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

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A return to optimism

It will forever be referred to as the Hershy pall, the thick despair that nearly extinguished my transitarian optimism. The dark effects of Seymour Hersh's book evaporated tonight on a crisp fall evening.

One recurring criticism of transit is it's lack of flexibility. Go to work and go home, but woe be unto the transit rider who wants to run an errand. So when running an errand is not only possible but amazingly easy it is worth taking note.

The other day the wife gave be a Borders gift card, and tonight I decided to put it work.

Borders Books is on Fair Oaks, just east of Howe. I have a friend who works there, so I'm familiar with its location. According to, it is a short 0.4404 miles from the No. 82's stop at Howe just north of Fair Oaks to the Borders store. With a half-hour between runs I expected to have plenty of time to take care of my errand and catch the next No. 82 bus.

The bus arrived at the stop at 6:42 p.m. and I set off walking. The clouds were threatening rain, but nothing was going to dampen this outing. I made it to the store, got help finding the book, purchased the book and still had enough time to get coffee next door at the Pavilions shopping center's Starbucks before heading back to the bus stop.

I was back at the bus stop by 7:02 p.m. and I was on the next bus home at 7:09.

You couldn't ask for a better transit experience.


I need to add a postscript here to my Dark Side of Camelot post.

The book I'm reading now (not the one I bought tonight, by the way) is "Sputnik" by Paul Dickson, which retells the story of the Soviet's successful orbiting of the first man-made satellite and the beginning of the Space Age on Oct. 4, 1957. Having just finished Hersh's book on Kennedy and having been so disappointed by Hersh's portrayal of Kennedy, it was more than amusing to find this account of then-Sen. John F. Kennedy's reaction to the news:

"Kennedy was a frequent closing-time visitor to the men-only bar at Boston's Loch Ober Cafe, where Freddy Hamil was maitre d' and bartender. Hamil was smitten by space and was a devotee of Wernher von Braun, who was already a household name by virtue of his television appearances on the Wonderful World of Disney. Immediately following the Sputnik launch, Hamil introduced the future president and his brother Robert to Charles Stark "Doc" Draper, an MIT professor and pioneer in rocket guidance. A timely late-night bar conversation ensued on the meaning of the Russian feat. Many years later, Draper told aerospace historian Eugene M. Emme that it turned into an argument, with John Kennedy insisting ironically that all rockets were a waste of money and their use in space even more so. In retelling this story, however, Emme added, 'But then the Kennedys were known to pick arguments just for the education of it or for the entertainment.' "


Queen of Dysfunction said...

You know... I think I've said it before but I would love to give up my car and just do public transit. If there was more flexibility and ease of use such as this instance that you describe I would happily give up the gas-guzzler and take the bus or train.

John said...

We have chickens over here and eggs over there and no roosters.

People don't ride transit because it isn't flexible enough. Transit isn't flexible enough because people don't ride it.

Cock-a-doodle-do. The answer is for the chick to take a step this way and for the egg to roll that way and pretty soon you realize you're not that far apart.

Good karma is the benefit of thoughts, words and acts. Just thinking about how you might take transit gets you good karma points. It also puts you in a frame of mind that would allow you to see an opportunity you might have ignored. And then perhaps you realize you could commit to one day a week or even just one day a month and then you're earning good karma for your thoughts and acts. And then you tell people and the whole good karma stuff is working for you full-time.

Over at the egg, the rolling needs to be down a slope that visualizes transit as a community good for the whole community, not just for those who can't drive or can't afford to drive.

Jim said...

Glad the bus errand worked out for you, John.

One thing that strikes me about your "chicken and egg" analogy is a question of funding/subsidy: how much subsidy do private autos receive versus transit subsidies? Probably a difficult question to answer, given that buses run on the very same heavily-subsidized road network as automobiles.

John said...

The transit problem in Sacramento was created in the late 1940s and 1950s with the decision to sprawl out instead of growing up. Since land was cheap and the state and federal government were spending huge sums of money on an interstate highway system, it is not hard to understand how we got here.

Today, transit is a the hole -- literally. The first task whenever you find yourself in a hole is to stop digging. That's where new zoning restrictions and smart planning principles come in.

Once we are no longer making matters worse, questions of how to fill the hole can be discussed.

Today, I want to see some vision on the part of transit officials that encompasses a future where people can choose to ride transit. Today, transit is almost never seen as something a person would choose if any other option were available.