Sunday, January 31, 2010

BUS STORY # 169 (The Metro, D.C. Style)

Metro HDR, originally uploaded by geoff.greene.

I’ve recently returned from my first trip ever to Washington, D.C. Among the many firsts of that trip was the opportunity to use the legendary Metro.

The Metro (officially known as the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority) is sometimes referred to as the Metro Link because it includes both the Metro Rail and the Metro Bus systems. But the home page calls it “The Metro,” and so does everyone else.

The Metro Home Page

The website is excellent, and I used it to plan my trip from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport to the corner of 18th and Wyoming NW which is about 2/3 of a block from my destination. Pretty awesome, that.

The plan was to catch the Yellow Line at Reagan and disembark at the U Street station, then catch either the 90 or the 92.

Since I was arriving on a Saturday, I was facing reduced schedules. The Yellow line was only running every 12 minutes from the airport.

I’m glad I first saw this online, in the privacy of my own home. If I’d have seen this for the first time there at the airport, people would have seen this rube from the sticks staring slack-jawed and pop-eyed at this version of “reduced service” and thinking of the 50 back home running every hour – and starting two hours later, stopping two hours earlier, and no service at all on Sunday.

On the other hand, there were probably more passengers on my ride into the city than take the 50 the whole of Saturday.

According to the online trip planner, once I got off at the U Street station, I would catch either the 90 or 92 within 5 minutes. That would get me to my destination in another 6 minutes.

In fact, the trip planner delivered. The 92 arrived about five minutes after I emerged street side from the station. It took me less than 30 minutes from the time I boarded the Yellow line at the airport to the time I got off the bus at the corner of 18th and Wyoming NW.

Sunday morning, after sharing a dim sum brunch with my daughter and son-in-law at Tony Cheng’s in Chinatown, I walked across the street and took the Metro back to the airport. My flight back was not quite as on-schedule as the Metro, but the airlines got the job done.

Total cost for using the Metro: $4.80.

So: did I get any bus stories on the Metro? Well, nothing on the order of the one I got a year ago in Dallas, but I did get a series of “shorts” which I’ll post next week.

D.C. Metro, originally uploaded by gregms.

Metro Window Sticker, originally uploaded by busboy4.


The photo at the top of this story is titled Metro HDR and is posted with the kind permission of geoff.greene. You can see this and all geoff.greene’s photos on Flickr at:

The photo in the middle of this story is titled IMG_3587_edited-1 and is posted with the kind permission of Beechwood Photography. You can see this and all Beechwood Photography's photos on Flickr at:

The first photo at the bottom of this story is titled D.C. Metro and is posted with the kind permission of gregms. You can see this and all gregms's photos on Flickr at:

Sunday, January 24, 2010

BUS STORY # 168, Part 2 (Means Testing)

Last week’s story featured a somewhat hapless rider who questioned out loud why another rider would take the bus if he could afford to go to Cape Cod. (You can read it here.)

After nearly four years riding the bus, I know the great majority of my co-riders take the bus because it’s their only option. There are absolutely no romantic or idealistic illusions about what they are doing. It’s all they can afford. And if they could get their hands on a car, they’d be off the bus faster than the Rapid can reach the other side of town.

Who’s the witless one? The one who rides and doesn’t have to.

Interestingly, this population shares this same sensibility with the overwhelming majority of the socially adept, well-educated, economically comfortable folks in town: Why would anyone in his or her right mind take the bus if they didn’t have to?

I was one of those people four years ago. The very first bus story I wrote was how I came to give public transportation a try: a concern for the environment pushed into action by the rising cost of gasoline. I crunched the numbers: environmentally responsible behavior had become financially advantageous. I gave it a try.

Along the way, I discovered other benefits: not having to drive in a city of aggressive but unskilled drivers, not having to drive in rain or snow, not having to find parking, time to read, and, of course, collecting bus stories.

I also discovered during commute times that there were others in my socioeconomic niche who took the bus to and from work for many of the same reasons. I’ve even met a few who always take public transportation, in town and out, on principle.

We are a small minority. And like any small minority going against the tide, there is always a nagging suspicion about our kind.

The woman who questioned why someone who could afford to go to Cape Cod would ride the bus was, in essence, suggesting a person who could afford such a trip didn’t belong on the bus. Both what our male co-rider said in response and the force with which he said it confirmed he had not missed the implication.

This got me to imagining a line of boarders having to show their W-2 forms to the driver before being allowed past the fare box.

“Sorry, sir, but your box one is way past the allowable.”

“But, driver, what about line 43 on my 1040?”

