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, April 11, 2008

Eigh-tee-two skidoo

"Eigh-teeeee-twooo," said the driver in a booming voice as the doors to the bus opened.

A woman carrying a metal casserole dish in a paper bag boarded the bus.

"Pull up a chair," the driver said.

The driver and passenger exchanged pleasantries. From the dim reaches of the back of this old, single-level bus I can't make out the words, just the tone of friendly conversation and occasional laughter.

We move on down the road.

"Eigh-teeeee-twooo," the driver greets a passenger. "Warming up."

The passenger agrees.

"Going to be toasty," the driver says.

The passenger worries that it is too early in the season for hot weather.

"It's going to cool back down," the driver assures the rider and then summarizes the forecast for the next several days.

The driver is obviously enjoying greeting riders as his bus meanders across the unicorporated suburbs of Sacramento County.

The bus stops and the air brakes let out a load hiss as the doors open.

"Eigh-teeeee-twooo," says the driver.

He greets each arrival with "Morning" and says "Thank you" after they pay or show their pass.

The driver makes driving a bus look like fun. He certainly makes riding enjoyable.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, the wife is gaining an appreciation for the finer points of using Sacramento Regional Transit or, more to the point, how to remain flexible in an elastic world.

Her bus turned the corner from La Riviera onto Folsom and she looked at her cellphone clock: 8:55 a.m. Should she get off at Norcade and cross Folsom to the Starfire light rail station or should she ride the bus to Watt and catch the outbound train there?

It's the odd choices like this that teach the finer points of riding transit in Sacramento. The wife decided to get off the bus at Norcade and go to the Starfire station. An outbound train arrived just seconds later and she boarded. But it wasn't the train that meets the bus she catches at Mather. As a result, she arrived 15 minutes early, only to find the bus parked and locked, the driver off on a break.

"I gained nothing by being early," the wife told me.

Quiz time: If the bus is on time (or, as in this case, a minute early) as it reaches Folsom Boulevard, the choice is: (a) ride the bus to Watt and burn up six minutes of the wait for the right train; (b) get off at Norcade and catch the early train at Starfire and have coffee at the new cafe at the Mather station; (c) get off at Norcade but miss the early train and wait more than 10 minutes for the next train.

Each day, the wife gets to take the quiz and each day the potential consequence of each answer is different. Eventually she will gain enough experience. The trick is to make it all a game. Otherwise, it can be one lone, frustrating ordeal.

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