer F100 jet squadron operated between July 1967 and October 1968 as fast FACs -- forward air controllers -- looking for bombing targets along the Ho Chi Minh Trail in North Vietnam and Laos.

The book offers a richly detailed view of the life of fighter pilots. The book also does a masterful job of illustrating the plight of wives left behind when Misty pilots disappeared.

What emerges from the book is a picture of pilots who rode a line between legendary and notorious. But it also offers an allegory for the war in general.

The futility and the bravery, the dedication and foolishness of the Vietnam War are illustrated by the tale of what was supposed to be a routine final mission of pilot Chuck Shaheen.

Riding in the backseat for that Misty mission was Dick Rutan, who would years later become famous for circumnavigating the world, nonstop, without refueling.

The pair went north looking for targets. Eventually they spotted a lone truck with a small supply area nearby. The Misty jet marked the target with smoke, and three Air Force fighter bombers made three separate passes at the target. Nobody touched the truck.

Shaheen decided he'd show them how to do it. He instructed them to hold high and dry while he made a final strafe pass. Then they'd all go home together.
Shaheen emptied the jet's guns, covering the truck with 20mm rounds. As he pulled up from the strafing run his jet was struck by antiaircraft fire. Shaheen was able to get the burning jet over the water of the Gulf of Tonkin before he and Rutan had to eject. Both were rescued and unharmed.

On that day, the United States traded one multimillion-dollar jet and nine loads of bombs and risked the lives of two officers in exchange for one truck. That was the story of the Vietnam War.

The pilots did a lot of drinking in the officers' club to let off steam after the dangers of the day. The title of the book comes from a favorite drinking toast:
When our flying days are over
When our flying days are past
We hope they'll bury us upside down
So the world can kiss our ass.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Open mike day on the bus

Today's bus driver wins the prize for showmanship.

I had an appointment at 8:20 a.m. at 30th and P streets. Using Sacramento Regional Transit's new trip planning Web site -- -- I discovered I could take the 82 bus that leaves American River College at 7:19 a.m., switch to the 30 bus at Sac State and get dropped off near Alhambra and L Street.

When I boarded today's bus I was surprised to see every seat had at least one passenger. This was one of the older buses, so I took a spot on one of the side benches at the rear. The reason for the crowd became obvious at the very next stop. This bus delivers students who attend Mira Loma, which is just two blocks away.

The driver said, "See you tomorrow" to the students as they disembarked.

As the bus pulled away from the stop, the driver announced the names of the next three stops. The regular riders, especially the Sac State students who would be riding the bus for another 30 minutes, may not have appreciated the superfluous information, but I thought it was great.

I've never been on a bus where the driver did more than mumble the stops, usually just the next one and then just in time to watch it go by.

After the bus had filled with Sac State students, the driver decided to announce a pop quiz.

"All you Sac State students," the driver said. "If a doctor gives you three pills and tells you to take one every half hour, how long will it take to take all three pills?"

When no one yelled out an answer, the driver challenged the students again. This time he caught his fish: A woman passenger said, "An hour and a half."

"Wrong," said the driver.

Several other students, realizing the trick nature of the question, quickly offered the right answer: One hour.

An argument ensued about whether that was too much of a trick question to be a valid test of the students. I suppose you have to be familiar with counting systems that start with zero to understand why there was no trick. Take the first pill (zero). Wait one half-hour, and take the second pill. Wait a second half-hour, and take the last pill. Two half-hour waits; one hour.

I'm tempted to ride this bus again to see if this is the driver's standard floor show.

I got off at Sac State and was walking around the 82 bus looking for the 30 bus when it pulled up at the outer lane of the bus stop. I'm pretty sure the 82 bus driver had some comment when I dashed in front of his bus as he was pulling away, forcing him to break. Fortunately, he didn't have the outside speaker on.

At 8:17 I got off at Alhambra near L Street. I arrived at 30th and P streets 8:25 a.m., fashionably -- but not too -- late for my appointment.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Old habits, new priorities

The 82 bus pulled to a stop at the 65th Street station five minutes early at 9:18 today, just in time to catch the train downtown.

