There comes a time in every Juneauite’s life when they find themselves at a crossroads — sometimes literally without a mode of transportation.
Perhaps your deep-seated sense of Alaskan generosity led you to lend your Subaru Legacy away, or perhaps your deep-seated sense of vitamin D deficiency led you to speed off to North Douglas at the first glimpse of sun without filling up the tank. Or maybe your truck’s deep-seated sense of rust led it to fall apart in the driveway.
Whatever the cause, there you are. Your wallet isn’t in the mood for a cab, and your friends are all busy playing Pokémon Go. You know that there is only one option left — the ominous blue bus labeled Capital Transit headed your way.
You try to make yourself conspicuous, but not too needy, under the bus-stop sign. You wonder if you’re supposed to stick out your thumb. The airbrakes halt the bus with a squeal and you find yourself staring at the toll-box. You’ve become a tourist suddenly — only able to squeak out phrases such as “does this go to the glacier?” and “do you take American money?”
Congratulations — you’ve taken your first ride on the public bus. You’ve managed to coach yourself through the daunting time-schedule, and you know where your stop is. Maybe you’ve even figured out which seats are the warm ones (I’ll never tell!). You’ve come to realize it’s not so bad. I would offer that perhaps you haven’t even gotten to the good part.
Me? I savor the bus. It’s the black-coffee-and-bagel of my morning. I love the routine. Wake up. Get ready. Throw bread at toaster. Miss toaster. Gently set bread in toaster. Check bus schedule. Check clock. Realize I’m about to miss the bus. Leave without toast. Get on bus. Breathe on window to see what’s been written there. Try my hand at poetry. Slowly wake up fully by the time the bus arrives, and there I am, ready for work.
See, a city bus is so much more than a cheap alternative transportation. It’s a whole menu of interesting experiences. For example: have you ever considered yourself a philosopher? No? No need to read Voltaire, just lean your head against the window and stare dreamily at the rain. Instant poet-philosopher. Trust me, I’ve tried. I’m not ashamed.
How about music? I know you love to jam out to your favorite songs while in the driver’s seat, but when was the last time you got to watch the passing landscape out the side window the entire time? It turns your favorite music into an epic, dramatic movie soundtrack about your life. Yes, even your guilty-pleasure Michael Bolton playlist. Plus, it’s warm and dry on even the most unfavorable days, so it’s the perfect place to bring your battered copy of The Life of Pi along and start reading. You’ll be transported in more ways than one!
So, I’ll admit it. I’m quite a people-watcher. I think it comes with the territory of being a writer. Chances are, you’re a people watcher, too. Luckily for us, a bus is like a cross-section of local social life, a mobile diorama, a locomotive of locals. I once had a professor in college prescribe city busses for writer’s block, and I’ll confess that I’ve taken plenty of inspiration from the mingling between stops. I’ve seen men carrying carnation bouquets under their leather jackets, and I’ve overheard people give out their bank account numbers loudly over the phone. I’ve watched strangers meet and become friends over mutual appreciation of walking sticks. I’ve even mustered up and met some people myself. I’m glad I did. Where else could I meet an anime cosplayer with spiky blue hair and a penchant for death metal, a friendly ex-con-turned-radio-DJ and a college student with a pronounced obsession with President James Madison? Sometimes you’re just one of four or five travelers, sometimes there’s standing room only, but on the bus it’s always interesting.
In case I’ve whet your appetite for some fine public transit, I’ll give you a quick unofficial guide (you’ll find more info on the city website). The busses run as far down as Savikko Park and as far up as the University. The two main hubs are the Federal Building and the back of Nugget Mall. If you wait there long enough during the day hours, you’ll find a bus eventually. The drivers are all knowledgeable and helpful, and it always pays to ask if you need help making sense of the schedule. There’s no eating, music or profanity allowed on the bus, and there’s a section at the front reserved for people who need greater accessibility. You’ll also find that if you purchase the monthly bus pass and use it to get to work instead of driving, you might be able to save a lot on gas.
Anyway, next time my car needs a brake, or if I’m just feeling like it, I may see you on the bus! P.S.—the middle two seats in the back are the warm ones.
• Guy About Town appears the first Sunday of every month and includes seasonal musings on what changes and what doesn’t in a small town. Guy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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