Let Sleeping Dogs Lie

The funny thing about riding the bus between towns; decorum, civility, and simple common decency – all these things are up for grabs.

There are myriad ways that people maneuver to occupy a seat (or two) on the bus. Some spread out all their belongings on the window seat and sit on the aisle seat, which allows them to block any option for sharing its use- very clever. Others pretend, and lie when asked, that the open seat next to them is “taken”. Others just physically occupy both seats and give you preemptive terrible nasty looks.

But the one I like the best is the “sleeping passenger” technique. This one requires serious skill.

Some passengers sprawl and curl horizontally on both seats and prop their belongings as pillow; some flop and lean diagonally into the next seat (typically accompanied by loud, obnoxious snoring); and some pretend to sleep or snooze while sitting upright, dropping an arm or hand onto the adjacent seat. This last one is the most susceptible and approachable to an incoming passenger needing to find an open seat in a crowded bus.

And here is the issue: As soon as you step on the bus, you have less than a second to quickly scan the bus and consider your strategy for finding an open seat. You have one shot as you step further into the bus, while the passengers behind you go through the same process- but you can’t track back, since most of the time the “open seat” you passed in search of a glorious double seat is typically taken by someone less ambitious.

So, target the upright pretend sleeper. This is your best option. The sprawler is not visible and this leads you to think that a two seat option is there waiting for you, and the lean-to boorish snorer is just too much to deal with.

So, when you step on the bus, look for the pretend sleeper, and let sleeping dogs lie!

Such is the curious nature of life on the bus.

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Travel Expense

I often wonder, where we would be – fiscally and socially, if we rely only on public transportation to get around; what is the cost, per mile, to travel from place to place? What is the experience?

Today, I had to go to Saratoga Springs for business, so I traveled 75 miles from New Paltz to Albany, then 35 miles from Albany to Saratoga Springs. On the reverse trip I traveled 25 miles from Saratoga Springs to Schenectady, then 18 miles from Schenectady to Albany.

It costs $25 to take the bus between New Paltz and Saratoga Springs; $1.50 between Saratoga Springs and Schenectady; and $2.00 between Schenectady and Albany.

The disparity in the travel expense is incredible, when you consider the cost per mile for the entire trip, compared to the cost per mile for each segment of the trip between towns. I traveled a total of 153 miles and paid $28.5 which yields an average cost of $0.18/mile, yet the 25 mile segment between Saratoga and Schenectady only cost $1.50 ($0.06/mile).

Perhaps the rationale for this is based on pure demographics, ridership, and the relative ease of connection between locations.

Once you understand the regional transit system, and you plan accordingly; the only question is the social experience of using public transportation; it is certainly not a financial one.

Here, intolerance I believe, is the essence of the problem.

A culture not accustomed to public transportation does not know how to manage sharing space and dealing with some discomfort; both of which are unavoidable on the bus. One is exposed to a forced interaction between strangers; rubbing shoulders, listening to loud music, even louder conversations, and this requires a degree of tolerance.

The real cost of travel is far less a financial consideration, then a social one; and we are simply not prepared to deal with circumstances that dictate we engage with others in a such a visceral way.

“It’s a Whole ‘Nother World; Behind the Walls”

Heading southbound from Albany to New Paltz on the 1:30 PM (I usually take 4:30 bus) after traveling for the past couple of days between towns upstate. I look at the empty seats and notice a bus driver, wearing full uniform, with decals and all, sitting on the third row, driver side; and I immediately ask myself, puzzled, “Why didn’t he sit on the first row, behind the driver, this is typically reserved for the driver to put his stuff?” He’s well settled in, bags and gear on the side seat; gives me a look that says, “I own this spot.”

“Ah; he picked the king seat”, I immediately tell myself, I get it!

It’s the same seat that my father would have me take, when I was a kid and had to travel alone overnight to Mexico City.

I have no scientific data, or statistical information, but I am convinced; the third row, driver’s side is the safest spot on the bus, just the right place to be — not too close to the front and not too far from the back of the bus.

I sit on the second row, settle in. Two guys, regular looking, climb aboard take the first two seats across the aisle; I think nothing of it — they don’t know each other, all very routine.

The bus takes off, a conversation starts up between the two guys; difficult to understand, a kind of shorthand, with phrases and references to places I don’t know, one of them is wearing black boots, khaki pants, a sweatshirt, and a winter hat, he’s got a bag of cookies in his hands; the other, sitting in front of me, I can’t see, except for his black sneakers and khaki pants — neither have carry on luggage with them.

The conversation becomes more understandable; they are talking about where they are headed naming recognizable places, both looking for a place to stay, affordable, under $70; comparing places where they have stayed before, experiences they’ve had, last time they were out!

I understand; they just got out of prison — now it makes sense; the earlier unknown references were places they been, you know, inside.

One looks at the other and says, “I could tell who you were, the moment is saw your boots”, “It’s all I had to choose from”, the other replies. “I did a little better, I got these nice sneakers, didn’t want to wear the boots”, the first one concludes.

He continues the conversation, now in as comfortable and open a tone as you would expect between two friends that haven’t seen each other for a long time, “I was traveling south, a few years ago, was thumbing it, a trucker picks me up in Georgia, he tells me he’ll take me but I have to help him drive his Cadillac to the next town where he lives!” Can you believe it”. “He just trusted me, no questions — I loved it down south, had a great time there”.

“I know, the second guy replies”.

“It’s a whole (and before he could finish) ‘nother world, behind the walls”; the second guy completes the sentence.

