A Tale of Three Cities

I voted for rail both times it was on the ballot. Each time before election day I campaigned for it on a personal level. I had two reasons for voting for rail service in Austin. First, I had used commuter rail in California before moving to Texas and experienced the benefits it offered and saw how much people enjoyed it.  Second, and more importantly, I thought of it not so much as a need for us now but as a need for our great grandchildren and their children.

Go back with me in time to the late 80’s, early 90’s. At that time I was an assistant manager in a bookstore in Hollywood. And as fun and wild as it is in Hollywood, it was even more fun and wild in Tijuana. Plus it was a dangerous city, which was an added attraction for me. Kind of like some people are attracted to unsuitable people.

To get to “T.J.” I took Amtrak from downtown Los Angeles to downtown San Diego. There, in the same station, I would buy a one-way ticket for the commuter rail for two dollars. Then get on the red line to San Ysidro, the last town in California. A very small town. I think it was the size of Austin’s downtown and surrounding business district. It had more dirt roads than paved. Continue reading “A Tale of Three Cities”

Route 300

Today I found myself on the 300 route. That is the route I’ve been working since October. Today I also found, with help from little friends, a better me.

The best way to explain is to give an example of what a typical morning is like on the 300. I would pull my bus out of the Capital Metro gate about 4:20 in the morning. Life in Austin is remarkably quiet and still at this time. My assignment called for me to travel on Pleasant Valley to Cesar Chavez, then north on I-35 to North Lamar Transfer Center. Very quiescent was this drive but instead of drifting to daydreaming I would become reflective. It was the best time to write poetry. Unfortunately I was driving a bus instead of sitting at my desk. Continue reading “Route 300”

It’s Roadeo Time

Capital Metro’s local Bus and Paratransit Roadeo competition will be held this Sunday, November 1, at the Leander Station and Park & Ride.

I am competing this year in the 35-foot bus competition. This past weekend I practiced maneuvering a bus through a 10-piece obstacle course, each challenge made to be tougher, more treacherous and mind boggling to get through than the one before. Continue reading “It’s Roadeo Time”

One Million Miles and Counting

Last week in a makeshift ceremony I was presented my plaque foLeor reaching the million mile safe driving mark. The award was given to me by the National Safety Council. It was presented to me by Tony Dugas, from the Capital Metro Safety Department, and Erica McKewen took pics. I also received some patches, which earlier today I took to the cleaners to have them sewn onto my uniform.

Continue reading “One Million Miles and Counting”

A Tale of Two Cities: Cool Art Along the 101

This summer my route was the 101. It was created to help with the heavy passenger load of the number 1 route. I think it is the easiest route a driver can do. I do not know any driver who disagrees with this conclusion. Passengers who have to take the 1 route prefer and love taking the 101 instead when possible because it is fast. It feels like taking a bus equipped with turbocharge.

Something else I like about doing the 101 was going down the “Drag” and “SoCo.” It is the drawings and murals on buildings I get to see. It reminds me of going down Hollywood Boulevard, which has lively artwork also. Continue reading “A Tale of Two Cities: Cool Art Along the 101”

A Tale of Two Cities?

Back in the early ’90’s I worked as a bus driver in the city of Los Angeles. There were differences and similarities with how the buses in L.A. and buses here in Austin went about doing the same thing, that is, picking up and dropping off passengers.

One of the differences was in how we operated buses in downtown. In L.A. we didn’t pick-up passengers at every corner. We pick-upped at every other corner. But there were bus stops at every corner.

Here’s how it worked. Let’s say, for fun, that you are the bus driver. And your route goes along 1st Street. Your stops would be on Los Angeles, Spring and Hill Streets, but you would skip Main, Broadway and Olive Streets. There are always other buses along your route and the stops you skipped would belong to those. But you, as the operator, would not stay in line behind the bus in front of your bus like we do so here in Austin. After you picked-up passengers, you change lanes and move in front of the other bus, which in turn, will move in front of your bus after boarding people. I always thought of it as playing leapfrog. It worked well.

I have to add that a city block in L.A. is longer than here in Austin. I can walk from 2nd to 3rd Streets while holding my breath. I’ll use Austin for an example. If you, as the bus operator, picked-up folks at 11th Street, your next stop would be at Cesar Chavez Street. That is about how far apart the bus stops are in downtown L.A.

I’ll end this tale of two cities with a quote from someone I love. “A-du-a-du-a-ta-a-ta-that’s all folks.”

On the Busy Number 1 Route

Don’t call me Ishmael.

In his adventurous novel, “Moby Dick,” Herman Melville’s protagonist Ishmael tells us why he feels the need to go to sea. He says in part, “Whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul…and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper-hand of me that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street and methodically knocking people’s hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball.”

How ghastly. I have never felt an urge, not even an iota of one, to assault people, even when my hypos have had me in a sturdy headlock. And certainly I have never felt a “damp, drizzly November” in any part of my soul. When I do I’ll make sure to buy more life insurance.

Poor Ishmael. He would not have made a good bus operator. It would stress him out easily. Especially if he had to work the number 1 route, which I do every weekday after I finish the Leander Express.

The number 1 is our busiest line. I drive the 1L, which goes from Tech Ridge Park & Ride at Howard Lane to Southpark Meadows, at the new shopping center at Slaughter and I-35. On the map in the schedule booklet it looks almost like the Mississippi River.

Because it is so busy and taxing on operators, I had to look at it from another angle and see what it affords me. I found a prize. It is ripe with opportunity to help others. Like assisting a visually-impaired man cross a busy downtown street so he can hop on another bus; helping an elderly lady unload her groceries; helping a young mom carry the stroller on board; helping confused out-of-towners with information; or, helping all my passengers by staying on time so they won’t miss their connecting route. These opportunities, as they pop-up, I hit out of the park like a slugger. Because I know if I allow one opportunity to help someone go without my aid, I will never get it back.

Wednesday Morning on the 987

The oblong box cruises south on Mopac. It is 6:22 on a mid-week morning and still dark outside. The interior lights are off. Two individual overhead spotlights are on as two of my passengers read. That means 21 passengers are asleep in the recliner seats. That makes me feel good because my smooth driving lulled them to sleep, which is what they wanted and looked forward to when they boarded at Leander and Lakeline. A 15-minute nap will help them get through the morning. As I drive this particular morning I see a meteor streak down and quickly disappear. It is the end of its million mile journey. I don’t mention this to my passengers. It is too early to wake them.

But like almost all good things, this ride, as comfy and cozy as it is, is disturbed at 6:26 when the first passengers deboard from the bus. I go into my routine. “Time to get up. Don’t forget anything. Make sure you have what belongs to you. Up and at ’em. Show them what you’re made out’ve.” Reminds me of when I was the duty N.C.O. in the Marines and had to call reveille, decades back. I walked the barracks to make sure every marine was up. Job well done.

My passengers know me by my name because this is the third time (or “mark-up,” to use transportation lingo) I’ve had this run, the 987 Leander.

Each of my passengers smiles at me as they walk out and onto work. It’s priceless.

They are in a good mood because their morning commute was quiet. Uneventful. Just as they like it. I did my part in making their day start off well. In turn they will make other people’s day better. It is a chain reaction made from positive energy. At 6:44 the bus is empty except for me. And I think to myself, “Another job well done.”