Have you ever wondered what it would be like to ride the TARC bus? To give up a car; the payment, the insurance, the tax bill -- and
the flexibility -- in exchange for a monthly bus pass? I wondered. When the time came for my husband to turn in a company car during a career change, we faced adding another car to the budget. I willingly take public transportation while travelling, so wondered why I should rule out the TARC buses that trundle around my own town. I decided to give it a go for a month and see how it worked out.
That was two years ago and I still hop on the #2 to work downtown daily. And I'm here to satisfy your curiosity about what it's like.
The first adjustment is learning to notice weather again. As a bus passenger an umbrella becomes another appendage -- get drenched on your way to work just once and you'll never leave home without it. And you learn to dress in layers because the temperature in the bus is inversely proportionate to the weather outside. 30 and snowy outside? It's a tropical 90 on the bus. Sweltering August day out there? You'll see your breath inside.
Then you've got the whole cast of characters on the bus. Riding for two years I've gone through a few driver changes on the #2. There are the Barney Fifes who won't stop if you're a centimeter away from the sign, and the nice ones who don't mind if you hop out of your husband's warm car on a frosty morning to run to the stop at the last minute. I had the driver who did crossword puzzles. While she drove. Then there was the man who sang (loudly) his own lyrics to songs, called me "momma" or "girlfriend," and asked me in all seriousness if I have grandkids (I had recently turned 34).
There are the fellow passengers who will completely disregard my earphones, sunglasses and Velocity to tap me on the shoulder and ask me if people often tell me I look like Jennifer Grey (no, why? Does she look like a young grandma?) Then there are those that I see every day but don't actually know their names. There was the guy I'd never met that gave me a dollar when I forgot my bus pass (Fife was driving that day). Saddest was the lady who leaned way into my space to tell me in a conspiratorial tone, "There are people in my house. They answer the phone when I call."
But most days the bus is a non-event. I spend some time wondering about the ads -- my personal pick for most offensive reads "Son in jail? Call Waddell." The rest seem based on an assumption that TARC riders seek help for substance abuse and mental illness and may have an interest in joining the armed forces.
Following this diversion I listen to my iPod, catch up on Twitter and the papers on my Blackberry, and am thankful for how much I'm not spending on gas, parking, and a second car. Maybe enough for some Botox, or whatever is needed to convince the bus driver I'm not a grandma.