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

Thursday, May 31, 2007

The serpent in the 65th Street station

The light rail train emerges from behind the river of Highway 50 traffic and glides down the bridge over the Southern Pacific railroad tracks, a snake slithering into view.

The No. 82 bus is pulling to a stop in the bus parking lot across Q Street from the 65th Street light rail station. I'm standing at the side door. It is 8:52 a.m.

I've been here before, surprised at my good fortune. I was such a naive fool. But eventually I learned my lesson.

As I exit the bus I can hear the distant clang of the train's bells, arrogantly announcing its arrival. The braggart.

The serpent is trying to temp me, to make me believe that this unique juncture of an early bus and a late train is somehow more than just the intersection of a coincidence, a winning lottery ticket.

I won't be deceived, I reassure myself. I won't believe that my arrival in the station just as the train slows to a stop is anything more than an accident.

Swallowed in the belly of the serpent, I am ever vigilant to hold back those random, accidental moments of happiness, ever watchful for that possible disappointment.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

OSS on the bus

Finished another book while riding to and from work on the bus: "OSS: The secret history of America's first central intelligence agency," written by R. Harris Smith.

I got on the subject after watching "The Good Shepherd," which covers some of the same ground. The book was in a pile of books I've been meaning to read.

The copy I read was published in 1972, shortly after the Pentagon Papers had been in the news. This book is, in many ways, a tribute to the "liberal" roots of the agency, which included a young Arthur Schlesinger Jr., who worked as a political analyst. A great deal of idealism infused the effort to create the nation's first spy agency.

The organization created by William Joseph "Wild Bill" Donovan was staffed with an amazing pool of talent. When one considers the narrow participation today in the Iraq War -- limited as it is almost exclusively to service members and their families -- it is difficult to imagine a war with genuinely broad support. Here is just one example of the caliber of people recruited to staff the early OSS:

"The Secret Intelligence Branch required special care. The SI Branch chief in London, Princeton political scientist William Maddox, was brought to Caserta to replace a Bank of America official as overseer of espionage operations in the Theater. Dr. Milton Katz, a Harvard law professor, left his post as counsel at the War Production Board in Washington to become Maddox's deputy.

"A special SI division was created for central European operations. An advertising executive of General Foods Corporation, Howard Chapin, was given responsibility for sending intelligence agents to Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Austria and Germany."
The book provides a wealth of useless but fun trivia. In the category of people who became famous for entirely unrelated things, there is this:
"OSS intelligence files at Chungking (conscientiously maintained by a jolly amateur chef named Julia McWilliams Child) bulged with reports about the incompetence of the Chinese military command."
But the book is serious history and one feature I found the most valuable was the author's efforts to footnote what each of the major players did after their work in the OSS. For instance:
"OSS intelligence was collected from the Arab world by Dr. Stephen Penrose Jr. of the Near East College Association and his 27-year-old assistant, Cal Tech history instructor Kermit Roosevelt (a grandson of the "Rough Rider" Preisdent)."
The footnote for Roosevelt explains:
"Roosevelt engineered the CIA coup against Mossadegh in Iran in 1953, left the CIA to become vice-president for governmental relations of Gulf Oil, 1958-64, and is now a partner in a Washington public relations firm that represents, among other international clients, the government of Iran."
Obviously, not everyone who worked in the OSS and stayed to work with the CIA was a liberal idealist seeking self-determination for the world's people.

No history of "Wild Bill" Donovan's OSS would be complete without an example of the bold, innovative plans developed by these really brainy people as they searched for the means to defeat the evil Axis powers.
"Not to be outdone by London, a group of OSS psychoanalysts proposed an incredible operation based on the premise that the Nazi totalitarian state would disintegrate if only its leader could be demoralized. After conducting a long-range psychological profile of Hitler's personality, this group decided the Fueher could be undone by exposing him to vast quantities of pornography. The OSS men collected the finest library of German smut ever assembled in the United States. The material was to be dropped by plane in the area surrounding Hitler's headquarters on the assumption that the Fuehrer would step outside, pick up some bit of it and immediately be thrown into paroxysms of madness. But the effort was in vain. The Army Air Corps Colonel sent as liason to the pornography-collectors stormed out of his first meeting with them. He cursed Donovan's maniacs and swore he would not risk the life of a single airman for such an insane boondoggle."

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Transitarian diet and exercise

"You get a little exercise in the morning, huh?"

I was boarding the bus, and it took a step or two before I figured out what the bus driver meant.

"Yep," I said. I flashed my bus pass and a smile and moved to the rear of the bus to take my regular seat.

It's nice to have a regular driver, and especially a friendly one. It makes the Transitarian diet that much more enjoyable.

I'm also enjoying the benefits of the Gmaps Pedometer, an online means of measuring how much you walk using a Google Maps interface.

As the driver had noticed, I don't always take the bus stop closest to my house, a distances of 0.0415 miles. Instead, I walk to a point two stops later, which Gmaps Pedometer says is 0.202 miles away, and wait.

As I've mentioned in previous posts about Transitarian exercise, I also have a choice of how much to walk on my way to work.

If I take the No. 30 bus from Sac State to downtown and remember to get off at 22nd and L (more than once I've missed my stop due to my book reading), the walk to work is 0.48 miles. If I go to the end of the No. 82 bus line and take light rail from the 65th Street station, the walk from the 23rd Street station to my office is 0.1951 miles. And on those mornings when I'm looking for a little exercise and I get off at 29th Street, the walk to work is 0.6966 miles.

This weekend I was playing with Gmaps Pedometer and mapped out a 2.4925 mile route from my home to the Starbucks at Watt and Kings Way. I walked there, enjoyed a coffee and then coordinated my return trip with the weekend schedule for the No. 82 bus. An excellent Transitarian weekend adventure.

Now, if only I could combine this nifty exercise with a sensible diet.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Cause and effect

As I was reading, I looked up and caught a glimpse of tousled gray hair just visible in the window on the sidewalk side of the bus. Then I saw a hand raised and then lowered. I went back to my book.

