Adventures In Busing.

Office Space.

A few years ago my office IT department traded out my old standing computer and replaced it with a laptop. It’s been really great—among other things I can take it to meetings and actually get things done which doesn’t always happen in meetings, but that’s another story. And, I said to my boss, on nice days I could take it outside and sit in the grass and work.

She sighed. “Please don’t.”

She had a point: there’s still a lot to be said for the collaborative nature of the cubicled space we call “the office”, including the ability of coworkers to find me and ask me questions I may even be able to answer. That personal connection, being able to interact face to face and not just through whatever they’re calling video chatting now, is valuable. It’s why my position keeps me mostly bound to a desk in a specific place and so I can only stare out the window—although first I have to get up and cross the room because my cubicle doesn’t have windows, only Windows—and envy the people who are using parking spaces as makeshift offices.

Admittedly no one’s doing that in my area yet, but it’s an idea that’s caught on in San Francisco and now spread to France, and how it skipped over North America entirely is beyond me, although it may be that what those two places have in common is that office space is very expensive and parking spaces are cheap and people are really good at working out workarounds. Some are using free wifi provided by businesses—which makes perfect sense to me. Even though when I take a break from work and go outside I’m getting away from screens I know a few good places to stand if I want to borrow a free signal so I can look up something I really need to know at the moment, like the scientific name for the golden jellyfish found in a lake in Palau. Don’t judge me—I need obscure facts like the Mastigias papua needs algae.

Anyway using parking spaces as office spaces is a great idea; as some of the people who are doing it acknowledge it gives them easy access to delivery services, transportation—why leave the office to catch a bus when one’s going to stop right next to you?—and it creates a sense of community.

Of course I have a feeling someone’s going to want to use a parking space to, you know, park their car, and that’s probably going to lead to the connection of someone’s fist to someone else’s face.

Something New, Something Blue.

It was twenty years ago today…well, not today, really, but never pass up a chance to quote The Beatles, even though it’s now been much more than twenty years since Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play, and even when that album was released those uniforms looked like they must have been from before World War I and probably from when Gilbert and Sullivan’s Major General really was modern, but maybe Sgt. Pepper had long since retired, having been unable to get a promotion, and organized a band as a hobby.
Anyway it was in 1999 that my wife and I bought a new blue Honda CR-V. Technically the color was listed as “twilight obsidian blue sparkle sepulchral radiant crepuscular welkin” because car makers name car colors by throwing a thesaurus into a blender. We got the car at the same time we got a new dog, a Dalmatian puppy named Baxter, who was the perfect dog at the perfect time. My wife had gotten her first three Dalmatians before we even met–and in a convoluted way it was because she had Dalmatians that we met. By 1999 we’d been married a few years and were down to one dog who was as sweet as ever but also partly blind and deaf. Baxter, a funny little puppy with one blue eye and one brown eye, was just old enough to be up and bumbling around with the rest of his litter when we went to see him and, if you know dogs, you know how this sometimes happens: he chose us. Between that first visit and the day we took him home we went to look for a new car, and we were supposed to get a green–let’s leave the other adjectives out–Honda but instead ended up with a blue one.
We lost Baxter much too soon to cancer. The Honda, on the other hand, just kept going. Eventually my wife bought a van to drive to dog shows, both for size and just the convenience of having a single vehicle that would be dedicated to canine transport, and the CR-V became my go-to vehicle for going after I finally got around to getting a license, but that’s another story. For years there was a picture of Baxter in the right rear window that I only took out when the sun caused it to fade. One day I was stopped at a red light and a guy standing on the corner yelled something at me. I rolled down the window which is usually a bad idea when someone on a street corner is yelling at you, especially when he bears a strong resemblance to Howard Morris, but I’m an outgoing kind of guy and I thought maybe he had something important, or at least interesting, to say.
“You have Dalmatians?” he yelled.
“Yes.”
I was in the lane closest to the corner which, in retrospect, makes rolling the window down, even partially, an even worse idea, but he leaned over so he didn’t have to yell as loud.
“I had a Dalmatian when I was a kid. Best dog ever. They’re wonderful, aren’t they?”
Yes, I agreed. Then the light changed. I waved at him and said, “Thank you!”
He waved back and yelled, “You have a good day now!”
I had trouble focusing on the road. There was something in my eye.
Anyway when the fuel line on the CR-V went my wife and I independently concluded it was time for a new car. It had been twenty years, after all, and I’ve heard at least three stories that end with “So I had to get a new car” that started with “First I tried replacing the fuel line.”
Because the original worked so well, and in fact it was exactly twenty years to the day that we walked back into the same dealership, we decided to go with the CR-V, although a much more recent model that, in spite of the name, resembles the old one in much the same way a Dalmatian resembles Howard Morris, but it seems to be a good car and hopefully will last as well as the old one.
One thing the new car has in common with the old one: it’s the same shade of blue.

