Monday, August 16, 2010

Rapid transit it's not, but it beats covered wagons

The Consort and I recently rediscovered the lowly bus.

We didn’t do it to protect the environment. After all, the U.S. is awash in oil these days. Literally.

No, it happened on a visit to Denver where we recently purchased a condo. One day, we hope to spend more time there, but for now it’s a vacation retreat and the home of The Consort’s prized grandson.

A few days in, we experienced some car trouble that necessitated putting our car in the shop for a couple of days.

We dropped it off and decided to walk the several miles back to our condo. We needed the exercise, and this, after all, was Denver – not Phoenix. Unfortunately Denver was in the middle of a heat wave. It was something like 95 degrees and really humid.

Fortunately, as we trudged down the street a bus zoomed by. Two lightbulbs clicked on simultaneously (isn’t that the way marriage is supposed to work). “Hey,” we said to each other in perfect unison, “let’s take the bus home.” We agreed we are not above mass transit, especially since it is environmentally responsible. And especially because it beats the heck out of walking several miles on a hot, humid day.

But it had been years. How do you ride the bus today? What does it cost? Do we need tickets?

So many questions. But the bus stop loomed just ahead so we plunged on.

Within minutes the bus came. We jumped aboard, extremely proud of ourselves for being so darn smart. We each put $1 in the dollar sucking machine. “Both seniors?” the driver asked. We nodded (The Consort with some degree of chagrin) and sat down – right behind the driver so we could ask any questions.

By the time we reached our transfer point, our dumb questions had convinced the driver we were bus novices. As he was pulling up to the stop, he kindly said to us, “You folks are just getting back into riding the bus, aren’t you.”

We explained that our car was in the shop and exited. Another bus arrived promptly, and we were back home before we knew it.

Emboldened by our success, we decided riding the bus was not the extreme pain in the rear we remembered, and we further decided we were going to use the bus system until we got our car back. In fact we would take the bus to go grocery shopping.

After dinner that evening we headed out to the bus stop. This time it took forever for the bus to come. But we stuck it out just like our pioneer forebears must have done.

It finally came. We boarded. It was nearly empty and the driver struck up a conversation with us. “First time riding the bus?” he asked. We had no idea how he knew we were rank novices, but all seemed to be going well.

Today’s buses are very nice and comfortable. We settled in for a pleasant ride to the store. We even decided it would be fun to take the bus to dinner some night. The possibilities were endless.

Then our bus riding experience took a dramatic turn for the worse. In fact, it was a right turn that did us in – because now we were headed the wrong way.

Soon we were careening down Dayton Street – away from the grocery store. We had boarded the wrong bus.

We sheepishly got off the bus, bid the driver farewell, and walked across the street to another bus stop. We waited an eternity, but no bus came.

By now it was too late to get to the store and back before the buses stopped running for the night. We sheepishly trudged back home.

If our pioneer forebears were watching, they were surely shaking their collective heads in disbelief. We would never have made it across the ocean and across the country to the Wild West – especially if we had to make the journey on a bus.

Back home, I humbly Googled the Denver transit system website and clicked on a tab labeled “How to ride the bus.” I learned about how to transfer. I learned about bus etiquette – things like exiting from the rear door if possible and having ID ready to prove I was really a senior. Who would have thought it would be so complicated?

Armed with this new knowledge, we tried again the following morning. It wasn’t flawless, but we got to the store and back in reasonably good fashion.

We finally got our car back, and we very much appreciate living in the 21st Century. But now we know that we are now capable of making the kinds of sacrifices our pioneer forebears made in settling this great country.

Still, I had to wonder how they did it without Google to tell them how to ride in a covered wagon and what to do when they encountered Indians or got bit by a rattlesnake.

These are truly wondrous times we live in. Long live Google and long live buses.

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