It would be more newsworthy to write that the 70s were running on time. With breaks of only six minutes all day, the 70 has perhaps the least realistic schedule in the system; an extra few red lights at 10am will still be reverberating through the schedule in the evening rush hour. A result of a 2009 County Council mandate, the new 70 schedule is something most passengers have acclimated to. They're adept at understanding the initially confusing prospect of skip-stopping- it's no surprise to see two (or three) 70s in a row, alternating the stops to more evenly distribute the load and expedite travel.
The record I've seen is six 70s in a row- over an hour's worth of service all in one place! It was a 70 caravan, and I had to laugh. In true Steibeckian fashion, there is no identifiable culprit. The driver's abilities are limited by traffic; the service planners are restricted by the Council and their private interests; the budget deficits motivating the audit which led to the aforementioned mandate were instigated by the economic downturn, the causes of which I leave to individuals more qualified on the subject than myself.
One end result is the alternately mystifying and hilarious sight of six 70s trundling down 15th. Talk about options. Your choice of drivers, seats, attitudes, temperatures, people...
I'd get nowhere being frustrated by it. I've filled out the relevant paperwork, and even spoken to a couple service planners on the issue; one ruefully rolled his eyes upon hearing the number "70."
"Oh, Lord. Believe me, we know," he said. "We get complaints about that one every day!" He needs a thousand service hours to fix the route, and he knows exactly how to do it. But as Metro faces a possible seventeen percent cut in service, you could say the timing isn't quite right. With the lack of a funding source, the question isn't what to fix or add, but rather which routes (and drivers) to cut.
I used to apologize for being late. I don't anymore, because I'm not at fault. I let passengers express their frustration- they usually don't need an explanation, just a chance to vent (sample conversation: "You're late!" "Yes, we are!"). As mentioned earlier, some folks seem to grasp the impossibility of blame in this situation a bit more clearly. Maybe their high-school readings on Grapes of Wrath are still lingering on the brain.
In any event, the thing to do when buses of the same route get stacked is to skip stops. If your follower is visible, and you don't have dropoffs, he'll take care off the passengers of this upcoming stop while you go and pick up for the next zone. This puts space between coaches and speeds up the process for everyone- even that sixth coach, the lonely driver of which will finally- hopefully- actually get to do some work! If a bus passes by you by, look behind it- it's likely that the following bus is right on its tail, with plenty of seats to boot.
On one such evening I pulled into Prefontaine northbound and thought about skipping, because Gregg, my follower, would be visible behind me in about five seconds. One man stood at the zone. Something in me hesitated, and I stopped and opened the doors anyway.
"Hi," I said to the young German man. He was carrying- dragging is more like it- a haphazard brotherhood of bags and suitcases that had to weigh more than he did.
"Hey. Are you going to Eastlake Avenue East and East Lynn Street?" He was loud and friendly, like me, and out of of his element, as I have been.
"Eastlake and Lynn, yes! I would love to go there!"
You can sense when someone is relieved to the point where they can let their guard down. He was among friends now. He explained his bewildering search for the elusive 70, how he'd asked around in the tunnel and received confusing answers- this was right around the time when the 71 expresses in the tunnel are still running, the 70 upstairs is almost done for the night, and the 71 locals haven't started up yet. It can be confusing even if you do live here.
"Where you comin' from?"
"Yeah, it's like four o'clock in the morning for me right now!"
"And you're still happy! I'm impressed!"
This was the last leg of a twenty-three hour journey. Immediately we began trading war stories of long-distance travel. It's a joy to see the smile of recognition on his haggard face. Both of us light up, talking of day-long plane rides and missed connections.
"It's so crazy to me, that by just sitting still on all these different machines, you can cross over to the other side of the world..."
"Yes, it's like, I ate breakfast this morning eight thousand miles away!"
He's here visiting an American family he once lived with, whom he hasn't seen for many years. I ask him if they have trolley buses in Germany. They do. He also mentions that like here, Germany has the full gamut of bus driver personalities- some talk a lot, and some don't. Somehow this is a surprise to me- in the countries I've traveled in, the bus drivers are dour, grim young men, understandably dealing with traffic far more "interesting" than anything we have here.
So I'm enlivened to hear this. In this world of continuing flux, constancy warms my heart, sometimes even if it's negative. I recall wandering around on the notorious Hastings Street in Vancouver, taking in the milieu. Cars honked, people flipped each other off, guys were yelling at bus drivers and missing their connections...
And I felt great.
The human condition was in lively form here. Lao Tsu wrote that the ten thousand things rise and fall, but nothing ever actually changes. Study the natural order of things, he suggested, such that you can flow with it rather than against it. I looked at the tumult going on around me, angry shapes in the stark afternoon sun, and felt comforted in a way I still have trouble articulating.
It was as if the commonality of the human spirit, in both good and bad form, was showing its familiar face; I looked upon this face I know so well, and I smiled. There was nothing uniquely wrong or flawed with Seattle, the face told me. This stuff is happening everywhere, and we keep moving right along, figuring out our different ways to deal.
So the idea that way out in Hamburg, amongst the slick, dense rush of traffic, there are drivers chatting it up and loving the joyful chaos of their job- this thrills me tremendously. Some things never change.
At Lynn Street our friend- Toby- got out. I told him the cardinal directions, and where the water was, setting him on his course. Also deboarding was a lovely young woman and her friend, who'd been listening to us. Out on the sidewalk she began speaking to Toby, in fluent German. They all got excited. It was dark outside now, but it was a comforting darkness. I watched them as I closed the doors, watched as they reveled in the sameness of being human. You can feel at home on the far side of the universe.
I'm so glad I stopped for him.