Treasured Trash.

April is National Poetry Month. In past years I’ve seen Poetry In Motion poems on Nashville buses, since Nashville is one of many cities that participates in the program. This year, though, I haven’t seen any. Most of the overhead advertising space is taken up with promoting the new buses and how many improvements they’ve made. They also still advertise the Music City Transit Tracker app although they’re no longer updating it which meant all it was doing was taking up space on my phone until I deleted it, but that’s another story.

Since my employer pays me to ride the bus—at least as long as it’s to and from work—I don’t get bus tickets, and maybe that’s why I haven’t seen the local Poetry In Motion poems. One day I happened to find this on the seat before I sat down:

That reminded me of the time I was walking to work one spring morning and a coworker came up to me holding a brown paper bag. She held it open under my nose. It was full of what looked like a bunch of weeds somebody had pulled out of their yard, probably because it was a bunch of weeds somebody had pulled out of their yard.

“Can you believe my neighbor was throwing these away?” she asked.

Yeah, I could.

“Pokeweed leaves!” she shouted. “I’m gonna make poke sallet!”

Truly one person’s trash is another person’s treasure.

Found And Lost.

How do bus drivers know where they’re going? Sometimes I see a person in a driver’s uniform sitting behind the driver watching out the front and I’ll think, maybe they’re learning the route, or maybe they already know the route and are giving directions to the driver who’s really the learner. And I know that buses are, or at least were, equipped with tracking systems. I first learned this when I mentioned to a friend that on some buses the same bass baritone voice that says, “Stop requested, please remain seated until the bus comes to a complete stop” also occasionally chimes in with things like, “Now turning onto Twenty-First Avenue South.” I said it would be pretty embarrassing for the driver to have announcements like that pop up at the wrong time and pretty hilarious for me because I’m obnoxious.

Anyway that’s when my friend told me they have location tracking so the automated voice is activated based on where the bus really is, and to me that would make it even more hilarious to have the announcements pop up at the wrong time because I’m really obnoxious.

And I did once get a real demonstration of the location tracker when a driver was forced to make a detour because of construction. Within less than a minute of the driver turning onto a side street the radio beeped and a voice crackled, “Number 459, why are you off your route?” And the driver picked up the handset and explained about the construction, and fortunately it was a short detour so we all got where we wanted to go. I wouldn’t have found it hilarious at all if I had to walk a long way out of my way.

I also think sometimes the drivers turn off the location tracking system. I’m not sure this is something they’re supposed to do, and it certainly doesn’t seem right. I can’t even understand turning off the automated voice. Sure, if I were a bus driver I wouldn’t want to listen to the same announcements over and over, but it’s there for the benefit of visually impaired riders.

The reason I think they can turn off the tracking system is the other day I was riding the bus and the driver suddenly took a wrong turn.

“What the hell is this?” she asked. “Is this where I’m supposed to be going?”

I walked up to the front of the bus and started giving her directions.

“I thought this was too soon to turn into the end of the route,” she said.

“Yeah, you’re right, there’s still an overpass to go under. The end of the route is still about a mile away.”

