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, May 2, 2008

Reflections on a month of busdays

The wife offers this assessment of her first month relying on Sacramento Regional Transit to get to work and back:

I would not have been able to make the transition from car to bus without the support of the husband and boy, particularly the husband, who pioneered and paved the way, threw himself into the fray and found all the landmines first, making it easier for me to follow the cleared path. He not only planned all my possible routes and times, he's almost always oncall for last-minute schedule changes - much more reliable than RT. Out of three times calling, I only got to live person once on 321-BUSS. He gets everyone up, fixes the boy breakfast and lunch, boils my water, puts my XM Radio on my backpack, and waits anxiously to see if the kid will get me to the bus stop on time. He calls me or I call him just to say "I'm on the train," and it's interesting how satisfying that knowledge is, how secure and releived it makes one feel. Kind of like being on the plane: one is on the way, one is safely aboard, one can relax until arrival.

Except unfortunately, it's not always smooth sailing, either by bus or plane. In the month and four days since making the giant leap, I've been kicked off a train twice due to construction or an accident, had two no-show buses, been left at the curb once, and it's still pretty chilly on the mornings. But it's getting warmer, and there has been a hint of how hot it will be.

It only takes a couple weeks to figure out what to carry and where to sit. You easily develop your own comfort zone. I like the radio but between radio, tea, backpack, newspaper, shopping bag and a big raincoat that I keep stepping on, something had to go. I decided I didn't need the radio with the awkward headphones, but I must have my tea. I have a place for everything handy and bury my wallet deep inside my bag. I sit by the back door to get out faster. The bus will wait for you to gather your things when getting off; the train will not.

Everytime you sit in the front seats reserved for the elderly and handicapped, a wheelchair is guaranteed to board. I don't begrudge at all, I just get embarrased because I'm either reading the paper or looking out the window listening to the radio, oblivious to all, and the bus driver comes and politely asks me to vacate the seat.

One needs to sit on a bus or train next to a freeway or street of wall-to-wall cars to truly appreciate the absurdity of the basic commute. Being in traffic is maddening and frustrationg when one is not otherwise struck speechless at the human condition. Regardless of the bloopers and shortcomings of the transit system, I would not say that they exceed the insanity encountered on every foray in a car, whether it's one mile or 25. Let's face it: we've made our cars into family rooms with leather heated seats and surround sound, and the kids are watching TV while the wife is on the phone, maybe the laptop, but dad is stuck behind the wheel working. He's not watching TV although he may be eating, and he can't relax in his mobile living room because he can't take his eyes off the road or let up on the gas for a second. He has to pass someone and curse the annoyance of the driver doing the speedlimit, or get passed by someone and curse the effrontery of the driver cutting in front of him doing 85 mph.

In other words, to those who wonder about the "kind of people" one might encounter on public transit, I suggest that the kind of people encountered on the street and highway are much more dangerous and threatening. No one has bothered me, said anything, or even looked at me (gee). Many of the drivers are very nice and friendly. I have a great admiration for them and the difficulties of their job.

I bought my second monthly pass. I had to drive on several errands today, but at least I was able to consolidate trips efficiently, ending my day with my old drive up Sunrise Blvd. Sure, at 6:30 the traffic has thinned out a bit and I get home in half an hour, but who wants to work until 6:30 just to drive home? I have to walk out of the office at 5:30 to catch the bus - oh punish me more. I'm looking forward to riding the train, and even the bus, again.

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming . . .

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