Adventures In Busing.

Leading From Behind.

Most of the time when buses going in opposite directions along the same route pass each other the drivers will wave and maybe even honk the horns, sharing a few seconds with someone else who does what they do. It’s something one of my coworkers would call a “collegial moment”, although I work in an office with a lot of other people and if I didn’t pass by someone every few minutes I’d start to wonder if there was a meeting I was supposed to be in or maybe worry that I was like Earl Holliman in that Twilight Zone episode, but that’s another story.
Then there are those times when the bus I’m on comes up behind another bus and starts following it and I wonder who’s fouled up the schedule and, more importantly, why I couldn’t be on the bus that’s in front so I could get home a few seconds earlier.
Anyway last week the buses were either running extremely early or extremely late; either way it doesn’t matter. All I know is I was having to wait a really long time and every bus that came along was packed with people. And then late in the week I had to work late and caught a later bus that was completely empty except for me and the driver.
“Not a lot of people riding at this hour,” I said.
“Nobody knows when the buses are coming or going right now,” she said. “They’ve got us on a whole different schedule.”
“Why is that?”
“They won’t tell us. Maybe it’s because they’re renovating the downtown terminal, maybe there’s construction somewhere on the route they’re not telling us about.”
I thought about saying that every business has at least one group of workers who are treated like mushrooms–kept in the dark and fed shit–but decided not to. Then we stopped at an intersection and another bus turned in front of us and went ahead.
“See,” she said, “he’s all confused. I know who that is. He forgot he’s supposed to be on the alternate route and he’s only doing what he’s supposed to now because he saw me.”
There was a lot to think about there, including the fact that, for once, I was glad to be on the slightly slower bus. I wouldn’t want to be on a bus driven by someone who couldn’t follow directions.

Pride In The Street.

Source: YouTube

Cities around the country are decorating their crosswalks with the rainbow colors of the LGBTQ Pride Flag for the month of June. Crosswalks in Britain are called “zebra crossings”, but that’s a horse of another color, or colour if your dictionary is Oxford instead of Webster. Anyway this is a very groovy public art project and an important one right now since the advances in LGBTQ rights could so easily be rolled back, but that becomes more difficult when cities show support for the whole spectrum of their citizens. The example above is from Maplewood, New Jersey, the first in its state, but it joins others from around the United States and around the world that have put permanent rainbow stripes on their crosswalks.
The crosswalks on two sides of the building where I work are sticking with the usual white stripes, but I thought this would be a good chance to review the rules of crosswalks because it’s a weekly, sometimes even daily problem for me that the crosswalk brings out many shades of stupid. Here’s a helpful diagram using a picture of the building where I work:

In this diagram if I (M) am standing on the sidewalk and a car (A) is coming then that car has the right of way. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been waiting for cars to pass so I can cross the street only to have them come to a screeching halt right in front of me. Then the drivers give me a condescending little “go ahead” wave. And it’s even more annoying when there are cars in the other two lanes speeding by. Not that the drivers are the only ones with the problem. I’ve seen other pedestrians step right out into the street without looking, forcing oncoming cars to come to a screeching halt.
On the other side of the street there’s also a bus stop (B) and sometimes when I’m standing there and cars come to a screeching halt in front of me I want to ask, How do you know I’m not waiting for the bus? And if you know I’m not waiting for the bus can you read my mind? And if you can why are you here and not in Vegas?
And (A) can also represent where delivery trucks–FedEx, UPS, USPS, food deliveries–often park, right in front of the front door of the building. Did I mention that the street in front of the building has three lanes? When a delivery truck is parked in one of those lanes that makes it even harder for pedestrians and drivers because those trucks block the view of oncoming traffic. That brings me to (1) because I arbitrarily switched to numbers and which is on the much less busy side street which is where the smarter delivery truck drivers park.
Knowing how to deal with a crosswalk is another thing we could all take pride in.

Pursued.

The bus was late and it was crowded. Maybe it was late because it was crowded, because there were so many people getting on. Or maybe it was crowded because it was late, all these people having missed a different bus. It’s one of those chicken-and-egg questions although chickens and eggs aren’t allowed on the bus. The bus stopped and a woman sitting opposite me got off. She’d been sitting right on the aisle even though the window seat next to her was, I thought, empty. After she got off I looked over and there was a purse, gold with maroon polka dots, in the window seat. And I hesitated, which I still regret. The thought Hey, she went off and left her purse, went through my head, but I didn’t jump up and yell “Stop the bus!” and maybe that’s a good thing because the bus wasn’t moving. When I looked out I saw the woman walking away with a big purse slung over her shoulder. So it wasn’t her purse, but it was someone’s purse.
I watched a man get on and take her seat, next to the purse, leaving it its own seat as though it were another passenger.
Then he got off and the purse stayed behind. I wondered if I should pick it up. Men don’t usually carry purses although I’ve noticed more and more guys with messenger bags or shoulder bags. I have one with a raven on it composed of words from Poe’s poem and it’s sparked a few conversations, but that’s another story. Anyway I wasn’t going to take the purse off the bus—it clashed with my outfit—but I did think about going through it to see if I could find any identification, some way to get it back to its owner. There were still a lot of people on the bus. Would they get what I was doing? And I even wondered if we were on camera, if this was a test to see what people would do. And what should I do?
In the end I moved the purse up to the spot next to the door where people often leave bags of groceries, umbrellas, and other things and told the driver someone left it behind. She said she’d keep an eye on it. I left and yet even now I wonder if there was something more I could have done.

 

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.

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