I got off shortly after that and the bus continued on its way. Fortunately it was a straight shot and I hoped I’d helped. The next day I got on and recognized the driver from the day before.

“Did my directions help?” I asked.

“What are you talking about?” she asked.

Either she really didn’t remember or she didn’t want to admit she’d gotten lost. I went and sat down. I decided I wasn’t going to try and embarrass her by pushing it. I’m not that obnoxious.

Cricket? You Can Shove It.

Spring is the time of year that is the worst for riding the bus because of the weather. Not that the weather’s bad. Well, sometimes it is—April showers, although we had enough rain last month that I’m pretty sure March was taking a bath, but that’s another story. Actually I’d prefer a little rain, or at least some inclement weather. It’s the clement weather that bothers me. Take yesterday, for instance. And you can keep it, as far as I’m concerned. The morning was lovely: I got up before dawn because the dogs still haven’t figured out that Daylight Savings Time means we can sleep an extra hour. The sky was clear. Jupiter stood out brightly among the stars in the south. By the time I left the house Aurora had risen from her bed adnd I heard old Tithonus chirping in the grass. A few long strands of cloud stretched across a magenta sky. It was chilly, just chilly enough that I had to wear a jacket to work.

Of course I had to wear a jacket to work.

By the afternoon Apollo was low in the west, which is weird because I thought the Apollo missions ended in the ‘70’s, and it was nice and warm. Too warm for a jacket. If I were driving it would be easy. I could just throw the jacket in the back of the car and forget about it until the next morning when it would be too cold to go out without a jacket but I’d have to go out without a jacket because I’d left it in the damn car overnight.

Riding the bus, on the other hand, left me with a choice: carry the jacket like a schmuck or wear the jacket and be a sweaty schmuck. I suppose I could also leave the jacket at the office, but that wouldn’t do me any good the next morning.

So I walked to the bus stop holding my jacket, and as I passed a grassy patch I thought I heard chirping, and then thought it sounded more like laughter.

Shut up, Tithonus.

Driving In Vain.

Do you ever see a car with such interesting bumper stickers that you want to follow it just to meet the driver? Sometimes I do but I never follow it because, well, that’s more than a little creepy, and also I sometimes see a car whose stickers really pique my interest while I’m on the bus and I’ve learned that telling a bus driver “Follow that car!” gets me some funny looks, but that’s another story. It’s less often that I’m intrigued by a vanity license plate–most of them just confuse me and I end up following the car around because I’m trying to figure out the meaning, which is more than a little creepy.
In Australia now they’ve actually started offering vanity plates that include emojis and this is an exciting, innovative idea that I’m pretty sure was conceived by someone who’d been bitten by a trapdoor spider or was otherwise mentally impaired because I can’t imagine how this was a good idea. It’s even worse than when they introduced vanity plates in Germany, and if you know anything about German you know the resulting plates had to be at least four feet across because German isn’t a language that lends itself to abbreviations, or lends itself to anything else. Some German words run the whole length of the alphabet and they rarely use a colon because the language has been largely disemvowelled, but that’s another story. It’s ironic too that Germany has the Autobahn with no speed limit even though you can’t go twenty miles without hitting a small town or castle, and believe me, you do not want to be going full speed when you hit a castle. Australia, on the other hand, has its east coast with Brisbane and Sydney, and then there’s about three million miles of absolutely nothing all the way to the west coast and Perth, although, believe me, you do not want to be going full speed when you hit Uluru. And it doesn’t help that Australia only pretends to be an English-speaking country, a place where you don’t grin–you “pull out your teethy-weeths”, where a sheep is known as a “jumbuck”, and where the peach, a popular euphemistic emoji, is known as a “fuzzy-wuzzy”, and the eggplant, another popular emoji for a certain body part, is known as a “Roman honkwanger”, which, let’s face it, already sounds like a euphemism.
That’s why I predict that emojis on license plates will be a short-lived phenomenon, but also they’re called “vanity plates” for a reason. Ecclesiastes tells us there is a time and a place for all things but also that all is vanity, that all things will pass in time, although “Ecclesiastes” is really hard to fit on a license plate, except in Germany.