“Sorry, sir, I don’t make the rules. Please get off the bus now. I’ve got a schedule to keep.”

AAA estimates the annual cost of owning a car runs somewhere between 6,000-plus and 10,000-plus dollars depending on the size and age of the car, and the number of miles driven.

It is entirely possible for someone living in Albuquerque to get rid of his or her car, use the bus for most transportation needs and augment that with taxi service when necessary, and use the money saved for an annual two-week, stay-where-you-want, eat-where-you-want, buy-what-you-want summer vacation on old Cape Cod.

Could this be how our co-rider was financing his trips to the Cape? I think it’s unlikely, but I really don't know.

What I do know is that I myself would vacation elsewhere. You can’t believe the traffic.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

BUS STORY # 168, Part 1 (Means Testing)

I’m sitting with Ralph* and we’re talking about work. This utterly fascinating comparison of job expectations and bosses’ reality constructs is interrupted by the woman sitting across the aisle from us. She is leaning toward me and has just finished saying something neither of us heard. I lean toward her and say, “I’m sorry?”

“I said, if he can afford to go to Cape Cod, why is he riding the bus?”

Ralph and I are clueless. Is she talking about us? Did she misunderstand something we said? Is she all there? She’s a short, overweight woman who looks dressed for Walmart.

Ralph and I look at each other, and then I say again, “I’m sorry?”

Before she can answer, a man sitting two rows ahead of us on the bench seat leans forward and tells her he doesn’t sit around listening in on her phone calls and making judgmental observations to everyone around him, so why doesn’t she just mind her own business and shut her mouth.

He's dressed like he works in an office. He speaks loudly and clearly and with an authority that suggests he might also have a boss’s reality construct.

When he’s finished his piece, he leans back and brings a cell to his ear.

“Sorry, I’m dealing with some _______ here on the bus.”

The woman witlessly repeats her question, half to him, half to whoever else is listening, which is pretty much everyone by now.

Unfortunately, he either does not grasp or angrily ignores just how witless she is, and rips her a profanity-laced new one. Embedded in the response is that he happens to prefer taking the bus to work, and he’s probably contributing a lot more in taxes toward the bus than she is, and maybe she ought to be thanking him for her ride.

At this point, the driver pulls over, stands up and steps back to where the man is sitting, and tells them if they don’t quit arguing right now, he’s gonna throw both of them off the bus.

The exchange doesn’t really stop right there, but it loses the profanity and peters out. When he exits, he apologizes to the driver, but points out she was the one being the jerk. After the door closes, she apologizes to the driver and also excuses herself from blame.

Ralph and I, like everyone else, have been keenly attuned to the whole episode and, like everyone else, are conducting ourselves as if none of this really happened in our reality construct.

Later on, when thinking about this rather disturbing exchange, I realized that, as hapless as the woman was, her question would resonate with a large portion of the bus riding population. Anyone who could afford to vacation at Cape Cod could surely afford a car. Why would anyone who could afford a car take the bus, for God’s sake?

*Real name changed.

The photo at the top of this story is titled I see you and is posted with the kind permission (and considerable help) of Carlos Ebert. You can see this and all Carlos Ebert’s photos on Flickr at:

Sunday, January 10, 2010

BUS STORY # 167 (Welcome To America)

Four school kids board and head for the platform at the back of the bus. They’re grade school kids. You can tell by their size, energy, and clothes. Those are parent-picked clothes for sure.

They look Middle Eastern, and as soon as they reach the back, they break out in animated, loud conversation in a foreign language. They remind me of some Lebanese kids I went to high school with. Whatever they are, they are having a fine old time back there.

A few stops later, an old guy boards the bus. A tall old guy, six feet and counting. He has the uniform dinginess of someone who’s been on the road a while. He’s got a long gray beard and a baseball cap with a Boston Red Socks B on the front. He’s carrying a backpack and a duffel bag.

He moves with slow deliberation down the aisle to the seats facing the rear door. He folds himself down into the seat, arranges his bags at his feet, and leans forward, elbows on knees, staring at the floor. He’s so tall his head actually blocks the aisle.

We’re moving now, the kids are jabbering away, and he’s motionless, still staring at the floor.

Then, slowly, he swings his head up toward the kids and says in a gruff, gravelly bass, “Welcome to America.”

The back of the bus goes quiet.

A few minutes later, the kids tentatively, quietly, resume their talk.

The tall guy has returned to staring at the floor. But he says something that I can’t make out. It sounds like it might have been Spanish with a Texas drawl.

Apparently the kids can’t make it out, either. One of them asks, “What?”

He doesn’t answer.

He gets off at the next stop. He takes his time gathering up his bags and exiting through the back door.

From up on the platform, a voice whispers in English, “He’s gone.”

A few minutes later, they’re back to their animated conversation. As if nothing had ever happened. Nothing at all.

The photo at the top of this story is titled NYC and is posted with the kind permission of TassiLopes. You can see this and all TassiLope’s photos on Flickr at:

Sunday, January 03, 2010

BUS STORY # 166 (Babies On Board)

There’s a charter school along one of my routes. During the school year, the students make up a sizeable portion of the commuter ridership.

Given that one of the purposes of charter schools is to serve students with families, it’s not surprising there are several young mothers with children among the students.

“Babies raising babies,” says Davis,* a semi-regular commuter I’ve gotten to know some since we get on and get off the bus at the same stops.

He says this in a voice that sounds compassionate rather than judgmental or “oh well,” and when I get in a sidelong look at his face, I wonder if he knows something about this business most of the rest of us don’t.

Davis and I have followed one of the young moms from the time she showed up at the bus stop with an armful of blanket and a diaper bag almost as big as she is. She was very quiet, kept to herself, and her baby was the whole of her world.

Last fall, when the weather was cooling off, we both had some concerns about her baby’s bare feet and thin clothing. Davis told me he was thinking about getting some baby shoes and winter clothes for her. I offered to go halves, but we worried about inadvertently offending mom: two old guys suggesting maybe she wasn’t taking good enough care of her baby – especially if done where others could see. But doing it privately had way too much creep-out potential. We thought about how to do this anonymously. I was wondering if we could enlist the bus driver.

We were both relieved on the first chilly day when baby had shoes, knit hat, and a heavy blanket. These days, we know she’s in good hands.

Several times last year, we saw her with a young boy who was as small and quiet as she was. We thought he was pretty attentive to mom and baby, and we liked that he was there. We found ourselves pulling for them. Sometimes he’d ride with her to school, sometimes he’d just see them off at the stop. And sometimes he wasn’t there.

We haven’t seen him for quite a while, now. But she’s still going to school and still has her baby as the center of her world. She seems more relaxed and connected with her fellow student-moms these days.

If I leave work early enough, I’ll catch a bunch of them boarding with their strollers and bags. They’re all chattering away while pulling the kids out of the strollers and folding up the wheels and rearranging their bags and settling in with the kids on their laps or cradled in their arms, all done with an efficiency and effortlessness that make me wonder about my struggle with my backpack.

This semester, I haven’t gotten off from work early enough to catch the “school” bus more than two or three times. But when I have, I’ve noticed an anomaly: a dad with a baby, stroller, bag and all.

The last time I saw him, I was in the back end of a 300, and he and all the moms rolled their strollers back and settled in all around me. I noticed he was as familiar and easy with the settling-in routine as the moms, and I figured he’d been doing this for a while.

There was a lot of good-natured bantering, and he could talk home care with the best of them. And like the moms, he didn’t miss a sound or a squirm from his baby, no matter what was going on.

I thought about how comfortable this guy seemed in a situation I suspected most of his peers would find uncomfortably not macho.

And then I got to thinking about the flip side: here he was, surrounded by – heck, taken in by – a bunch of young girls who had to be impressed by what a dad he was, and maybe wishing the fathers of their children were even just a little like this guy . . .

Next thing I know, I’ve re-imagined a Jim Beam ad on TV: sensitive young single dads with their cute babies surrounded by beautiful young women alternating their adoring glances between baby and dad . . . cut to the line of guys in front of the rent-a-baby booth and the voiceover: “Guys never change.”

My little Dreamworks was obliterated by a loud and angry voice. His. He was on his cell and he looked like he wanted to stand up and stomp around.

“Why are you calling?”

It sounded domestic, and I sensed he did not want to hear and very much wanted to hear whatever she – no question it was a she – had to say.

“You walk out on us for two months, we don’t know where you are, and now you want to come back because you say you miss us!”

He was oblivious to all of us. We, of course, were stunned and riveted. I could see he was distracted for once from the baby in his lap. He looked like he wanted to explode.

The conversation ran its angry course. He snapped the cell shut and thrust it into his pants pocket.

“I can’t _______ believe the nerve of her!”

The moms wisely refrained from trying to soothe him.

A few minutes later, I reached my stop. I remember thinking I couldn’t believe any of those babies, especially his, hadn’t started crying with all that anger swirling in the air. It was easier than thinking about the harder stuff.

*Real name changed.

The photo at the top of this story is titled On the Bus Heading Back to Boseong and is posted with the kind permission of cholmondelly. You can see this and all cholmondelly's photos on Flickr at: