Adventures In Busing.

Riding The Route: #25

“This is the opportunists’ route,” the bus driver told me when I said something about being the only passenger. “We might pick up one or two more people, but they mostly want another bus. They just see this one and get on not knowing where it goes but it connects to so many others.” And he had a point: the number 25 route has stops that are transfer points with bus numbers 2, 3, 5, 7, 8, 10, 15, 17, 18, 19, 21, 52, 55, and 93. “I don’t mind ridin’ alone,” he went on, “but there are too many turns!” Again, good point. A lot of buses travel a more or less straight path but there were a lot of places where the number 25 seemed like it turned every other block, winding through an area of Nashville known as “The Gulch”.

This route could also be called “the hospital route” since it takes riders by Meharry Medical Group, the St. Thomas Hospital Complex, the TriStar Centennial Hospital Complex, and within a block of Vanderbilt Hospital.

It also goes near a Krispy Kreme, if you want to get a doughnut on your way out of the hospital. Or in.

It then veers off through the historic Edgehill neighborhood, the one long straight stretch. Look out for the famous polar bears, originally there to advertise Polar Bear Frozen Custard shops. The bears are still there but the custard shops, unfortunately, aren’t.

Then it’s past Fort Negley and Greer Stadium, former home of the Nashville Sounds.

Along the way it goes through some nice neighborhoods, including past the Pruitt branch of the Nashville Public Library, which is in a former firehouse.

Then things take a really weird turn and the bus goes into the MTA garage on Nestor Street, next to a disused stretch of train track where some old rail cars are slowly rusting away.

And then it’s through Riverfront Park with some interesting public sculpture and some interesting party pedal cars.

Also there’s a Rolling Stones exhibit at the Musician’s Hall Of Fame here in Nashville, but that’s another story.

Four other people got on as we made the loop, and everybody had the same question: “You goin’ downtown?”

The driver always had the same answer: “Eventually.”

And eventually we did return to the Music City Central bus station. The number 25 arrives at and departs from the lower level, and as I was climbing the stairs to catch my next bus I turned around and looked back. The driver was already pulling out, this time alone.

Special Delivery.

One of my first jobs out of college was in a library mailroom. It was a good job that combined plenty of exercise with a plethora of reading material—this was back in the day when bound and printed books were still a primary source of information. The one downside was that I had to deal with a building manager—this was an office building that housed lots of different companies. I’m being nice when I say the building manager was a bit of a jerk. The truth is he was a really big jerk. The first time we met he started, for no reason I’ve ever been able to figure out, telling me things about his girlfriend I didn’t want to know and which I did everything I could to block out. One of the work-related areas where we butted heads, though, was over a construction company that also had offices in the building and whose guys frequently blocked the loading dock so the company I worked for couldn’t get its deliveries in or out.

One day one of the construction guys asked me, “Why don’t you get a real job?” and ever since then I’ve been trying to figure out what a real job is. If he was an example then a real job is starting renovation projects then disappearing for months so they never get finished, but that’s another story.

Once when I was trying to get the building manager to get the construction guys to move he just blurted out, “You know what I’d like to be? A UPS delivery guy because they can park anywhere they want.” That was the kind of non sequitur that was typical of him and meant I had to go talk to the construction guys, if I could find them, myself.

All this came back to me one afternoon when I was on my way to the bus and had to maneuver around a delivery truck that was parked over the crosswalk.

This driver was not stopped at a light. This was where the vehicle was parked.

I don’t want to impugn the Mrs. Grissom’s Salads company or its line of quality luncheon substances, but their delivery drivers should know that at a busy intersection, especially one where cars regularly run red lights, a delivery truck driver shouldn’t make crossing even more difficult for pedestrians. Delivery truck drivers can’t just park anywhere they want, and ones who think they can should get a real job.

Riding The Route: Number Seven.

Recently Nashville had a referendum on a new transit plan. I was, well, firmly ambivalent about it. There were a lot of potential benefits I could see but also some major downsides and problems just with the implementation and I was worried Nashville would end up like Cincinnati which started a subway then abandoned it. The referendum, and its failure, reminded me I need to resume my plan to ride every Nashville bus route and also inspired my choice of a route: lucky Number Seven. The Number Seven route goes to Green Hills which is one of the most congested areas of Nashville, mostly because there’s so much stuff there. There are actually two routes that go to Green Hills. The other is the Number Two, which runs roughly every forty-five minutes from 5:34am to 8:55am and then doesn’t restart until 2:15pm on weekdays only. The Number Seven runs roughly every twenty minutes on weekdays and every forty minutes on weekends.

Like all Nashville bus routes it starts from the downtown bus center.