The bus was stopped at Watt and El Camino and had just finished boarding several passengers. The front door hissed shut and the bus pulled away from the curb.

"Hey, this old lady needs the bus," the woman seated across from me at the back of the bus yelled. "Stop, this old lady needs the bus."

Outside, the elderly lady with the gray hair raised her hand again as she continued her slow progress toward the bus stop.

"She's late for this stop," the driver responded, but then he pulled back to the curb. He opened the door and lowered the bus to make it easier for the woman to climb aboard.

"I'm a little late today," the woman said as she slowly shuffled onto the bus. She showed her bus pass to the driver and took a seat in the front.

After the bus was under way again, I had a twinge of guilt. Why didn't I make an effort to alert the driver that he had another passenger? This reminded me of the gentleman on the bus who had raced from his seat to help a woman carrying an infant and lugging a large stroller.

The woman who had alerted the driver about the old lady was looking out the window and singing along with her headphones. Her singing, for lack of a better word to describe the noise, was loud enough to disturb my reading on the other side of the bus. OK, I thought to myself, she helped the old lady, she deserves praise for that, but she wasn't even close to carrying a tune, which moved her noise from disturbing to painful to hear.

"Hey, there's a five-dollar bill on the sidewalk," the woman said loudly to no one in particular. "Man, I could really use that five dollars."

The bus was stopped in traffic on Watt, waiting to turn right onto Butano.

"Hey, could you open the door so I could get that five-dollar bill?" she shouted toward the driver.

The side door hissed open and the woman dashed outside. She was back in her seat at the back of the bus before the traffic on Watt started moving, happily folding the $5 bill and putting it into her backpack.

As the bus continued on its way to Sac State, the woman called a friend to tell her of her good fortune.

At one point in the conversation, she said, "What you put into the universe you get back."

I agreed, silently to myself. A transitarian rewards program, perhaps.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Bus Driver Appreciation Day

Never one to avoid disaster when I can invite it, I decided to try the No. 82 bus that leaves American River College at 8:04 a.m. After all, things went so well yesterday, maybe my fortune has changed.

And, sure enough, when I boarded I was pleased to see my favorite driver. He's my favorite because he is the only driver who appears capable of negotiating the lengthy route and arriving at Sac State in time for me to catch the No. 30 bus scheduled to depart at 8:52.

Now, on occasion, even this driver has had trouble making the collection. There was the famous karma payback trip that featured an old bus and two time-consuming wheelchair pickups and crowds and crowds of Sac State students. Days like that are controlled by the gods. Woe be unto him who angers them.

Anyway, today we hit the timing mark at Mission and Engel at the scheduled 8:12. The driver then picked up a wheelchair rider at one stop and still made the timing marks at both Watt and El Camino and at Kaiser Hospital. That flip ramp on the new buses really speeds the process of loading and offloading wheelchairs.

The driver off-loaded the wheelchair rider at the Winterstein Adult Center, waited for her to cross the street and then raced on.

The No. 82 arrived at Sac State just two minutes behind schedule at 8:47. The No. 30 bus arrived at 8:53 and I was walking to work at 22nd and L streets by 9:11.

I will admit that besides the help of the transit deities, the driver also benefited from a drop in Sac Student ridership, but he deserves a Bus Driver Appreciation Day award.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Sweet lemonade

It's late, but I feel compelled to point out that today's scheduled trip worked magnificently. The route I tested yesterday -- No. 82 to American River College, No. 1 to Watt/I-80 and downtown on light rail -- worked perfectly. The No. 1 bus even made it to the light rail station with plenty of time for the connection with the train.

I arrived at Cathral Square 40 minutes before my appointment, as expected. I then had plenty of time to go to the wrong high-rise and get redirected to the correct high-rise and then arrive at my appointment with time to spare.

Then, when I was done, it was even easier to catch a bus on J Street back to Sac State and then home on the No. 82 bus.

Transit may not work for everyone in Sacramento, especially for those living in the suburbs of Carmichael and Citrus Heights, but when everything clicks like it did today, it's just sweet.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Making lemonade from whine

Whine should age with a cork jammed in its throat, bottled. Then, when the whine's time is right, it can be transformed into lemonade and sipped on the porch.

Consider this post from back on April 9. Whine, whine, whine. I had to get in my car and drive to the Watt/I-80 light rail station because Sacramento Regional Transit couldn't get me to 20th and J streets at 9 a.m. Whine, whine, whine.

Put a cork in it!

This weekend I expected to pour more whine into that bottle when I started exploring options for getting to 12th and K streets before 10 a.m. tomorrow. I even started with a little test Sunday to see how long it would take to walk from my house to Auburn Boulevard, where I could catch the No. 1 bus to the Watt/I-80 station. I figured I'd have to give myself about 30 minutes for the 1 mile walk to be on the safe side.

So then I checked, RT's trip planning Web service, and discovered that I didn't have to walk any farther than the bus stops on either side of the street in front of my house. In fact, I had a choice of leaving at 8:26 on the No. 82 bus going to American River College, transferring to the No. 1 bus and arriving at the station in 21 minutes, or I could take the No. 82 bus at 8:39 in the other direction and transfer at Watt to the No. 84 bus, arriving at the light rail station in 23 minutes. The train trip to Cathedral Square takes about 20 minutes. And if that wasn't enough, I could take the 8:39 No. 82 bus to Sac State, get on the No. 30 bus and arrive at 12th and L streets at 9:42 a.m.

Now I had more options than I knew what to do with. If I were commuting daily to this destination, I'd use the 82 to 30 combination and walk the block to 12th and K streets. But tomorrow I need to find an office in a building I've never been in before and so I need some extra time.

Today I tried out the 8:26 departure route. I was out at my bus stop at 8:21, unsure whether the No. 82 would be early or late. It turned out to be three minutes late. I was on the 82 at 8:29 and at American River College at 8:35 a.m. The No. 1 bus was scheduled to arrive at 8:39, but I didn't board until 8:46. The bus arrived at the light rail station 8:56 a.m., eight minutes late, but still in time for me to make it down the stairs and to the station before the 8:59 a.m. train departed. The train passed through Cathedral Square at 9:20 a.m., which means that even if I missed the 8:59 train I'd still have plenty of time to walk from 11 and K streets back to 12th Street and find the office where I have my appointment.

