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, March 31, 2008

Modern Bus & New Technologies Seminar

Sacramento Regional Transit will hold a "Modern Bus & New Technologies Seminar" on June 3 at Sacramento State. A two-page flier for the daylong event (lunch included!) has been added to the Regional Transit Master Plan web site. Click on the image below to download the PDF file.
Unfortunately, I'm at a loss to find the additional information or details on how to register at www.sacrt.com, despite what the flier says. Still, this is the first update to the TMP web site since it went online in October, 2007, which makes this something worth celebrating.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Feeling lucky with Google Transit

They call it beginner's luck for a reason. You can't count on it over the long run -- or even over the course of a single week. Eventually your luck turns.

The wife made four trips to work and four trips home using Sacramento Regional Transit last week. On one trip to work, the bus connecting with the train was late enough that the wife had to run to catch the train. On one trip home, the bus connecting at Mather missed the train the wife needed to catch in order to meet her bus at Watt. As a result, she had an extra 20-minute wait at Watt for the next bus.

The other day I chided Google Transit for not being able to correctly identify transit options for the wife. Now I wonder if perhaps Google just has higher standards for what qualifies as a realistic transit option. Yes, Google's option of walking across eight lanes of freeway traffic is problematic, but a 25 percent failure rate on making connections is equally troublesome. Passengers of Sacramento Regional Transit shouldn't have to rely on luck to make connections. Unfortunately, RT's skimpy service leaves little choice.

There are things that RT could do to reduce the problem. For instance, both Google Transit and RT agree that in the morning the bus the wife takes must meet the outbound Gold Line light rail line that follows Folsom Boulevard on its way to Rancho Cordova. But only Google Transit appreciates that the wife should get off the bus across from the Starfire station. RT instead insists that she ride to the end of the line at the Watt/Manlove station.

According to the RT's schedule data, it takes the bus six minutes to get from the Norcade Circle stop across from the Starfire light rail station to the bus stop at the Watt/Manlove park-and-ride lot. That's an important six minutes if the bus is running late, as my wife learned on the morning she had to run to catch the train.

I agree with Gabby, who commented on the earlier post, "I find myself using the Google Transit route planner far more often than the RT one. For me it is far more user friendly and I like to see the map of where I'm going."

Since it is just not imaginable that RT could adopt Google's mapping technology to its Infoweb site, then the obvious solution would be for Google Transit to lower its standards. What is needed is an "I'm Feeling Lucky" link similar to Google's basic search site. Click on the "I'm Feeling Lucky" and Google Transit could abandon its rules for what counts as a realistic option and offer the equivalent of RT's wishful thinking.

Of course, I could always wish that the four buses the wife relies on -- Nos. 80, 84, 73, 74 -- ran more often than once an hour. Make those half-hour buses and suddenly the wife would have the equivalent of 15-minute service, which would more easily match the 15-minute light rail service.

Maybe I'll have the wife ask. Anonymous RT bus bench orderers seem more willing to listen to her.

Friday, March 28, 2008

The lucky lady

The call came about 5:40 p.m. It was the wife. She was breathless from the combination of walking and talking, but between gasps she managed to explain that she had decided to walk a longer, alternate way and meet her bus coming down a different street.

"I know it goes down this street," she said. "Well, I know it goes near here."

She was approaching the intersection of Disk and Data in Rancho Cordova, she explained. I looked at Google Maps and found the location. Zooming in, I located the bus stops. There wasn't one at that intersection going in the direction she wanted. She would have to walk up Data back to White Rock Road, essentially making a big U and circling back to the stop she usually used.

Once upon a time, I could click on the bus stop icon and up would pop the next time a bus was scheduled to stop. If several routes used that stop, each would be displayed. No more. This has been missing from Google Maps and Google Transit for more than a week.

I could tell which bus stopped there. I then took that info to infoweb.sacrt.com and used the "Schedules" link to select the 74 route and determine when the next bus was due.

"You've missed your bus," I told the wife.

"What?" she gasped.

"It's 4:44 and the bus is due at White Rock at 4:44," I explained. "This bus runs only once an hour, so you'll have to cross White Rock and wait for the next No. 73."

"What?" she gasped.

"You are going to have to walk to ... "

"Hold on," she said and then for several seconds I heard the sound of rustling clothing and wind.

"Made it," she said.

"What?" I asked.

"The bus," she said. "It was turning onto to Data and I ran and made it in time."

The luck continues.

It was only after this that I remembered that RT's Infoweb offers "next bus" information. The problem is that you have to know the bus stop number and finding that when you are not standing next to the bus stop requires several extra steps.

Oh, well. Maybe Google Transit will bring back the "next stop" feature to the bus icons.

* * *

The wife's postscript: She wants a bus stop or two added somewhere on Data Drive near Disk. After all, she points out, there’s a whole new housing and retail development there, with stores open and homes occupied. Why isn’t there a stop there?

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Google Transit vs. RT's Infoweb

In newspapers across the wide expanse of America readers awoke to news today that stubborn belly fat in middle age can triple the threat of dementia in old age. Again, Google Transit comes to the rescue.

Ever since I started planning for the adventure of getting the wife to leave her car at home and take transit to work, I've had a gut feeling that something more than bus routes and train connections was governing Google Transit's algorithm for mapping point-to-point transit options.

This something is the difference between getting from Point A to Point B the innovative Google Transit way or going there with the suspiciously self-serving Sacramento Regional Transit way.

Pick up these images: In the one hand, young, creative techno wizards at a company that proudly proclaims "You can make money without doing evil." In the other hand, see middle-aged transit operators and bureaucrats, many of whom, we learned today, are at risk for dementia in old age.

Now, put the images down and go your computer and open up your Web browser. Create two Web-browsing windows. In one, go to www.google.com/transit. In the other, go infoweb.sacrt.com.

In the Google window, put Watt & Whitney, Sacramento as the start address and White Rock Rd & Prospect Park Dr, Rancho Cordova as the end address. Set the departure time to 7:20 a.m. (Any weekday will do.) Click "Get Directions" and then select either of the two "Did you mean" links to get Google Transit's suggested transit options.

In the Regional Transit Trip Planning window, put Watt & Whitney in the "I'm starting from ..." line and White Rock Rd & Prospect Park Dr in the "I am going to ..." line. Specify 7:20 a.m. for the departure time. Click on "Get trip plan" and then select WHITE ROCK RD @ PROSPECT PARK DR, RANCHO CORDOVA and again click "Get trip plan."

Now compare the suggested routes.

Sacramento Regional Transit suggests catching the No. 84 bus, and transferring to the outbound light rail train. RT says to get off at Mather Field station and board a No. 74 bus for the trip to the destination.

Google Transit suggests the same No. 84 bus to light rail. But here is where the two algorithms for mapping point-to-point transit options depart. Instead of getting off at Mather Field, Google suggests continuing on to the Cordova Town Center. From there, the young, creative techno wizards at a company that proudly proclaims "You can make money without doing evil" suggest a walk of about 16 minutes. It will do you good, lower your risk of dementia, make you attractive.

