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
Friday, June 29, 2007
Through the side window of the bus I could see the woman's lips move, but I couldn't hear anything she said above the sound of the bus engine straining to push the coach into the street. It was obvious the woman wanted to catch the bus. She waved one hand and mouthed words as she struggled to keep up. For a few steps she managed to kept pace as the bus accelerated, but then she was gone.
Two people had been waiting at the Northrop and Bell stop when the No. 82 bus arrived. They had boarded and no one else was at the stop. That certainly was what the driver would say he saw.
The woman seated on the bench in front of me turned and looked at me. Her look was accusing but also disappointed.
Earlier, at the stop across from the Winterstein Adult Center, the woman had called out from the back of the bus that an old man wanted to get on. I looked up from my book and saw an elderly man starting to cross the street behind the bus. He was walking very slowly, his effort to wave at the bus feeble.
I think the bus boarded one passenger at the Morse and Northrop stop. I know one regular rider got off there. No one else was at the stop as the driver pulled away from the curb and prepared to turn from Morse onto Northrop.
I shrugged in response to the woman's silent accusation. I too was disappointed that not one but two people had been left behind today. I also felt guilty that I had not spoken up, that I had not yelled to alert the driver. The woman left behind will undoubtedly tell others about the way she was stranded by an uncaring RT bus driver. Her friends will believe you can't count on RT, that you're better off relying on your own car to commute to work.
The No. 82 bus that leaves American River College at 8:04 a.m. has trouble keeping to its schedule when school is in session. I have missed bus connections because the crowds of riders and the requirements for accommodating wheelchairs had so delayed the bus.
But school is out. It is a cool, relaxed summer morning. The bus isn't late.
The bus could have waited for the old man to cross the street. The bus could have stopped for the woman. If only someone had spoken up. If only the driver had heard the call from the back of the bus.
I returned to reading my book.
Thursday, June 28, 2007
The sounds of laughing and cheerful conversations float to me, carried by the motion of the bus as if on a cool morning breeze.
I'm riding the No. 82 bus that leaves American River College at 7:19 a.m. I took the Transitarian Diet two-stop walk to allow the Mira Loma High School students to vacate the bus before I get on, leaving me with sole possession of the back bench.
The driver chats with a passenger seated across from him just inside the door. I can't make out more than a word or two. Sometimes the driver's voice gets magnified by the PA system microphone. It's all very casual, very relaxed. It's a nice way to start the day.
Two stops after I board, the bus turns the corner from Mission onto Whitney and makes an unscheduled stop. Everyone in the front of the bus is laughing. A young girl cradling a collapsible scooter scurries off the bus with a pat on the back from the driver.
" 'Oh, yeah, I've got to get off,' she must have realized," the driver chuckles.
Outside, the smiling girl scoots by on the sidewalk as the bus pulls away.
"We must have all been asleep when that girl wanted to get off," the driver says. Nearby passengers answer with laughter. Someone mentions they got nine hours of sleep last night. I don't catch the rest.
There's something of a high-wire act, or perhaps the gymnast's beam walking, as the woman makes her way into the coach. The toddler, having slipped off her mother's hip, dangles now, clutched in her mother's encircling arm and bumping into the seats. The collapsible stroller marks the other side of the aisle as if a blind man's cane. Finally, the mother settles into a seat and proceeds with the unwrapping of her burden -- child here, bag there, stroller over here.
"Are you ready?" the driver cheerfully asks. It's only then that I notice the bus has been waiting as I watched.
"All ready," the mother replies.
Off we go.
"Fulton Avenue," the driver announces just to remind everyone that we are on a bus.
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
When NASA astronaut Lisa Nowak wanted to be sure she wouldn't have to stop when she drove 900 miles from Houston to Orlando to do battle with her competitor for the affections of astronaut William Oefelein, she donned a pair of NASA diapers.
Is there application here for Sacramento Regional Transit?
The No. 82 bus that leaves American River College at 8:04 a.m. managed to arrive a minute early, which is something very rare given how close my stop is to the start of the line. Just as rare was the polite way the driver waited for me to take a seat at the back of the bus before proceeding. The more I ride, the more I appreciate the finer aspects of the service.
So it was something of a surprise when the bus driver got up and left the bus at the Watt and Marconi stop at 8:21 a.m.
The bus had just taken on a couple of regular riders when the driver left. He walked around the bus stop and through the gas station to the minimart. He opened the door and walked inside. A few moments later, he came out of the minimart with the key to the men's room next door. The driver unlocked the door and disappeared inside.
I've been riding Sacramento Regional Transit since February, and this is only the second time I've witnessed a driver taking an unscheduled break. (Here's the first time.) Since it was a pleasant morning and there were only six passengers, including me, it was more a puzzle than anything else. It certainly didn't appear to bother any of the other riders.
By 8:23 the driver had returned, and the bus was on its way. The No. 82 bus arrived at Watt and El Camino at 8:25 a.m., just a minute behind schedule. The bus was three minutes behind schedule at the CSUS stop, but that is well within what experience has taught me is the margin of error near the end of a long route. The full load of passengers the bus had taken on obviously had more to do with the timing of the stop than the driver's potty break.
I wouldn't want RT drivers to make a habit of unscheduled potty breaks, but what's the alternative when nature calls? In a previous lifetime, I was married to a woman who worked as a grocery checker when we met. I learned from her a certain appreciation of what it means not to be able to just go to the bathroom at the spur of the moment.
Of course, that was nearly 30 years ago, long before NASA made adult diapers an acceptable travel accessory.
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
Simple, petty frustrations. It's enough to make you want to sympathize with people who refuse to give up their solo commute.
