Adventures In Busing.

Under Cover.

There’s construction going on all over Nashville, along with prices, because, as I’ve heard some people say, Nashville is turning into Seattle, and it’s mostly people who’ve moved here from Seattle to get away from the high cost of living who say that and they’re the ones driving up the prices. It bugs me that there are so many places where construction has closed off the sidewalks and I have to make long detours to get wherever I’m going. The other day, for instance, I had to run an errand. Well, technically I had to walk the errand. I could have run, but it was a pretty long distance, and made even longer by the construction. I could have taken a bus but, well, Nashville buses are irregular, even on the main thoroughfares, and would have added at least another half hour to my errand, so I figured I might as well walk. When I got outside I realized it was raining, although I should have guessed it would be. We’ve had forty days and forty nights of rain this month alone since the weather obviously overheard people say that Nashville is turning into Seattle and decided Music City needed a Pacific Northwest soaking, but that’s another story. And I was too lazy to go back to my office and get an umbrella. The rain was only a light drizzle and I decided to take my chances that it wouldn’t get any worse. As I was walking along I passed this sign:It reminded me of the time I was on a Greyhound bus and before starting off the driver made some safety announcements. He didn’t say, “This is your captain speaking,” which I think would be a hilarious thing for a bus driver to say, but he did say, “Please do not open the windows except in the event of an emergency. The last person to open a window on this bus became the next emergency.” That was mildly amusing although it also made me a little worried since I was sitting in a window seat.

Anyway on my way back from walking the errand it started to rain a little harder, but for a good stretch the construction didn’t take me out of my way. This was the sidewalk:

I just wish they’d put in windows.

 

Riding Into The Future.

Some time in the 1990’s the Nashville Public Library put in an electronic catalog and I joked that it was great that they were finally moving into the 1980’s. I think I also threw in some references to Desk Set because there’s nothing like mocking technological advances with a film from before I was born, but that’s another story. Anyway the other day I had a similar experience when I found the bus I was riding had WiFi and I said something like, “Hey, the Nashville MTA is getting so 2012, and has anyone noticed our driver looks a lot like Spencer Tracy? I just hope he doesn’t drink like him.”

It was a lot better than having to rely on the WiFi signals around the bus. Sometimes it’s possible to get a signal from a fast food restaurant at a red light but mostly signals are touch and go.

And here’s a glimpse of my inbox. DON’T JUDGE ME!

It almost made up for the fact that the Nashville MTA’s bus tracking app seems to be permanently offline now. Well, it’s online. It just doesn’t track buses anymore. They even tell you that on the WiFi page.

And the next day I learned that not all buses have WiFi. Just the new purple buses with the slippery plastic seats. I learned it because I was picked up by one of the old standard buses that doesn’t have WiFi. On the bright side the driver looked a lot like Katharine Hepburn.

 

The Driving Force.