Of course, the middle-aged transit operators and bureaucrats, many of whom are at risk for dementia in old age, will point out that you won't live long enough to enjoy your dementia-free old age if you take Google's suggestion. That leisurely 16-minute walk to your destination includes a brisk dash across Highway 50. In other words, it can't be done. Certainly you can't walk from light rail to White Rock Road and Prospect Park Drive in 16 minutes.

An algorithm, according to the Wikipedia definition, is a type of effective method in which a definite list of well-defined instructions for completing a task, when given an initial state, will proceed through a well-defined series of successive states, eventually terminating in an end-state.

Everyone is working off the same basic data. Perhaps Google thinks it is foolish to throw away that extra $2 that it costs to make a two-transfer trip on Regional Transit. Perhaps Regional Transit really believes that offering routes with just four minutes between transfers is a realistic option and not just wishful thinking.

For a middle-aged man working on reducing his risk of dementia in his rapidly approaching old age, it's all a mystery.

So far the wife has avoided RT's two-transfer penalty by buying a $5 all-day pass. In three trips using RT's suggested schedule of buses and trains, she has only once had to run to make a connection. Perhaps her beginner's luck will hold.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Why grumpy guys finish last

When my mother's health started to decline she spent a lot of time in hospital emergency rooms. As her decline continued she became unable to understand what she was being told about her condition. I needed to talk to the doctors.

"Sorry, I can't give you that information," I remember the nurse telling me over the phone one day.

It didn't matter that I was the patient's son. The nurse just wasn't going to talk to me. Goodbye.

A short while later my wife called the hospital, and explained that she was the daughter in law of the patient. She then had a lengthy discussion not only with the nurse, but with the examining physician, including a detailed explanation of the planned course of treatment.

I am reminded of this power of my wife's by the "anonymous" comment left on yesterday's post:

"I laughed until I cried when she described as her "biggest" complaint: No benches at the White Rock and Prospect Park bus stops."

Benches have been requested.
Talk about beginner's luck!

The wife's second day riding Sacramento Regional Transit produced her first assessment of her drivers:
Driver recognition -- appreciating the subtle

The No. 74 driver (bus 9372) was very friendly, cheerful, helpful -- a real "good humor man." He made a new rider feel at ease and less anxious. And (emphasis added here) he stopped in front of me. (Recall the 20-foot forced march yesterday.)

In contrast, the No. 80 driver (who will remain anonymous) was a little edgy, producing a sense of bearing down on cars, invisibly pushing them out of the way. But he was helpful to passsengers.





The house guest

The bus turned the corner and I could see the woman waiting, seated on the bench inside the bus stop shelter. I recognized her. She was the same woman I mentioned in yesterday's post, the woman left at the stop as the bus rolled by.

As the driver completed the turn, he slowed the bus and pulled to the curb. The woman inside the bus stop shelter made no move to get up from the bench. She sat impassive to the bus and the invitation of its physical presence.

The driver did not open the door to ask if the woman wanted to board. There was no point. The woman's fixed glare was unequivocal. This bus was unwanted.

The bus pulled away from the curb and continued down the street, leaving the bus stop house guest unmoved.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Beginner's luck

I waved goodbye to the wife and the kid as the Dodge Caravan backed out of the driveway and onto Edison Avenue. They were late. Well, not late but they had missed their 7:15 target departure. It was closer to 7:18.

The wife waved back. She told the kid to wave and he leaned so he could see me in the kitchen window and waved.

They drove off and then the nerves set in and I fretted: Would the wife get to the stop in time? Would the bus arrive on time? Would the bus make the light rail connection? Would light rail arrive in time to meet the second bus? Would the wife ever make it to work? Would I be left to raise a teenage son alone?

I went back to bed.

The wife arrived at the stop in time to walk to the bus stop bench, set her bags down and sit and take out her phone. When she looked up, she saw the bus coming up the street.

As the wife gathered up her bags the bus stopped -- 20 feet short of the bench.

The wife is convinced that the driver saw that she had three bags and deliberately stopped short of the bench so that she would have to get up and lug the bags the extra distance. She's new. She'll learn. Last week, I watched a driver roll past a stop where a woman was waiting in the bus shelter. This was a shelter near my house. There is only one bus that serves that location, and it was the one that didn't stop. The lady just sat and watched the bus roll by. She didn't get up. She didn't wave or shout. I think she would have settled for an extra 20-foot walk instead of the extra 30-minute wait for the next bus.

Beginners luck held for the wife. The bus deposited the wife at the Watt/Manlove light rail station exactly on schedule. Seven minutes later, the train to Rancho Cordova arrived and the wife was on her way. At the Mather Field station, the wife got off and immediately boarded a No. 73 bus for the final leg of the trip. The wife arrived at work after a short walk from the nearby bus stop, confident, she says, that she will lose 10 pounds in two months.

The wife should have purchased a Lotto ticket, judging from her luck today.

On the trip home, the connections are even closer together. The bus from work to the Mather Field light rail station arrived on time, but the train was a minute or two late. By the time the train arrived at Watt/Manlove, it was four minutes behind schedule. As the train pulled into the station, the wife saw her bus waiting at the curb on Folsom. Another minute later and . . .

Everything went fine on the last leg of the commute until she arrived at her final destination and got off the bus. No son.

The wife had called the kid when she boarded the bus and told him to meet her bus in a half-hour. Well, that was just too much to ask. When the wife got off the bus she called the ungrateful wretch. He was still at his girlfriend's house. So the wife started hoofing it home. After about five blocks the kid finally caught up with her.

When I arrived home later in the evening, the wife dictated a detailed summary of the adventure. I laughed until I cried when she described as her "biggest" complaint: No benches at the White Rock and Prospect Park bus stops.

Beginners luck. Tomorrow she tries it again.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Cutting costs with the bus

In America, and especially here in California, getting a driver's license is a child's right of passage comparable to the first day of school. Both bring tears to the eyes of parents. But instead of tears of joy, these are the tears squeezed out by the financial pain of adding another driver to the household budget.

Last week, the kid got his driver's license and immediately the cost of insuring our two vehicles went up $1,900 a year -- $158.33 each month, $5.21 every day. It doesn't matter if he never drives.

According to a 2005 study, vehicle and related expenses accounted for 17 percent of total household expenditures—more than households spent on food and clothing, combined. And that was when gas was $2.09 a gallon.

The hit to our household budget has driven the wife to give transit a try.

Unfortunately, it won't be as easy as it is for me. Sacramento Regional Transit is so focused on moving people to and from downtown that getting anywhere else can be problematic.

The No. 82 bus that goes right by our front door takes me to light rail, which delivers me to midtown. The total trip takes a little more than an hour. The wife needs to get to Rancho Cordova. If she were to rely on the No. 82, it would take an hour and 30 minutes to an hour and 40 minutes.

The wife is not ready to make that much of a sacrifice, and so we've worked out a compromise.

The kid is going to drive his mother to a bus stop about two miles from our home and then drive himself to school. He is not excited about the arrangement, but it beats the alternative -- walking to school.

It will take the wife a little more than an hour to reach her office in Rancho Cordova. The trip, which requires two buses and light rail, theoretically costs $4.25 each way, but an all-day pass for $5 will cover the round trip. Even at $5, that is a real savings off the $9.36 estimated daily cost of driving solo to work.