Since catching that train put me 15 minutes ahead of schedule, I got off at 29th Street and walked down R Street toward the 23rd Street station. I wanted to check on the progress of the residential complex being built on R Street next to the tracks.

A Feb. 27, 2006, Bob Shallit column in The Bee described the "Alchemy at R Street" project as a "Pedestrian-friendly project with 'pop' planned on R Street corridor." Shallit's column explained that the complex that stretches along the light rail line from 27th to 26th streets will include "15 town-house and work/live rental units along with a ground-floor cafe in one building, and eight detached for-sale homes, ranging from 900 to 1,200 square feet."

As I walked and sipped the coffee I had prepared before I left home, I was thinking about the front page article I read in this morning's Sacramento Bee. The headline announced, "Rising gas prices spark grumbles but little change in driving." The story's lead example was a guy who commutes from Gold River to Tracy.

There's nothing much short of high-speed rail that might make a commute from Gold River to Tracy a transit experience. And high-speed rail is about as likely as changing the habits of a guy who is willing to devote that much of his day to his solo ride to work.

But what if you could get more people to see the benefits of downsizing and moving closer to work? You're not going to raise four kids in a 1,200 square-foot home with a single-car garage. But what about a young couple or an empty-nest pair? From the front of the Alchemy at R Street complex you can see the Safeway store tower in the distance at 19th and R streets. The complex is two blocks from the 29th Street light rail station and its multiple bus line connections.

The whole R Street corridor is turning into a transitarian's dream.

I've got three, maybe four years before I'm an empty-nester. Perhaps by then I will have convinced the wife to become a transitarian. Maybe I could trade becoming a vegetarian for her abandoning her fixation with large swaths of suburban lawn.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Guilty pleasures

Today's Sacramento Bee has a commentary by Daniel Weintraub under the telling headline:
Governor: Environmentalism for the manly man.

It seems the governor wants to change the image of the environmental movement. He wants to push aside the scolds and replace them with optimists. Instead of using guilt to push people out of their SUVs and into environmentally friendlier autos and transit, the governor wants to encourage the sort of technological innovation that will allow people to keep their SUVs.

That is what you have to do. You have to make things cool, you have to make things sexy and cutting edge. And so we don’t have to take away the cars from the people, the SUVs, the Hummers, and the muscle cars. No. That formula is a formula for failure. Instead, what we have to do is make those muscle cars and those SUVs and those Hummers more environmentally muscular.
I am reminded of the difference between factory farms and free-range ranching. A vegetarian may approve of moving away from factory farms, but killing is still killing. A transitarian approves wholeheartedly of the efforts to reduce the toxic nature of SUVs. But transit must remain a major component in any realistic plan to cope with the full range of problems created by California's overreliance on the single-occupant vehicle as the principal mode of transportation.

For a transitarian there's nothing to cheer in pimping Arnold's ride:

What we did was, we took a 1965 Impala and we made it into a lowrider, but not an ordinary lowrider. We dropped in an 800 horsepower engine that goes from 0 to 60 in 3 seconds. I mean, really very powerful. But what is unique is that that engine is powered by biofuel. That means it emits 50 percent less greenhouse gases, and it goes twice as far.
Please, who needs an 800 horsepower car on a gridlocked freeway system?

The governor's basic idea is great. And if his acts matched his words I might cheer when he says:

So, ladies and gentlemen, I don’t think that any movement has ever made it, or has ever made much progress based on guilt, because guilt is passive, guilt is inhibiting, and guilt is defensive. You remember the commercial a number of years ago of the Native American that has seen what we have done to the environment, and then all of a sudden a tear runs down his cheek. Well, you know something? That approach did not work, it was disastrous. Successful movements are all built on passion, not on guilt. They’re built on passion, they’re built on confidence, and they’re built on critical mass, and often they’re built on an element of alarm that galvanizes action.
But this is the same governor who has proposed cutting state funding for transit in order to focus on highway lanes. That's simply wrong.

You can read the governor's full speech here.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Carpe diem

My cell phone alarm went off. Time to catch the bus. I gathered my stuff and walked out the front door.

As I walked toward the bus stop I could see someone else was already waiting. In fact, two someone elses. For my stop, situated as it is in a suburban neighborhood of single-family ranch-style homes, this was something of note.

I recognized the Sacramento State student who often rides the bus with me. The other person was a young woman who was standing with her back to me as she tied a sweater around her waist. With that done, she moved on to the elaborate machinations needed to accommodate a ponytail when wearing a ball cap.

As she finished attaching the hat adjustment straps under her ponytail she turned and flashed me a big smile and gave me a cheerful "Hi."

I gave her an equally cheerful "Hi" back, but I must have looked puzzled.

"I saw your shadow," she explained.

"Ah," I said, "I never was very good at sneaking up on people."

I looked at my cell phone to check the time and when I looked up the two were engaged in a young-and-in-love embrace. This was not your been-married-for-17-years goodbye peck.

Eventually, they parted. As the young woman walked off, they said their goodbyes.

"Your last class is 6 tonight?" the young man asked.

The woman was at the corner and turned. "No, I'm off today."

"Oh, that's right," he said.

She rounded the corner and was walking down the street. "I'm staying home today," she said. She smiled.

I give the guy credit. He stayed with me and waited for the bus. When it arrived he boarded the bus and rode all the way to school.

Being young is so wasted on the young. Carpe diem.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The evil Transitator

Today, Bee readers learned that on March 26, California's governor, he of Terminator movie fame, decided to take his first ride on Sacramento Regional Transit's light rail system.

The transitarian is not amused. According to the article in The Bee:

"He is just a curious person, interested in new things," Schwarzenegger spokesman Aaron McLear said. "There is really not much more to say about it than that."
Interested in new things?
  • RT has operated the Watt / I-80 line since 1987, when it opened the 18.3-mile light rail “starter line.”
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger, the guy waiting for the 9:05 p.m. train at the 13th Street light rail station on March 26, 2007, was sworn in as California's 38th governor on Nov. 18, 2003.
The evil Transitator got off the light rail line at Watt, where he was met by his chauffeur and the rest of his security detail. The next day, March 27, according to The Bee:

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced Tuesday he will increase six-figure salaries for top state executives by as much as 27 percent, a move that could precipitate similar raises for his own chief of staff and other top aides in the future.

The pay hikes for 49 executives come after the Republican governor signed legislation last year enabling his administration to raise top salaries to as much as $258,125. At the time, Schwarzenegger's office said it had no plans to give raises except to the heads of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and the California Highway Patrol.

Schwarzenegger said the raises are necessary to retain and attract talented leaders who otherwise would flee to higher-paying jobs. The 49 executives will receive pay increases starting April 1 that average 9 percent, though 10 agency secretaries will receive nearly a 23 percent bump.
This is the same governor who, in January, proposed a state budget for the coming fiscal year that would shift $1 billion in gas tax funds away from transit. His excuse: He must fill the state budget deficit.

RT's general manager, Beverly A. Scott, has been preparing for an "Armageddon" budget in the event the evil Transitator succeeds in cutting transit funding. According to The Bee, the RT board this week eliminated several planned bus service expansions in Natomas and Arden Arcade (where the tranistarian lives), and froze spending at last year's levels.

On the governor's one and only light rail ride, he apparently spent most of his time chatting with the train operator, getting the sort of cook's tour any celebrity would receive.