Pour me some lemonade.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Transitarian mental health

I finished Richard Brautigan's "In Watermelon Sugar" Saturday while drinking a coffee at the Starbucks on Watt Avenue near the wasteland created by the death of Tower Books and Records.

This is a fun, if odd, book:

The night was cool and the stars were red. I walked down by the Watermelon Works. That's where we process the watermelons into sugar. We take the juice from the watermelons and cook it down until there's nothing left but sugar, and then we work it into the shape of this thing that we have: our lives.
As part of a transitarian mental health exercise, I had gathered up my book of three Brautigan works and a bus schedule and started walking. Since the 82 bus only runs every hour, I made it from my house to Watt Avenue on foot. Three bus routes cover the part of Watt I needed to traverse and so it was just a matter of waiting. I was headed for Emigh Hardware on El Camino with a planned stop at Starbucks. It was a nice way to kill a couple of hours.

Richard Brautigan's writing has a wonderful way of evoking emotions and memories in simple, almost childlike images:

We walked back to iDEATH, holding hands. Hands are very nice things, especially after they have travelled back from making love.
At the end of the book is a brief biography of Richard Brautigan. Sitting in Starbucks, I wrote the last sentence as a poem and then I added my interpretation. The result looked something like this:

DRIVEN TO DRINK in a small silver car, he rode in the back seat
AND DESPAIR rode in the front. He couldn't see the sun through Despair.
HE COMMITTED SUICIDE in the dark with a gun. Outside
IN BOLINAS the sun shone brightly.
CALIFORNIA was a state of mind
AT THE AGE of Aquarius, but not in September 1984. Nothing
OF FORTY-NINE years of his life made him imagine more.

Eventually I made my purchase at Emigh and made my way by bus and by foot back home, my mental state much improved.

Friday, May 18, 2007

A short update -- about this tall

Is May "Random Driver Month" at Sacramento Regional Transit? Or maybe May 21 to 25 was "Random Driver Week"?

I miss my regular drivers on the 82 bus from American River College to the 65th Street station. Come back, please.

I have been trying for three weeks to leave for work on the 8:04 a.m. bus rather than the 8:34 bus. I summarized this effort in the Art of Getting Settled post back in April. The problem is that I can't seem to arrive a half-hour earlier.

The earlier bus is a favorite with Sac State students. While the bus a half-hour later races along the final couple of miles of the route, the earlier bus must make frequent stops. And when the bus has to load and off-load a wheelchair rider, as it did today, the schedule just flies out the window. It's a bit disappointing, especially since Sac State's Hornet Express bus service could sweep up much of this crowd.

The first week I had a regular driver who was obviously experienced with the route. More often than not, the bus arrived at Sac State close enough to on-time that I could make the 30 line connection downtown. Then the driver spent several days training someone and now he's gone. This week I tried the early bus yesterday and today. I had a different driver each day. Neither could make the connection. Yesterday, the 30 bus was pulling out as the 82 arrived, and today the 30 was already at the Carlson and J Street light when the 82 finally reached Sac State. At least today I had the presence of mind to stay on the bus until 65th Street, where I only had to wait two minutes to catch the train downtown.

I suppose this takes a little of the rose color tint off the transitarian classes. Darn, it's just not a perfect world.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Serving trout with mayonaise on the bus

I finished "Trout Fishing in America," it's only 112 pages, and I wanted to put it aside. I decided to take the 82 bus line that leaves American River College at 8:04 a.m., the dangerous "payback" bus. And I also opted for the Transitarian Diet two-stop walk to be sure the mystery woman wouldn't be a part of the story.

The cellphone alarm went off at 8:03 a.m. and I was waiting for the bus at 8:07. By 8:10 I saw the bus turn from Eastern onto Engle and lumber toward me, slowly rolling side to side as it settled in its new course.

But I couldn't put aside "Trout Fishing in America" because it is bound to Richard Brautigan's "The Pill versus the Springhill Mine Disaster" in the same way today is bound to yesterday.

As I settled in the back of the bus and got my book out of my backpack, the bus arrived at Mission and Engle. There were no passengers waiting to board. The bus stop shelter was empty. But the driver stopped anyway and waited for a full minute before continuing.

A moment of silence? Do whales mourn their dead the way elephants mourn? I didn't see a memorial to the 82 whale, now long gone as though it had never existed. Maybe only the drivers and the buses have eyes for them.

By the time the bus arrived at Kaiser Hospital we were two minutes behind schedule. "The Pill versus the Springhill Mine Disaster" is a collection of poetry. The title comes from this poem:

The Pill versus the Springhill Mine Disaster

When you take your pill
it's like a mine disaster.
I think of all the people
lost inside of you.

The poem is undated but the collection was originally published in 1968, three years after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Comstock laws that banned contraception.

As the bus pulled away from Kaiser I found this floating among the poems:

The Symbol

When I was hitch-hiking down to Big Sur,
Moby Dick stopped and picked me up. He was driving
a truckload of sea gulls to San Luis Obispo.

"Do you like being a truckdriver better than you
do a whale?" I asked.

"Yeah," Moby Dick said. "Hoffa is a lot better

to us whales than Captain Ahab ever was.

The old fart."

And perhaps after Hoffa went missing the whales felt safer with Division 256 of the Amalgamated Transit Union, AFL-CIO.

I finished "The Pill versus the Springhill Mine Disaster" before the bus arrived at Sac State, but I didn't want to start Brautigan's "In Watermelon Sugar." So I started reading the poems again. Reading poetry twice doesn't seem as odd as reading a novel twice. You need space between novels -- say, 37 years -- in order to really discover what you have forgotten.