Tuesdays have been a problem recently. Unlike most evenings, I need to leave work and arrive at a specific spot at a certain time. On previous Tuesdays, this worked well. I had a choice of arriving a little early or a little late. But then today someone at work threw a monkey wrench into the works.
So I decided I could leave an hour early and do what I need to do from home and then catch a ride to the appointment.
But RT blocked that.
Buses run in groups of four runs -- a block -- with a set interval between each run. But the interval between blocks is not the same. In the case of the No. 82 bus I use, the interval between runs is 30 minutes but between blocks it is 45 minutes.
Normally, I can catch light rail every half-hour starting at 5:41 p.m. until 7:11 p.m. and make a perfect connection with the No. 82 bus home -- 5:58 p.m. until 7:28 p.m. But before 5:41 p.m. or after 7:11 p.m. the bus blocks no longer match the train.
Today, I wanted to leave at 5:11 p.m., but that train doesn't meet the No. 82 bus, which leaves 65th Street station at 5:13 p.m., six minutes before the train might arrive.
Perhaps the RT driver guy can comment on why buses have to run in blocks. At least the trains run every 15 minutes (until the Folsom line shuts down). It would be nice if buses were as predictable.
Thursday, June 21, 2007
And then I noticed a small box at the front of the bus, across the aisle from the driver.
The No. 82 bus was about halfway between 65th Street and where I get off on Edison. I had looked up from my reading, and there it was. The box must have been there before. There when I boarded the bus. There when I made myself comfortable and waited for the scheduled departure. There all of the time until I finally noticed it. Magically it appeared.
For the rest of the ride I kept looking up from my book to study the box. Buttons?
Today was "Dump the Pump Day" and Regional Transit had promised to give "I Dumped the Pump" buttons to bus riders. Twice on my way to work I boarded a bus, and twice I left without a button. I sulked all day.
Finally, I couldn't wait any longer. As the bus passed the Whitney and Mission stop and headed for the Mission and Engle stop, I pulled the stop-request cord and walked to the front of the bus.
"Ooh! Buttons," I said out loud.
The driver immediately pulled the bus to the side of the road, a good block and a half before the stop, and opened the door. The driver must have thought I had missed my stop. Or maybe he felt someone so excited about a button was a hazard to the other riders.
After a moment's puzzled pause on my part, I decided it would take too long to explain all of this to the driver, and so I just grabbed a button from the box and happily got off the bus and walked home.
"There are no free rides," the driver announced.
A young man was talking on his cell phone to someone about how to get from American River College to Arden Faire Mall. He had been on the phone for several minutes when he finally walked up to the driver and asked him.
The driver explained that you take the No. 82 bus from ARC and then get off at Watt and El Camino, walk across the street to the gas station and wait for the No. 23 bus.
The young man was relaying this information when the driver announced over the bus PA system that there were no free rides today. The "Dump the Pump" day was just a promotion, a way to get people to try transit.
"No free rides," he repeated.
Life and RT are like that, I thought to myself.
Later, I was deep into my book when I heard the driver say, "Are you a student or something?"
The driver was leaning over looking at the side of his fare collection box and then up at a lady who had just taken a seat and then back to the coin window on the box.
Maybe having her hair so tightly pulled back and so severely tied in a bun made the lady angry. Or maybe it was the driver's "or something" in reference to her.
"I put in eight quarters," the lady retorted.
"It only shows four," the driver replied.
"Didn't you hear eight quarters?" the woman demanded as she made her way back to the front of the bus.
"All I heard was money," the driver said.
She rummaged in her purse and then tossed more coins in the box.
"That's what four quarters sounds like," she said as she turned to return to her seat. "You should learn that."
Fuming in her seat, the woman announced that she was going to report the driver to RT.
"Best news I've had today," the driver said.
I was left to wonder whether this was one of the benefits of the "Dump the Pump" promotion -- new riders who believe drivers count the fare by the sound of the coins falling into a bin -- or just a random annoyance.
Personally, I was more than a tad disappointed with RT's handling of the promotion.
The "Next Stop News," Regional Transit's newsletter for riders, has the details about the promotion on the front cover. And there it is in green ink, RT announces:
"Ride RT on June 21, Dump the Pump Day and pick up your "I Dumped the Pump" button on RT buses."I was willing to give RT the benefit of the doubt when I didn't get a button as I boarded the No. 82 bus. But when I then transferred to the No. 30 bus and STILL didn't get a button. Well, that was just unacceptable.
Where's my button?
Finished "California Rising: The Life and Times of Pat Brown" by Ethan Rarick. This is an excellent, well-written account of California's postwar transformation and Edmund G. "Pat" Brown's role. Highly recommended.
And, for me, highly depressing.
I grew up during Pat Brown's time as governor. My mother was active in the California Democratic Council, a statewide organization created from the remnants of the Stevenson Clubs created during Adlai Stevenson's first unsuccessful run for president.
During one of Brown's campaigns he made a stop in the San Fernando Valley and I got to shake his hand -- a child's thrill. Many, many years later, when I worked in an office building at 10th and L, I often ate lunch in the Capitol basement restaurant. One day, I was walking down a corridor and saw a large group of elementary school children gathered around an elderly gentleman. I recognized the former governor immediately.
"Honest," I heard Pat Brown say as I walked by. "I was the governor of California." This seemed more than the kids could believe.
Brown represents an era when government was good, when optimism wasn't ridiculed, when taxes were the accepted price of infrastructure to meet the needs of a growing state. That day seems so very far removed from today.
Brown was a product of his times. I didn't enjoy reading about his success shutting down a San Francisco abortionist or his law-and-order response to civil disobedience. But on one topic, he was rock solid and admirably ahead of the people of California: civil rights.
The governor played an important role in the creation of the Fair Employment Practices Act and California's first laws guaranteeing fairness in housing. In 1963, after a lengthy struggle, the Legislature passed the Rumford Fair Housing Act. Property owners and others immediately launched a referendum drive and the issue of repealing the prohibition on discrimination in housing was put to a vote in Proposition 14 in November 1964.
Today, the idea that homeowners have a right to refuse to sell to blacks or landlords can refuse to rent to Hispanics seems foreign or at least from some distant, ignorant age. But not in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
During the campaign against Proposition 14 my mother loaded me and my brother into her car and drove from our all-white San Fernando Valley neighborhood to the home of a black family in Watts. Two black girls, their hair in pigtails and wearing dresses, were made to play with two white boys in their Sunday clothes. In 1964, you had to manufacture such a scene. You couldn't just go to any public park like you can today and find diverse bands of children enjoying themselves. The photo was used in fliers in the campaign against repealing California's fair housing laws.
Voters overwhelmingly passed Proposition 14 and thus rejected the idea that government could enforce fairness in housing. Only tiny Modoc County stood with the governor. It was a shameful day. And it foreshadowed the day when a former Hollywood actor could rage that "the law benefited 'one segment of our population' while restricting 'one of our most basic and cherished rights,' the ability to sell property to anyone" and win overwhelming support of California voters.
This book covers an important period. As Rarick explains, "California's postwar migration, sixties ferment, and conservative reply set the tone for America, and Americans started thinking of California as example rather than anomaly."
It would be nice to imagine California again a leader in progressive thought, rather than conservative ideology. We've lost so much since the heyday of Gov. Edmund G. "Pat" Brown.
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
Tomorrow is Dump the Pump Day, a national invitation to commuters to park their cars and discover the value of using transit. Sacramento Regional Transit is offering "I Dumped the Pump" buttons to bus riders tomorrow. Certainly worth the $2 price of admission. (In the central city, you can hop on for $1.)
Save the planet. Join the transitarians!
er-rata: a list of errors with their corrections, inserted on a separate page of a published workShould a blogger correct errors in posts? And should the blogger let anyone know?
I confess that I'm not above "fixing" a post to eliminate any of the all-too-frequent typos I find. After all, that's one of the joys of NOT writing for print media -- errors only exist as long as they remain uncorrected. Error? What error?
The subject comes up because I took the 8:03 a.m. No. 82 bus to work today and noticed that the blind man I wrote about yesterday doesn't wear a suit to work, assuming he's off to work, he wears slacks and a color-coordinated short-sleeve shirt. And he and the blind woman don't wait for the bus at Morse and Arden. They wait further down the line at Morse and Hurley. And that puts the jerk who couldn't wait for the blind man to cross the street on Hurley, not Arden.
This blog is mostly a writing exercise, with a dollop of useful information about relying on Sacramento Regional Transit to get around. But it is only as reliable as my scribbled notes and faulty memory allow. Discovering just how unreliable that memory is has become another part of the exercise.
(And, yes, I did "fix" the post time so that this would appear below my post about the Dump the Pump Day festivities.)
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
Why is a guy who so loathes self-promotion maintaining a blog?
I caught the No. 82 bus that leaves American River College at 7:19 a.m. I wanted to stop on the way to work and get a haircut. When I boarded the bus I discovered that summer school had started. The back of the bus was filled with Mira Loma High School students. I ended up scrunched into a seat across from the side door. These old buses are really uncomfortable.
Writing is something I want to do. I feel I must do it.
At the Arden and Morse stop, a blind couple wait for the bus. Today, just the woman boards. The man, who is normally dressed in suit and tie when he rides the bus, is dressed in shorts and a t-shirt. While the woman finds her seat, the man turns and heads toward Arden. I watch as he waits to cross. Cars are racing past on Arden. As the light changes, the bus takes off and the blind man steps into the street. Just as he does, a car races around the corner from Morse onto to Arden. The blind man stops and sweeps his cane in front of him to make sure the way is clear. As the bus continues down Morse I lose sight of the blind man. What sort of a jerk cuts off a blind man crossing the street? I hope the karma payback for being that thoughtless will be especially painful.
What troubles me about blogging is that I feel guilty if I don't have anything to write.
The blind woman rides all the way to the end of the line at the 65th Street light rail station. She gets off the bus and makes her way through the crowd of people waiting to board. The crowd is not helpful. She is not as confident in her movement as the blind man. To get to the train she has to cross Q Street, which has no controls on traffic where she crosses. This is the second time I have helped her cross, letting her know when there is no traffic coming and when she reaches the other curb. There's a sidewalk vendor whose cart complicates getting to the train. As we reach the sidewalk, the vendor greets the woman and walks her around his shop.
Waiting for the train waiting inspiration is too . . . I can't think of the right word -- the write word.
The blind woman is wearing midcalf-length pink dress and white sweater. The morning air is cool. Her light brown hair reaches the middle of her back. She fidgets as she waits. On Monday, I rode with the blind man. He marched across Q Street confidently, headed diagonally to the space between the benches and a low wall. He negotiated the turn and then made his way to a bench that was occupied by a man and a woman. They didn't offer to get up and so he moved down and sat next to them. He got out his book to read with his hands while he waited.
When I worry about the blog, nothing comes. A spill-proof fretful hobby.