It then winds through downtown and onto Broadway, which takes it by Vanderbilt University and Vanderbilt Hospital. I hope I never get tired of making jokes about how you take the fork at the whisk.

Now this is where things start to go wrong: Hillsboro Village. It’s a small but charming little area near Vanderbilt full of stores and nice restaurants. The Belcourt Theater is there and the Fido Coffee Shop and The Pancake Pantry where people literally line up around the block waiting to get in. And cars are allowed to park on the street, reducing the number of lanes and making the whole thing a nightmare of stop and start traffic.

Several blocks after Hillsboro Village is the new challenge of crossing over I-440. Why is that a challenge? Because of all the cars trying to get off I-440 so they can go to Green Hills.

Parts of Green Hills are quite green and even a little hilly.

The bus then winds through the parking lot of Green Hills Mall, the last operating mall in the area and one of the main reasons for all the traffic.

Then it winds out and by Hillsboro High School where, many years ago, I took my first driver’s ed course, but that’s another story—and there was a lot less traffic then.

Then it’s a fifteen minute break at the last stop before the whole thing resumes.

It Was A Thursday. I Can’t Get The Hang Of Thursdays.

“He was a dreamer, a thinker, a speculative philosopher…or, as his wife would have it, an idiot.”-Douglas Adams

Normally I’m suspicious of technology. Sure, I appreciate all that technology has given us: computers, cars, robots, coffee makers, digital watches, pasteurized cheese, nuclear bombs, flying cars, vacuum cleaners, cotton-polyester blend shirts—I could go on but I think you understand and we can agree that technology is not only just for solving problems; it also creates whole new problems we didn’t even think about when we were naked creatures squatting around campfires—which actually describes my Uncle Larry right now which is why advances in technology don’t bother him, but that’s another story.

Anyway I’ve had ups and downs with the Nashville MTA app, mostly ups because it’s usually accurate and it’s handy to know when the next bus is coming and on occasion when I’ve just missed the bus. In spite of the bus stops being numbered on the app but not having any corresponding numbers on the signs I’ve been able to figure out what stop is where. Sometimes it just baffles me, like when it tells me the schedule information for all buses is “N/A” and I wonder if it’s a holiday I didn’t know about and that the buses aren’t running, although one always turns up around the usual time.

The other day even though I got to the bus stop in plenty of time the app informed me that I’d just missed the bus and that it would be more than a half hour before another one came along. The timing was so close, in fact, that it seemed to suggest that if I squinted I’d be able to see the bus I’d just missed speeding away, but I wasn’t interested in looking. I decided to go with my backup plan of walking the extra half a mile or so to catch the express bus. It was a nice day and I was ambling along happily, listening to the first episode of Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy: Hexagonal Phase , looking at dandelions, and reflecting on the legacy of Douglas Adams.

And as I was walking along, between bus stops, the bus sped right past me. It stopped at an intersection just ahead and I ran to try and catch it, but I wasn’t fast enough. I didn’t need to squint. I stood there and watched it speed away. And I wondered if the Nashville MTA app were designed by the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation which, as fellow hitchhikers know, has only one profitable division: its complaints department.

 

Just Keep Walking.

A few years ago I spotted new Poetry In Motion poems regularly on the different buses I rode. This year I’ve only seen one, and I’m actually surprised—although happy—that the program is still active. I’m just not sure why I haven’t been lucky enough to catch the buses with poems, especially in the month of April, which is National Poetry Month.

Although its website doesn’t explicitly say so I think the Poetry In Motion program started with Joseph Brodsky, who, when he lived in the Soviet Union, was exiled for practicing poetry without a license. When he was appointed Poet Laureate Of The United States one of his goals was to make poetry more publicly visible, and his plans included putting poetry on buses and in subways.

Maybe I should do that too. What are they gonna do, kick me off the bus? Oh, yeah, they just might. I don’t want to end up being exiled and having to hoof it home.

Here’s a poem read by the current Poet Laureate Of The United States, Tracy K. Smith.

Strike A Cord.

Most of the time on school field trips we’d ride on the yellow school buses, but once, on a long trip to Washington, D.C., we were carried around part of the way on a regular city bus complete with the side door and no emergency exit in the back and much bigger windows and the pull cords. I thought the cords would just ring a bell to signal the driver but the driver told us never to pull them because, he said, they were connected to the brakes and would stop the bus. At the time I thought, well that’s weird. What kind of bonehead thought that would be a good idea? I’d actually never ridden on a city bus before and it surprised me to think that passengers could literally be backseat drivers, that they’d have that much control over the bus. Now that I’m an adult with lots of experience riding buses and pulling the signal cords I realize, of course, that the driver only said that to prevent a bunch of rowdy kids dinging the bell every ten seconds and he succeeded.

