And oh, how I love them so. They live now only in our thoughts: the last Breda coach, ever, ran its final trip last Thursday on an inbound 36, sometime around 1pm. The photos you see here were taken by me between 1998 and last month.
They lack character.
There's something about design from the pre-digital period I enjoy: look at the knobs and dials on cameras from back then, or the unfussy current collection boxes atop the bus. The sharp edges and corners, so un-aerodynamic. And so hot. The person who isn't trying so hard to look good ends up being the most dazzling; you know what I mean. And so it is with bus design.
With 59 buses, you'd think maybe 55 or so of those would always be in working order and ready to hit the road. Wouldn't that be nice. But being that these are Bredas, no amount of cute new upholstered seats could alter the fact that they were king of breakdowns, and always would be. A standard bus fleet requires a ten or fifteen percent "spare ratio–" an extra quantity of buses on the lot to mitigate breakdowns. Ten or twelve buses for a fleet of a hundred, for instance. Bredas broke down so much Metro needed a thirty percent spare ratio– to address the constant breakdowns but also to have available for scrap parts.
Spare parts for a bus made by an Italian train company while the the Berlin Wall was still standing are hard to come by. When you step into the bus to start your shift and notice that the odometer reads over 600,000 miles, you're not really expecting this thing to work anyway. No need, for instance, to write up the damage to the cracked bumper below; you would be more surprised if everything actually looked good.
Sometimes the dash lights would be burned out, or the tires bald, or you just got tired of the drafty interior, the dented and cracked facades, turn signals you had to stand on to activate, eight hours of the scent of a chemistry experiment gone horribly awry, baking in the summer without air conditioning, sweltering in the glass box behind those enormous windows…
Ah, but when was anything easy truly worthwhile? The challenge of the untamed beast made you a better driver.
But the real jump they had on all other buses was history. There's something larger here than gearhead nostalgia. Unlike most countries, ours is eager to turn away from its past, to subsume it with glossy new facades. The West Coast cities in particular seem eager to erase the evidence of time, and it isn't just because they're newer. There was life here more than fifty years ago, but you'd be hard pressed to find it now. Where are the actualizations of the lives of our local forefathers, the Dennys, Yeslers, Sealths, aside from the pithy plaque or statue? Where are the deep shades of faded brick, the echo of trees and buildings which predate the lives of our families, when homes and shoes and toys and clothes were built to last? In a world that starts and spurts through change without pausing to take stock of itself, any sign of constancy is a deep comfort to me.
That is what that whisper is, that subtle reassurance we feel when confronted with trees standing tall against the horizon, the home you grew up in which is still standing, and yes, this strange and glorious Breda monster, old and weathered enough to be a father figure in its own right, gently reminding us that the we and the world will, as ever, continue.