We’re a one car family. I kind of like that about us. We only have one car to maintain, insure and gas up. It’s cost effective. Not to mention it’s one less car polluting the air and ultimately one less car in a landfill.
At times it can also be pretty darn inconvenient. Especially for my wife who has to wake the kids up early to take me to work on days when she needs the car. Like today. So today I decided to be a nice guy and take the bus to work instead.
I actually really enjoy taking public transportation whenever possible. In college I lived close to Manhattan and enjoyed the challenge of navigating the subway system to get into and around the city. What can I say? I grew up in the sticks. Taking the subway was somewhat of an adventure. After college I was still a heavy user of public transit, commuting daily via train and bus from our place in Middletown to my job in Rockland County.
You’d think since I now own a home in a city with a great (not to mention affordable) public transit system I would have returned to my bus taking ways. But I haven’t.
While planning out my visit to Chicago last week, I discovered one of the true marvels of the modern world – Google Transit. Just punch in your starting location and destination and Google will tell you when the buses and trains arrive, how long they take, any connections you’ll need to make and how much it will cost you. Now that the intimidation factor of trying to decipher the RGRTA schedules was out of the way, I couldn’t think of any good reason why I shouldn’t be taking the bus to work.
As it turns out I need to take two buses to get from my house on the Southwest side of the city to my job downtown. The #2 line picks up at the end of my block and then I just have to connect to the #11 downtown which would ultimately take me right in front of the main entrance at my job. Seemed easy enough.
I got to the bus stop on time and only had to wait about three minutes for the bus to arrive. Everything seemed perfect until I tried to pay for my ride. The bus driver looked at me like I was an idiot when I tried to hand him a $10 bill. I knew there were automated bill collectors on the bus, but I also knew that they couldn’t give me change. When I took the bus in Rockland the bus drivers used to make change for me all the time. Turns out that’s not so much the case here. You can only pay the exact amount. The bus driver gave me an angry scowl, but allowed me to stay on the bus despite having not paid the fare.
The first part of my ride was fine. I read a few pages in my book and enjoyed the quiet. But I also knew I was going to have to come up with some sort of strategy to pay for my connection since I only had a ten. When the bus arrived at my stop I hopped off and searched for a convenience store where I could make change. While I was heading to the nearest one, I noticed that my next bus was waiting at the shelter. I hurried over to get on board.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “I didn’t realize that I needed the exact amount and I only have a ten. Is there anything I can do?” The driver smiled and said, “There’s a convenience store right there. You can go make change. I’ll be here a few more minutes.” I breathed a sigh of relief and headed over to the store.
Inside the store there was a long line and one cashier. Needing something cheap to purchase I grabbed an orange and tried to wait patiently in line, knowing that my bus’ departure was immanent. The man at the front of the line wanted to buy lottery tickets, but the machine was empty. So rather than take care of the other customers first, the clerk went to the back room to get a new stock of tickets and proceeded to fill the machine. I could feel a sweat cracking the surface of my brow.
I walked out of the store just in time to see my bus driving off. I thought about chasing after it, but was convinced otherwise by four lanes of oncoming traffic. I knew there wouldn’t be another one coming for at least fifteen minutes, so I decided that I should probably walk the rest of the way to work. It wasn’t that far, only a half a mile or so, and I had skipped the morning workout I had planned anyway.
I finally arrived at 8:09. Nine minutes late for work.
So there it is. The seasoned public transit taker that I am, and I couldn’t manage to navigate the bus system in my own city. But on the positive side, I did get a free ride on the bus, had a tasty orange for a healthy breakfast and managed to get my morning workout in after all. Even if I was little late for work.