Tonight, the kid, the wife and I piled into the car and set off to time how long it takes to get from our driveway to the bus stop where the kid will drop off his mother. We then tested an alternate place to meet up with the bus for those days when they don't get out of the house on time.

According to "A Better Way to Go," the CalPIRG Education Fund's transit study, the cost of owning and operating private vehicles costs American households $900 billion annually. It sure will be nice if we can cut our share of that burden. Of course, it would be even nicer if RT made it a little easier.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The panhandle of transit

I had worked a half-hour later than my regular shift. The two-car train I boarded at 23rd Street was crowded as I worked my way to the middle of the car and stood against the wall across from the Wachenhut guard. At 29th Street, the guard left and a sea of teenagers filled every available seat and overflowed into the middle of the car with me.

The three teenage girls across from me were high school age, maybe younger. The guy next to me was older, but not much. This was one of those crowds that I find unremarkable, but that I know make others uncomfortable. Too much teenage energy and noise mixed with touches of sullen defiance.

At the next stop two black men in oversized coats and knit caps boarded. They were 6-2, maybe 6-4 with athletic builds, although it was hard to tell with the baggy clothes. These are the sorts of guys who scared Barack Obama's white grandmother.

One guy stayed by the door and the other worked his way from one end of the car to the other holding out a 16-ounce paper cup and asking for money.

"Sorry," I said, "I don't carry cash."

The guy moved on, tapping people on the shoulder and holding out the cup. I didn't find the guy particularly intimidating. At least he was taking no for an answer.

When the train reached 65th Street, I got off and walked over to the No. 82 bus stop. One of the rewards of working a half-hour late is that I get an extra 15-minute wait for the next bus. (Thank you, RT, for block scheduling.) I leaned against the street light and pulled out my book and started to read.

"You got any money?" the male voice asked.

I looked up to see the same guy holding out the paper cup.

"Nope," I said. "I don't carry cash."

The two guys then walked off together. I had to admit this was becoming uncomfortable. It was now dark, and I was the only person under the street light.

When the No. 82 finally materialized so did the two guys. They boarded first and took a seat on the back bench of the bus. I took a seat in the middle, where the light is better. As I returned to my book, the driver left the bus.

One of the passengers was a tall, skinny white guy dressed in slacks and a polo shirt with some trademark I couldn't make out on the pocket. He sat down across from the two guys in the back and tried to start up a conversation.

It quickly became evident that he was a volunteer working for Barack Obama's campaign, which apparently has an office nearby.

"Would you guys be interested in helping in the campaign?" he asked.

"Does it pay?" asked one of the guys.

"Well, no," the Obama guy said. "It's just volunteer work. It's fun, though."

I was strongly resisting the urge to protect this naive young man from himself, but instead I sat and listened. I could see the Obama guy out of the corner of my eye, but not the guys in the back.

"So," the Obama guy said, "What do you guys do?"

"Live," said one of the guys.

"Until we die," said the other.

This went right over the Obama guy's head. "Well, but not too soon," he said and half-laughed. "You know, die. Not before ..." At that point I think he realized he had no idea what these guys could expect between live and die.

"How old are you," one of the guys asked the Obama guy.

"Eighteen," he replied. "I go to Mira Loma High School."

The Obama guy apparently pulled out a book and started reading because one of the guys asked him what the book was about.

He stumbled in his answer.

"Something about monetary policy in developing countries," he tried. "I don't know. I've just started it."

For me, this pegged the kid as a member of Mira Loma's famous International Baccalaureate program. I live just a few blocks from the school. The program attracts kids from all over the county. Some of them, judging by this guy, who have led unusually sheltered lives.

"You got any money?" one of the guys asked the Obama guy.

In a remarkably cheerful voice, the Obama guy replied, "I have two dollars." He started to reach into his pants pocket, but quickly modified his answer to, "I can give you one dollar. I need the other one for later."

I didn't see the transaction. Shortly afterward, the Obama guy was saved by a cellphone call from someone offering to give him a ride home from the bus stop. He got off the bus.

The guy with the paper cup then walked from the back of the bus to the front, asking the passengers if they had money.

"No," I said. "I don't carry cash."

He did manage to get another dollar from a guy in the front of the bus, and then he returned to his seat in the back as the driver returned.

Eventually, the bus left the station and we made our way to Sacramento State, where three or four more riders boarded.

As the bus was pulling away from Sac State, the guy with the cup got up and approached each of the new riders, asking for money.

It was one thing to be panhandling on the train. It was another to solicit on the bus while the driver was away. But to get up -- big as life -- while the bus is moving and ask for money -- well, why wasn't the driver saying anything?

The guy returned to the back bench, and eventually both guys left the bus.

Later, a woman who had been sitting behind me walked to the front of the bus to talk with the driver. The driver claimed not to have noticed the guy panhandling. A plausible defense, I suppose. The woman filled him in on all of the details. I didn't hear their full conversation. I went back to my book.

And, yes, I do have a dollar, maybe two, in my backpack. Just in case. You never know when it might come in handy.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Transit in 2035

Thursday, March 20, the Sacramento Area Council of Governments board will vote on the adoption of its Metropolitan Transportation Plan for 2035. This is the transportation component of the agency's award-winning Blueprint project, which seeks to guide the region's growth along sensible avenues.

"With 2.1 million people in our region and another one million projected by 2035, moving within and between communities is becoming an increasingly difficult challenge. Adding 525,000 new homes and 535,000 new jobs to our region, one might expect increased traffic congestion, dirtier air and longer commute and travel times," the plan notes in the introduction. "The Metropolitan Transportation Plan for 2035 links land use and transportation planning, with $42 billion in transportation investments in the six-county Sacramento region over the next 28 years. With strategic investments in our current transportation system, we can curb the growth in traffic congestion each household experiences. We can create opportunities for residents of the region to spend less time in their cars and protect our air quality while improving the quality of life."

You can read the documents here.

But it will still be up to the individual transit agencies to make the effort. As the budget part of the plan explains, "SACOG controls decisions on only about 15% of funds in this plan, enough to fund perhaps one-third of planned regional-scale improvements, so state and local agencies will have to serve as funding partners on essentially all regional-scale projects."

Which brings up the question: What is Sacramento Regional Transit doing to make this plan a reality?

With great fanfare last year, RT launched its own Regional Transit Master Plan with promises of expansive community involvement. But other than creating a static Web site, the community is left to wonder what's going on.

Under "Links and Documents," visitors are told: "Check this page for the latest information, documents and press releases as well as for website links to our partner agencies and key stakeholder groups." Checking, checking ...

Under "Get involved," RT says: "Please check back here for updates and for ways in which you can share your thoughts and ideas about Regional Transit." Checking, checking . . .

CalPIRG's excellent transportation study, "A Better Way to Go," reports that poll after poll shows an interest in expanding transit options. But transit agencies have to do their part.

"If Americans are to invest in a 21st century transportation system, they deserve to know if they are getting their money’s worth. All levels of government, along with transit agencies, should set measurable goals for what they hope to achieve from new transportation system investments, including goals related to energy savings, global warming pollution reductions, and long-term costs. ... Transit agencies should also provide detailed, up-to-date information on transit service indicators such as on-time performance and ridership, with comparisons to established benchmarks and goals. Transit performance information should be available to the public via the Internet, thereby giving transit users and public officials the ability to gauge the effectiveness of transit service and advocate for changes that improve performance."