Okay, I did at one point reach up to pull the cord just to see what would happen but Mr. Peters, the social studies teacher, grabbed my arm and said, “DON’T!” He was already keeping an eye on me because I’d wandered away from the group when we stopped at Monticello and then he watched me even harder for the rest of the trip, but that’s another story.

Anyway the other day I was the only person on the bus but as my stop was coming up I pulled the signal cord anyway because, well, I’m kind of a stickler for protocol and I didn’t want to bug the driver by going up and talking to her.

She slowed down and shouted, “Was that your stop I just passed?”

I walked up to the front and said, “No, it’s the next one coming up.”

“Oh, thank goodness. I was afraid I missed your stop.”

We didn’t have much time but we chatted a little bit about how some people pull the signal cord too soon and earlier in the day a guy had yelled at her because he pulled it too late after she’d already passed his stop.

“If I pull the cord too late that’s my fault,” I told her.

“I appreciate you,” she said as she slowed the bus to a stop. Then she opened the doors and said, “You have a good day now.”

“I hope yours keeps getting better,” I said and stepped off.

Not Going My Way.

What happens when a bus stop is discontinued? For that matter why is a bus stop ever discontinued? Every street corner is, technically, a bus stop: all you have to do is stand there and wave, unless you’re on a street where the buses never go, and in that case you’re going to be waiting a very long time, but that’s another story. There’s even a bus stop that I used to go to regularly even though it meant walking an extra three blocks every day. The bus had been rerouted for several months because of construction, so if I’d gone to the regular stop I’d have to wait a very long time. Now I’m back at the regular stop and the other bus stop has been discontinued even though there’s still a bench there, the bus still goes by there, and it’s on a corner.
I do know what happens when a bus route is discontinued: the bus just no longer goes that way. I once accidentally got on a bus on the #13 route and when I realized I’d made a mistake I got off and walked several blocks back to my regular stop to catch the right bus. I later realized if I’d stayed on the #13 bus there was a place much farther down the route where I could have transferred to my regular bus and I’d now have a story of riding the ill-fated #13. Why it was ill-fated is still a mystery to me since that one time I rode it the bus was packed and if I hadn’t already told you I got off the bus because I didn’t know I could eventually transfer to my regular bus I could tell you I got off because there was no place to sit down. It traveled down a stretch of road with a very popular local grocery, a very popular taco place, a very popular bagel place, and a laundromat that somehow stays open, but now anyone who expects to catch a bus at any of those places will be waiting for a very long time. The only thing I can figure is that someone official’s triskaidekaphobia really got the better of them which is unfortunate because they’re missing out on some really good tacos.
Anyway just for the heck of it one day I decided to stand at a discontinued stop just to see what would happen and what happened is that no buses stopped. No buses went by either because the route had also been changed which was why the stop was discontinued, but I didn’t realize that until I’d been waiting there for a very long time.

Lead, Follow, Or Get Out Of The Way.

Have you ever accidentally followed someone? Maybe this only happens to me. I’ll set out in a particular direction and there will already be a stranger fifty or a hundred feet in front of me. They’re going to the same place, or maybe they’re just headed in the same direction to a slightly different destination. Either way I start to get very self-conscious that I’m making them uncomfortable because I’m following them. If I can I’ll stop and pretend to be interested in a flower or sign or fire hydrant to give them some time get farther away, but then I think that just looks even weirder. I don’t want to get close, though, or, worse, pass them, because that’ll make them even more uncomfortable, I assume, but if I’m on a schedule I’ll probably pick up the pace because no matter where I’m going I like to be fashionably early. This is especially true when I’m headed home because I’d rather get to the bus stop early than have to run to catch it or, worse, miss the bus entirely.
So anyway I’d missed the bus entirely. I checked the app and it looked like the driver had been about five minutes early which annoyed me. It’s one thing for the bus to be late, and it usually is which makes me think they should really just adjust the schedule upward by about five minutes, although then every bus would be ten minutes late, but that’s another story. I started walking to catch the alternate bus that stops several blocks away but, since it’s an express bus, drops me off at about the same time so it’s a nice option if I feel like walking an extra half a mile, which is why I never take it unless I have to.
As I was walking I passed a guy waiting at another stop on the regular route and I thought, well, I guess I’m not the only one who missed the bus. I kept going. When I glanced back I noticed he was following me. It made me a little uncomfortable at first so I picked up the pace, but then I thought, hey, maybe he got the same idea I had. And when we got to the bus stop he said to me, “I saw you walkin’ and recognized you from the bus. So I knew we’d have to catch this one or wait around another half an hour.”
I felt oddly happy that I’d helped a stranger in this way, but then he lit up a cigarette. It wouldn’t have been so bad but I was downwind of him and there was a breeze, and I started thinking about ways to get fifty or a hundred feet away without missing the bus.

