Wednesday, November 17, 2010
Why I like to ride the bus
I have a car that gets used a few times a week, when grocery shopping or driving 75 miles to Snohomish to jump out of perfectly good airplanes in the summer, but mostly I like it to park it in the driveway while I ride the bus. As I've mentioned before, the WTA (Whatcom Transportation Authority) has routes from the Canadian border all the way down to Mt. Vernon, about 15 miles south of Bellingham, and a monthly pass allows unlimited rides for $25. As a Senior over 65, my pass costs me $13 monthly, or $35 for a quarterly pass. It's a deal I can't pass up. But there's another reason I like to ride the bus: the company.
When I climb into my car and drive to the gym, I am encapsulated in my own little world, and I'm responsible for parking my little capsule somewhere once I get to town. From 9:00am to 5:00pm, I need to feed a meter at 75 cents an hour, and some meters require me to feed it every single hour. (There are a few two- and three-hour meters but they are usually taken quickly.) Riding the bus also allows me to observe my fellow passengers.
The No. 4 picks me up on the way to Bellingham Technical College, so when I step on the bus, there are already a dozen students of all ages scattered among the rest of us heading into town. Some have their noses in text- or workbooks, obviously getting ready for a test. Some young people are alone in their own iPod world with telltale earbuds hanging from under their caps. Sometimes I can hear the tinny sounds and am wondering what it must sound like inside their heads. Certainly these kids are going deaf quickly.
Yesterday was blustery with a fine misty rain hitting the bus' windshield. I watched a man with his daughter get on the bus with her little pink bicycle sporting training wheels. Our buses have a rack in front for bikes, and the little girl wanted to know why hers wasn't put there. Daddy explained that it's too small to fit. "Why?" she asked. I heard him give an explanation to her, and I remembered the age that has discovered that magic question, which she used at least half a dozen more times during the short ride to town. Dad was very patient with her.
An old lady (I mean older than me), white haired and bent, got on the bus and greeted the driver by name. She sat near him and as they obviously see each other often, they chatted amiably before she settled into her seat. The route goes by the Lighthouse Mission, and I see the same young man get on the bus most days with what looks to be everything he owns in a huge backpack. He doesn't ride very far, but I can see he doesn't want to lug that load when the bus can make it easier for him.
Everyone who rides regularly has a pass, but occasionally someone will insert a dollar bill into the slot and receive a transfer to another bus. After the first of next year, transfers will be eliminated, and everyone who rides anywhere will need to pay a dollar for each ride. Another cost cutting measure. The pass is a magnetic card that passes through a slot and beeps when successful. Sometimes a person will forget that it's a new month and the card makes another sound. If it's the first of the month and a regular rider, the driver will often allow the rider on anyway, with a promise that they will buy a new pass in town.
I've been watching for Sonya, who would ride the No. 10 bus with me several times a week, but with the new route and schedule, I haven't seen her yet. There are a few people who have become acquaintances, and we chat and sit together when we happen to ride at the same time. This is, to me, far superior to the other option of taking my car into town and parking it. I am a member of my community, and I feel my connections are stronger by taking the bus.