Checking, checking . . .

This is part of RT's continuing problem of communicating with its customers. Press releases to mainstream media are not enough. RT has Web sites. It should use them.

The fare-jumper

I suppose it was just a matter of time, but it was still a huge surprise to watch an overweight woman in a pastel polyester pantsuit squeeze aboard the bus from the side door and casually take a seat without paying her fare.

The No. 38 bus was stopped at Broadway and Stockton. There were maybe a half-dozen people waiting to get on. Inside the bus, the driver was busy with offloading a gaggle of elderly people, half of whom were using walkers and the rest were pulling collapsible grocery carts. It was a slow motion geriatric pileup in the front of the bus.

At the rear of the bus, meanwhile, a stream of riders were exiting the side door. As the last rider left, a woman waiting just outside the door stepped aboard as the doors started to close. Even with the doors fully open it would have been something of a squeeze, but she had to really work to make it inside with the doors pressing in.

When I traveled to San Francisco for the Summer of Love concert back in September, I saw a lot of fare-jumping, but that was because the only way to board the overcrowded bus to the concert was to lunge aboard when someone exited. It was a lawless mess, but somehow fitting to the occasion.

The fare-jumper chatted with a lady who had boarded at the front door and paid her fair. I couldn't hear what was said. I kept waiting for the driver to come back and ask her to pay. Granted, paying $2 to travel a few blocks is a steep toll, but she could have walked. It's not like she didn't need the exercise.

The woman got off the bus at the Medical Center.

In my original draft of this blog post I described her waddle as she crossed the grass toward the Medical Center, and the way her cellulite made her butt look like a polyester wrapped sack of marbles. But the wife considers that tasteless and unkind and generally demeaning to fat people. She says I can do better.

I'm trying, but I'm not having much luck. That parting image is replaying in my mind. I can understand kids playing games, testing the boundaries. But an adult woman? Even in polyester, what would prompt such behavior, such disregard for social norms? In more than 12 months of riding the bus, I have not witnessed another fare jumper. It's unsettling. It is so not transitarian.

Spying Blind on the bus

Finished Amy B. Zegart's "Spying Blind: The CIA, the FBI, and the Origins of 9/11," a textbook, literally, on the failure of America's intelligence bureaucracy and, more troubling, its continuing inability to adapt to the demands of fighting terrorism.

"For the first time in history, great power does not bring security," Zegart writes. "It is now the weak who threaten the strong. And it is intelligence, not military might, which provides the first and last line of defense."

In Zegart's sparse textbook style -- explain what will be said, say it and then summarize what was said -- the reader is led step by step to an appreciation of the structural deficiencies that cripple government efforts to protect the nation in a post-Cold War world. It is no wonder, then, that it was not a systematic counterterrorism effort but a conscientious border customs inspector in 1999 who foiled the Millennium plot to explode a bomb at Los Angeles International Airport.

"The single most important reason the United States remained so vulnerable on September 11 was not the McDonald's wages paid to airport security workers, the Clinton administration's inability to capture or kill Osama bin Laden, or the Bush administration's failure to place terrorism higher on its priority list," Zegart explains. "It was the stunning inability of U.S. intelligence agencies to adapt to the end of the Cold War."

Zegart's book underlines what Los Angeles Times reporter Bob Drogin explained in "Curveball," his tale of the intelligence failures that surrounded America's invasion of Iraq. It's an institutional culture in the intelligence community that hobbles the efforts of good people to do their jobs. These are the same institutional faults described in "Charlie Wilson's War" by George Crile, especially during CIA agent Gust Avrakotos' internal exile, when he used the anonymity of the need-to-know compartmentalization inside the agency to hide from superiors he had angered.

"Government agencies are not built to change with the times," Zegart writes. "Because reform does not generally arise from within, it must be imposed from the outside. But even this rarely happens because all organizational changes, even the best reforms, create winners and losers, and because the political system allows losers multiple opportunities to keep winners from winning completely. Indeed, the greater the proposed change, the stronger the resistance will be. As a result, organizational adaption almost always meets with defeat, becomes watered down, or gets shelved for another day, when the next crisis erupts."

What I found surprising -- but I should not have been surprised by -- was the role the Defense Department played in thwarting intelligence reform efforts both prior to and after 9/11. In 1991, under the first President Bush, Congress devised a radical restructuring of the intelligence community that would have placed it under a powerful new director of national intelligence. Then-Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney played the "reducing the effectiveness of intelligence support to our war-fighting commanders" trump card and scuttled the effort. This is the same card future-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld would play after 9/11, seriously undermining efforts to fix what study after study found to be the problems with America's intelligence community.

For anyone with an interest in government, who wants to know why it works the way it does, this is a must-read book.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Getting there on the bus

Today I took the kid to his orthodontist appointment -- on the bus. The kid was not as excited as I was. After all, transitarian enthusiasm is so dorky, so unhip or so not whatever is the teen phrase of the day.

It helped, of course, that the kid is on spring break. That eliminated the need for the wife to rush the kid to the appointment and back to school before heading in the opposite direction to work.

This morning I was fairly lucky rolling him out of bed in time to be ready to walk out the door to meet the bus. That's one real problem when herding cats or a sullen teenager -- fixed schedules. The bus driver isn't going to stop outside your house and honk to hurry you up.

I'm working hard here trying to make this as big a deal as I can, but the whole trip was a lesson in the ease of using transit when it is available.

It's a straight (figuratively speaking) run on the No. 82 to Sac State and from there to midtown on the No. 30. We got off the bus at the western corner of Sutter's Fort and L Street. The kid walked a block and a half to his orthodontist's appointment while I walked 10 blocks to work. I was a half-block from my office when the kid called to say he had finished with his appointment.

The kid then walked to Starbucks on 19th and J, bought a coffee and waited for one of three different buses that make connections with the No. 82.

As the kid explained in a phone call to his mother when he got home, it was no big deal. He's taken the bus before.

But that bus ride will also most likely be the last he takes for some time. Thursday he takes his driving test, and once he passes he gets the car that's been garaged at home while I've been taking the bus. I'm hoping the price of gas will keep him close to home.

The realization that I won't have that extra car to fall back on when riding the bus isn't so convenient has been making me grumpy. Well, grumpier. I've gained a certain appreciation for the anger just under the surface of people who have no choice but to live with the lackluster level of transit service in Sacramento. It's one thing to be a choice rider; it's quite another to have no choice.

Race and hope

Below is the full video of Barack Obama's speech today in Philadelphia. Please take the time to listen.




These are pieces of the speech I found particularly meaningful:

The fact is that the comments that have been made and the issues that have surfaced over the last few weeks reflect the complexities of race in this country that we’ve never really worked through -- a part of our union that we have yet to perfect. And if we walk away now, if we simply retreat into our respective corners, we will never be able to come together and solve challenges like health care, or education, or the need to find good jobs for every American. ...

Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze -- a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many. And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns -- this too widens the racial divide, and blocks the path to understanding.

This is where we are right now. It’s a racial stalemate we’ve been stuck in for years. Contrary to the claims of some of my critics, black and white, I have never been so na├»ve as to believe that we can get beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle, or with a single candidacy ... particularly a candidacy as imperfect as my own. ...

