Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Highway 17 Bus Rant

As longtime readers know, I'm a regular on Highway 17, the express bus that connects Santa Cruz and San Jose. Heck, Jenny and I chose to buy our house partially due to its proximity to mass transit. And so I ride the bus every weekday during Fall and Spring semesters and often over the summer, even on those occasions when I'd much prefer to zip "over the hill" in my own car.

Most of these trips are OK. A little noisy, a little smelly, and little slow, but OK. Most passengers are cool; they just want to get to their destination with a minimum of hassle. Pretty much, the 17 is a good deal. But every once in a while the trip is marred by a variety of folks who need a good rant. Perhaps you recognize 'em?

To the guy asking the bus driver for trip-planning tips: Listen up, the folks who run the bus system offer online planning tools and phone-based planning advice. They plaster route maps all over the place, too. You know why? Because the driver is paid to drive the bus, not serve as your travel agent. Similarly, when you get on a bus that says, "San Jose," which is northbound, why are you shocked that the bus is not heading to Santa Cruz, which is southbound? And why do you have to confirm several times with the bus driver that you're trying to get somewhere else. You're new here? That's cool. Welcome to California. But do us all a favor and spend a moment with a map or a schedule before you get to the bus. Heck, chat with us in line. We'll happily advise you. But don't show up at the last minute and ask the entire bus to wait for you to get your act together.

To the gum-smacking BFFs burbling with pithy conversation while sitting across the aisle from each other: Did you notice that you're the only two people talking this loudly on the bus? Most everyone else is reading or writing or sleeping. Everyone but you who interject each sentence with a minimum of two or three "likes" as if they're hot air to keep your words aloft. Bring me the sweet embrace of death, if only you two would quiet down just a little. Oh, and to the guy who switched places so these two can sit closer together (but still across the aisle): thanks, dude. You just wrecked an hour of peace and quiet.

To the guy jaywalking on the intersection in front of us: I know that you're late for a meeting. I know that you're important; I can see that by your snazzy cell phone. And I'm glad that you're saving 15 seconds from your trip. But there are about 30 people on this bus who also have places to go and people to see. And we can't get anywhere because you're blocking the road. No, we don't want you to get hit by a car, but - well - there's no good way to complete this sentence.

To the girl placing her book bag on the seat next to her: Unless you paid double, you bought access to one seat, not two. And the good folks who run this operation have seen fit to cut routes sufficiently to ensure standing-room only conditions, certainly on miserable, rainy Mondays. Placing your book bag on the empty seat, you offer a challenge - one that I happily accept. I will take that seat, despite all of your eye-rolls and your barely concealed huffs of displeasure. Feel free to look behind you. Yes, I also see that there's an empty seat snug against the window a few rows back. Yes, I could theoretically keep walking down the aisle. But I won't. It's you and me, kid. Oh, and you're annoyed that you have to stow your bag on the shelf above us? I'm sorry to frustrate you, but that's what the shelf is for. Here, let me help you with that.

To the guy bringing an extra bike onboard: Congratulations for being environmentally conscious. And you're clearly a serious biker, what with your helmet mirror and spandex pants and all. But there are already two bikes on the outside rack and you insist on lugging your bike inside, which is fine - except for the fact that three people must be booted from their chairs to accommodate you and your bike. Me, I stood in line for an extra ten minutes to snag this seat because it's one of the few on this bus that offer a little legroom. An elderly person needs it? It's theirs; I'm gone. A person with physical challenges needs it? Outtahere with a smile. And you? Well, OK, I'll move - if you ask nicely. But remember: I don't have to say yes.

To the girl asking if anyone can break a $20: Seriously? See the sign on the side of the bus, "express"? That means that passengers are trying to get from one distant spot to another in the shortest amount of time possible. We've paid our fares and want to get on our way. But because you couldn't spend a moment to think, "Hmm, this bus is going to cost money, and chances are it's less than $20," we're expected to rip through wallets and purses to help you make change? There's a 7-11 a few blocks away, and I'm pretty sure the nearby grocery store will make change if you buy something. But please don't just show up to the bus, expecting us to wait for you to get your finances in order.

To the guitar-strumming dude smelling of pot and body odor: I kind of envy you, guy. You've struck up a conversation with that pierced UCSC girl about your "journey." You know, takin' it easy, travelin' cross country, hangin' out with friends, crashin' on couches. And you sure do love strummin' that guitar. Just a flick of your fingers adds a bit of musical accompaniment to your Kerouac narrative. It sure does remind me of the dull, empty conformity of my staid middle class life. Oh, did you hear? The hippy girl just offered you a place to sleep tonight! Nothing serious, just some cool friends who like to chat late into the night. For some ungodly reason, you said no. Just gotta keep ramblin' on, I guess. Thanks for showing me a world beyond houses made of ticky-tacky. You've blown my mind a little, you, the first adventurer choosing to "see America." I dig it. But damn, dude, could you soap up your armpits once in awhile?

Finally, to the person in the wheel chair: no rant for you. I'm sorry you've got to endure so much hassle to get on this godforsaken bus. Transportation for most of us is a convenience that requires so little: some thought, some planning, some courtesy. For you, it's a much bigger deal. So take your time and get yourself settled, safe, and comfortable. And ignore the jerks who give you dirty looks because they have to move to accommodate your chair. One day they may know what it's like for you. You hope they won't. I hope they won't. But karma doesn't mess around. In the meantime, take all the time you need and enjoy the ride.


MB said...

Thanks for writing this for me :-)
It's been five months now that I've been taking the light rail and VTA buses to get to work, go to the gym, do groceries, and just about everything that can be accomplished in a reasonable amount of time via public transport. I'm appalled to see people hop on the bus/train without reading first where the vehicle is headed! I'm scared of those who want to strike a conversation about their parole officers and rant about their cousins who're still serving time. I'm miffed with those who ask for change at the light rail station and I don't really know what to say about those who ask to use my iPhone to make a call and roll their eyes and cuss when I politely tell them to get off at the next station and use the payphone. I will say, though, it keeps life interesting...not a day goes by when my commute is peacefully unexciting.

FitToSeeJane said...

I know you mean well, but oh thank heavens we are all free (for the time being) to drive our own cars.