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Mass Transit Aventures

My company just moved my department's offices to a new building which is a couple of miles closer to my house than the old place. This small change has reduced the amount of bus travel by 30 minutes each way, and since the company gives out free Metro passes I have decided to give it a try.

There is also a new streetcar in Seattle, and they are offering free rides until the end of the year. Alex and I decided that we wanted to ride the new streetcar, so I let Alex choose how we would get downtown: car or bus. He picked the bus. When you are 7, riding the bus is like going to the fair. Whooo hooo! Anyway, being a bus newbie and a serial plan-aheader, I used the Metro trip planner to plan out the whole trip. I don't ride the bus often enough to know all of the routes and stops, so I am the only nerd with a printed out itinerary, but I don't get lost. We first rode the bus to The Outdoor Emporium to get Alex a new winter coat. I never knew that place existed until recently. It is a pretty big place with lots of cool camping and other outdoor stuff. Then we road the bus the rest of the way downtown and started our quest to find the streetcar.

The station at the end of the line is called the "Pacific Place" station. In true, user-hostile, Seattle fashion, the name of the station does not indicate its location. We went to the Pacific Place. No station. No train tracks, either. We walked all around the circumference of Pacific Place. Nada. We asked one of the Seattle Police officers directing traffic in front of the Pacific Place if he knew where the station was. Nope. We looked around some more. I finally asked another officer and he said that it was a block away, near Westlake Center, and beside a bank. Off we went, and beside the Bank of America that is across the street from the northeast corner of Westlake Center is the "station." It looks just like a bus stop except for the train tracks which are flush with the street and not easily visible from a distance. We only spotted it because a streetcar was pulling up as we happened to wander past. If a person stands at Pacific Place the streetcar is completely hidden from view. Nice job. I would expect nothing less in this town. You have to just know that the Pacific Place station is a block away from Pacific Place, behind a bank, and cannot be seen from Pacific Place at all. Well, since the streetcar is new and the ride was free, there were a lot of gomers just like Alex and I that showed up to ride the shiny train. It was fairly packed and most people just stayed on for the round trip which trundles along fairly slowly and makes lots of stops. The cars are nice, and I suppose it will be handy for people who live in that area. Alex rode the carolsel in front of Westlake Center which he said was his number 2 favorite thing that day between the streetcar and the bus. We rode home on the bus which went from downtown to the airport where we changed to a bus that goes over our hill. While we were waiting for the last bus we got to see a crazy person who was having fragments of a conversation with various people who might or might not have been there. It was kind of refreshing, actually. In the old days, when Regan cut funding for mental hospitals and crazy people were all put out on the street, it was common to see people walking along in big cities having conversations or arguments with people who were not there. You still see that, but quite often the person is on a Bluetooth headset. Since Seattle techies and artistic types often dress very similarly to homeless people, it is often hard to tell who is crazy and who is just annoying. This person seemed to be firmly in the crazy camp, and I couldn't see a Bluetooth headset anywhere. It reminded me of simpler times.

Today I tried out my first commute to work on the bus. I parked at the park and ride after dropping off Alex. The bus to Seattle was one of the double length ones and packed. Because I was new and I was sitting where I could not see where we were, I missed my stop and had to hike back to it from the next one, but it wasn't raining and it was all downhill. Then I had to find the bus tunnel which I have never seen. I spotted that fairly easily and found my platform. The tunnel is very well lit and clean. It will be handy when the light rail runs in there because there is a light rail terminal right by my house. Unfortunately the bus to Bellevue was 15 minutes late, and we were a full 30 minutes late when we got to Bellevue. I wonder if the bus schedules are computed with normal morning traffic in mind because the bus used the 520 floating bridge which was pretty packed as usual. I'll have to try it out a few more times to figure out what is normal. When we got to Bellevue I got off of the bus one stop early because the bus got to within 2 blocks of my office and turned a corner and started heading off in another direction. As I was walking to the office it passed me and I noticed another bus stop that was within a block of my office. Doh! Apparently it pulls into the park and ride and loops around. It was a nice morning for a walk, so that's ok. Newbie mistake.

Tonight I try my first commute home. It involves three buses. Since I have a late night conference call with a development team in India I am leaving work early so even if the bus is really late I should still be able to get Alex before his after school care sells him to the gypsies. I have to see if the evening busses run closer to on time than the morning bus. I am still not sure if I will make commuting to work on the bus a normal part of my routine. I really enjoy driving, even in Seattle. If I had to pay for it then I would not ride the bus, but since it is free, the cheap bastard gene that all men poses in one form or another is making me give it a try. One thing is for sure - it is not going to be dull.


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