The profound mistake of Reverend Wright’s sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society. It’s that he spoke as if our society was static; as if no progress has been made; as if this country -- a country that has made it possible for one of his own members to run for the highest office in the land and build a coalition of white and black; Latino and Asian, rich and poor, young and old -- is still irrevocably bound to a tragic past. But what we know -- what we have seen -- is that America can change. That is true genius of this nation. What we have already achieved gives us hope -- the audacity to hope -- for what we can and must achieve tomorrow. ...

In the end, then, what is called for is nothing more, and nothing less, than what all the world’s great religions demand -- that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Let us be our brother’s keeper, Scripture tells us. Let us be our sister’s keeper. Let us find that common stake we all have in one another, and let our politics reflect that spirit as well. ...

This union may never be perfect, but generation after generation has shown that it can always be perfected. And today, whenever I find myself feeling doubtful or cynical about this possibility, what gives me the most hope is the next generation -- the young people whose attitudes and beliefs and openness to change have already made history in this election. ...






Sunday, March 16, 2008

Flying to the airshow on the bus

Riding the bus in Sacramento is sort of like living in a small town. You have your little mysteries and your neighbors and your adventures. Even on the weekend.

* * *

The woman set her purse and a package down on a seat and started rummaging for her student ID and money for the bus fare.

"Are you OK," the driver asked.

The woman looked up from her purse and asked, "Are you talking to me?"

"Yes," the driver said. "You have blood on your neck."

"Oh, that," the woman said as she walked back to the fare box. "That's from a long time ago. It's dry now."

She paid her fare and took a seat in the first row of the bus. As she walked toward me, I could see the dried blood on her neck. If she were a guy, I would assume she had nicked herself shaving.

She sat down and busied herself re-ordering her things.

The driver is a nice guy. His concern about an bloodied passenger is not unexpected. He's one of my favorite regular No. 82 drivers.

* * *

A young couple who regularly ride the No. 82 together boarded at the Watt and Chenu stop. They are twenty-something and quiet, but clearly attentive to each other. Today I looked to see if they wore wedding bands. I couldn't tell.

I don't know if the couple ride the bus because they enjoy the savings of not driving a car or ride because they have no choice. But they always appear to be enjoying themselves. They never seem disappointed that they have their time together on the bus.

* * *

The California Capital Airshow is perhaps the one thing everyone agrees Sacramento Regional Transit does well. At least in delivering people to the show.

I arrived at the 65th Street station and waited for the train. Normally on the weekend you would expect at most a two-car train. But today RT was running four cars on the Folsom/Sunrise line. And by the time we arrived at the Mather stop, all four cars were standing-room-only.

The light rail station was cordoned to guide arriving passengers to the buses they would ride to the airshow. I walked from the train right on to a bus. As we left the train station other buses pulled in. No one had more than a two or three minute wait to board a bus.

As we headed to the airshow, all of the intersections along the way had police controlling traffic to enable the buses to travel without delay. When the buses reached the outskirts of Mather Airfield, separate lanes were dedicated for the buses. We whizzed past long lines of traffic waiting to get into the show.

It would have been nice if something could have been done to reduce the long wait to leave. Perhaps having more than three buses board at a time. But the good feelings left over from the excellent arrival arrangement tempered any disppointment during the half-hour wait to board a bus.

* * *

And, of course, no weekend riding Sacramento Regional Transit is complete without the obligatory reminder that on the weekend you get half the bus service you get during the week, if it's available at all.

My No. 82, which runs on a half-hour schedule weekdays, runs just once an hour on the weekend. And that hour didn't align well with my return trip. But there was a bus waiting at the station that got me to within two miles of home, and I walked the final leg of the trip. I got home sooner than if I had waited 40 minutes for the next No. 82, and got some exercise to boot -- a transitarian success of sorts.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Bowling from the bus

The crowd at the bus stop was unusual. In more than a year of riding the bus from my suburban neighborhood to work in midtown, I have never found more than two people waiting at my bus stop.

But there, clearly gathered around the bus stop, was such a crowd that at first I thought something must have happened and that these people were passersby drawn to the tragic scene. That, of course, was just as unlikely as the crowd. First off, there must have been at least a dozen people milling about and you never see that many people walking around. Driving, maybe; walking, no.

As I got closer I realized that this was a crowd of elementary school children and their adult chaperons.

For the adults at the bus stop my arrival was clearly viewed as suspicious. Each mother made sure I knew she was watching. Understandable, I suppose. We are, again, talking about a bus stop amid street after street of ranch houses and manicured lawns. This is not the neighborhood of bus riders.

As I stopped at the fringe of the crowd to await the bus, the teacher put herself between me and the kids. Just in case. And she watched me silently.

Personally, I don't think I'm quite that scary, but I'm told I scowl. I tried smiling at the teacher, and she responded by asking me if I was waiting for the bus.

"Yes," I said. "I'm heading downtown to work."

"We're going bowling," the teacher explained, obviously relieved that I wasn't, after all, a pervert.

The kids in her charge were obviously the best behaved kids in the school. The bowling trip must have been some sort of reward. Those of the kids who weren't sitting quietly on the landscaping rocks around the bus stop were holding hands with their mothers. No horseplay here. It was a bit unsettling. The kids at this bus stop were just too subdued. Maybe there is something to that report of drugs in the water.

Anyway, the bus arrived and everyone boarded. I don't know how school field trips on RT buses work. The teacher had some paperwork that covered all of the children and the parents.

"I just need to know how many kids," the driver said. After the teacher said six, the driver added that number to the fare box, a bell chiming to mark each addition.

At Watt and El Camino, the kids and adults all exited in an excited (in a well-behaved sort of way) stream. It's about a 15-minute bus ride from stop to stop and then a block walk back to the bowling alley. It's so easy, the bowling alley should subsidize the cost of the bus in order to encourage more kids to skip school and bowl.

That was Friday. This is Saturday. I'm writing this in a notebook I carry in my backpack. I'm at the Starbucks just down the block from the bowling alley. It's all something of a grand coincidence since I'm here for a company bowling tournament.

I rode the bus down to the coffee shop. Since the buses run just once an hour on the weekend, I ended up here 40 minutes early. Oh well, such is the life of a transitarian.

I like taking the bus on the weekend because it's a free ride. Not free exactly, but since the value of my monthly bus pass is predicated on the cost of getting to and from work, any trips I take on the weekend using the pass are "free."

Perhaps I'll go to the air show on Sunday.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

How safe is Sacramento RT park and ride service?

Today, at around 5:25 p.m., a person who accessed the Internet from a computer on Intel's network (fmfwpr03.fm.intel.com), went looking on Google to find out "how safe is sacramento RT park and ride service."

Of course, the "Regional Transit Police Services - Crime Prevention Tips" and the "Laws & Rules - Sacramento Regional Transit," which were No. 1 and No. 2 on Google's search results, were never going to answer that question.

And so the person landed on my blog post "Ins and outs, but mostly ins (knock on wood)," which includes the line "... 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. ..."

At 5:27, Anonymous posted a comment asking, "Can you please tell me how safe is to park the car at RT park & Ride locations, for 8 to 5 timing."