If the governor really wants to try something new, he should have his "security detail" drive him into the UnCity that surrounds the city of Sacramento and then ride a bus -- actually it will have to be at least two buses -- to the Capitol. Of course, if he tries to do that at 9 p.m. he had better plan closely. The buses don't run every 15 minutes.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Transitarian and proud

In the 1999 movie "Notting Hill," Hugh Grant's character, William, is having dinner with friends when he learns his blind date is a fruitarian:

  • William: And, ahm: what exactly is a fruitarian?
  • Keziah: We believe that fruits and vegetables have feeling so we think cooking is cruel. We only eat things that have actually fallen off a tree or bush - that are, in fact, dead already.
  • William: Right. Right. Interesting stuff. So, these carrots...
  • Keziah: Have been murdered, yes.
  • William: Murdered? Poor carrots. How beastly!
OK. So I'm twisted and find this hopelessly funny. Of course, others are deadly serious. How serious? Check out or this Wikipedia explanation.

But then I'm serious about the need for more people to get out of their cars and onto transit.

I'm a transitarian. (Not to be confused with the Spanish third-person plural of transitar in the conditional.)

What's a transitarian? A transitarian is so enamored with transit, so invested in the good that comes from leaving the car at home, that he takes light rail from Watt/I-80 to 12th and I streets and then walks nine blocks in the rain to get to an important appointment at 20th and J streets.

A transitarian, therefore, often resembles a drowned rat, his jacket soaked through, his slacks wet from midthigh down to his squishy-wet shoes. But inside, beneath that wet exterior, is a proud transitarian and a "Save the Children" trademark tie designed by Cherise - Age 6, titled "Raining cats and dogs."

Transitarian and proud

In the 1999 movie "Notting Hill," Hugh Grant's character, William, is having dinner with friends when he learns his blind date is a fruitarian:

  • William: And, ahm: what exactly is a fruitarian?
  • Keziah: We believe that fruits and vegetables have feeling so we think cooking is cruel. We only eat things that have actually fallen off a tree or bush - that are, in fact, dead already.
  • William: Right. Right. Interesting stuff. So, these carrots...
  • Keziah: Have been murdered, yes.
  • William: Murdered? Poor carrots. How beastly!
OK. So I'm twisted and find this hopelessly funny. Of course, others are deadly serious. How serious? Check out or this Wikipedia explanation.

But then I'm serious about the need for more people to get out of their cars and onto transit.

I'm a transitarian. (Not to be confused with the Spanish third-person plural of transitar in the conditional.)

What's a transitarian? A transitarian is so enamored with transit, so invested in the good that comes from leaving the car at home, that he takes light rail from Watt/I-80 to 12th and I streets and then walks nine blocks in the rain to get to an important appointment at 20th and J streets.

A transitarian, therefore, often resembles a drowned rat, his jacket soaked through, his slacks wet from midthigh down to his squishy-wet shoes. But inside, beneath that wet exterior, is a proud transitarian and a "Save the Children" trademark tie designed by Cherise - Age 6, titled "Raining cats and dogs."

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

A brief break for some related news . . .

It's not often that I find on-topic Internet flotsam that I can use to pad my post average. So read this story from the Daily Mail.

(Hat tip to Maya)

Sticker shock

There's nothing like a trip to the gas station to focus one's mind on the opportunities of transit, limited as they may be.

The return leg of yesterday's trip required a stop at the gas station.

The wife drives a 2006 Honda Civic hybrid that gets better than 37 miles to the gallon and sometimes nearly 50 mpg. Sitting in the garage while I ride the bus is a 1999 Dodge Caravan with a powerful six-cylinder engine. On its best days, back when it was new, I was happy to see 20 mpg, but most often it was less.

I took the van to the Watt/I-80 light rail station, and since it had less than a quarter tank of gas I decided to stop and get gas on the way home. I was so engrossed with an internal debate over Arco's 45-cent ATM charge that I almost missed the final total:

Fifty dollars. And some change.

Well, that puts some perspective on the 45-cent toll.

When I got home I discovered the wife had been filling up the Honda. Her tab was $32.51.

This morning, waiting for my regular bus, I watched my neighbors rush off, one to a car, speeding to their destinations. I looked left and followed the car until I was looking right. I then followed a car going the other way. Back and forth I watched the traffic. Back and forth I shook my head.

Monday, April 9, 2007

A failure of imagination

For the first time since I started riding on Feb. 1, I needed to get into my car in order to get to work today. I'm disappointed.