The bus arrived at Sac State at 8:52, seven minutes late. I watched my connecting 30 line bus pull away from the curb as the 82 bus came to a stop. As I was about to step from the bus I could hear yelling and see flailing arms in the crowd of passengers exiting the front of the bus. Once off the bus I walked to the front in time to see a very angry Sac State student very loudly and with much profanity suggest to the driver that he should do a better job of keeping the bus on its schedule. He finished with a two-handed, middle-finger salute and stormed away.

I could have stayed on the 82 bus and taken light rail to work, but the 30 line runs every 15 minutes. The next 30 bus was scheduled to depart at 9:07. I decided I might as well start reading "In Watermelon Sugar." The book begins:

In watermelon sugar the deeds were done and done again as my life is done in watermelon sugar.

While I was reading, a "NOT IN SERVICE" bus arrived and, as if my magic, was transformed into a 30. I boarded and took a seat in the rear.

When the bus arrived at 29th and L Street for its driver change, 40 or so kindergartners and a half-dozen adults were waiting on the sidewalk, held together with colored yarn. I moved to an empty seat near the front while a teacher negotiated the children's entry. Then the driver opened the floodgates and the miniature people flowed into the bus and all the way to the back and then back toward the front as every open space filled. I got up again and moved to a place where I could stand near the front. The wave of kids quickly filled my empty seat. Eddies of kids swirled around me, settling in seats reserved for the elderly.

Once the flood had found its level, the bus made its way carefully down L Streets so as not to spill its load. The sound of the school of children that filled the bus reminded me of a babbling stream of cold mountain water cascading over rocks on its way to the ocean.

I couldn't leave "Trout Fishing in America" today. I'm sure there were trout on the bus.

Maybe tomorrow. For now, you will have to read "Trout Fishing in America" yourself in order to understand why this blog post must end with the word mayonaise.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

A whale of a trout fishing story

It's all very sad. "Whales in West Sac," moans The Bee's front page. Large color photos show humps on humpbacks floating in the river and clumps of chumps lining the levees.

And then I realized: I know what the whales are looking for.

It came to me in a "Trout Fishing in America" moment. Suddenly, everything was made clear and bright with trout and cold, rushing water replacing the murky Sacramento River Deep Water Ship Channel.

I don't know why I didn't realize it yesterday. Certainly Richard Brautigan wouldn't have missed it. Maybe it's because it has been so long since I have been trout fishing. More than years, it's been ages.

My stepmother's father took me and my brother trout fishing on a stream that flows out of Big Bear Lake in Southern California. I was only 10 at the time. My stepmother's father was the age of a retired World War II general with medals and decorations framed and hanging on a wall behind the recliner where he sat when he wasn't teaching step-grandchildren how to fish.

A dirt road crossed the shallow stream, meandered alongside for a while and then crossed back. The general followed the road for some time. I didn't know what he was looking for, perhaps a good spot to fish. I'd never been fishing before.

And then we stopped a few yards behind a truck parked in the middle of the stream. A man got out of the truck and waded through the stream to the rear. The truck was carrying a big tank. The man climbed onto the truck and dipped a bucket into the tank. He then threw the contents in the stream.

"Let's go fish," the general said as the truck continued up the road. The general earned his medals in the war for his skill in logistics, the branch of military science having to do with procuring, maintaining and transporting materiel, personnel and facilities. That explained his fishing background.

There in the stream I could see four or five small trout swimming in circles, bumping into each other, scraping their bellies in the shallow water. It must have been very confusing for the trout, going from the dark tank into the stream and all. At least it was shady.

The general showed me and my brother how to bait the hooks with bright red salmon eggs, and then we tried to lure the confused trout to eat the deadly treats. Eventually we got back into the car and raced to catch up with the stocking truck. Two, three, maybe four times I watched the truck driver splash the river with trout and drive on.

Whether we caught any fish that day is lost in the expanse of time. But that Trout Fishing in America experience must be the reason why I didn't see the whale by the side of the road at the corner of Engle and Mission avenues just across the border from Carmichael yesterday morning.

I had boarded my bus at the stop near my house, forgoing the Transitarian's Diet of extra exercise so that I could find out who the woman was waiting at the stop, the stop that had been just for men up to this point. (Not counting women who just visit.)

When I got to the bus stop I recognized her. She was a regular rider, a familiar face, but normally already in her seat when I board. I took my regular seat in the back of the bus and the woman took her regular seat in the middle.

This was all part of the puzzle because a short while later the bus turned from Engle onto Mission and there it was.

The whale had an 82 on its back just like our bus. Looking at that 82, I felt as if I was coming upon myself, having arrived in one of those time-travel-folded-space-wormhole thingies.

Our bus slowed and I watched the driver lean over to look inside the whale. The driver examined the whale from the back to the front. He stopped to offer help, but no one was there, not a driver or any passengers. Not a living soul was around.

The driver slowly pulled away and headed for the next stop. It was as if he were trying not to disturb the whale.

Today, my eyes opened, I look back and see the big white whale floating by the side of the river. I'm on a whale-watching cruise and our ship's captain has rewarded us with a closeup view of one of Earth's most majestic creatures.

I think the whales in the ship channel are looking for the 82 whale. But when I went by the corner of Engle and Mission this morning, the whale was gone. Perhaps that's the source of the whales' confusion.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Fortune smiles. Or it doesn't. So it goes.

Fortune smiles. Or it doesn't. So it goes.

My cellphone alarm went off at 6:05 p.m. and I walked out of my office. I was at the 23rd Street light rail station by 6:09. In two minutes I'd be boarding the Folsom-bound train.

Or not.

Two minutes later, I watched the downtown train arrive and depart. OK. That happens. Sometimes they pass on the bridge.

Not tonight.

And then it was 6:15. And then it was 6:17 and 6:19. I started to worry about making the 82 bus connection at 65th Street at 6:28. In the three and a half months I've been using this route home, I've never missed the bus. On most days, the bus is waiting at the station when the train arrives.

So, at 6:20 I became so desperate I tried calling 321-BUSS. Maybe RT would have a recorded announcement saying trains were being delayed because of such or whatever.

No such luck. Instead, I was told to press zero if I wanted to talk to an operator, and after I pressed zero I was told I would have to hold my breath for six minutes. I hung up. I haven't had much good to say about 321-BUSS. (See this post.)

There is a tiny, tiny message board at the 16th Street station near the boarding area for the Meadowview Line. I understand that it is part of a prototype message system. Right now all it says is the date and time. At least that's all it said the last time I was taking the train out to Watt. Why can't RT have a message system like BART's, where the current time and the time of the next train are displayed? What's so hard about that?

The Folsom train finally arrived at 6:24, 13 minutes late, and it didn't arrive at the 65th Street station until 6:32, still 13 minutes late.

No 82 bus. It was long gone.

Fortune smiles. Or it doesn't. So it goes.

As I settled in to wait for the next 82 bus, the 26 line bus pulled into the station. When I saw the Fulton/Watt I-80 sign on the front of the bus it occurred to me that the wife was on her way to Town and Country Village and I could take the 26 to Marconi and meet her.

I walked over to the 26 bus and confirmed with the driver that she was going to Fulton and Marconi. I took a seat near the back and had just opened my book when the driver announced that our 6:42 p.m. departure would be delayed a minute or two while we waited for a connecting bus to arrive.

"As soon as we get these transfers, we're out of here," she told her passengers.

And that's another thing RT could work on. More than once I've heard radio traffic between buses trying to arrange a passenger transfer, especially in the evening. Why can't RT notify buses waiting at light rail stations when a train has been delayed?

At 6:44 the 26 bus was on its way. And somebody on that bus was having a real lucky day. The bus made one light after another, racing through its route as if it was on an express schedule. In fact, we were traveling so fast that we overtook the earlier 26 bus. That's when it became apparent that one reason our bus was going so fast was because the slower bus was picking up all of our riders.

Our driver stopped and offered to take some of the slower bus's passengers, but the other driver declined the offer. We sped off.

I met the wife at Pick Up Stix at 7:05 p.m.

Fortune smiles. Or it doesn't. So it goes.

Back in the front of the bus (Continued)

And then today, I looked up as the bus approached El Camino and realized that the restaurant where the couple exited the bus last night was not Sam's Hof Brau, famous in Los Angeles as an Adult Caberet, but Sacramento County's Plaza Hof Brau. When did that change? Before Tower folded and emptied most of the shopping center on the northeast corner of Watt and El Camino?

I guess I was the one confused. I have never patronized that Hof Brau, Sam's or Plaza, and can't recall the last time I had German food, although I did have a pretzel in the Munich, Germany, airport while waiting for a plane to Milan, Italy. It was late at night and I was trying to chaperon a soccer team of 10- and 11-year-old boys all dressed in matching warm-ups. The other airport customers were mostly tolerant.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Back in the front of the bus

Some days nothing much happens commuting on Sacramento Regional Transit, and some days its just the opposite. And then there are the days viewed through the kaleidoscope of Richard Brautigan's "Trout Fishing in America."

She was young, not much beyond childlike. But the thong spoke for her, its black shoestring rising out of her low cut jeans and joining another string that circled her slender hips. As she climbed aboard the bus, the sequin design on each seat pocket danced erotically. Behind her a young man, older but not very, with long brown hair in a loose ponytail and a wispy goatee followed. He was dressed in an odd costume, a sort of ghetto white guy. Everything looked new. The black Hawaiian-style shirt, overly large, featured a multicolor marijuana leaf pattern. His black pants, what could be seen below the shirt, were equally overly large, rolled into cuffs at the bottom. The pants featured the brand stitched in reverse on a two-inch-wide white stripe down each outside pant seam. All I could make out was the word "jeans." But what caught my attention after the thong had disappeared into the bus was the chrome chain that looped from the guy's belt to below his knee and back to his belt. The chain was held in place with handcuffs.

The thong spoke to the handcuffs, and I showed the driver my pass as I boarded. The couple took the far back corner of the bus while I settled into a seat across from the side door.

I first read Brautigan's "Trout Fishing in America" around 1970. It was originally published in 1967. I don't think teenage girls wore thongs then. If they did, they would have played an important part in "Trout Fishing in America." Describing a naked young woman lying on a bed waiting to make love, Brautigan wrote, "The girl was very pretty and her body was like a clear mountain river of skin and muscle flowing over rocks of bone and hidden nerves."

While I was reading, the guy walked to the front of the bus to get a copy of the schedule. As he returned to his seat another passenger got up and followed him to the back of the bus.

"Hey," the other passenger said loud enough for everyone in the bus to hear, "since you're advertising, I was wondering if you had any." The "any" was not explained but the multicolor shirt design was likely the inspiration.

He returned to the front of the bus empty handed. After he left, I could hear the girl say to the guy next to her, "Did he really think we'd tell him?" It was a fair question.

The couple read the schedule and discussed possible return connections, and I read Brautigan until the bus reached the stop at Watt and El Camino. The couple got off. Apparently, they were on their way to dinner at Sam's Hof Brau. Perhaps they weren't from the area, and they were expecting something like SAM'S HOFBRAU: Restaurant-Bar-Adult Cabaret in Los Angeles.

The bus eased back into evening traffic on Watt, and I left them in the parking lot.

From the back of the bus

From the back of the bus the conversation arrived well before the passenger, floating on the morning air like a whiff of smoke.

The 30 line bus had been filling quickly after leaving Sacramento State, lumbering down J Street into East Sacramento, a hissing , creaking song to accompany the jerking stop-and-go dance of the bus.

The bus was stopped in East Sacramento when the man attached to the conversation boarded. He had gray hair, a little tousled but clean, and glasses. He wore a camel's hair overcoat and carried a brief case. He looked as if he belonged in Sacramento's Fabulous Forties.

A woman had boarded at the same stop, but the conversation was apparently not for her. She sat immediately inside the bus and he settled on the other side of the bus several seats in from of me.

As the bus started back down J Street I could hear the man talking. He wasn't so loud that he was shouting. It was more the loudness of someone talking with ears stuffed with iPod earbuds. I couldn't hear what he said. I looked around to see if he was talking to anyone, but all of the other passengers in the front of the bus were actively looking in every other direction.

