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, 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.

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