This week I have an appointment that starts promptly at 9 a.m. at 20th and J streets.

The obvious bus choice to arrive would be J Street Dash bus (Route 30) that runs every 15 minutes from Sac State down L Street. The 8:37 a.m. bus arrives at 21th and L at 8:52, which would leave plenty of room to walk to J Street.

The 82 bus goes by my house every 30 minutes, except between between 7:19 a.m. and 8:04 a.m.

So, try the 82 schedule and you find that the 8:04 bus arrives at Sac State at 8:45, almost 10 minutes too late to connect. And the next earlier bus leaves at 7:19 a.m., adding 46 minutes to the trip.

Using the 82 and 31 bus, I could leave my house at 7:19 and get off the bus at 8:41 a.m., a trip of an hour and 16 minutes, not counting the walk from 21st and L to 20th and J.

Taking buses to the Watt and I-80 light rail station wouldn't get me there any earlier. I would have to leave at the same time, transfer to the 80 bus at Watt and Whitney to arrive at 8:03 at the Watt light rail station. From there, I take light rail to 12th and I and then hoof it to 20th and J Street.

So today, rather than leave at 7:19 a.m., I got into my car at 7:55 and drove to the Watt light rail station off Longview Ave. The trip took 10 minutes. I parked and was waiting at the station before 8:10. The train arrived at 8:17 and I was at 12th and 1 at 8:34. The walk to 20th and J took 15 minutes, leaving my arrival at 8:50 a.m.

If it turns out I have to make this trip often, I hope I can get some flexibility on the arrival time. I could get the bus timing down to 58 minutes (not counting the final walk), if my arrival time was 8:30.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Take this book, please

OK, let's put the important stuff upfront: Buy this book!

On a dark desert highway Keith Lowell Jensen panhandles, which is what he does when his sketchy life isn't trouping around with "I Can't Believe It's Not Comedy." All of this I learned from the back of his self-published collection of short stories, Oh Holy Day.

Cool wind in my hair I started reading this book on my way to work. It's only 50 pages, which turns out to be the absolutely ideal length for my commute.

The warm smell of colitas doesn't have anything to do with this review of Keith's collection of seven short stories. But a puff or two might help the appreciation.

Up ahead in the distance when I finished the book I realized that Keith put it together backward. Hence, you should start with the back cover and work story by story to the front.

I saw a shimmering light in Keith's "Footprints in the Sand," but as a fat guy I won't go into that. Read this inspirational poem and understand.

My head grew heavy and my sight grew dim reading "Yuppie Birth Scene." This takes a while to get going but it's a real scream by the end. Not recommended for compulsive shoppers or women of child-bearing age.

I had to stop for the night when I read "She." This is one of the shortest, but also one of the best written stories. Evil it is.

There she stood in the doorway, I imagined, as I read "The Video Tape." Since this is a family-safe blog, I won't discuss the nature of this story. Suffice it to quote the absolutely best lines from any of the stories:

"NO MEANS NO!" I felt like screaming. It wasn't easy being a porn-loving feminist teenager watching his friend's parents not respecting sexual boundaries.
I heard the mission bell while reading "Gin With Jenny." As with the evil "She," Keith shows that when he focuses and writes tightly his work sparkles like painted toenails.

And I was thinking to myself, "Jesus Loves Me, Pretty Girl Does Not" doesn't bode well for Keith's next book, "The Atheists Survival Guide." Keith might consider exploring how Mark Twain approached this topic.

This could be heaven or this could be hell, but in the end when Keith explores religion preachy is preachy and not very funny.

Then she lit up a candle and she showed me the way in "Special Ed's Rocket To The Moon." Well, Keith's big brother did that in the story. Someday when Keith has a child of his own, he will appreciate why his mom was proud of him and didn't punish him. You have to experience the importance of poop in the first months of parenthood to really understand.

There were voices down the corridor, or at least a lot of rough spots in the title story "Oh Holy Day." This is by far the longest story at 18 pages, but all that number proves is that size doesn't matter.