His conversation drifted back to me as the bus continued, an indistinct hum under the overriding cacophony.

A few stops later, a gorgeous black woman, her oval face with its pronounced cheekbones framed in tresses of long multicolored braids, boarded the bus. She sat down in the seat immediately in front of the man.

He said something and she turned and smiled and said something back. They made a cheerful multicultural tableau, the white banker type and young professional black woman chatting on the bus. Had the man not previously been talking to himself with equal animation, the whole scene would have been nice, but unremarkable.

Only single words or small phrases of their conversation reached me in the back of the bus. He said something about cancer. Maybe something about his wife. She said "Been there done that." I really, really wanted to sneak a few seats closer to hear what the two were discussing.

As I considered a move I noticed that immediately in front of me was a large man with "Debra" tattooed in script just above the collar of his t-shirt and just below a fold in the fat of his neck. His unmoving, quiet presence filled the entire seat and encroached on the aisle.

Just in front of "Debra" was a young man in his 20s flailing around as if he were dancing while tied to the bus seat. I couldn't see any headphones or earbuds, and I couldn't hear any music. He would raise both hands and then dive down behind the seat in front of him and then soar back up and then back down. Occasionally, he would twist to face the back of the bus, smiling broadly and clearly enjoying something, and then resume his silent pantomime.

I decided to stay where I was in the back. I prefer to see what's going on in front of me, rather than to wonder what's going on behind.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Mother's Day and history on the bus

I'm a child of politics. My mother was a Stevenson Democrat who took me along as she walked precincts in the San Fernando Valley back when there were more orange groves than track homes.

She would leave me in the car and I would complain, "I want to see the motors."

"Voters, dear," she would reply. Or so the family story is told.

Anyway, that in part explains why, after the horror of Ishmael Beah's "A Long Way Gone," I fell back on political history written by Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. for my next book.

"The Crisis of the Old Order" is the first of three volumes that make up his "The Age of Roosevelt." The book was originally published in 1957 and the copy I read was reprinted in 2002 for the History Book Club.

The book covers the years leading up to Franklin Roosevelt's election in 1932. Much of this history of the Depression and the failing efforts of Republicans to govern seems to apply equally to today's political climate.

For instance, this discussion of President Hoover could just as easily have been written about the current occupant of the White House:

"The sense of popular hatred wounded the President. ... And it also, perhaps, helped confirm his intellectual rigidities. The White House usher noted that, where Theodore Roosevelt and Wilson liked to send for people who took views different from their own, Hoover preferred to discuss matters with people who he knew in advance would agree with him. Looking back twenty years later in his Memoirs, Hoover himself could see no mistakes committed during his presidency, no opportunities missed, no wrong guesses, nothing to regret."

Today's popularity of the imperial presidency was certainly familiar to Roosevelt. After his work in the Wilson administration, FDR came away with an exalted opinion of presidential power:

"Most of our great deeds have been brought about by Executive Leaders, by the Presidents who were not tools of Congress but were true leaders of the Nation, who so truly interpreted the needs and wishes of the people that they were supported in their great tasks. ..."

But the current White House fixation on political ideology has missed the most important point for FDR:

"Wilson's administration would not have been successful in the War if he had not adopted the policy of calling in the experts of the Nation, without regard to party affiliations, in order to create and send across the seas that great Army in record-breaking time."

Franklin Roosevelt, during the 1932 campaign, told New York Times Magazine reporter Anne O'Hare McCormick, "The objective now, as I see it, is to put at the head of the nation someone whose interests are not special but general, someone who can understand and treat with the country as a whole. For as much as anything it needs to be reaffirmed at this juncture that the United States is one organic entity, that no interest, no class, no section, is either separate or supreme above the interests of all."

This certainly applies to the 2008 election.

In 1986, Schlesinger published "The Cycles of American History," a book that contained a 1985 essay entitled, "The Cycles of American Politics." The essay suggests a certain rhythm to politics.

"People grow bored with selfish motives and vistas, weary of materialism as the ultimate goal. The vacation from public responsibility replenishes the national energies and recharges the national batteries. People begin to seek meaning in life beyond themselves. They ask not what their country can do for them but what they can do for their country."

The cycle is turning today, and Barack Obama is the ideal candidate who represents such a change, a generation shift similar to the arrival of FDR or Kennedy. I strongly recommend Obama's Audacity of Hope.

Now if I could just get the wife to see reason and abandon her adoration of Hillary . . .

Friday, May 11, 2007

The day after that

If you haven't read about the karma payback day yesterday, read that first, and then return to this post.

It's 11 p.m., long after a long day of work, long after a mind-numbing Sci-Fi channel binge. I'm tired and need some sleep.

But after yesterday's fall-down-crazy commute, I must write about today's commute.

Nothing happened.

Absolutely uneventful.

I left a half-hour later than yesterday, which put me on the 82 bus that leaves American River College at 8:34 a.m. This bus has a great driver, and it doesn't get the crowds that the earlier bus must accommodate.

The bus arrived at Sac State on schedule. The 30 bus to downtown arrived and departed on schedule. I arrived at 22nd and L streets on schedule. Well, OK, technically the bus was one minute late. But I didn't trip and fall leaving the bus. I enjoyed my coffee on the walk to 21st and Q streets. It was enough to restore my transitarian faith.

Boring is good. It's relaxing. It's stress-free.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Today was transitarian karma payback day

The dew-wet grass rushed up to deliver the exclamation point. This was not a good commute day.

The day had started out on a promising note: No trainee driver. Perhaps today the bus could get back on schedule. But I should have figured karma was controlling events. Even in the cloudless, windy morning light, a darkness hovered. When I congratulated the driver on losing the trainee, he replied that he was behind schedule today because of mechanical trouble.

We were soon on our way, and the difference between the cautious trainee and the determined veteran driver valiantly trying to make up lost time was thrilling to behold. This was starting out to be a genuine "Bus Driver Appreciation Day."

