30 mph

Riding the bus is inherently slower than driving, because the bus stops every few blocks to let riders on and off. That's a 'slow' you grow accustomed to. It's actually kinda zen, and if you're in a hurry you should've caught an earlier bus.

There's another common layer of 'slow', though, and that's the drivers who never really hit the gas. Lots of drivers keep the bus moving at 14-17 mph, even on a 25 mph street with little traffic, and no matter how zen my frame of mind, that gets annoying.

One cloudy day, I was riding a #60 bus driven by one of those frustratingly slow drivers. When a bus crawls like that, it rattles more, so we were all shook up like Shake-A-Puddin', and being passed by kids on their bicycles.

Slow bus drivers are often allergic to yellow lights, so that driver slowed the bus a bit more when approaching green lights, for fear the light might turn yellow. When one of the lights did turn yellow he treated it as red, and hit the brakes hard. We totally could've made that light, ya bastard.

Then we rattled and slowly rolled to a stop on Beacon Hill, even though nobody was waiting there, and nobody'd rung the bell to get off. The driver gathered all his stuff together and stepped off the bus, sat on the bench and looked around, and if you're a regular rider you'll know what was going on — shift change.

After a minute or so idling at the stop, another driver showed up and said hello to the driver on the bench. They talked for a moment, and then our very slow driver was gone, and our new driver climbed up, and stowed her backpack and lunch and jacket behind the driver's seat. She adjusted the rear view mirror, then fastened her seat belt (the drivers get a seat belt, but the passengers don't) and shifted the vehicle into gear.

The bus resumed its journey north, and almost as soon as we left the bus stop, we were moving well past 14 mph, even keeping up with traffic. 25 mph is the limit, so we were probably doing 30. We were passing bikes like they were bikes. Oh, this new driver made me want to sing. The wheels on the bus go round and round, at last...

We're only bus riders, sure, but bus riders are going somewhere and we want to get there. It's nice when the driver wants to get there, too.

Another cause of chronic slowness is people who dawdle at the bus stop. I'm not talking about people in wheelchairs, or people like the fragile man, or anyone who moves slowly because of a disability. This driver took her time with those passengers, sweet as could be, as she should be.

No, I'm talking about people who have their heads in their phones or up their asses — the able-bodied dawdlers. At her very first stop, this driver pulled the bus to the curb and opened the door, while two women were talking to each other ten feet away. They didn't immediately start walking toward the bus, so she closed the door and drove away. Suddenly those ladies were no longer talking, they were hollering and running after the bus. Too late now. The bus had left without them. There's a new driver on the #60, I thought to myself. Oh, yeah.

A few stops further on, a man was leaning on the shelter and smoking a cigarette, watching the bus approach. The driver stopped the bus, opened the door, and that man took one last long inhalation, then dropped the butt to the ground and stomped it, and started casually strolling toward us, but that's the last I saw of him. The bus, she be gone, mister. 

And this was that driver's way, at every stop. If you're coming aboard, make a movement toward the door and then come aboard. If you don't make a movement, we'll be rolling at 30 mph again.

Adding everyone up at every stop along the way, I'd say a dozen people were left waiting for the next bus. Am I supposed to feel sorry for them? Well, I'm all out of sorry. Transit is a community service, but the bus is not a stretch limo that waits for you. You wait for it, and when it comes, move your ass and step aboard.

♦ ♦ ♦

My destination was lunch at Dick's Drive-In on Broadway. Two Deluxes and a fry, please.

As always, the burgers were fine, but it's the french fries that wowed me. By all the rules of what fries are supposed to be, they're horrible — they're always limp, never crisp, and they're so greasy you need to napkinize your fingers after every bite — but they're delicious. Simply divine. There are no fries in the world like Dick's fries. Sometimes instead of two Deluxes and a fry, I'll have only one Deluxe but two or even three orders of fries. That's how good the french fries are, and the service is always lickety-split, too.

♦ ♦ ♦

That day the service at Dick's was so quick that I lucked into the same driver on my bus ride home, so I studied her technique for the entire twelve miles.

Her priority was getting the passengers to their destination in a timely manner, and "in a timely manner" is something you don't often see. She piloted the ship well, and when traffic allowed forward motion, her bus moved forward. She neither encouraged nor tolerated unnecessary delay, and I've never had a quicker ride home on the #60.

She drove safely, though, and she smiled and greeted new passengers, politely answered their questions. What she didn't do was lollygag the ball around the infield.

Runners and wavers — people who aren't waiting at the bus stop, but instead are "on their way" to the bus stop — were shit outta luck. They might be mere footsteps away, might be half a block away, and they're waving and maybe running, hoping the bus will wait for them. I'm secretly happy when the driver doesn't see the wavers, because if we wait even ten seconds for someone who's not at the stop, it's much more than ten seconds of delay. The green lights ahead will be red instead. And also, a driver who waits for a waver at one stop will wait for wavers at other stops, too, and after waiting for just a few wavers we're five minutes behind where we could've been. This driver never noticed anyone waving, which was excellent.

It's a bus stop.

The bus will stop there.

Be there, if you want to ride the bus.

Another surprisingly common stupidity is passengers who wait at the bus stop, but aren't watching for the bus. They'll sit on the bench and daydream, or lean on a telephone pole but face the wrong direction. They're assuming the bus will pull over and they'll hear it, but with this driver, they heard the bus as it drove past, and that's also as it should be. If you're waiting for a bus, you gotta somehow indicate to the driver that you're waiting for a bus. If you don't even look toward the bus, betcha you will next time.

Then there are the homeless people who sit in the bus shelters all day. They don't want a bus ride; they're just sitting there because there's no place else to sit. Some drivers slow or even stop for sitting-there bums, open the door and wait a few seconds, before giving up and pulling away at 14 mph. Even half a block off, though, the bums who aren't waiting for a bus are very easy to spot, by their lack of body language. This driver understood, and never stopped or even slowed for any of the sitting-there bums.

Watching all this out the window, I can't remember a bus ride I've enjoyed more, except once on a date where we got frisky in the back seat. I wanted to file an Official Report of Excellence on that driver lady, but if I did, if I said anything I've said here, it would only get her into trouble. Metro Transit isn't really about getting people from here to there in a timely manner. It's only about getting people from here to there.

After ringing the bell near my home, I stepped off at the front of the bus, and said to her, "You're the best driver ever." She looked at me skeptically, like she thought I was giving her crap, so I added, "Seriously," and smiled, even gave her a thumbs-up. Then I jumped off the bus real quick, because clearly that lady was in a hurry, and I thought she might yell at me. Her bus was on its way at 30 mph, soon as my feet touched the sidewalk. 


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  1. Fun read, as usual,
    Paul M...

  2. Dad’s not here any more so I guess this comment is up to me.

    The top three priorities for bus drivers: 1) Safety for your passengers and for other drivers and pedestrians (including kids chasing balls into the street), 2) Schedule: Every stop is scheduled.You can depart 30 seconds late (or more) but not 30 seconds early, 3) Courtesy: The driver assesses every rider’s mobility when the rider gets on the bus; if the passenger is less than fully stable the driver won’t accelerate quickly until that passenger is seated.

    Every bus route could be completed in less than half the time specified by the schedule, but it ain’t a race— it’s a public transportation service. And the bus (with its air brakes) can stop more quickly than your car. Such a stop would likely throw a few passengers to the floor, but if it’s to save the life of the kid chasing the ball the driver hits the brakes. She has about 3/100ths of a second to decide.

    The job of the driver is to get you to your destination safely on schedule. If you want to get there fast may I recommend a Vincent Black Shadow.

    Of course you already know this stuff. I include the comment for less experienced riders.


    1. You and your dad are absolutely right, and I was kinda prickish as I wrote the above, sorry.

      Truth is, I'm not really such a bastard. Usually I root for the wavers, and sometimes even let the driver know, "There's a guy screaming and running toward the bus half a block away." I'm especially forgiving for new riders, people who don't know the rules.

      There are some unwritten rules of riding, though, and just that once it was so marvelous seeing the driver penalize people for violating those rules. I'm sure she enjoyed it even more than me.

      But if we want to encourage more people to ride transit, and by golly we do, that driver's behavior was counterproductive and should be scolded, not applauded. She had me when she hit the gas, though...

    2. Thanks for referring to Dad in the alive voice. He’s been gone 13 years and I still try to spot him when I drive by his old house.


    3. Ah, I love that line, John. I suppose he's wherever you look for him, if you find him there.

      My family keeps inviting me to visit my old man at the cemetery, but I've done that twice already and never spotted him there. Just a hunk of quickly rusting metal laid flat in the ground, and that's not my pop. He's the airplanes flying high above.

    4. Doug, unsurprisingly Bob Dylan, last verse . . .

      I look for you in old Honolula
      San Francisco, Ashtabula --
      You're gonna have to leave me now I know.
      But I'll see you in the sky above,
      In the tall grass, in the ones I love,
      You're gonna make me lonesome when you go.


    5. OK, I'll admit it -- I was crying a little as I typed the last line. It's the way of the world, but that doesn't make it any easier.


    6. That's fine poetry and a sweet memorial, sir.

      I've been reading about the light rail extension in Tacoma, wondering it it's as wrongheaded as some of the extensions the same system is prepping and building up here. Does your father have any opinions to share on the matter?

      It's grand to have had a dad worth having. I kvetch a lot and sure, my mom is kinda nuts, but I'm glad I had her, too. She's a decent human who's occasionally all fucked up, which is most of us, even my dad when he walked among us.

    7. The extensions have happened in stages. The first one (circa 1995) ran from the Tacoma Station to the Theater District (maybe two miles) and provided free Tacoma Station parking for a couple thousand downtown workers.

      Sorry, I just can’t thumb the whole damn story. Dad did get to ride on the first trip out of the station. He died in 2009 so he was unable to express an opinion about additional extensions. I’ll try to write more on Sunday.


    8. It took me a looong moment to understand "thumb the story." Hating those tiny devices and keyboards, I offer my sympathies anew.

  3. That was fun to read but You got your seat on the bus, everyone else can go to hell, seems to be the point.

  4. Yup. Really, riding the bus is about sharing a ride, and it's usually a kinda slow ride. That one day, not going slow and not so much sharing, was kinda fun. Also, I'm a bastard.


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