There’s a story about a country farmer who’s never seen or heard of a car and when one drives past his farm he runs and gets his shotgun and fires at it several times. The driver jumps out and runs off into the woods. The car, still running, rumbles off down the road. The farmer’s wife comes out and says, “Well, did you kill it?” The farmer says, “No, but I made it let go of that poor feller it had a hold of.” Maybe it’s just a story, or maybe it’s based on a real event. I had a distant relative named Uncle Rupert who was known for shooting at almost anything that came onto his property–squirrels, deer, encyclopedia salesmen, endangered birds–although he never, as far as I know, shot at a car. He did, during World War II, try to drive to Europe only to turn back when he realized it was full of foreigners, but that’s another story.
I thought about that story the other day when I heard about people in Phoenix, Arizona, violently attacking self-driving cars, including at least one person who fired a gun at one, not realizing there was a passenger in there and that a self-driving car may not be as quick as the older models to let go of whomever it’s got a hold of.
Anyway it got me thinking about the major cultural shifts that self-driving cars will bring, and I do think they’re coming. The recent developments of self-driving vehicles may not be the nail in the coffin of the traditional automobile but I think the undertaker’s making measurements. And as a modern mode of transportation the automobile has had a profound cultural impact in its time and the self-driving car doesn’t represent that big a change. It’s merely the next stage of a gradual evolution. Over the 20th century the automobile changed from a novelty to a necessity, from a short-range way of getting around to a device that can carry a person hundreds of miles. The cell phone has made it possible to reach a person even if they’re driving, and GPS devices make it almost impossible, or at least really difficult to get lost, unless you’re out of signal range, and it’s increasingly hard to find a place where there isn’t a signal. The days of unfolding a giant map and trying to figure out if you should have made that left turn at Albuquerque are gone. It’s hard to predict what changes self-driving cars will bring but, among other things, the driver’s license will no longer be a rite of passage. Kids will no longer need their parents to shuttle them around, not when the car that carries them to soccer practice can drive itself. I’d like to think the drive to and from work would be a nice chance to grab a quick nap but for most people it’ll probably be work time, which gives a whole new meaning to telecommuting.
It was that last thought that made me realize I was contemplating all this on the bus and that, aside from removing the driver and being a little more convenient, or a lot more convenient, driverless cars won’t be that much different from public transportation, which has me already looking to the horizon to wonder what the next big advance will be.
I hope it’s that we can drive to Europe.

Getting There.

Source: Safely Endangered

Last year I wrote a post about the length of years throughout the solar system, comparing all the planets and Pluto to an Earth year. To recap: it takes Pluto 248 years to orbit the sun, 165 years for Neptune, 84 years for Uranus, a little over 29 years for Saturn, 12 years for Jupiter, 687 days for Mars, 225 days for Venus, and 88 days for Mercury. This year I thought I’d do something a little different, inspired by Voyager 2, which, on December 10, 2018, left the solar system and became the second human-made object to enter interstellar space, following Voyager 1 which crossed over in 2012.
Voyager 2 is currently moving along at more than 34,000 miles per hour, and it took a little more than forty-one years to travel eighteen and a half billion miles. Radio signals from the craft, still being sent, take about sixteen and a half hours to reach Earth. That got me thinking about speed, specifically the speed of light. Voyager 2 isn’t anywhere close to the speed of light, which is 186,000 miles per second, and technically can’t reach that speed since mr = m0 / sqrt (1 – v2 / c2 ), but that’s another story.
Light from the sun, on the other hand, can travel at the speed of light and to put things in perspective here’s how long it takes to reach different markers through the solar system:
It takes light from the sun three minutes to reach Mercury.
It takes light from the sun six minutes to reach Venus.
It takes light from the sun eight minutes to reach Earth.
It takes light from the sun about twelve minutes and forty seconds to reach Mars.
It takes light from the sun about forty-three minutes to reach Jupiter.
It takes light from the sun more than seventy-nine minutes to reach Saturn.
Does sunlight ever reach Uranus? Yes, it does, but it takes sunlight more than two and a half hours–almost 160 minutes–to get to Uranus.
It takes light from the sun more than four hours to reach Neptune.
It takes light from the sun five and a half hours to reach Pluto–just under how long it would take to fly from New York to Los Angeles, minus the time you have to spend in security, which takes about two and a half hours if they have to examine Uranus.
And it takes that same sunlight four and a half years to reach Alpha Centauri, our nearest stellar neighbor. At its current rate Voyager 2 will get there in about eighty-six thousand, two hundred years, minus the time it’ll have to spend going through security.

Alpha and Beta Centauri. Source: Wikipedia

Will we eve get there? Maybe, but the future is very hard to predict.

Moving Right Along.