I thought I heard them say that parts of this were two flimsy
as I plowed through the first pages, but parts work very well.

Welcome to the Hotel California, Keith. How can you not love the Eagles, man?!

Such a lovely place. Buy Keith's book. It's only $10. (But $90 for the Canadians. Go figure.)

Such a lovely face. If you are too cheap for the book, give a buck to the next panhandler you see along the freeway. It might be Keith.

Plenty of room at the Hotel California even if "I Can't Believe It's Not Comedy."

Any time of year, you can find it here. Or there in the book. And none of this will make any sense to you until you buy this book and read it.

Bus book

Finished another book on the bus. If nothing else, I'm going to be better read as a result of my decision to take the bus to work.

"The People's Machine," by Los Angeles Times reporter Joe Mathews is an excellent look at Arnold Schwarzenegger and his new career in politics. Reading this richly detailed account of the campaigns won and lost by Schwarzenegger I was reminded of the "Making of the President" series of books by Theodore H. White. The book is really that good.

The book has enough biographical detail to explain Schwarzenegger's life before entering politics. (I loved that fact that one of Arnold's mentors in Austria tried to teach him English by having him read the articles in Playboy.) But the real wealth comes from the insider look at the political campaigns that launched his career and occupied his first years as governor.

If the book has any weakness it is that it feels incomplete. The book was finished before the governor's re-election but after the special election defeats of 2005. The epilogue's effort to quickly bridge the two events leaves the reader with the overall feeling that the book had been rushed into production for sale during the 2006 campaign season.

As a youth I remember sitting silently in the corner while adults sat around my mother's dining room table and drank Scotch and argued strategy in an Assembly race in the San Fernando Valley. Ever since, I've been fascinated with political campaigns. Mathews' book certainly satisfied my appetite.

Postscript: The Assembly campaign was successful and my mother was invited to take a job in the new assemblyman's Capitol office. My mother was gone for two weeks and then returned home. She turned the job down. "Too many squirrels in Capitol Park" was her only explanation.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Life and bus schedules

My bus commute couldn't be more simple. Walk out the front door. Catch the bus. Get off the bus at the end of the line and take the train. Get off the train and walk around the block to work. So I consider it something of an adventure when an opportunity presents itself to test just how flexible Sacramento Regional Transit is.

Trevor KottYesterday, I heard about Trevor Kott. Click on Trevor's picture, and it will take you to his parents' Web site, where they explain that Trevor is in desperate need of a bone marrow transplant. The problem is finding a compatible donor.

I don't play the Lottery, but the idea of participating in a genetic lottery to see if I might be compatible donor intrigued me.

The Kotts' Web site explains how to help:

Get a cheek swab to see if you are a match for Trevor through the National Marrow Donor Program or at your local blood bank. If you live in the Sacramento region, find a local Sacramento blood bank. The cost is $52 per test. If you can not afford this fee, there are programs available to try and defrey the cost.

As it turns out, Bloodsource has an office at Town and Country Village, near Fulton and Marconi, that opens as early as 7:30 a.m. on some days. My regular bus goes by Watt and Marconi. It was just a matter of figuring out the connections with the bus that travels down Marconi.

My target was arriving at Fulton and Marconi as close to 7:30 a.m. as possible.

The 82 bus that goes by my house arrives at Watt and Marconi at 7:08 and 7:36.

The 25 bus that goes down that stretch of Marconi arrives at Watt at 7:03, 7:08 and 7:56. After that, buses run every hour.

The idea of trying to catch the 7:03 or 7:08 (are these buses attached by a string?) from a bus scheduled to arrive on the opposite side of Marconi at 7:08 brought up images of standing at the corner waiting to cross the street while the Marconi bus rushes past. And if that happened, it would be an hour wait for the next bus. Obviously, the best bet would be to arrive at Watt at 7:36 in order to catch the 7:56 Marconi bus. That was doable. Getting from Bloodsource to work would be a piece of cake. The 26 bus down Fulton to 65th Street runs every 30 minutes. In fact, I could take the other Fulton bus to the Watt light rail station or the Marconi bus to light rail. Not a bad corner to be on.