 

Fare’s Fair.

The university I work for pays me to ride the bus–that is, as long as I’m going to or from work I can swipe my employee ID and ride for free. If I’m riding the bus on my own time, just for fun or going somewhere, of course I pay my own way, because making the university pay for it would be dishonest and unethical and most importantly I don’t know if they check for that sort of thing. And it’s a good program. As a top-level administrator recently put it, “A university is a collection of academic schools all united by a common parking problem,” but that’s another story. Mostly too getting my card out of my wallet when the bus comes trundling along isn’t a problem, although there was one time when I was putting my card back in my wallet and the bus lurched forward. I fell and broke my card into pieces and was prepared to pay the $20 replacement fee but the people at the card office told me the replacement fee was only for lost cards and they gave me a new one for free. So if I ever do lose my card I know I just need to steal someone else’s, smash it, and pretend it’s mine and hope they don’t ask me to prove I’m a 79-year old Sri Lankan professor of entomology.
And I admire an Australian man named Meow-Ludo Disco Gamma Meow-Meow, and before you ask I admire him in spite of that being his legal name which sounds like something Godzilla threw up after swallowing a Japanese pop festival. Mr. Meow-Meow–I’m going to assume that’s how he signs formal correspondence–had his local transit card implanted in his hand so he wouldn’t have to pull it out of his pocket or wallet or sock or from wherever he might normally keep his card. All he had to do was wave his hand near the kiosk, which could still read the card under his hand, and he could ride. This wasn’t a problem until he was asked by security to show his card which he couldn’t do without ripping it out of his arm.
Now his decision may seem to be well on the distaff side of the line between genius and madness but I’m not kidding when I say there is something admirable about it. I like to think he really thought it through and was willing to accept that in the future the card system may change, requiring removal and possibly a new implant, but he’s willing to accept some possible future inconvenience to have a little more convenience now. And the case does raise ethical questions about implantable technology, the rights of the individual, and the definition of private property. He was fined for failing to produce his card–fair enough, since he couldn’t, but I think the law and the transit system went too far when they cancelled the card, effectively taking his payment even though he didn’t violate the terms of service because he didn‘t “misuse, deface, alter, tamper with or deliberately damage or destroy” the card.
Even though Meow-Ludo Disco Gamma Meow-Meow pled guilty in court he’s considering further legal action and he’s running for local office, and I wish him luck. Also I kind of wish when he was stopped by security he’d just ripped the card right out of his flesh because that would have shown a real fare for the dramatic.

Interestingly…

Supposedly there’s a Chinese curse that says, “May you live in interesting times.” I say “supposedly” because I once asked a Chinese scholar about that and she said, “I’ve never heard any such thing in my life.” It’s probably an expression some guy cooked up and to make it sound more interesting he decided to claim it was a Chinese curse. Uninteresting times can be a curse too. Recently I took a trip by Greyhound bus to Cincinnati. I made the same trip last year and then it was interesting because it had been about a quarter of a century since I’d taken a Greyhound bus anywhere and things had changed significantly. This time all the things that were different before were still the same. Well, almost all the same. The men’s restroom had just been repainted and I went in there and literally watched paint dry. Then, because I have a smartphone and the station had free wifi, I went out and looked up “watching paint dry” in Wikipedia. Smartphones mean we never have to be bored ever again, and I had mine loaded up with podcasts and music, and even if the battery went dead I had my bag with my journal and copy of Mark Twain’s Life On The Mississippi. I didn’t expect my battery to go dead, of course, because I knew from my last trip that the bus seats have plugs you can use to recharge your device.

I got on and grabbed a seat and a young man in a purple hoodie sat down next to me and we both had our phones out and that’s when I noticed there were no plugs at the seat I picked. My phone died about half an hour out of Nashville so I followed Twain’s progress to New Orleans while I went northward.

When we stopped in Louisville I went into the restaurant/gift shop to get coffee. Then, still holding my coffee, I wandered out then tried to go back in. “Sir!” yelled the man behind the counter. “This is for customers only! Once you go out you can’t come back!” This was more baffling than it was interesting.

Back on the bus I found a seat with wall plugs and my phone was full and so was my bladder by the time I arrived at the Cincinnati Greyhound station where the men’s room had not been freshly repainted because such a coincidence would have been too interesting for this trip.

I went to Cincinnati, by the way, to see some old friends and a talk by Neil Gaiman which was extremely interesting. There’s an old saying that’s also been attributed to the Chinese that the journey is more important than the destination, but sometimes it really is the destination that matters, especially when it’s the destination that’s interesting.

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