The guy with the black boots, and khaki pants — rolled up because they’re to long — opens up the bag of cookies, passes it around to everyone, looks at me and says, “Take some, I can’t eat them all”.

I take one, “Thank you”, I said. The thing is, I don’t like cookies! But; I figured, this was the prudent thing to do, this time.

It’s a whole ‘nother world; on the bus!

Life on the Bus

I grew up in Mexico, lived in some rough border towns for much of my childhood. To get around, I traveled by bus, pretty much across the country; so you learn how to “sense” when something doesn’t fit, or someone doesn’t look right at the bus station or between stops: these places are about routine and everyone, the bums, taxi drivers, passengers, bus drivers, and ticket tellers, move a certain way.

Well, this morning, like every morning I travel by bus, I get a cup of coffee from the coffee shop next door to the bus station in New Paltz, where I routinely take the 8:30 AM to get to Albany. I look through the window of the coffee shop and see two guys walking in to the station; one is tall, has a white beard and a quick gaze, he’s carrying a piece of paper in his hand, the other is short and unassuming; but they don’t fit the scene, they don’t belong.

I enter behind them, walk to the teller window to buy my ticket, and I overhear a conversation taking place between the two guys and two well dressed women, curiously standing in the middle of the station. I take notice because the women don’t look like they’re going anywhere, they have no bags or tickets in hand; and as soon as I had walked in, the two guys snapped their necks, and turned around to look at me — intensely.

So, I thought, “Uh, am I in the wrong place, here. Who are these people. What are they waiting for. Why do those two guys look like cops?”

Because they are!

The tall guy with the beard is dangling a police badge from his neck, which I now see as he turned around to look at me — intensely; the little guy just stood there, but I could see he was carrying a gun- he’s the backup, casing the joint, probably runs very fast.

The story unfolds; one of the women, the one whose voice is breaking as she nervously shakes a bit, is the mother of a young girl who is on the 8:30, on her way home from Phoenix. The girl is 22, a heroin addict, ran away with her boyfriend, he’s 34, he’s a heroin addict too; both had jumped parole and were being tracked by the police — on Facebook!

So you see, this morning is not routine, but no one else in the station pays notice, the passengers come in, buy their tickets, go about their business: one is a well-dressed woman with heels and a short black dress, big handbag under her arm, “Yep”, I said to myself, “She’s going to the City”.

Another is a woman with a stroller and a young child. And all of a sudden, as police cars come into the parking lot and start to position themselves and their vehicles, I’m thinking, “This is no good, what if the runaway guy, or the girl, are armed. Where is the safe spot to move to. How is this going to go down?”

The bus rolls¬†in. I had moved to the safe spot; the inside corner between the coffee shop and the station. From there you can see everything, and everyone — the whole scene. The woman with the stroller had also moved there, but she hadn’t noticed anything, she simply moved to the spot where she was out of the way, because of the stroller.

As soon as the bus driver opens the door and walks down, the parole officer and the little guy walk right in, come out first with the guy, then the girl. He is put against the bus, gets cuffed doesn’t resist. She comes out, looks at her mom, in disbelief, and starts to yell at her. She knew. Her mother had turned her in, had called the police — how else would they have known to meet them there. The story, arranged by the parole officer and the mother during that conversation at the station, was that they police followed them on Facebook, knew they were coming home. You see, this way she would not be lying to her daughter, because this was partly true, and she had done the right thing, she told her fried — her daughter needed help, was coming home.

The tragic thing is, though, the parole officer, warrant in hand, had to take the “kids”, as the mother referred to them, straight to jail, then back in front of the judge, then I don’t know where.

The mother had thought the police would let her take them home, have a shower and rest; they had been traveling by bus for three days now and she just wanted to get them home. But this was the wrong thing to do, the parole officer had told the mother earlier during their conversation. “They’ll just pick up and run, and we have to chase them again”, he said. “This is the best thing for them now, they are not kids anymore. I’ve been doing this for 37 years and believe me, drug addicts know how to be convincing; they learn that and play at your strings”.

The girl, cuffed and put in a separate police car, is sitting in the back seat now, her mother, the friend and the parole officer approach the car while the passengers board the bus — incredulous of what they had just witnessed.

I come up to the bus driver, he looks at me, says: “I’m not going to New York” (remember him). “I know”, I replied, “You’re going to Albany, I’m going there too”.

Life on the bus, is strange, but true — on any given day!

How I Learned How to Hate the Car and Use Public Transportation (in America)

schaefferhund

Well, my grand experiment is to learn how to get around using only public transportation (and a bike) in upstate New York; this after putting over 100,000 miles driving in less than 2 years time, and in the course of it messing up my back, right leg and tendons in both my hands.

This picture shows the massive interconnected network of bus (sorry, it’s now called a “coach”) routes that I will use to continue traveling to and from our farm in the middle of nowhere. Funny, I’ve used public transportation since I was 8 years old, when I would take the bus from Matamoros to Cuernavaca, by way of Mexico City and the Metro with abolutely no problem. Only problem now is learning how to read the ridiculously arcane bus schedules littered with absurd symbols and undecipherable notes that require you to have a PHD in semiotics to read and comprehend.

mobility network

But, all is forgiven, since every “coach” now has wifi linked in throughout the entire route. This journey is premise for my first book, which I will write at the end of 2012 loosely titled, “My Grand Experiment, or How I Learned to Hate the Car and Use Public Transportation (in America)”.