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, October 22, 2007

Missing my bus

"I am not allowed to call the dispatcher until the bus is 15 minutes late."

I've worked with computers for many years and even dabbled in programming. When a computer reports that information I am requesting is unavailable, I don't argue. But it just seems more personal when a guy at the other end of the 321-BUSS line tells me he can't explain what's become of my missing ride to work.

It's 8:20 a.m. The No. 82 bus was scheduled to leave American River College at 8:04 a.m. It is just 2.2 miles from the route's starting point to my location at the Engle and Miradera bus stop. The next stop up the street is the first timing point. The No. 82 was supposed to reach that stop eight minutes ago.

What I want to know is whether the bus is delayed or simply not coming. For all I know, some accident or road construction nearby could have forced a rerouting of all of the No. 82s. I have a reason for needing some information.

I really don't like 321-BUSS. I hang up, and check my schedule to decide when the bus will be a full 15 minutes late.

At 8:27 I call 321-BUSS. A recorded voice tells me my wait time will be -- pause for effect -- one minute. And I wait. And I hate that hold music. And I wait.

At 8:33 a woman comes on the line and I explain that the No. 82 is now more than 15 minutes late. She disappears for a moment and then returns:

"That coach broke down," she says. "So you will have to catch the next one at 8:42."

There's no bench where I've been standing since 8:08, so I decided to walk the three-tenths of a mile to the next stop. I keep looking over my shoulder, fearful that a rogue bus will overtake me.

As I approach the stop I can see an obviously anxious bus rider waiting at the stop. She's pacing back and forth as I approach.

"Did you see a bus?" she asks.

"It broke down," I explain. "The next bus should be along at 8:42."

"I need to be somewhere," she complains. "I've been here since 7:30 a.m."

As we were talking the No. 82 bus arrived two minutes early.

I started taking the bus on Feb. 1 of this year. I've taken the bus to work every day that I've worked with one lone exception when it was necessary to haul my son's moped to a garage in midtown.

The bus has never been more than a few minutes late.

One breakdown in so many rides is a pretty good percentage, maybe even admirable and worthy of praise. The guy who answers my e-mails to, says that Sacramento Regional Transit averages about 509 bus runs on each weekday. Since Aug. 14, just 10 buses have broken down due to mechanical reasons.

You could even argue that if I had driven to work all of those days, I would have experienced at least one day when a traffic tie-up delayed me at least a half-hour.

But when your commute relies on someone else, you feel more vulnerable, the everyday slights just hurt more. Sort of like talking to a guy at 321-BUSS who insists he can't call dispatch and find out what became of my bus until it is at least 15 minutes late.

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