I rode buses in three different cities on a regular basis. Riding the bus was always an adventure for me. Hawaii’s mass transit system was by far the best of any of the three cities where I lived. I lived in Hawaii from December 1992 until December 1995. The one thing I remember was that the buses were often very, very crowded, standing room only. Often times, I would be waiting at the bus stop only to have an overly crowded bus fly by without stopping. If there was no room and no one needed off at that location, there was no reason for it to stop. Luckily, buses ran every 10 to 15 minutes (24 hours per day, every day of the week); so the longest I think I ever had to wait to catch a bus was maybe 45 minutes during peak hours. And it was rare to wait that long.
I think my worst memory from riding the bus in Hawaii was shortly after my son was born. The husband and I were taking him to his first well baby check up at TAMC. All I remember is the panic I felt and how worried I was about germs. I was a complete nervous wreck by the time we got home. I didn’t really think about things like this while I was pregnant. In fact, I was often amazed by the respect and compassion that so many people showed by offering their seats to a pregnant woman or the elderly. However, my anxiety was so bad after our son was born that we finally purchased a car.
Then there was Clarksville, TN. I began using the bus system there around August 1998 until September 1999 during a very difficult time in my life. My husband and I split up; I became pregnant with my second child; and my car was repossessed. A lot more was going on, but these 3 examples are the most relevant to this story. Tennessee cities don’t exactly have the best mass transit systems. It’s very hard to use the buses as a primary mode of transportation. But I did, despite the incredible hardships that came along with it. I was determined to do what I had to do to survive and I am a better person for it.
I guess the worst part was that the buses did not run on Sundays back then, not to mention they stopped running fairly early at night. I couldn’t afford the luxury of taking a taxi. I had to use my own two feet to get me back and forth to work or wherever else I needed to go when the bus was not running. Having no permanent residence during that time frame resulted in my moving 3 different times. Therefore, my walking distance to work varied with each move. All routes estimated using Google maps for a one way trip: 2.7 miles (54 minute walk), 1.6 miles (32 minute walk), and 4.9 miles (1 hour 41 minute walk). Winters in Tennessee can be quite bitter. I even walked home during a tornado, once. Walking was never ideal, especially during the later months of pregnancy; but somehow, I managed. I do have to admit here that all that walking made for a very quick and easy delivery.
Lastly, my time in Nashville, TN, was made very interesting by my bus riding experiences. I ended up getting rid of my car a little over a year after I moved to Nashville because it was in really bad shape and I sincerely hated driving there. I’ve never seen such inconsiderate, impatient drivers in my entire life! My nerves couldn’t handle it. Let’s just say, I don’t do well in larger cities. I’m a country girl to my core. The bus system was a bit better in Nashville than Clarksville, but still left a lot to be desired. Buses ran in most places every 15 minutes to half hour. In 2008 Nashville’s Walk Score ranked it at 39 out of 100, making it a “Car-Dependent” city. In the Walk Score ranks of the largest 40 cities in the U.S., Nashville placed at #39 out of the 40 cities listed. I didn’t really get out often, but when I did I expected the trip to take all day because I had to take into consideration the “safest” areas to walk.
The most memorable experiences from my mass transit days in Nashville include one instance of an overly crowded bus with one seat open that I took. No one wanted to sit next to this lovely schizophrenic woman who was having a very animated conversation with her “voices.” And there was one trip that I feared for everyone’s safety on the bus because of a very angry, drunk man who subsequently was removed from the bus for harassing riders and arguing with the driver shortly after he got on. Another day while waiting for my bus home at the hub downtown, a rather violent fight broke out between two men. I’m pretty sure that was the last time I rode the bus, partly because I let my fears get the better of me and partly because I lost interest in leaving my home.
Honestly, none of these examples is reason enough to not use mass transit. It’s a wonderful service that I hope is around for a very long time. There were times in Nashville that riding the bus was simply more convenient than driving, especially to get downtown. If implemented properly, mass transit could alleviate a lot of the traffic problems and environmental hazards that accompany them, not to mention improve people’s health by getting them active again by walking more places.
The experience is what you make of it. It’s one that can open your eyes to an entirely different way of life. I can’t tell you of all the wonderful encounters I had with people who briefly crossed my path and shared a glimpse of what their reality is like. I wouldn’t trade any of these experiences I had while riding the bus, good or bad, because I feel it is all equally important.