After deciding on the bus route I went to National Marrow Donor Program to register. And that is when I discovered all this bus route planning had been wasted. I can't donate bone marrow.

About 35 years ago, I spent the night with a woman in Olongapo, a city just outside the gates of the U.S. Navy's Subic Bay facility in the Philippines. A few days later, after my ship had returned to sea, I got sick. It felt like a real bad case of the flu with a mind-altering fever. It lasted a couple of days, and then it was gone and I gave it no thought.

It was 10 years ago, give or take a year, that my son's karate school was having a blood drive. I gave blood, as I had on several occasions before. But this time I got a letter from the blood bank telling me that my donation had been discarded. Modern testing techniques developed in the age of HIV had identified Hepatitis C antibodies in my blood.

The health questions for National Marrow Donor Program ask whether you have ever had Hepatitis C. I answered yes, and that was the end of my application. I was invited to donate money, but I won't be allowed participate in the bone marrow lottery that seeks to help Trevor Kott.

I've donated the price of a test. I hope others will make the effort to help Trevor.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Catch of the day

I got a piece of scrap paper from my book, uncapped my pen and quickly wrote down what I saw.

The bus had stopped at Morse and Arden Way. The driver made the bus kneel and then flipped out the wheelchair ramp. The new buses have a much more efficient handicapped access system than the old buses.

With the ramp in place the passenger drove his electric wheelchair onto the bus. The man in the chair made quite a first impression.

Hung around his neck was a placard: "Will my heirs own your heirs?" Below was another placard but it wasn't readable from the back of the bus.

A large American flag fluttered in the breeze as the wheelchair maneuvered into place to be secured by the driver. The flag pole extended a good two feet above the chair. The flag appeared to be held in place with duct tape at the top. The red and white stripes of the flag came perilously close to dragging on the ground as the chair moved.

Draped over the back of his chair was a jacket with another placard. The first word was obscured, but the message was clear: "... Americans can thank vets!!!" The man looked old, perhaps old enough to be from The Greatest Generation. Certainly he was old enough to be from The Forgotten Generation of the Korean War.

He wore blue pants and a long-sleeve light green sport shirt. On his head he wore a red ball cap and over that headphones with an antenna. I assumed he was listening to a radio. I considered the American flag -- the BIG American flag -- placards fore and aft, immersion in the world of radio, and wondered: Was it NPR? Or was it talk radio? My prejudice sided with the assumption that this was what happens when you have too much time on your hands and listen to way too much talk radio.

The man exited the bus at Sac State. As he rode by I noticed that he wore a clear plastic glove on his "driving" hand.

I capped my pen and put it back in my shirt pocket. I put my scrap of paper back in my book and returned to my reading, secure in the knowledge that the bus had brought me something to write about today.

Monday, April 2, 2007

The day after April Fool's Day

Four of us crowded around the side door of the bus as it arrived at the 65th Street station. I knew better, but I had succumbed to the mob mentality. We watched the downtown train doors open as the leader of our group pushed futilely to open the bus doors. In unison we each silently hoped for something to delay that train just a few seconds. A handicapped rider, a stuck door, anything and we would all have time to rush across the street, through the station and up the stairs.

But it was clear before our little group crossed the street that none of us was going to reach the train. The clang of the bell announced the departure before the fastest of our runners reached the station.

I was embarrassed. I have two months of experience with this 82 bus and that downtown train. At the start of my third month of leaving my car at home and relying on Sacramento Regional Transit to get to work I know that the 82 bus isn't scheduled to arrive until long after that downtown train has departed.

One of the benefits of being an RT rider by choice is that I can smile at the irony of a schedule that torments the overanxious. Yes, the dilemma of whether to run or not to catch that early train frustrates, but I have never been late to work. And that, really, is the bottom line. Riding the bus and train over these two months has proven to be a reliable alternative to my solo commuting.