Cold water was splashed on my optimism soon enough. At Watt and Whitney a very elderly man with a walker and his female companion needed assistance boarding. This was one of the old buses with the front steps that transform into a platform with handrails. (The new flip-ramp is much quicker.) The driver extended the ramp, and lowered it to the sidewalk, but the couple didn't move. "Get on the ramp," the driver urged. The man with the walker shuffled on and the woman joined him. "Now, lock your brakes and hold on," the driver said. The bus ramp brought the couple level with the bus interior. It felt like an hour before the couple were settled and the ramp had been changed back to steps.

Eventually we were under way, with the driver again racing between stops. And then the bus stopped for a lady with a collapsible shopping cart. The driver waited as she made two or three attempts to board without collapsing the cart. Eventually, the driver left his seat and carried the woman's cart aboard. He helped her to a seat, collapsed the cart and placed it next to her.

When we arrived at Kaiser at 8:35 we were six minutes behind schedule. Perhaps, maybe, with a little luck we could still make it to Sac State close enough to the 8:45 scheduled arrival that I could catch the 30 bus that leaves for downtown at 8:52.

Nope. Not gonna happen. That reality struck me at Northrop across from Swanston Park, where a wheelchair rider and several Sac State students waited to board. In the transit equivalent of a NASCAR pit stop, riders in the front of the bus moved to the back, a seat in the front of the bus was raised out of the way, the stairs were converted to a ramp and lowered, the wheelchair was lifted onto the bus and rolled into position and secured at three points, the ramp transformed back to steps and the remaining waiting passengers boarded.

A professional pit crew couldn't have done a better job of juggling the various components. But the stop had cost three minutes. Now, I was forced to focus what was left of my abiding transitarian optimism on the question of whether this 82 bus might make a connection with the 30 bus scheduled to leave Sac State at 9:07. And here it looked as if maybe something would finally go right.

We arrived at Sac State at 9:01 and I exited the bus. Shortly, the 30 bus arrived and I boarded at 9:04. I even helped the lady with the shopping cart, lifting her cart aboard the bus.

Settled in the back of the bus, a feeling of foreboding followed the realization that the very elderly man with the walker and his companion had followed me to the 30 bus. While I read and waited for the scheduled departure, the driver was busy boarding the elderly couple.

I took a deep breath, held it a moment, and then slowly exhaled. Relax, I told myself. It doesn't matter when this bus gets to 22nd and L streets.

The scheduled departure time finally arrived, and we got under way. We dropped off and picked up passengers on J Street. I noted without rancor when the bus driver needed to help the lady with the uncollapsed collapsible cart get off the bus. We made our standard driver exchange at 29th and L streets. I tried to swallow my annoyance at the delay and I was doing fairly well when we arrived at Sutter's Fort and I realized I would be still further delayed by the departure of the very elderly man with the walker and his companion.

The bus had stopped, but the driver said he wasn't close enough to use the ramp. He moved the bus a few feet closer to the curb and then converted the stairs into a ramp. The elderly couple ever so slowly boarded the ramp to leave.

I watched as they descended out of sight.

"Oops," said the driver. "We're stuck."

I was tempted to get up and look outside to see how "stuck" we were, but instead I went back to my book. The driver exited the bus from the side door and walked to the stranded couple. He helped them off the ramp and then returned to the bus. He worked some magic with controls in a box above the door and was able to get the bus unstuck and on its way again.

Well, the commute from hell was almost over. I packed my book in my backpack and as the bus passed 23rd Street I requested a stop. I put my backpack on and waited at the side door.

The bus pulled to a stop just past 22nd Street. The doors opened and I saw the bus was several feet from the curb. I stepped down and then stepped off the bus and then I'm not sure what happened.

My knee struck the parkway grass first and then both hands broke my fall. I heard the bus doors hiss close as I brushed the dirt from my hands and examined my pant leg for damage. I brushed some dirt from my pants. I considered waving to the departing bus as I got back on my feet. Instead, I got my coffee thermos out of my backpack, took a sip and started my walk to work.

Yesterday, while lurking in the regional blogs, I came upon a post by Maya about missing her bus. She was disappointed by the bus service. I commiserated with her, but urged her to be more tolerant.

Today was transitarian karma payback day.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Back to the future

Ever on the lookout for further evidence of the great value of the Transitarian Diet, I was amused to read The Bee's story in the Business section today about the new vogue of building homes with detached garages. The photo caption explained:

Builders and civic officials hope the arrangement will boost home affordability and encourage more walking.
I suppose walking from the garage to the house would constitute "more walking," but judging from the photo we're still talking about communities that require two-car garages.

For 14 years, I lived in a Sacramento County development built in the mid- to late-1940s for workers at what was then McClellan Air Force Base. My house, like most in the neighborhood, had two bedrooms and one bath when it was built. All of the homes came with an attached one-car garage.

Today, as I ride light rail along the R Street corridor and as I walk around midtown, I pass a number of new condo projects that feature units with one car garages. It's back to the future.

Before I became a transitarian, I would never have considered a house with a single-car garage. Now, it seems like a no-brainer.

Monday, May 7, 2007

The trainee

The bus was late. Not real late, just a minute or maybe two. I live so close to the start of the run that even small variations are noticeable.

I was standing at the curb looking at my cell phone clock when the bus finally approached. As it began to slow and pull to the side of the road I could see that the driver was wearing a pink shirt covered in rhinestones or sequins -- something very shiny in the morning sunlight.

The regular driver on this run is a man about my age with a well-trimmed gray beard. I was puzzling over the image of him in a pink shirt with rhinestones when the bus came to a stop and the door opened.

I was greeted with a hearty "Good morning" and a smile from the regular driver, who was standing in the entrance, and an equally cheerful greeting from a woman in the sparkling pink shirt behind the steering wheel.

I've been riding the bus for just a little more than three months and this was the first time I'd seen anyone behind the wheel of a bus who wasn't wearing the blue uniform of a Sacramento Regional Transit driver.

A trainee? Perhaps. But it could just as easily be some lady who wanted to drive a bus. That would at least explain the outfit.