The Long Walk.

I like to walk. If I didn’t taking the bus home from work most days would be a lot more of a chore because I have to walk a few blocks to the bus stop–and these are Nashville blocks which are variable in size and can be large or small, and there may not be sidewalks, and even where there are sidewalks they tend to be pretty narrow. Nashville is a city built on the idea that everybody drives everywhere, probably because most people do, although I wonder which came first: the drivers or the narrow sidewalks? And, funny enough, even on days when I drive to and from work I park in a parking garage that’s at least half a mile from where I work, which means I have to walk a pretty good distance no matter what, so it’s better if I’m not carrying anything heavy.
Once, outside the building where I work, which is at the corner of West End and 21st Avenue, a young woman carrying a tuba case came up to me and asked where the Blair School of Music was, and I felt really bad about telling her that it was about a mile away because I couldn’t imagine having to schlep a tuba all that way. Even worse there’s really no convenient bus route that would take her there. Then, later, I realized that, as a tuba player, she was probably used to having to schlep it all over the place, and also sharing this story gives me a convenient excuse to use the word “schlep”, but that’s another story.
Anyway the other day I made my usual long walk to the bus stop and, for a change, it was a nice day. Nashville had forty days and forty-one nights of rain in February alone and even though I like to walk the rain tends dampen my enthusiasm. As I got close to the stop the bus passed me so I started running, hoping the driver had seen me. The bus stopped at the stop and a couple of people got off. I kept running and got to the bus. The driver smiled at me as I got on.
“I saw you running,” she said.
“Yeah,” I panted.
“It’s a really nice day,” she said. “You coulda walked.”
Sure, and I’ve even thought about it, but there are stretches with no sidewalk, even places where there’s almost no shoulder, and it’s really too far to walk the whole way, even without schlepping a tuba.

Take A Stand..

An article over at CityLab looks at seat design for public transit around the world, taking in the good, the bad, and–in the case of the Los Angeles bus lines–the psychedelic designs. Many use moquette, which is the peculiar fabric so popular on planes, trains, buses, and and occasionally hotel pillows, although as I’ve mentioned previously Nashville’s new WeGo buses have plain plastic seats that may be easy to clean but are also slippery and with their complete absence of any design are just begging for a permanent marker makeover, although I haven’t seen any redesigned just yet. And there are the moquette-covered seats with a musical design, pictured at left, which is an interesting idea–Nashville being known as Music City–but the printing job was so badly botched no one can name that tune.
The article’s author, Feargus O’Sullivan, gets a bit snarky–a Warsaw, Poland bus seat design evokes “some biblical rain of blood”, Boston’s old MBTA trains have a seat design that “looks like a diagram of a serial killers brain synapses”, and seats on Dublin’s Luas light rail have a design that suggests the city’s “monuments apparently sinking Titanic-like into a sea of fire”–and those are some of the nicer descriptions. He acknowledges the difficulty seat designers face, though:
Seat-cover fabric designers have to create something that looks pleasant for—or at least doesn’t actively offend—the eyes of hundreds of thousands of people. That’s an all-but-impossible task. It’s somewhat cheering that fabric intended to please as many people as possible ends up being not bland, but often wildly eccentric. If nothing else, the interiors of these public vehicles are certainly way more interesting than the interior of almost any private car.
Almost any private car. I think we’ve all had that friend–or maybe I’m just lucky–who eats a lot of fast food and has never cleaned the interior of his 1976 Dodge Dart so when you hitch a ride with him your feet rest on a decade-old detritus of drink cups and burger boxes.
And distinctive seat design–whether creative or horrifying–does serve the function of drawing attention to public transit, which it desperately needs. With increasing traffic congestion public transportation is increasingly important. As a guy I used to work with would say, “People really should use public transit. It’s better for the environment, better for the city, and I’d have an easier time finding a parking space.” And I’d look at him and think about suggesting he should get rid of all those burger boxes on his floorboard, but that’s another story. It just has to be the right kind of attention. An important thing about seat design, O’Sullivan says, is it “shouldnt be so bright and busy that it turns stomachs”. The reason for that is practical as well as aesthetic. A lot of riders of public transit–kids, pregnant women, people too drunk to drive–are already likely to be sick, and a dazzling design could just serve as camouflage. With some designs I’d rather stand and admire them than worry about what I might sit in.

Perfect Timing.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7sa1TgAeZlQI’d rather have a root canal than go to the dentist.
Maybe that’s not exactly true, but I did have a dental appointment for a regular checkup and cleaning, so I left work early to catch the bus. The Nashville MTA app is now defunct. It used to show riders when specific buses were due to arrive. Now it just lists the scheduled arrivals at different stops which is pretty useless because its rare that buses are ever on schedule. I was reminded of this when I was standing on one side of the street and the bus I wanted, not due for another ten minutes, pulled up to the stop across the street, paused for a microsecond, and went on its way. Once on that side of the street I set off on my merry way with plans to catch the next bus or walk to the dentist’s office, whichever came first. Fortunately I did catch the next bus, and when I got on the driver said, “Nobody’s ever at this stop at this time of day,” and I said, “Well, someone was today!”
Then at the dentist’s office the hygienist asked me if I were feeling better and I asked, “Was I feeling bad six months ago?” I’d forgotten that I’d had a dental appointment the week before but had to reschedule because I had a cold, which is how my short term memory is, but that’s another story.
When I left the dentist’s office I checked the bus schedule, thinking I’d catch the bus going back, and while I was doing that the bus, due in about five minutes, sped by, so I started walking.
As I was standing on a corner waiting for the light to change a young guy and his large black Labrador Retriever came and stood next to me. The Labrador Retriever looked up at me and I asked the guy, “What’s his name?”
“Oliver,” he told me.
“Hello, Oliver,” I said, and Oliver wagged his tail and rubbed his head against me, and I petted him, which made us both pretty happy. And I was actually glad I missed the bus because if I hadn’t I wouldn’t have met Oliver.

There Went The Sun.

It’s been raining. We’ve had heavy rain, rain that’s caused the backyard to flood, that’s sent cascades of water down the stairs leading to the driveway, rain that’s caused me to say, “Why didn’t I bring an umbrella with me and do I really want to go back and get it because I’m already soaked?” And we’ve had light rain, rain that’s barely even wet, the kind of rain that’s caused me to say, “I don’t need an umbrella if this is as bad as it’s going to get,” and then it gets worse, it turns into moderate rain that’s not that bad but it might as well be heavy rain because I’m probably going to be out in it for a while. There have been a few short periods when the rain stopped but during those times it turned really, really cold and still overcast, and people in the elevator would say, “Can you imagine what it would be like if all this rain were snow?” Yes, as a matter of fact I can imagine that and I’ve been through ice storms and I’m glad that even though the combination of cold and rain isn’t pleasant it could be so much worse.
Finally there was one day last week, the first of March, in fact, which is supposed to come in like a lion, a saying that always confuses me because lions are hot weather creatures. If March comes in cold and wet then the animal it should come in like should be a polar bear, since it’s going to maul you and maybe have a liver with toxic levels of vitamin A. Then, the saying goes, March goes out like a lamb, which makes sense for a month that seems to shit on everything, but that’s another story. This day, though, was not only dry but the sun came out, which was a real kick because most of us had forgotten what it looked like. It was warm too. Well, warm-ish. The temperature went up to almost sixty, Fahrenheit, which is in Celsius is, I think, the square root of 17.2. I left the office in a mood almost as bright as the weather and had a nice walk to the bus stop. There were lots of other people out walking too, and people jogging. Once I got on the bus I saw even more people out walking, jogging, just out enjoying the day. We passed a restaurant with a patio that’s been a pond for the past month, and I’m pretty sure the inside was empty because everyone was sitting outside.
For the first time in weeks I was looking forward to the walk home. Then we got to my stop, I got out, and it started raining. I didn’t need an umbrella when I left.

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