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, October 1, 2008

Thank you, Mr. Bus Driver

The Amtrak train is rolling out of Sacramento and across the bridge as I write these words.

Thank you, Mr. Bus Driver.

I've mentioned before my anxiety over the limited nature of my bus schedule. I take two buses to reach Amtrak in the morning. If I don't make the connection between the No. 82 and the No. 31, I don't make the train.

This morning I was buried in my book in the rear of the bus, but not so immersed that I didn't hear the bus radio traffic. The bus had just finished picking up passengers at the Watt and Wal-Mart stop when I overheard radio traffic from a bus driver telling dispatch that he had a rider who needed to make a connection with the No. 82 heading for 65th Street light rail.

"Did you copy that, eight-two-oh-one?" asked the dispatcher. I didn't hear what the driver replied. I was hoping maybe another No. 82 heading in our direction was being asked to wait. No such luck.

We waited and I worried. I tried to focus on my book.

Two, maybe three minutes later, an elderly woman struggled onto the bus, wrestling with her rolling suitcase. Once she was aboard, the driver quickly closed the door. As the bus pulled away from the curb, there was loud knock on the side of the bus and a shout for the driver to wait. The driver pulled back to the curb and opened the door to board one final passenger.

There's a certain rhythm that a driver normally maintains to meet the regular schedule. It's a matter of pacing. Driving too fast just causes the driver to have to sit and wait at the timing points. But when a driver is working to make up lost time, passengers can tell. The hard breaking into stops and the quick acceleration leaving stops literally hold back the clock.

I wasn't at all convinced that this would be enough. We still had to pick up the crowds of Sacramento State students who fill the bus to standing room. And then as the bus raced to the finish line, the driver took one final shortcut that told me the bus had a real speed racer at the helm.

Between Fair Oaks and 65th Street station, the No. 82 and the No. 87 buses follow the same route and make the same stops. Normally, the No. 87 is behind the No. 82. When the No. 82 turned onto Fair Oaks, heading toward the J Street bridge and Sacramento State, the No. 87 was in front, stopped at Cadillac and Fair Oaks. Our driver opted to skip that stop and instead moved into the left lane, adding the time saved to the total of his effort to catch up.

I have no doubt that the extra effort of the driver made it possible for me to catch the No. 31 and make it to my Amtrak train on time.

Again, Thank You, Mr. Bus Driver.

Now I'll go get a coffee in the lounge car and get to work.

* * *

Postscript: When I purchased my coffee and bagel, the attendant took my money and gave me my change. When the cash register finally coughed up the receipt, the attendant looked at it and told me, "Give me back that money."

Turns out Amtrak has a lottery going. If your receipt has red stars printed on it, then your purchase is free.

Must be my lucky day. I'm going to purchase a Lotto ticket now.


Anonymous said...

I actually was on the southbound 82 a few times when the driver simply didn't make that loop through CSUS when he was running late, on the theory that skipping the loop saves him 4-5 minutes. True, but what happens to the people waiting to board there??

- Jim U., Reno, Nev (RT rider 1993-2005)

Anonymous said...

Well, if it is Southbound, those riders have a couple other buses like the 34 and 87, and most likely, if no one wants CSUS, he asks permission to bypass it, so those riders at CSUS are not stranded... even if he doesn't get permission, they have those other options, and you get to 65th LTR earlier... but, they are not stranded, and most riders just wait for the 'next' coach that is going to 65th.

Anonymous said...

btw, last comment is from a Bus Driver for RT

Anonymous said...

Or he had to use the bathroom... lol