The train's arrival appeared to surprise the blind man. He rushed to put away the book, threw his bag over his shoulder, grabbed his cane and walked into a utility pole. It was all the fault of the man and woman who had refused to give up their seats. Their rudeness left the blind man seated about four feet further down the track, where the utility pole lived. He bounced off the pole and found the side of the train. He quickly worked his way up the train until he reached the door button. The seat immediately inside the car was available and he sat down and got his book out.
What I need is to relax and open my eyes. And I need to do it in that order. Then I can catch the stories as they ride the bus with me.
Friday, June 15, 2007
A woman and man are seated immediately behind the driver on either side of the bus. The three are chatting as I board and take my customary seat in the rear.
No one else is on bus.
During the school year, the No. 82 bus that departs American River College at 7:19 a.m. would be full of Mira Loma High School students when I board. They get off at Eastern and Edison and then the students from the Winterstein Adult Center and Sacramento State fill the bus. It can be a crowded, noisy bus -- exciting in a transitarian way.
The bus rumbles past stop after stop on this summer Friday morning. No one is waiting. When we turn onto Watt, we're following close behind a No. 84 bus. At each stop, it sweeps up the Watt riders, leaving nothing behind for us.
Not until we get to Watt and El Camino do we pick up another rider. I recognize him as a regular rider. He shops at Wal-Mart and then returns home. He's carrying a bag of items from Wal-Mart as he boards..
We must wait to catch up with our schedule. The driver and the two passengers in front continue their conversation.
Now is the time when people should try taking Regional Transit to work. In today's Bee, Stuart Leavenworth has a commentary in which he encourages the governor to do more to encourage people to do their part to fight global warming. "Hey, governor! State needs anti-warming pitchman," the headline declares. But it's a bit too far fetched to imagine The Evil Transitator taking up the cause of public transit.
Who speaks for riders of Regional Transit? I have asked the question before. The Sacramento region has an organization that speaks for disabled riders. The bicycle riders have more than one organization making sure their special needs are met. But I can find no group that represents the people who ride Sacramento Regional Transit buses and light rail.
By the time the No. 82 bus turns onto Fair Oaks on its way to Sacramento State, the bus has at least one rider in every seat. The crowd encourages the driver, who adds an extra syllable as he enthusiastically announces "Fair Oaks and Ca-dil-lac-a." He's a cheerful driver. Sometimes he whistles as he drives.
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
The transitarian derivation of the adage "live and learn."
Tuesday I needed to get from 21st and Q streets to Watt and Whitney avenues for a 7 p.m. appointment. After a little checking at infoweb.sacrt.com I found I had two choices: Leave at 5:41 p.m. and arrive 17 minutes early or leave at 6:11 p.m. and arrive five minutes late. Hey, at least I had a choice.
The online trip planner does a nice job, but I still like to look at the actual bus routes just to see if there might be middle option, and in this case there was. Or at least it appeared there might be.
I figured arriving early was a better option. That meant taking the 5:41 p.m. light rail train heading for Folsom and getting off at Watt and taking the No. 80 bus to Watt and Whitney. The train arrives at Watt at 5:55 and the No. 80 departs at 6:10 p.m. Simple and straightforward.
But then I looked at the 5:56 p.m. train. It is scheduled to arrive at Watt at 6:10 p.m., the same time as the bus departs. Could I leave 15 minutes later and thus shave 15 minutes off the trip by making that connection?
I have enough experience with RT to know that "better safe than sorry" might as well be RT's motto. So Tuesday I took the 5:41 train and made the connection to the No. 80 bus. But then I discovered that the bus makes a second connection with the train.
The bus follows the train tracks along Folsom to the Starfire station before heading north on La Riviera Drive and eventually to Watt. Tuesday night, the No. 80 bus stopped at Starfire and waited long enough to meet the train and board a passenger. This presented an intriguing possibility.
On paper, the train arrives at Starfire at 6:11 p.m. and the No. 80 bus isn't scheduled to arrive until 6:14 p.m. Now that's a tantalizing connection.
Since I need to make the same run next Tuesday, I decided to test just how reliable RT's schedule is.
I should underline at this point: I did this on a day when it didn't matter if I didn't make the connection.
And so I was out at the 23rd Street light rail station in time to catch the 5:56 p.m. train to Sunrise. Well, I was in time if the train had been on time. Instead, I had to wait until 6 p.m.
The train cruised into the Watt station at 6:13, three minutes late. On paper, the train takes just a minute to get from Watt to Starfire, so there was a theoretical chance of still catching the No. 80 before it departed at 6:14 p.m. But there is a place called reality that lives between the official schedule and the theoretical connections.
I got off at Starfire at 6:16 p.m. and walked over to the street and looked east on Folsom. There, just beyond the Highway 50 overpass, was the No. 80 bus waiting in the turn lane heading for La Riviera.
Missed by that much.
OK. So now I needed to get back to 65th Street to catch my regular No. 82 bus home. The next No. 82 was scheduled to depart at 6:28 p.m. But -- yes, you know what's coming now -- the next train downtown doesn't arrive at 65th Street until 6:33 p.m.
Missed by that much -- again.
So when I arrived at 65th Street, I sat on the ground and leaned against the No. 82 bus stop sign and read my book, "California Rising: The Life and Times of Pat Brown," by Ethan Rarick. It's a good book. One of those educational books. I'm in a learning mood after weeks of Richard Brautigan.
Know your limits. Know RT's limits. Get smart.
The No. 82 arrived at 6:46 and I got to wait in the air conditioned coach until finally leaving for home at 6:58.
Ride and learn.
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
Outside the Winterstein Adult Center, where the San Juan Unified School District teaches immigrants how to become Americans, two Japanese women wait as the No. 82 bus comes to a stop.
