Riding the water taxi, for free

Hoping to minimize the number of drunk drivers on New Year's Eve, public transit was free on 12/31 in Seattle, and probably in most big cities. It ought to always be free, but that's another rant and I've ranted that before.

Seattle is a city on an inlet of the ocean, where huge ferries service the major islands, and a few smaller ships — water taxis, they're called — run between West Seattle (a peninsula, but part of the city) and downtown.

Despite the word 'taxi', they're more accurately water buses, running on a fixed schedule. You can't flag one down. Unlike the ferries, though, the water taxis are for people only — no cars are allowed.

Many times I've ridden the ferries, but never yet the water taxis, and on New Year's Eve they were free like the buses. That's an offer I wouldn't refuse, so I mapped my route and planned a free public transit excursion. 

People who fear public transit — which seems to be most people — think sharing a ride is a frightful risk, so I'll spoil the story before it begins: It was a delightful day on the buses and water taxi.

Six buses and one boat, no charge...

♦ ♦ ♦  

Same as every Saturday, it started with a two-bus ride to the diner. My #99 came and took me south without any interesting stories to tell, except that it's sure nice stepping onto a bus without paying.

Skies were cloudy at the Burien Transit Center, and it looked like rain, but this is Seattle. If you want warm and sunny Decembers, why would you live here?

Ian Tyson, writer of one of my favorite songs, "Someday Soon," died a few days ago, and the song was lodged in my brain. I wanted to sing it, but I was feeling the tune more than the lyrics, so I sang it like so:

Doobie doobie Bonk Bonk
McDoobie doobie Bonk
McDooboe doobie doobie doobie Bonk Bonk

For best effect, all the bonks should be sung twice as loud as the rest.

After a while I was really belting it out, especially the bonks, but it's a bus station. There's nothing you can do at a bus station that makes you weirder than the bums who basically live there.

♦ ♦ ♦  

On my next ride, the #120, the driver was in a bad mood. I always say "Thanks" or "Good morning" getting on, and his response was a growling grunt. It wasn't English, but needed no subtitles.

It was another screeching bendy-bus, so I screeched along, and tried to do it loud enough to add to the driver's annoyance.

I was at the back of the bus, and a black teenage boy sat in a sideways seat directly in front of me, over the bus's back wheels. He had a multi-colored ring in his nose, silver becoming purple and then fading to silver again.

Usually I don't talk on the bus, but a compliment never hurt anybody, and sitting sideways in front of me put us in the same conversation zone, so I said, "Nice nose ring."

"Thanks, man," he said, smiling big, so I asked the question I've always wondered about.

"Does it get in the way of picking your nose?"

"Ah, it's tricky," he said instantly. "It's best to use Q-Tips instead of your finger."

I nodded and made a mental note of it, and as soon as I'd rung the bell and stepped off the bus, I flipped open my notebook and scribbled, "Q-Tip nose ring."

♦ ♦ ♦  

Our family breakfast at Mrs Rigby's was a little crowded. Mom was there, along with my sister Katrina, Katrina's friend Adelle, and Anna, the widow of my dead brother Ralph. Three or four people can talk in a restaurant, but five is where it starts getting difficult, at least for me. 

I'm still eating healthy, so I surprised the waitress by ordering two poached eggs and a bowl of oatmeal, instead of my usual omelet with hash browns and toast and a stack of flapjacks. I haven't had oatmeal in decades, and guess what? It's pretty good, with raisins.

The only thing I remember from breakfast is that I was wearing my beanie baggie hat, as usual when it's cold out. In hindsight, it must've been the first time I'd worn it to the diner.

Mom told me to take the hat off, not from old-fashioned manners but because, she said, "I want to see your hair."

Well, OK, I took my hat off, but it was just a smidge chilly in the diner, so a minute later I put it on again. And for the rest of breakfast, whatever we were talking about, every five or ten minutes Mom told me again to take off my hat.

"My head's cold without the hat," I said the second time. The third time I said nothing, and the fourth time Katrina answered, "He said he's cold without the hat, Mom."

"I just want to see his hair," she said again, so let me 'splain: My beard is all gray, but I sorta dropped out of the hectic life when I was about thirty, and maybe that's why in my 60s there's no gray atop my head. I'm the only one in the family who hasn't gone even a little snowy on the roof.

I assumed that's what Mom was on about, but mostly she seemed to be opposed to the hat, maybe more than me wearing it. The fifth and final time she told me to take it off, she said, "And will you please take that ugly hat off?"

"No, I won't," I said with a smile, and stayed in the conversation I'd been having with Adelle.

