Monday, March 27, 2006

Thoughts on the bus

Reason #907 why I hope my 21-month old doesn't grow up too fast: She thinks it's really, really cool that I ride the bus to work. Sylvi loves buses. The "Hippopotamuses of the Vehicle World", she'd call them, if she could manage the verbiage. She can't quite manage that, though, so she's content to point out the car window and exclaim, "Bus! Bus!" whenever a bus goes by (or a garbage truck, for that matter).

So I'm riding the bus to work - or, rather, two buses. There's the humble, regular old surface street bus (the Number 76, to use the hepcat bus lingo), which connects me to the "Freeway Flyer", which looks suspiciously like the humble regular old surface street bus, only it goes on the freeway and takes me downtown.

The whole bus concept has taken a little getting used to. I'm not a complete novice to public transportation - I did ride Metro, the Washington, DC, subway system quite a bit growing up. But on the subway, you at least have the ability to figure out where the next stop is going to be. And it's not up to the riders to determine whether the train is going to actually stop. So at least until I got used to where the heck I was going (and more importantly, what that place looked like), I would perch over the "stop" cord for the last 10 minutes of my trip, certain I was going to miss my stop. Even then, someone else always beat me to the cord-pulling thing, blocks before we actually reached my destination.

Besides that, it took me weeks to figure out when to actually show up at the bus stop. The bus schedules in Milwaukee - as in most large cities, I'd imagine - don't actually list all the stops. Rather, they tell you when the bus will be at a few noteworthy stops, and it's up to you to extrapolate when you need to show up by the side of the road. This, of course, requires you to know at least a little about where the stops are, and what the traffic is like at a given hour. For a few days, I was varying the time I'd leave home. As it turns out, if I leave my house at 6:55 am, I get to work at 7:35. If I leave at 7:02, I get to work at 8:25. If I leave at 8:00, I also get there at 8:25, but only because it means I've missed my last bus and I've gone home and talked my wife out of the car for the day.

But riding the bus has also posed some other local adjustment questions, like: How long do you ride the same bus every day before you start to acknowledge the other people who also ride the same bus every day? People like the Guy With the Grey Hair and the Dark Moustache, who appears to teach at one of the colleges; the Woman With the Grey Overcoat; and the Woman Who Probably Has Her Hair Done Very Nicely, Only She Wears a Knit Hat On Top of It Somewhat Precariously, So We Never Actually See What It Looks Like. There aren't a lot of great conversation starters on the Freeway Flyer (provided, like me, you refuse to start yammering about the weather), so I'm inclined to wait until something unusual happens ("Hey, Guy With Grey Hair and Dark Moustache! I see the Woman Who Probably Has Her Hair Done Nicely has apparently purchased a new hat...")

I'm also interested in another phenomenon that's appeared on Milwaukee buses: Transit TV. A TV network even more inane than the CNN Airport Network. It's an interesting concept, though - TV monitors in buses, showing weather forecasts, recipes, commercials for predatory loan places, roundtable discussions of what the Woman Who Probably Has Her Hair Done Nicely's hair actually looks like - but the execution is pretty weird. On one hand, they show word puzzles of the "Wheel of Fortune" variety, with challenging answers like "Spatula". Then, they hit riders with a movie trivia question about "Monty Python's Life of Brian", followed by a 'Who Am I?' puzzle about Guglielmo Marconi. All this leads me to wonder: Who do the programmers think is riding Milwaukee buses? Are the people getting the Marconi question really going to head out to the car title loan place? Are the kids causing trouble on the buses going to stop what they're doing when they figure out the answer to _PAT_LA?

Maybe I'll bounce these questions off the Woman in the Grey Overcoat.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sounds like the same company that put together the entertainment tv on the buses in Montevideo, Uruguay. Let us know when they start selling pantyhose from a paperbag (including the requisite pencil won't cause runs demonstrations) on the bus.