It was early so I boarded the bus in the dark. Well, it wasn’t just early–we haven’t reached the solstice yet so the days are still getting gradually shorter. Every year as the solstice approaches I wonder the same thing, about how early people might have felt about the nights growing steadily longer. Humans first appeared in Africa, close enough to the equator that they wouldn’t have seen much change in the length of days. As they spread to other latitudes was their migration slow enough that they took the change in stride, or was there a year when they were terrified there’d be a time when the sun would dip below the horizon and never return? Either way there must have been an unease that gave way to solstice celebrations that we still have today.
Riding the bus in the dark didn’t bother me but I was annoyed that I’d missed the Geminid meteor shower the night before. It wasn’t because I’d overslept but because the skies were cloudy all night, meaning I’d missed what was supposed to be a pretty spectacular display averaging more than a hundred and twenty meteors per hour. And then I started thinking about how meteor showers are caused by the Earth passing through swarms of meteors, worlds–or perhaps a world and the remnants of one–colliding. And that got me thinking about the approaching solstice and how our planet is in constant motion. Not just our planet, either, but every planet of our solar system, and our own sun is in motion as it bobs up and down in an arm of the Milky Way, itself slowly turning and moving through space, growing ever closer to our nearest neighbor, the Andromeda galaxy. All this makes specific locations in space, and even time, relative, which raises the question: why is it on Star Trek that the Enterprise always arrives at a planet during working hours?
“Well, we’ve arrived at Tau Ceti Five and we’re ready to beam down, why is no one answering?”
“Sir, it’s two a.m. down there.”
Then again there’s the old saying that in space it’s always five o’clock somewhere, but that’s another story.
All this was buzzing in my head but at the same time I was keeping an eye on the road ahead to make sure I didn’t miss my stop. Then, about four blocks from where I wanted to disembark, the driver pulled over. There weren’t many people riding the bus and he’d been moving along at a pretty good clip so he was probably ahead of schedule and needed to stop. I understand the necessity but it also annoys me when the bus comes a stop. I want to get where I’m going. We were close enough that after a few minutes I stepped off and started walking. And I’d waited just long enough that as soon as I was ten feet ahead of the bus it started up. “Naturally,” I muttered.
Then the driver came to a stop right next to me, opened the doors, and said, “You wanna ride the rest of the way?”
“Sure,” I said, and climbed back aboard. I only had a short distance to go but I wanted to keep moving.

Look Around.

There’s a Nashville tour bus that passes in front of the building where I work. In the summer months it’s open and people hang out of the windows. I wave at them as they pass by. Some wave back which makes me happy. I want visitors to enjoy themselves and feel welcome and think of this as a friendly place then go home because there’s too much traffic, but that’s another story. Sometimes when the buses pass by me they’re completely empty, and you might wonder why they bother, but people don’t buy just one tour; they buy an all-day ride and can hop on and hop off wherever they want. I’ve been at the Parthenon when the tour bus is there and overheard people say, “We’ll get the next one.” So, unlike most tours, they’re not bound by the schedule can stick around and look spend time at a specific place that interests them.
It’s winter now and the buses that go by have clear plastic windows that hang down like curtains. I can sort of make out people behind them but if they wave back I can’t see it. And the buses have a wreath on front, which is something new, or at least something I’ve never seen before.
One day before a meeting a coworker and I started talking about the tour buses and travel in general, and I said I like small towns and I’m intrigued by islands–that if I could travel as much as I wanted places like New Caledonia, Tuvalu, and Yap are at the top of my list.
“Are you a completist?” she asked. I’d never heard that term before but I loved it. Yeah, I like the idea of a small place because I hate going somewhere and feeling like I’ve missed things. There are places I want to go back to–Chicago, Cleveland, and Los Angeles are high on my list–because there are still things in those places I want to see. And that’s one of the challenges of travel: do you go somewhere you’ve never been or back to someplace you’ve seen for something new? Because everywhere there’s always something new. Every place is always changing, every place has something you’ve never seen before. Even Nashville, where I’ve lived my entire life, has constant surprises.
Maybe one of these days I’ll take that tour to see what the city has to offer that I haven’t seen before, and by taking the bus I won’t add to the traffic.

Missed Connections.

Someone left this on the seat one day when I rode the bus. I still wish I knew who they were.

It’s been a couple of months since I rode the bus home from work. Circumstances have meant that lately I’ve been driving to and from home, and there are a lot of advantages to that. The walk to the parking garage is longer than it is to the bus stop, but my schedule isn’t as rigid because I’m not trying to be on time to catch a bus that’ll probably be late or may not even show up or that may go right by me. I don’t have to stand in the rain or the cold, or even worry about those days where it’s too cold to go out without a coat in the morning and too hot to wear one in the afternoon. Sure, if I drive I still have to carry my coat home, but at least when I get home I can leave it in the car so it’ll be good and frozen when I need it the next morning, but that’s another story.

If there are funny smells in the car I at least know where they came from, and I never have to worry about finding a seat. The stop-and-go traffic is annoying, but at least I don’t have to cross busy intersections on foot.

And yet I miss riding the bus. I miss being able to sit back and listen to music or a podcast, and even though I don’t regularly talk to any other bus riders there are some I’ve come to know by sight. There’s the kid who always sits in the very back and has a sketchpad he’s steadily filling. One of these days, I keep telling myself, I’m going to ask what he’s drawing. There are the two guys who always sit together, one of them always reading a newspaper, the other reading a book. There’s the older woman who’s had several conversations with other riders and sometimes with the bus drivers about her husband’s health. She doesn’t have a lot of good news but as long as she still talks about him I believe there’s always hope. And there’s the guy with the really thick glasses who lives in an apartment complex along the route. There’s no stop at the entrance to the apartment complex but he occasionally asks the driver, “Can you stop here?” Most drivers oblige. Sometimes when I’m driving I’ll see him waiting at a bus stop. One of these days, I keep telling myself, I’ll stop and offer him a ride. And then there are just the chance encounters with strangers, people I might see once and never see again.

It seems strange to miss people I don’t even know, but it’s also been a good reminder of the value of public transportation, of how the connecting routes connect people too.

 

A-Bridged.

Source: Wikipedia

Sometimes when the bus is running late, or if I just know it’s going to be a while, I’ll walk to the next bus stop, or the bus stop after that. Or the one after that. Or I’ll walk toward downtown–I catch the outbound bus to get home in the afternoons, so if I walk toward downtown I’m walking toward the oncoming bus so it should get to me even sooner, although it never seems to work out that way. And I have to be careful to be at a bus stop. Some bus drivers will buzz right by me even if I’m standing at a stop and technically you can flag down a bus at any corner, but I think it improves my chances of getting picked up if I’m standing at one of the regular stops. That might make you wonder why I don’t just pick one stop and stay there and the answer is I get restless just standing around. I’d rather be on the move if it’s in the wrong direction.
Sometimes, though, I come to a bridge–or rather an overpass over the interstate–and even though they’re sort of built for pediestrians, with a sidewalk, it’s a very narrow sidewalk, and if I want to make the crossing I’m forced to walk between cars rushing by and a very low barrier that I worry I could easily fall over and into cars rushing below.
So I really admire four guys in Vladivostok who decided on a creative way to get across the Zolotoy Rog Bridge, a striking tourist attraction which used to be open to pedestrians but isn’t anymore. They dressed up as a bus.

Source: The Evening Standard

And that’s pretty brilliant. Looking at the pictures I’m surprised they didn’t get away with it. Okay, yeah, I am. It was probably a form of protest since city residents complain they’re being denied easy access to the city center. Still it’s something I might try, or I would if it wouldn’t lower my chances of being able to catch a real bus.

Getting Around.

They sprang up like 13-year cicadas, all over the place, on corners, under trees, and all over sidewalks. At least they were quieter than cicadas, although they could be at least as annoying, zipping up behind me as I was walking somewhere or left lying on their side blocking the path. I was checking one out–I mean considering taking one for a spin, when an older couple came up to me and asked, “How do they work?” I was tempted to be a smartass and say, “Well, you straddle it with your legs and put your feet on the pedals…” but that would be rude, so I said, “It says you have to download an app…” The woman laughed and said, sarcastically, “Well of course! You can’t do anything these days without an app,” and I was glad she was the one who got to be a smartass because she made a much better point. The Ofo bikes seemed like a fun and easy way to get around, but I’m slightly paranoid when it comes to downloading weird apps, especially ones that are theoretically free but could track where I’m going and when. Not that where I’m going is any big secret, and I do see the advantages. I’ve never forgotten the time I got lost biking around St. Petersburg, Florida, which is easy to do because the houses there all look alike, but that’s another story.
Anyway the bikes disappeared as suddenly as 13-year cicadas. It turns out Ofo is scaling back its operations in North America thanks to a series of problems including theft and vandalism, which is why we can’t have nice things or bikes that clutter the sidewalks. They were replaced by Bird scooters which are cooler and because they’re motorized offer a faster way to get around, and they promise that it’s “Only $1 to get started” which I’m even more paranoid about because I’m pretty sure you still have to download an app and now it’s one you have to pay for. And they’ve been controversial because they clutter the sidewalks, gathering in groups. I was standing at a bus stop when I guy sped up on one–I thought I was going to have to get out of his way since quite a few people on them have forced me off the sidewalk as they zip by–and then he got off. So I talked to him a little bit about them. We talked about how the rules are that they’re supposed to only be used on the street and riders are always supposed to wear a helmet. And we agreed that the two things we’ve never seen are someone riding a scooter on the street and someone riding a scooter wearing a helmet. I can’t say whether these new transportation options are really cutting down on traffic which is supposed to be their big advantage–they don’t seem to be–but they’ve definitely prompted a rise in sarcasm.

Flight Of The Kiwis.

I don’t fly much. This is mainly because I don’t travel much and also probably why I don’t do standup comedy because jokes about flying, airports, and airlines are pretty much a staple of standup comedy, although that may be because comedians travel a lot so maybe it’s a case of which came first: the joke about the chicken crossing the road or the evolution of reproduction by gametes? Anyway the last few times I’ve flown I was disappointed that the flight safety talk was a video and not performed by live flight attendants which used to be the standard. I remember the last time I flew and the safety talk was given by a live attendant. It was a Tuesday and the plane was mostly empty so maybe that’s why she decided to add some comedy to it, saying things like, “If the cabin should suddenly lose pressure stop screaming, let go of the person next to you, and place the oxygen mask over your face.” Or maybe she was just trying to keep her job interesting. I learned being a flight attendant can be really boring from a woman I worked with who quit her job to become a flight attendant because she thought it would be a chance to visit diverse and interesting places and instead it turned out to be a chance to visit diverse and not very interesting hotel rooms. Maybe I shouldn’t joke about it because I do feel bad whenever someone has a dream and it crashes and burns and it occurs to me that “crashes and burns” may not be the best way to describe the end of a flight attendant’s career. I should probably save that one for the guy I worked with who quit his job as a professional librarian to become a professional truck driver because he thought it would give him time to do a lot of reading and was surprised that instead it gave him time to do a lot of truck driving, so he went back to his old job even though he didn’t have any more time for reading while he was librarianing, but that’s another story.
Anyway what made me think of this is that some airlines are looking for ways to make their safety videos more interesting so people will actually watch instead of getting in a few more minutes of free wifi before the plane takes off. Not that I’m sure why we need a safety video since if anything goes wrong with a sealed tube traveling at hundreds of miles an hour chances are a plastic mask and a seatbelt probably aren’t going to help you. I know that statistically you’re safer traveling by plane than by car but if your car’s engine dies it’s a lot less statistically likely that you’re going to suddenly plummet thousands of feet unless you’re driving the Zoji La in India.
As for that flight attendant who made jokes during the safety talk, I wish I’d made a note of her name because I bet she eventually quit and now has a successful career in standup comedy.
Here’s New Zealand Air’s new safety video.

 

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