The driver opens the door and greets the women.
The first Japanese woman, the older looking of the two with her dark hair gathered in a bun and held with an attractive light blue barrette, climbs the steps into the bus and at the top of the landing bows to the driver as she presents her boarding pass.
After the driver acknowledges her pass, she enters the bus trailing a small, wheeled suitcase.
The other Japanese woman, younger in appearance with her dark hair in a loose ponytail, bounds aboard the bus, flashing her pass without formality.
The pair take the first front-facing seat, the woman with the suitcase on the aisle and the other woman by the window. They ride silently. The woman by the window spends the entire trip watching suburban Sacramento as if she were riding in a glass bottom boat on the ocean.
At Sacramento State the two leave the bus. They walk together along a path, the one woman pulling the suitcase. In front of them walks a young man with a similar wheeled suitcase.
I wonder as the bus departs on its way to the 65th Street light rail station what they are studying.
Winterstein Adult Center appears closed for the summer.
Monday, June 11, 2007
Will wealth follow fame?
Again, the Redwire search engine at News10.net proves its value. Where else could one expect the one word search request -- diet -- to return the answer: "Transitarian Diet."
Really, can there be anything cooler than that?
Of course, this fine search engine alone identifies RTRider as the only blog worth listening to on the subject of whale and even the topic of singer.
And, no, I'm not related to anyone working with PlanetDiscover, which apparently is the source of this wealth of information. I have no idea why they like this blog so much. But, heh, "Thank you!"
The first day of summer vacation and the driver of the 7:19 a.m. No. 82 bus is a shepherd without his flock.
Today I have a dentist appointment at 30th and P streets. I scheduled the appointment for 8:30 a.m. because there's a perfect RT scheduling match with the No. 82 and the No. 30.
The No. 82 stops and I am greeted with a cheerful good morning from the driver. I board the bus and find the interior strangely vacant. Missing is the crowd of Mira Loma High School students, normally so lost in the morning realm not their own and sullen with resignation that they are bound in servitude to the public school system that day.
Just two other riders are seated on the bus this morning. One woman reads The Bee and sips from a cup of coffee. Across from her a woman who sports a bright pink head wrap and oversized sunglasses stares out the bus window.
The driver waits until I walk the length of the bus to my customary seat in the rear. Only when I'm seated does he continue on his route. So maybe that lady driver was messing with me.
I'm finding the summer season very different on the bus as I settle into my new book.
"Your left side's open," I hear the driver tell a boarding passenger.
A man with a white cane boards. He makes his way carefully to the bench just inside the door.
"Your left side's open," I driver says again. A woman with a white cane cautiously makes her way to the bench and sits next to the man. The pair are quiet as they carefully fold their canes.
When the bus arrives at Sac State the man with the cane gets up and the driver asks him if he is aware that he'll have to stand on the traffic island to wait for his connecting bus. Yes, says the man as he exits.
I'm seated on a bench under a tree waiting for the No. 30. The man, a briefcase slung over his shoulder, stands on the island, rivers of traffic flowing by both sides of him. He is very still. He leans on his white cane.
Soon a bus arrives and stops in front of the man. "Thirty-four. Sixty-fifth light rail station," the bus announces.
The man waits. Not his bus.
A young woman disappears into the bus and a few moments later reappears. Not her bus.
I sit and scribble notes. Not my bus.
The bus leaves and is replaced by another.
"Eighty-seven Marconi," the bus announces. The man waits. The bus leaves. "Eighty-seven Sixty-fifth street light rail station," the next bus announces. Then the another 34 arrives. I look at my cell phone's clock. Soon, I think.
"There's our bus," the woman seated next to me on the bench says to her companion. And there is the DASH bus pulling to a stop.
The man with the cane boards and takes his seat on the bench just inside the door. I board with the other waiting passengers.
When the bus turns onto Alhambra I pull the stop-request cord and move to the side exit. At the front of the bus I see the man with the cane is reading a book with his fingers. The book is spread across his lap and he uses the fingers of both hands to see the words. The pages appear blank from my distance.
I wonder what he is reading as I leave the bus and start walking to my appointment. I arrive at 8:29 a.m., a transitarian bull's-eye in target scheduling.
Sunday, June 10, 2007
Finished Richard Brautigan's "So the Wind Won't Blow It All Away," the last of the three novels bound together with "Revenge of the Lawn" and "The Abortion"; the last of the six works by Brautigan I've re-read recently while riding RT buses to and from work; the last book published by Brautigan before he put a gun to his head and exited life.
Don't read "So the Wind Won't Blow It All Away."
Read the gorgeous and surprising "Trout Fishing in America," the beautiful, quirky poems in "The Pill vs. the Springhill Mine Disaster" and the surreal "In Watermelon Sugar."
Don't read "So the Wind Won't Blow It All Away."
The book is narrated as the author writes the book in 1979:
As I sit here on August 1st, 1979, my ear is pressed up against the past as if to the wall of a house that no longer exists.And the narrator tells a tale of his childhood in the Pacific Northwest at the end of World War II, a time when a boy could ride a bike with his .22 rifle on his way to shoot rotten apples in an abandoned farm.
I am still searching for some meaning in it and perhaps even a partial answer to my own life, which as I grow closer to death, the answer gets further and further away.I remember the day when I read the short news story in The Bee:
Headline AUTHOR BRAUTIGAN FOUND DEAD IN HOME
Publication Date 10/26/1984
Section MAIN NEWS
Body Text BOLINAS (AP) - Author Richard Brautigan, whose offbeat novels and poetry made him a hero of the '60s counterculture, was found dead Thursday at his home in this beach community north of San Francisco, his publisher said. He was 49.