Ever the helpful transitarian, I offered this reply:

I take the bus from my house to light rail and then to work. Or I take two buses. So I don't have daily experience with park-and-ride lots.

However, on those occasions when I have driven to a park-and-ride lot, I have returned to find my car unmolested.

RT has contract security guards at all park-and-ride lots. Of course, there was that problem in Rancho Cordova where the contract guards were caught stealing video game boxes from cars, but that's the exception that proves the rule. Maybe.

Bottom line: Parking your car anywhere for an extended period has its risks. RT tries to reduce those risks. I have no problem recommending that people park their cars and jump on light rail, especially if you work regular daytime hours. If you work nights and pick up the car after midnight -- which I have done twice in the last year -- it is a little lonely out there, but no more threatening than any lonely place at midnight.

When I got home, however, I decided I would try Crimemapper, the Sacramento Bee's interactive map of crime reports. This is more interesting than state worker salaries.

For a test, I tried the 8900 block of Folsom, which is adjacent to the Watt/Manlove light rail park and ride station. The database allows you to set the distance from the location. I set the radius at 500 feet. Obviously a circle 1000 feet in diameter includes both sides of Folsom and areas beyond the park and ride lot. Fortunately, the map pinpoints where the crime reports were filed.

Between March 1, 2007, and Feb. 29, 2008, there were eight larcenies, one assault, nine burglaries (vehicles, businesses and homes) and two robberies. There was an assault and a larceny at the corner of Folsom and South Watt and a petty theft and a "casualty" report near the station. Total police reports in the area: 54.

Now, let's put this in some perspective and compare that with the crime statistics for the area around Arden Way and Heritage Lane, the main entrance to Arden Fair Mall.

In the same 12 month period, there were four auto thefts, three assaults, 19 burglaries of all types, 45 larcenies, a drug bust and an illegal weapon charge. Total reports: 100.

So, you're safer parking your car at the light rail station and taking the bus to the mall.

Of course, if you want to be safe, you won't drive at all.
Highway accidents claimed more than 43,000 lives in 2005 and injured more than 2.7 million Americans. By contrast, only 185 people died in accidents with transit vehicles.
A Better Way to Go
Meeting America’s 21st Century Transportation
Challenges with Modern Public Transit
CalPIRG Education Fund Report, Page 14

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Let The Church Roll On


If a member in the church
and he won't do right
tell me what we gonna do
have a meeting, put him out
Let the church roll on
Yes, brothers and sisters, these are Good Times!

On March 10, the American Public Transportation Association announced that transit ridership last year reached levels not seen in 50 years.

"Americans took 10.3 billion trips on public transportation in 2007, representing a 2.1% increase over the previous year," the APTA announced.

And on the same day, Placer County's Placer Commuter Express bus service announced that it had become so popular that it would have to limit ticket sales to existing customers and start a waiting list for people who have come to transit and want to be saved. Thank you, transit.

Yes, it is a glorious time. But not everywhere. Not here in River City.

No. We have a member and he won't do right. Tell me what we gonna do?

OK. That's as far as I can take this without distracting from the point.

Sacramento Regional Transit has a real problem. While the nation was reporting record ridership, RT's combined light rail and bus ridership fell last year by 2.08 percent. While the Yolo County Transportation District saw bus ridership increase 6.09 percent and Elk Grove's transit service saw a 24.54 percent increase, RT's bus ridership fell 5.20 percent.

In 2000, RT buses carried 65,400 riders on average each weekday. Last year, the buses carried just 57,700.

Yes, thanks to light rail and the expansion into Folsom and Meadowview, train ridership has increased since 2000 from an average 28,800 each weekday to last year's 53,500 average. But with the decline in bus riders, the overall increase in ridership between 2000 and 2007 has done little more than match the percentage increase in the population in Sacramento County.

Sacramento Regional Transit's bus service is in dire need of improvement. Without it, transit can't possibly meet the needs of area residents.

Let me underline the problem with RT's bus service with a real-life example.

The No. 82 bus stops less than 100 yards from my front porch. I can take that bus to the 65th Street light rail station and arrive at work in a little more than an hour. A lengthly commute, but I put the time to good use. The full fare of $2.25 (which I don't pay because I have a monthly pass) is a significant savings from the $4.68 estimated cost of driving.

The wife would like to take the same bus and go to work. But she doesn't work downtown and that is a real problem, a problem that RT is doing nothing to fix. At least it is doing nothing riders can see.

If my wife wanted to get to work at 9 a.m., she would need to catch the 6:56 a.m. No. 82 and ride all the way to 65th Street and then take light rail to Sunrise and backtrack on the No. 74, arriving at an intersection a half-mile from her office at 8:42 a.m. She could cut 10 minutes from the travel time if she didn't mind leaving at 5:57 a.m. and arriving at 7:39. The $4.25 fare is hardly better than the estimated cost of driving the same distance, $4.68.

It is not hard to imagine why bus ridership has fallen four years in a row, according to APTA figures. In 2006, it fell 4.31 percent. In 2005, it fell 3.30 percent. Bus ridership hasn't increased since 2001, when bus ridership grew 3.15 percent.

Light rail is great, but a light-rail only system is unbalanced. It can't produce the sorts of savings that a well-run, option-filled system can provide. RT can do better.

* * *

Now for a postscript: I have to explain where the Mahalia Jackson video fits into this.

When I was growing up in the suburban wasteland of the San Fernando Valley in the late 1950s, our household lacked a number of modern conveniences. Besides not having a father, we didn't have a TV. We had a record player, but we had just three records. One was Handel's Messiah. Another was a collection of Frank Sinatra tunes. And the final record was something by Mahalia Jackson. Included on that album was the song "Let The Church Roll On."

So today, I couldn't resist continuing with this preacher shtick when I decided to write about the wayward RT bus system. And the first thing that popped into my head was "a deacon in the church and he won't do right." I was thrilled when I was looking for the song and found the video on YouTube.

Since I never did find the lyrics to Let The Church Roll On as Mahalia Jackson sings the song, I've transcribed them here:
Let the church roll on
Let the church roll on
Let the church roll on
Let the church roll on

Let the church roll on
Let the church roll on
Let the church roll on
Let the church roll on

If a member in the church
and he won't do right
tell me what we gonna do
have a meeting, put him out
Let the church roll on

Let the church roll on
Let the church roll on
Let the church roll on
Let the church roll on

If a member in the choir
and he won't sing right
tell me what we gonna do
have a meeting, put him out
Let the church roll on

Let the church roll on
Let the church roll on
Let the church roll on
Let the church roll on

If a member in the church
and he won't do right
tell me what we gonna do
have a meeting, put him out
Let the church roll on

Let the church roll on
Let the church roll on
Let the church roll on
Let the church roll on

If a deacon in the church
and he won't do right
tell me what we gonna do
have a meeting and put him out
Let the church roll on

If a preacher in the church
and he won't preach right
tell me what me what we gonna do ...
I'm gonna have nothing to do with that
But let the church roll on

Actually, the roll on part fits well. Perhaps I'll make it the official transitarian hymn.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A Better Way to Go on the bus

Rather than preach to the sinners driving alone to and from work, frustrated by crowded roads and wasting money while endangering the environment, I will address myself to the choir: Transit advocates and anyone who wishes to see a viable, modern alternative to the automobile, should download a copy of the CalPIRG Education Fund's report, "A Better Way to Go: Meeting America's 21st Century Transportation Challenges with Modern Public Transit."

Don't just read the five page executive summary. Take the time to read all 76 pages.

"The Interstate highway system is now completed. And we simply do not need, and cannot afford—either financially, environmentally, or in terms of energy security—to continue to make massive investments in new highway infrastructure.

"The time has come for the United States to prioritize the modes of transit that were neglected during the highway building boom of the mid- to late 20th century — transit, inter-city rail, bicycling and walking, among others. State and federal leaders should shift their priorities for new transportation infrastructure investment away from highways and toward clean transportation alternatives."
For the next few days I will using CalPIRG's report as a jumping off point to preach to the sinners and to rally support.
"Building a modern, efficient transit system for the 21st century isn’t going to happen overnight and it is not going to be easy. It will take vision, resources, public support and political will. To get there, transit advocates must create a vision of transit as a national priority, present a roadmap for future transit expansion to the American people, and identify the resources it will take to make that vision a reality."

Sunday, March 9, 2008

The Pact on the bus

Finished "The Pact: Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich, and the Rivalry that Defined a Generation" by Steven M. Gillon, the resident historian of the History Channel and professor of history at the University of Oklahoma. This is a must-read for anyone interested in government, and it is especially important when considering the race for the Democratic Party's nomination for president this year.

The book, which is being published by Oxford University Press, won't be released until June. I got my copy of the Uncorrected Advance Reading Copy off the discard pile at work. Everyone figured a book about Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich couldn't have much relevance. Just goes to show you really can't judge a book by its cover.

Gillon has written a well-researched account of the secret partnership between a Democrat who sought to move his party to the middle and a firebrand Republican who harbored visions of a transformed government -- and the tragedy that befell both men because Clinton couldn't keep his zipper closed.

Liberals who disagreed with President Clinton's welfare reform effort or the balanced budget agreement he reached with Republicans will find the book cloyingly approving of those efforts. Conservative Republicans who feel distaste for any deal that compromises principles to gain support will find the book and Gingrich a great disappointment. And supporters of Hillary Clinton will want this book to disappear.

On one level, the book is a tale of the battles of the cultural revolution that began in the 1960s -- the fans of Elvis vs. the fans of John Wayne. As Gillon explains in the preface, "When I started working on this book my plan was to use Clinton and Gingrich as metaphors for the intense partisan divisions that shaped the politics of the 1990s." But in researching the book Gillon discovered that Clinton and Gingrich had been on the brink of forging a coalition of conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans, a 60 percent majority that would have provided the support necessary to pass long-term Medicare and Social Security reform.

"Clinton was looking for a bold initiative in his final years that would define his presidency, answer critics who claimed he had failed to make a lasting imprint on the office, and encourage historians to rank him among the nation's 'great' presidents," Gillon writes. "For his part, Gingrich was also thinking about how history would remember him. His idol was Henry Clay, the nineteenth-century Whig Speaker of the House who used his influence to expand American power abroad and preserve the Union at home. Gingrich wanted to be remembered as a great statesman, not just as a conservative firebrand rebel and mastermind of the 1994 Republican takeover of Congress."

On the evening of Oct. 28, 1997, Gingrich and Arnie Christenson, Gingrich's chief of staff, met with the president, White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles and the administration's legislative director John Hilley.

"Both sides went to great lengths to maintain secrecy," Gillon writes. "The president did not tell his vice president, the Democratic leadership in the House, or even his wife, about the meeting." The official photograph of the meeting wasn't declassified until November 2007 after Gillon's freedom of information request.

What did Clinton and Gingrich have in mind?

"In private conversations with Gingrich and with Texas Republican Bill Archer, powerful head of the House Ways and Means Committee, the president promised to 'provide political cover' for Democrats and Republicans by announcing his support for raising the minimum age required for Social Security and for changing the COLA formula. The president was willing to oppose the leadership of his own party and support the Republican demand for private accounts. Although most Republicans planned to use the surplus for a massive tax cut, Gingrich privately accepted the administration's position that the surplus should be used first to save Social Security 'for all time,' with any remaining amount used for a tax break."

Four months later, the revelations of Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky abruptly ended any possibility of bipartisan work on any issue, let alone such sensitive topics as Social Security and Medicare.

Even casual readers of this blog know that I am a supporter of Barack Obama, and in particular an enthusiastic fan of his efforts to reach across the partisan divide in order to make government work. When Clinton was president, I reluctantly supported his welfare reform efforts. My sentiments were not unlike those of conservative Republicans who gave grudging support to President Nixon's efforts in China. If you are going to have welfare reform, I figured, it's better to have a Democrat in charge, balancing the limits on welfare with job training for welfare recipients and subsidized child care.

But it was as I read this book that I realized just how much the country lost with the stain on Monica's blue dress. In fighting his removal from office, the president had to seek refuge in the left extreme of his party while Gingrich was forced to adhere to the will of a cadre of unbending Republican conservatives he had brought to Congress. Gone was any chance of a middle way, and we have been paying for that to this day.

This is not a book that either Gingrich or Clinton wants published.

Gillon found a brief window of opportunity after the 2004 election when the two men were willing to allow the story of their past effort to work together to be uncovered, but as maneuvering for the 2008 elections began that window closed.

"By 2006, ... with his wife gearing up for her own run at the presidency, Clinton shifted gears," Gillon explains. "He had once seen himself as a post-partisan politician, as the man who would blur ideological differences between Democrats and Republicans. Now the master of triangulation pushed Democrats to assume the ideological offensive against Republicans. With his wife locked in a tough primary battle the president was determined to help broaden her appeal to traditional Democratic voters. Telling the party faithful that he had once tried to form a coalition with a man most of them despised was not part of the message."

Not only does the former president not want his efforts publicized, but he also doesn't want to reveal just how limited that "experience" was that his wife touts on the campaign trail.

One of the singular achievements of the Clinton administration was the balanced budget deal he and Gingrich hammered out after the Republicans had suffered major public relations disasters by shutting down the government twice. Hillary's role?

"For liberals, the only remaining ally in the White House was Hillary Clinton. While she was an influential voice in the first few years, she was largely excluded from policy discussions after the health care fiasco. She was much less generous toward Gingrich than her husband, viewing him as part of the right-wing conspiracy that was out to destroy his administration. But she was largely absent from the inner circle after 1994, directing her attention outward, traveling around the world, condemning policies that discriminated against women. Her most high-profile domestic initiative after the health care debacle was a book about the White House pets called 'Dear Socks, Dear Buddy.' [Erskine] Bowles gracefully made clear to the president that he would prefer she keep a low profile during the second term."

Barack Obama's name never appears in the book, but he comes off as the true heir to the New Democrat mantle, the best choice to restore the nation's hope that something more than partisan differences should be the focus of government.

It's time to turn the page.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Social skills of a transitarian

A neighbor was waiting at the bus stop when I arrived this morning. She's new to the area.

"Do you know when the next bus arrives," she asked.

"About five minutes," I said.

