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

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The fate of transit riders

"Oh, you dirty dog," said the driver

Everyone on the bus agreed. I certainly did.

The No. 82 morning run started out slowly and ended in a rush, and I'm wondering which shade of Pollyanna lipstick to apply to this pig.

There was just one rider when I boarded the bus. Did the other regular riders know something I didn't? I always feel as if I'm not being told everything. But stop by stop the bus added more passengers and that was comforting.

And then the bus stalled.

Dead. The driver was attempting to leave the Watt and Kings Way stop. There was at most a minute of collective silence as everyone on the bus held their breath, and then the bus roared back to life and we were on our way again.

OK. Better than the mystery door problem. And this bus didn't have the screaming alarms that the newer buses sound when they lose power.

The bus made it around the Wal-Mart/Sam's Club complex and past Kaiser Hospital. Everything was looking just fine. Every seat had at least one rider and the guy who chases co-eds had found a co-ed who didn't immediately try to toss him into the aisle.

And then the bus stalled.

This is where the "dirty dog" comes in. The driver's mike was live when the bus stalled just before the Morse and Northrop intersection. Those of us who had been on the bus for the first stall crossed our fingers, chanted magical spells under our breath and generally held good thoughts in the hope that this would influence the unhappy transit gods.

The bus started. An audible sigh was heard over the roar of the engine.

Stalling twice and filling up with Sacramento State students was having a measurable effect on the ability of the driver to keep the bus on its schedule. By the time we were stuck in traffic at the entrance to Sac State, we were late enough to watch the No. 30 bus departing for downtown. There went my first option for getting to work. I comforted myself with the knowledge that the bus still had time to catch the regular light rail train if all went well.

And then the bus stalled.

We were in the bus-only lane about to turn into the bus stop at Sac State. All of the students got out of their seats. Either the bus started or the passengers were going to storm the exits. Fortunately, the bus started.

I didn't look at my watch. I was resigned to my fate. Getting anxious about whether we would make the light rail connection would, at best, be a waste of time. I went back to my book. I did my best not to worry when the bus stopped and let off a passenger on its way to 65th Street. I was even getting a little -- just a little -- optimistic when we managed to arrive at the bus park at 65th Street light rail station. But as we approached the No. 82's bus stop, we could see the train pulling into the station. This would be close.

Everyone was up and crowding the exit. The bus doors opened as the train came to a stop. I dashed down the stairs and across the street that separates the buses from the train station. I ran to the train in time to open the door. For my good deed of the day, I stood in the doorway to prevent the train from leaving so that an elderly man dragging a piece of luggage would have time to board. Once he was on, I cleared the door and found a seat.

So my Pollyanna persona suggests it was a good day. I made my connection. But the realist wonders about the role of fate in the grand transit scheme of things.

Some days you ride the bus, and some days the bus rides you.


Jon Q. RT Driver said...

Great post John.

Jim said...

Hey John, could the driver have gotten on his/her radio to ask the LRT to hold a moment at the station?

John said...

I have heard bus drivers call to make sure a connecting bus waits for a regular rider. It is apparently common in the areas where the buses run just once an hour.

Light rail drivers, on the other hand, don't appear to like to wait for slow folks. (Go ahead, Jon Q, prove me wrong.) I've watched too many people vainly push the buttons on the doors after the train announces it is leaving. I don't know if the drivers don't see the people or if they feel it is a waste of time to delay the train since the next train arrives in just 15 minutes.

On this particular day, my standing in the door didn't delay anything. The driver had been assisting someone on the handicap access ramp at the time.