The body of the author of such popular works as 'Trout Fishing in America' and 'The Pill Versus the Springhill Mine Disaster' was discovered by two friends who became concerned after not hearing from him, said publisher Seymour Lawrence of Delacorte Press in New York.
Sheriff's investigators said the decomposed body found in Brautigan's house apparently had been dead for several weeks, according to a lieutenant who asked not to be identified. The lieutenant said there was evidence the man had died of a gunshot wound.
In 1989, The Bee published an article by Carl Schoettler of the Baltimore Evening Sun about a new book on Brautigan. I haven't read the book, but this quote captures fully what I feel after reading "So the Wind Won't Blow It All Away":
"When his sales dropped," Keith Abbott says in "Downstream from Trout Fishing in America," "his angry amusement turned to plain anger, and thence to bitterness and fear, and finally to a kind of loathing that poisoned his spirit and partly eliminated his ability to respond to life and its small happinesses.""So the Wind Won't Blow It All Away" ends with the narrator describing his own slow disappearance:
Anyway, I just kept getting smaller and smaller beside the pond, more and more unnoticed in the darkening summer grass until I disappeared into the 32 years that passed since then, leaving me right here, right now.Life and its small happinesses. That's what Brautigan brought to life with his poetic vision. That's what lives on.
Don't read "So the Wind Won't Blow It All Away" until you've read the other books.
Friday, June 8, 2007
It was not officially summer. And the last day of school still needed to be played out today. But this morning just wasn't interested in facts. The air was cool but the sun seemed oddly bright and summery in its glare. This felt like the first day of summer.
The No. 82 bus that picked me up on its way to the light rail station at 65th Street was one of the older ones with the benches that line the rear. I find the regular seats on these buses too close together for my liking, and I've found there's too much side-to-side motion when seated on either of the rear side benches. As a result, I ride these buses sitting in the corner on the back bench.
On this lazy day, a woman lies sleeping in the last forward-facing seat before the bench, using her backpack for a pillow. She's a semi-regular rider. She'll wake up about the time the bus reaches the Watt and Wal-Mart stop, shake off the sleepy cobwebs and get off at the Butano and Sam's Club stop. She is a poster child for a stress-free commute.
On the other side of the bus, a skateboarder is asleep, sprawled on the side bench, his head resting on his backpack. When the bus stops, I can hear the music from his headphones. His legs are draped over an old-school skateboard from the 1980s. It's a Santa Cruz Pro Series model, according to the sticker. The wheels are unusually wide by modern street standards and the hardware holding the trucks to the deck looks like hand-me-downs. The bolts extend out of the nuts like poser flag poles. All of this imagery is influenced by what I think my son might say. I've spent years, literally, listening to my kid talk about skateboarding. Someday he'll be a famous skater, and I will say I used to change his diapers. He'll hate that.
We pick up a few riders and let an equal number leave.
At the Watt and Wal-Mart stop the guy who chases coeds boards the bus. He sits down just inside the door. He appears anxious or disappointed, maybe both. Summer is not his season. The Sac State standing-room-only crowds of co-eds have shriveled to a hodge podge of riders who lack the dietary requirements to fuel the guy's efforts. At Howe and Northrup, he leaves the bus and walks to work. Maybe summer school will bring fresh meat.
I enjoy the lazy nature of the summer commute. There is more to see when there is less distraction.
Thursday, June 7, 2007
Too cool. Well, really cool in a transitarian way.
I needed to get from 21st and Q Street to Eastern and El Camino in Carmichael at 6:30 p.m. Even though I had such good luck earlier this week, I was still a doubting Thomas. After all, no good deed goes unpunished. At least, not for long. In fact, I'm still afraid that saying nice things about Regional Transit's scheduling will cause a major disruption in the force or perhaps prompt another karma payback day.
So I will whisper this: Regional Transit had a schedule that got me from my door at 21st and Q and dropped me off at my destination at the graduation ceremonies at El Camino High School at 6:23 p.m.
The No. 38 bus is scheduled to stop at 21st and Q at 5:14 p.m. I was out there at 5:05. I will admit to fretting until the bus finally arrived at 5:19.
I got off the No. 38 bus at T and 30th and walked over to 30th and T (took me a few moments to figure that out) and waited for the No. 68 bus, which was scheduled to stop on its way to Arden Faire Mall at 5:33 p.m.
Boarded the No. 68 bus at 5:36 p.m. and got off at the mall bus stop at 5:54 p.m. to wait for the No. 23 bus, which would take me to El Camino High School.
There was a little more fretting when I watched a No. 23 bus pass by the stop and continue on Arden Way, but at 6:06 the No. 23 pulled into the mall station and I was on my way.
Now, when things worked so perfectly earlier this week I suggested it was just a coincidence. But if I'm going to have this much good luck, maybe I should buy a lottery ticket, too.
Richard Brautigan's "The Old Bus" is a short story collected in "Revenge of the Lawn." The story tells of a 20-something man who discovers he is a fish out of water among the old people who fill a San Francisco bus. Like much of Brautigan's images from the 1960s, things look different today.
The No. 82 bus runs from American River College to the 65th Street light rail station, stopping along the way to take on and drop off students attending the Winterstein Adult School, where immigrants learn English, and Sac State, where ... who knows. The rest of the riders are working folks. Only occasionally do elderly riders join this bus.
As I'm jotting these thoughts down in a notebook, there are four ladies on the bus who will get off at the Winterstein school. One is in her 20s. She is a very attractive, slender South Asian. Two women -- one Chinese, the other Eastern European -- are middle-aged. One is of an indeterminate age, but not elderly, dressed in the traditional headscarf of Eastern Europe. These women are a wonderful illustration of the colorful additions immigration brings to America.
Seated in the front of the bus is the Hispanic gentleman wearing his ballcap and carrying his lunch in a plastic shopping bag. He will always remain famous for his transitarian chivalry. Behind the gentleman is the young guy who chases coeds in the bus. With classes over for the summer at Sac State, there isn't much game on the bus. He looks a little bewildered today.
In the back of the bus, a totally unwanted thought occurs to me. I'm the old guy in this bus. Certainly from a 20-something perspective of the 1960s, I'm ancient. But even I can see I'm older than all of the other riders today.
The creaking of the bus takes on new meaning for me.
Wednesday, June 6, 2007
Finished Richard Brautigan's "The Abortion: An Historical Romance 1966," the second of three Brautigan books I'm reading while commuting to and from work on the bus.
This is a story about a man who works and lives in a San Francisco library where authors bring books. No one ever checks the books out. A special bell announces when an author arrives to deposit a book.
It is not a large bell, but it travels intimately along a small silver path that knows the map to our hearing.And when the library begins to overflow, the books are stored in caves in Northern California and drunkenly watched over by Foster, the perennially t-shirted guy with useful connections.
This is also the story of a girl named Vida, whose body is so beautiful that it causes accidents when seen in public. She doesn't believe its her body. She thinks it must belong to someone else. She has written a book.
"It's about this," she said and suddenly, almost hysterically, she unbuttoned her coat and flung it open as if it were a door to some horrible dungeon filled with torture instruments, pain and dynamic confession. ... She had a fantastically full and developed body under her clothes that would have made the movie stars and beauty queens and showgirls bitterly ooze dead make-up in envy.She is befriended by the librarian and one thing leads to another and soon she begins to feel at home in her body and then she finds herself pregnant and decides to have an abortion.
Even though the book says more than once that people often go to Sacramento to get abortions, the librarian calls upon Foster to make arrangements with a doctor he knows in Tijuana.
When Foster finally meets Vida we get the fullest sense of Vida's beauty:
My God, ma'am, you're so pretty I'd walk ten miles barefooted on a freezing morning to stand in your shit.Having spent a couple of years in San Diego when I was in the Navy in the early 1970s, I have certain sympathy for Vida's unwillingness to spend any time there in 1966:
"There are too many unlaid sailors there and everything is either stone stark or neon cheap."Published in 1971, the subject of casual sex and pregnancy and a subsequent abortion must have been considered avant-garde. Viewed through the lens of 34 years of Roe v. Wade, the book takes the flavor of a cautionary tale.
At the abortionist's office, waiting with other customers, the librarian considers a teenager accompanied by her parents, and muses:
Alas, the innocence of love was merely an escalating physical condition and not a thing shaped like our kisses.I love Brautigan's imagery. Describing a cloudy day in San Franscisco:
Clouds have been playing with the blue style of the sky all day long, moving their heavy black wardrobes in, but so far nothing rain has happened.When the librarian first meets Vida and tells her he enjoys his job:
"It's good you're happy," she said. She said the word happy as if she were looking at it from a great distance through a telescope. The word sounded celestial upon her mouth, stark and Galilean.The librarian is fretting about stepping outside the library for a moment:
"Come on now!" Vida said. "Let your granny gland relax a little and slow down those rocking chair secretions."Vida and the librarian, sipping whiskey and relaxing:
After a while Vida and I were so relaxed that we both could have been rented out as fields of daisies.Bottom line: This is another fun Brautigan book. Highly recommended.
Tuesday, June 5, 2007
The RT Rider blog has a motto. It's up there on the top of the site. It goes like this:
Travels of a rookie commuter as he learns the ins and outs of relying on Sacramento Regional Transit.And travel I have.
Since I started leaving my car at home, I have had to drive just once, and that was only as far as the nearby light rail park-and-ride station. Every other day I've been able to rely on Sacramento Regional Transit.
Today was one of those great convergences of good fortune and RT scheduling.
Sort of like the clock that's broken and still tells the correct time twice a day.
I needed to get from 21st and Q streets to 11th and J and arrive at 2:30 p.m. That's a distance of 1.4419 miles, according to the Gmap-Pedometer. That's not too far to walk. Yesterday on my way to work, I took the No. 30 bus to 11th and L streets, walked to 11th and J and then walked to work, keeping track of the time. Thanks to the Transitarian Diet, walking is an option. But I'd be walking in the afternoon, and I didn't want to arrive looking and smelling like a sweaty dog in a tie and sport coat. I already look funny enough in a tie and sport coat.
While I was walking down 21st Street yesterday afternoon to time how long it would take to walk to L Street to catch the No. 30 bus, I had an epiphany, a big bus epiphany. A bus passed me on 21st Street, announcing "FREEPORT/DOWNTOWN" service.
OK. I have no idea why it didn't occur to me that buses travel downtown on 21st Street. But there is was, big as life and just as noisy -- the No. 62 bus.
But what about timing? my cynical self said to the gift horse. Back at the office I went to infoweb.sacrt.com and checked on the No. 62 schedule traveling downtown. Sure enough, the No. 62 is scheduled to arrive at 11th and L at 2:24 p.m. "Damn," I exclaimed out loud. That's plenty of time to walk two blocks to 11th and J.
When you consider that the Freeport to downtown bus runs just once each half-hour, getting such a perfect schedule had to be more than coincidence. This was divine transitarian intervention.
The bus is scheduled to arrive at 21st and Q at 2:16 p.m. I was waiting this afternoon at 2:10 just to be safe. I began to sweat despite the cool breeze when 2:16 rolled around without the bus. But soon I could see it in the distance, rumbling up 21st Street.
I was on the bus and on my way to my appointment by 2:19, and I was at my destination waiting for the elevator at 2:30. I would be hard pressed to get my car out of the parking lot, drive the 1.4 miles and find another parking space in that time.
Among the ins and outs of relying of Sacramento Regional Transit, this afternoon was a definite in.
Monday, June 4, 2007
I was in my backyard by the pool reading when I finished Richard Brautigan's "Revenge of the Lawn." It was Saturday. The sound of the pool's waterfall didn't quite mask the industrial noise of the filter. And neither the waterfall nor the filter could keep out the noise of the No. 82 bus. Weekend suburban nature sounds.
The No. 82 bus runs once an hour on weekends. Beyond the pool, past the house, over the sidewalk and on the street I mark the hour with the passage of the No. 82 bus. And 26 minutes later I mark the hour with the passage of the No. 82 bus. And 34 minutes later I mark the hour with the passage of the No. 82 bus. Three not quite equal parts make an hour on the suburban weekend.
I purchased "Revenge of the Lawn" when I purchased "Trout Fishing in America." Each of the new copies came with two other books by Brautigan wrapped inside the covers. All of these books I read separately when I was just out of high school. Three not quite equal parts make up each book.
"Revenge of the Lawn" is a collection of short stories, which was written about 10 years after "Trout Fishing in America." And the stories have much the same poetic imagery:
Like most Californians, I come from someplace else and was gathered to the purpose of California like a metal-eating flower gathers the sunshine, the rain, and then to the freeway beckons its petals and lets the cars drive in, millions of cars into but a single flower, the scent choked with congestion and room for millions more.Thirty-some years is a long time between readings. Everything feels familiar and new at the same time.
On Monday I was back on the street waiting for the bus. Brautigan captured that too so very well in his story "The Old Bus":
I was glad when the bus came. 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.
Sunday, June 3, 2007
I once had a bus driver abruptly start the bus as I was walking to a seat in the back. I was the only passenger and I ended up almost falling into a seat. Was she messing with me?
The thought occurs to me now because the guy over at RT Driver has been cut to the quick by the discovery of detailed instructions for how to complain about Sacramento Regional Transit drivers.
A woman who calls herself Hearten Soul published the article back on Oct. 31, 2006. The article is part of a site that invites people to create content. In exchange, the site offers payment based on how popular the article is. (To enhance her "performance bonus" you can visit her article here.) Her most recent offering is "Master the Art of Meat Carving," which from the viewpoint of the RTDriver guy probably makes sense.
Hearten Soul's bio doesn't offer any expertise in transit management issues, although the article sounds as if it were written by someone who works -- or worked -- in RT management. For "Education/Experience" she lists: "Education comes from within; you get it by struggle and effort and thought."
I've only been riding RT regularly for five months, but I have never had reason to complain about a driver.
On the other hand, I have seen a passenger yelling and cursing a driver for not keeping to the schedule.
And I have seen a woman visibly upset because the bus missed a connection with a train that it WASN'T scheduled to make.
RT is a big company with lots of drivers. I'm sure there are some bad apples. Perhaps a few guys think because they've got a huge bag of seniority they don't have to make an effort anymore.
But I'd be willing to bet my monthly bus pass that the vast majority of RT bus drivers and train operators consider themselves professionals and attempt to perform their job in a professional manner. I might even be able to work up some sympathy for the people who handle the 321-BUSS calls.
Saturday, June 2, 2007
Under the category How Long Will It Take To Train A Singer, I find that News10 considers RTRider to be the preeminent blogger on the topic of the whales who visited in May. To see a demonstration, try this search.
If you click on the "More: Blogs" you get 33 different links to my "A whale of a trout fishing story" and then two links to posts to Sacramento Metroblogging.
Every day I get at least one visitor looking for a whale of a trout fishing story. I hope they are as happy as the Googlers looking for How Long Will It Take To Train A Singer.
Friday, June 1, 2007
Another month, another pass. And now another RT blogger?
Beancounter asks the question everyone is wondering about:
But will they ever meet?
And if they do, will it create some sort of temporal rift in the blog space/time continuum?
I'm having difficulty getting a grip on the whole concept. I'm still stuck with the vision of that serpent slithering into the 65th Street station, clanging its bell and flashing its beady yellow eyes, smugly calling attention to itself.
Meet the Svengali controlling the serpent?
Not even in the cool morning light. The No. 82 bus pulled into Sacramento State at 8:47 a.m., followed closely by a No. 30 bus. I left the 82 and its rendezvous with the serpent and walked to the 30 bus. I was greeted by a lady driver as I boarded.
Soon we were traveling down J Street through East Sacramento. As the bus approached each stop, the driver identified the intersection. Stop after stop this continued. No one wanted to get off. No one was waiting to get on. A hint of exasperation began to tinge the driver's announcements. Her passengers began to feel guilty. Then the driver finally found a passenger waiting in front of Mercy General Hospital. After that everyone relaxed. The bus company thoughtfully replaced the driver at 29th and L Streets.
I left the bus at 22nd Street and walked to work. At a house near 22nd and O streets, someone has painted a large brick and set it up as a billboard atop the wall around a flowerbed. The brick is the size of a large, rectangular stepping stone. It has been painted bright pink. In black paint, it says, "Be Grateful." The Be Grateful brick billboard is liberally coated with gold or silver glitter. It is hard to tell the color in the sparkling morning light.