As the bus continued on its route, the regular driver paid very close attention, standing next to the driver.

From the perspective of a rider, the first thing I realized was the lack of hurry. Buses normally bounce around a lot, jerking to and fro, accelerating and braking, sending passengers leaning against the centrifugal force of power turns.

Today, the bus ride felt cautious. Acceleration was muted. Stops were slow and gradual. The turns seemed almost glacial in their pace. This didn't go unnoticed by the other passengers in the back of the bus with me. At least one man could be heard to grumble that he would be late for class at this rate.

The bus was indeed behind schedule, arriving at Sac State about seven minutes late. I had missed my regular 30 line connection but another 30 was parked at the stop. I exited with the crowd of students and then boarded the 30 bus. I read my book while waiting for the scheduled departure.

And then, as if to underline the difference between a trainee lady bus driver and a real RT operator, the driver ran the J Street to Alhambra to L Street stretch of the route with such speed that the bus arrived at 29th Street several minutes early. A replacement driver waiting to take over the run was obviously a bit taken aback by the early arrival. I could hear the departing driver explaining that she'd gotten lucky with a couple of lights, and telling her replacement he had plenty of time to finish his cigarette.

I had another few minutes of quiet reading before we bounded down L Street to my stop at 22nd Street.

A cautious bus ride is OK, but the fantastic flight of a driver adding minutes to her break period with a wild ride through east Sacramento does add a certain excitement to the start of a day.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Through the looking glass

It was as if I were looking in a mirror. It was disconcerting. My left was his right. We shared a core experience, but our perception of the world was reversed.

I met this mirror image of myself riding home on the 82 line. Where I am quiet and bookish -- literally -- he is gregarious and loud, possessed of a voice with the the power to penetrate well beyond normal limits.

He boards the bus at Sac State and takes the first seat facing front, the one reserved for the elderly and the handicapped. He puts his feet up on the bench in front of him and slouches comfortably. This is his routine.

He is quiet as we leave the university and head over the J Street bridge. But eventually, as the bus empties, he starts a conversation with the woman driving the bus. From my perspective in the rear of the bus, this is a one-sided conversation. I think the driver is talking but her voice doesn't travel like his.

I saw myself in the mirror on our first meeting. He was whining about having to ride the bus.

"I'm still spending three hours of my life in transit each day," he said.

But where I have carefully crafted my transitarian enthusiasm for the opportunities for self-improvement that this extra time affords, he sees only waste.

Where I enjoy the benefits of a structure I can build upon to help pace my day, he feels "robbed of any chance of spontaneity."

We both live very close to a bus stop on the 82 line. We both find the commute to and from work convenient and reliable. And yet he sees the transit glass half empty and I see a transitarian glass half full.

A creeking sound announces the opening of a door. Doubts creep silently into my thoughts. My faith is tested.

I think I'll take a later bus today and avoid the question.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

How long will it take to train a singer?

How long will it take to train a singer? It's a question that hadn't occurred to me, but according to my visitor log, that was exactly what someone in Toronto who subscribes to Bell Canada's DSL service asked Google.

Much to my surprise, it appears that RT Rider, the preeminent authority of transitarian thought, is the No. 2 place to find the answer. Wow!

Of course I do know something about how long it will take on the train for a rap singer to provoke open revolt among passengers. See here and, to a lesser degree, here. And, once this post has been indexed by Google, I may endear myself to even more wayward Googlers who wish to know how long it will take to train a singer.

This reminds of Richard Brautigan's Trout Fishing in America, which was often mistaken for a book about Trout Fishing in America. I think I'll make that my next book to read after I finish "The Crisis of the Old Order / The Age of Roosevelt, 1919-1933" by Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.

The All-Weather Transitarian Diet

People don't melt. Hard as it may be for people who live in this semi-arid region to believe, the rain won't hurt you. And if you do get wet, you'll dry soon enough.

As a breakfast component of my Transitarian Diet, I've been walking an extra two blocks to meet the bus rather than just wait outside my house. (The route does a U-shaped turn and I catch it on the return leg.) The alarm goes off at 8:04 and I start walking. I'm waiting for the bus at 8:08, and the bus arrives at 8:11.

Today, with my jacket hood pulled up over my ball cap to shield me from the downpour, I was especially relieved not to be driving on the roadways made slick by the loosened engine oil. It's a danger whose threat is multiplied by the fools who feel they should speed up rather than slow down in the rain.

My bus was right on time. As I boarded, I was momentarily disappointed that I didn't have a dog's ability to shake off water. But then I figured the other passengers most likely preferred my quiet dripping to an active spray. For transitarians, after all, the greater good of the community weighs heavily on our every choice.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Transitarian May Day Celebration

Happy Transitarian May Day. On this first day of the new month I pause to consider my progress.

It seems like much longer than three months since I stopped driving my car to work and started leaving the driving to Sacramento Regional Transit. (Is "leave the driving to us" still the motto of Greyhound?) The key to riding transit, I have found, is to establish a comfortable rhythm. When riding transit is new, worries about meeting connections and such nag at you. Experience is required in order to become comfortable.

Last week's experiment with a new start time and new connections was a good example. Then today the "uncontrollable factor" kicked in -- a four car pileup on the J Street bridge over the American River. Unlike my experience in February, the bus was able to work its way through the accident scene, but we were significantly delayed. When we arrived at Sacramento State two 30 buses (well, one bus without a rear sign and another with a 30 showing) were waiting at the curb. As I got off the 82 bus, first one and then the other 30 bus pulled away before I had a chance to board. Fortunately for me, the 82 bus driver was delayed talking to a rider and I was able to re-board the bus and ride to the end of the line and take light rail to work.

The life of a transitarian: Best when boring, better yet when the unexpected can be easily accommodated.

And speaking of transitarian, I am proud to acknowledge Google's discovery that this blog is the preeminent authority of transitarian thought.

In order to better explain the relationship between cows, vegetarians, fruitarians and transitarians, I offer this video of Douglass Adams reading from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: