Have you taken a bus ride lately? In the last 30 years? I just returned from my first bus ride in nearly that long.
I'd been putting this off during the last year. Today, I needed the service, so I gathered my courage, left the office, and headed for where I thought the bus stopped.
As I neared a marked stop, an approaching woman timidly asked me,m "Does the Hagadorn bus stop here?"
I had to admit my total ignorance of the system. Then I walked into the nearest business for some assitance. From this source I received enough information to start in a general direction, looking for the blue and white sign I was assured was in the neighborhood of a four-block stretch.
As I arrived at the main thoroughfare, my gaze swept from left to right and back again. I saw something familiar. It was one of those waiting stations in which, as a habitual car driver, I'd noticed bus riders waiting.
With renewed courage and great relief, I headed straight for it.
I saw a girl already waiting there, and this made me hurry faster, because, I thought, she might be a regular passenger and anticipating the bus at this moment.
On breathless arrival, I inquired of the passenger if this bus went to Okemos. Well, it turned out that some did and some didn't. But through my anxious thought, I remembered that although I now lived in a smaller town than that of my earlier bus riding days, of course several buses could pass this corner.
I waited patiently. In the next 10 minutes two buses turned off a block before my stop. Another passenger came and sat down in the cubicle.
Then it came.
I was beginning to be quite proud of myself. Feeling very independent, I entered the bus and readied my exact-change fare, which I had been warned would be the only acceptable payment.
"Do you stop at Seneca Drive and Hamilton Road?" I hesitantly inquired of the big, serious driver, not wishing to be of any bother.
"Never heard of it," he countered.
"Oh," I commented, sparring for time. "Well, do you travel along Hamilton between Okemos Road and Dobie?" I ventured, hoping to strike a note of recognition, not relishing the thought of being led completely astray.
Assuming he'd completed the conversation, he closed the door and started up.
I threw my change into the coin receiver with what I thought was the flair of a regular passenger. I was delighted to find that I still had my old bus legs. I cut a fairly jagged but familiar path to a vacant seat at the back of the bus.
Since the trip would take a while, I began to check out my new transportation. I remembered that, when we wanted to get off, we used to pull on a rather sagging line that was strung up above the windows of the buses. I saw nothing that sagged. As i watched the passengers getting off, it occurred to me that I would just have to get up and approach the front or back door of the bus, and maybe that was the signal for the driver to stop at the next street.
Finally I caught a passenger reaching for what looked to be dark painted stripe on the wall between the windows. She pushed it. Then I heard a faint "ding."
As we traveled, I noted that the windows were large, and the bus was air conditioned. Well of course! But remember, the big gap between my old bus riding days and now didn't catch up quickly with my air conditioned car, grocery store, and twin theaters.
When I thought I could, I moved to the front of the bus so I could speak to the driver if necessary. From this vantage point, I could see how the bus drivers' lot had improved over the years.
For one thing, they do not have to make change. Next, you will recall it was revealed that they are not responsible for a thorough knowledge of the street sequence on the route.
I noticed that this one had a telephone. But unlike the home phone, this one talked to him as he went along, whether he called on it or not.
One thing missing was the heavy curtain the night drivers pulled across behind their backs to enable them to see more sharply into the dark hours. He still gave transfers. I saw them hanging on a little wire line within reach.
The passenger now enjoys a panoramic view through the almost front-to-back solid windows, and the passenger seats are no longer affixed to the floor but fastened into the side of the bus, thus giving the maintenance crew a fast, clean sweep.
Another functional improvement is the door opening to the outside.
I remember that I usually was one of the last three crammed into the bus on the way home from work and had to stand in the step well. This caused some anxiety at each stop, for fear of being pinned to the stair wall by the fold-back-to-the-inside doors.
To make matters more interesting, today's route was rather circuitous -- over to the supermarket, across to the mall, back to skirt the edge of the supermarket, and finally a sharp turn to the right. We were headed down the main street to my subdivision.
I watched attentively. I located the little strip between the windows and punched it as we passed the last street before mine.
The driver was stopping short of my street by a block and a half -- at no street. He told me that this was a regular stop, but that he would stop at my street also.
We surged on another block and a half, and I disembarked onto my own street as the driver told me goodbye. Not a bad experience after 30 years away from buses.