"It's a cool hat," Katrina said, because she always has my back. 

I didn't give Mom's "ugly hat" comment any further thought until after I'd said goodbye to everyone, and I was standing at the bus stop, writing myself a few notes about breakfast.

It's a newish hat, clean, with no stains or rips, but it's tie-dyed — is that what makes it 'ugly' to my mother?

Yeah, that must be it. She was "the older generation" in the 1960s, so to Mom, tie-dye probably means hippie druggie free-love pinko commie counterculture.

That's what it means to me too. That's why I bought it.

And guess which of the several hats I own is my new favorite? From now on I'll be wearing the tie-dyed beanie baggie hat to breakfast every Saturday.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

My free excursion resumed with a northbound #120, and a brake-happy word-challenged bus driver who gave us all an unpleasant trip.

The guy getting on in front of me fumbled with his wallet, and the fare box was covered with plastic so the passenger was perplexed.

"Read the sign," the driver said, pointing at a sign on the plexiglass between him and the passengers. The guy read the sign and shrugged and sat down, but sheesh. Why be mean about giving something for free? Just say "Ride free" and smile.

That driver slammed the brakes too hard at every stop, and sometimes between stops, but what are you gonna do? Some drivers have a light touch, and some are lunkheads, and some, like that one, are just plain assholes.

He gave the same "Read the sign" BS to a few more passengers getting on along the way, too.

Third time he said it to someone, I shouted, "Fuck you, driver!" but only because I was safely behind my face mask, behind the bendy-bus's bend. The driver heard, everyone heard, but even the people near me couldn't be sure it was me.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

My next bus, the #128, came almost as soon as I'd crossed Roxbury Street, so I started feeling like it would be a day of good bus luck. I'd only waited a few minutes for the #120, too.

As I walked down the aisle of the bus, I saw a lady reading Armistead Maupin, and said to her, "Very good choice."

Took a seat behind a man with a two-comedian face — Bob Hope's ski nose, and Jay Leno's peninsula chin. He was talking on his cell phone, a distraction which allowed me to stare at him longer than I ordinarily would've, so I noticed that he had a Battlestar Galactica lunch pail, and it was in good condition. Dude must be Money, I decided.

When he rang the bell and stepped off, I saw he was wearing a red shoe on his right foot and a black shoe on his left, but a matched set — both shoes newish and with the same swoosh logo. So he's a character, but it's all manufactured, except for the Hope/Leno face. Or who knows, maybe that was a surgeon's work.

When he'd left, I looked out the windows, or tried to but couldn't see much of anything. Ah, shit, it was a wrapped bus.

For a few thousand dollars a month, Metro will wrap your ad all around a bus, including the windows. The wrap material has see-through dots so from the inside you can sorta see out, but darkly and not really.

The ad-wrap stopped before the top of the windows, so I stood up to actually see the streets go by. I like looking out the window, damn it, and also I needed to actually see where we were, or I'd miss my stop.

By standing up I literally stood out, and at the next stop the driver said to me, politely, "Are you getting off, sir?"

Standing is the first part of getting off the bus, so I can see how I'd fooled him. "Nope, not yet," I said, and I could see his eyes roll in the oversized rear-view mirror.

I hate advertising, and especially hate riding on advertising, so on principal I boycott any company that wraps a bus.

When I got off, I looked at the bus to see who to boycott, and it was a Gay Pride bus. I can't boycott that, but please let me see out the dang windows.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

My most excellent bus luck continued, with only a five minute wait for the #773. And it's a little mini-bus, the same size as the buses I briefly drove last summer.

The driver was friendly. First thing he said as I stepped aboard was, "Sorry I'm a few minutes late. I had to use the restroom."

"No worries," I said. "The bus comes when the bus comes."

I was the only passenger, and for auld lang syne I sat up front, right behind the driver to watch him drive, remembering what little I'd learned about being a bus-man. Ah, sometimes I wish that job had worked out.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

He dropped me at the water taxi, as my impossible skein of good luck continued. I don't think I waited 45 minutes total for all my buses all day, and the boat was waiting for me at the dock.

I walked the long gangplank, cheerfully ignoring the ticket machines ($5.75? Kiss my arse!) cuz today was freebie day.

It's a bigger ship than I'd envisioned, bigger than the house I live in. Still much smaller than a ferry, but it has hundreds of seats, all inside the vessel. You can walk around on the outside deck, though, and I did.

I never sat down, all the way across the water, and the view was lovely. It's the same view you'd have from a ferry — cargo ships, and big and little islands in the distance, waves and gulls and I spotted a Coke bottle floating a mile from either shore.

It's a 15-minute voyage, and moderately thrilling, with much heavier side-to-side rocking than a ferry, I guess because it's so much a smaller ship.

I stopped to pee in one of the on-board johns, and disabled or not everyone would need those grip bars on the wall. When I let loose to zip up afterwards, I came close to toppling.

Approaching downtown, there came a totally post-card view, with everything lined up perfectly — a cargo ship, a full-size ferry, the giant Ferris wheel on the shore, and the Space Needle in the distance. Man, I wished I'd had a camera with me, and it occurred to me ten minutes too late that I did. Forgot all about my cell phone

As we docked, I finally took a seat on the ship, just because I'm fat and walk kinda slow, and I'd rather be last in line than have a hundred people jockeying to get past me. And that's about the count — there were a hundred people on our sailing, which like the size of the water taxi, was more than I'd expected.

Cool sailing, but at $5.75 a ticket? Never again.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Back on dry land, Ivar's is at the pier next to the dock, and they make the most fabulous fish'n'chips on this or any other planet. I resisted temptation, though, and crossed Alaskan Way, under where the viaduct used to be.

The waterfront is so much better with that monstrous viaduct gone. Who's the idiot who thought to build a double-decker freeway along the city's waterfront?

It was pulverized with wrecking balls a few years ago. Maybe there'll be a park there someday, that would be nice, but just having the viaduct gone is beautiful. There is nobody who misses the sound and stink of half a million cars roaring past.

Then I walked up the gentle incline to Pioneer Square, where Seattle started. It's supposed to be a tourist attraction, but do yourself a favor and stay away. The bums own the sidewalks there, so all you'll see is broken glass, litter and graffiti, hundreds of homeless people, and a thousand bars and restaurants, all very overpriced.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Had a very strange moment half a block past the Square. A disheveled woman was walking toward me in the street, though there were no cars at that moment. Her footing seemed unstable and she was wearing a lot of bright red lipstick, so best guess, she was either a drunk or a hooker.

A fraction of a sandwich, wrapped in plastic, was on the sidewalk in front of me, and this woman saw it and smiled, and swooped for it like a gull toward a french fry.

When she picked it up she was ten feet from me, close enough to see her face, and she looked like an older Margaret — Maggie, the kinda crazy but lovable woman I'd dated in the early 1990s, and haven't seen since. It couldn't be her, could it?

There was a clear resemblance, I decided, but this woman was in her late 40s or early 50s. Maggie's around my age, so she'd be in her 60s. 

I walked on, and it was a block later before it occurred to me that I could've been absolutely sure by saying, "Margaret?" But the moment was gone, and when I turned around, so was the woman.

Nah, it wasn't her. Couldn't have been.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Onward the walk continued, toward Third Avenue and my bus home. Most of the way was a little too uphill for me, but I need more uphills if I'm gonna get back into semi-healthy shape. 

My bus stop, to my pleasant surprise, was down the street from what had once been the Rose Bud Movie Palace, a tiny handmade theater where I saw lots of great old movies. It was run by Dennis Nyback, who died just a few months ago. RIP, you old movie nut.

An app on my phone said it would be ten minutes before the bus came, so I crossed the street and peered into the windows at what had once been my favorite theater. That was 40 years ago, though, so there was really nothing to see. Now it's the back door to a bum service center, apparently — several bums walked out of the place, one at a time.

♦ ♦ ♦  

All day, my luck with the weather had been as good as my bus luck. It had been cloudy, but it finally began sprinkling just before my bus pulled up. I barely got wet, and the ride home was musical.

As we rolled away, the driver sang "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head" into the bus's public address, and then segued into "Rainy Night in Georgia."

Oh, this driver was something. With his microphone on, he sang a few more songs, and when the clouds cleared and the rain stopped, he switched to "I Can See Clearly Now." You're the bus driver, man, I hope you can always see clearly.

But I didn't say that, or make any wisecracks. A driver in a good mood makes any ride better, and this guy was in a grand mood. Give some people a microphone, and they're on stage anywhere.

Between the songs, he gave us a running commentary, but most of it couldn't be understood because, well, it's the PA system on a bus.

The few fragments that came through included, "This is your captain speaking. We're now approaching Lucille Street, where local time is 1:04 PM." And later, "Sorry about the turbulence, folks, but such are the streets of Seattle, pothole capital of the world."

He sang "Take You Higher" as we climbed the steepest hill toward home. When we got to my stop I sang him a few bars of, "Na Na Hey Hey, Goodbye," and once I'd landed on the sidewalk I switched back to "Doobie doobie Bonk Bonk" for the last block to my recliner.


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