"Great timing then," she replied.

Ever the overly helpful, overexplaining transitarian, I offered an impromptu summary of the bus service at our stop: "It's every half-hour except after the fourth bus, there's an extra 15 minute delay. So sometimes there's 45 minutes between buses."

"That's good to know," she said.

I then told her how she could purchase a book of all of Sacramento Regional Transit's bus routes for just $1 at RT's customer service office near the 13th Street light rail station. I even pulled out my copy of the book from my backpack to show her.

She was kind enough not to laugh at me.

When the No. 82 bus arrived, the driver and the woman greeted each other by first name.

"How are you today," the driver asked.

"Oh, I'm on my way to get some dental work done," she said as she fed dollar bills into the fare box. "I'll be better after that."

I waved my pass at the driver and made my way to the back of the bus. My neighbor took a seat just inside the door and for the next several minutes she and the driver had an animated conversation.

When the bus arrived at 65th Street, the driver alerted my neighbor that her No. 34 bus was just arriving and she would need to hurry a little to catch it. As I walked over to the No. 38, I saw my neighbor heading for the No. 34. She made it in plenty of time.

I've worked around politicians off and on over the years. I've always been amazed at how a natural politician can meet and greet people, remembering names and conversational tidbits that make the connection personal. It's a talent I just don't have.

"Don't be so grumpy," the wife tells me.

"Harrumph," I harrumph.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Blue funk

I've been in a blue funk for nearly a week. I lost my wallet last Thursday. I know when I last made a purchase. And I know when I first realized the wallet was missing.

For two days I hunted high and low around my house and at work. Nothing. I even made a trip to work on the bus Saturday to look again. No luck.

Sunday I started closing the credit cards. I figured that was the best way to locate the wallet. As soon as you close the cards, they magically reappear. This is similar to the way turning off your heater's pilot light or putting away the comforter will cause a weeklong spring cold snap. Closing the credit cards didn't return the wallet.

So on Monday I decided to get a new driver's license. I tried the appointment option. Two weeks was the earliest I could get in. Don't think so.

There's a DMV less than two miles from my house, but getting there on the bus and then to work is just too complicated. Sure, I could walk to DMV and then walk to a bus route, but the DMV on Broadway is on the No. 38 route and I often take the No. 38 from the 65th Street Transit Center when I don't want to wait for the inbound train.

Now to understand the depth of my blue funk you must first appreciate that it took not one, not two, but three trips to DMV to order a replacement driver's license. I'm not blaming DMV; it was all my fault. Shortly after I arrived Monday and I was filling out the paperwork, it dawned on me that I didn't have a wallet. No wallet meant I didn't have any money. That night I found two credit cards in a drawer and so Tuesday I returned to DMV, only to learn that DMV doesn't take credit cards. ATM or cash; no credit. That was all just as well since I later discovered at Safeway that the credit cards were expired. Really, I wasn't paying attention. It was a good thing I wasn't driving. This is how accidents happen.

Finally, today I arrived with enough cash to cover the $22 driver's license replacement fee and enough left over to buy some fruit at Safeway on the way to work.

Being a transitarian has a lot of advantages when dealing with DMV, even when you have to deal with it three times. After all, anyone who enjoys stretching a 20-minute solo commute into an hour of reading is going to find three 45-minute waits in the DMV office hardly worth mentioning. Needless to say, I got lots of reading done.

I did have a little good fortune in all of this. The No. 82 that I take to 65th Street is scheduled to arrive at 8:53 a.m. The No. 38 is scheduled to depart at 8:58. In a year of riding Sacramento Regional Transit buses, I have learned that a five-minute window of opportunity is very narrow, especially during commute hours. It's nice when it works, but can you count on it?

In three days that I needed to make the connection, the No. 82 arrived 65th Street at 8:53 just one day -- today. On Monday, it arrived at 8:57. The No. 38 was already boarding passengers, and as soon as I boarded, it departed. On Tuesday, the No. 82 didn't arrive at 65th Street until 9 a.m. But when I got off the bus and looked south on 65th Street, I could see the No. 38 in the distance on its way to the transit center. Serendipitous latest all around.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The bus -- a musical

The sound of music floated in the air of the No. 82 bus. Like a smell, it was hard to pick out exactly where it was coming from. Mostly, the sound seemed to be coming from in front of me. I was tempted to look at the bottom of my shoe.

This was odd. Normally, I can pinpoint the source of music on the bus. Worst of all are the jerks with the cellphone MP3 players. The tiny tinny speakers butcher the music. Forced to listen is like being twice abused -- first the aural intrusion and then the crappy quality.

Anyway, I tried to read my book but the music wouldn't go away. I have a handicap that severely limits my ability to read when I hear music with lyrics. Instrumental music is fine. At work I listen to classical. At home I play jazz. But words when I'm reading intrude.

Seated immediately in front of me was a guy with headphones on, his head resting on the seatback in front of him. Across from me was a guy with earbuds stuffed in his ears who was texting on his phone. I could pick out at least three other riders who were listening to their personal music. But the sound I was hearing clearly wasn't coming from headphones.

As the bus made its way along its long, winding route from the 65th Street station toward American River College, people kept leaving but the music remained. And eventually it dawned on me that the reason the driver wasn't yelling to have the music turned off was because the driver was playing the music.

As the bus emptied, the music seemed to grow louder. It certainly intruded more. Before I left the bus, two people moved from the front of the bus to the back. If they were trying to get away from the music they were disappointed.

When I left the bus, the driver said, "Thank you for riding Regional Transit."

I couldn't think of a snappy comeback so I just left.

I hope music isn't going to be a regular feature of riding Sacramento Regional Transit.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Heroes of My Time on the bus

Finished reading Harrison Salisbury's "Heroes of My Time." This is a thin volume published in 1993. The book is one of several I picked out from the collection of a former neighbor who is getting rid of her inventory from her days as an online bookseller.

Salisbury profiles 20 people in the 201 pages. These are not the heroes of Salisbury's lifetime as much as they are heroic people he met during his years with the New York Times.

I have included only heroes whom I have known personally or whom I have learned to know well at second remove. This limits me somewhat geographically to areas where I have spent most of my years -- the United States, Russia and China.
There are plenty of famous people among these heroes -- Robert Kennedy, Aleksandr Solzhenitzyn, Malcom X, Nikita Khrushchev, Andrei Sakharov and Zhou Enlai. And since Salisbury was a journalist, he offers up several icons: David Halberstam, Homer Bigart, Iphigene Ochs Sulzberger and Edgar Snow. It is the choice of lesser heroes that is most striking: Brigid Temple Keoghan, an Emmet nun and university professor in China; Sister Huang Roushan, who cared for lepers in China; and Dan Xiaoping's son, Deng Pufang, who was crippled during the chaos of the Cultural Revolution and went on to change China's attitude about the handicapped.

Perhaps one day I will write about my heroes on the bus. There was the lady the other day who helped the auto mechanic get to Florin Road. I would also include the driver who waited while a passenger ran across the street to get change. And, of course, no collection of my heroes would be complete without the gentleman on the bus who saw a young mother struggling with an infant in one arm and a bulky stroller and ran off the bus to help the woman board.

No, not as exciting as Salisbury, but heroes nonetheless.