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Spokane

Doomed No. 46 is transit for the less-than-masses

Tue., Sept. 13, 2011

This has certainly been the summer for watching our institutions embark down the road to extinction.

The Bulldog Tavern, Cyrus O’Leary’s restaurant, the Condon for Mayor campaign …

On Monday I saw an even bigger shocker. According to my newspaper, those STA-holes down at Bus Plaza have decided to phase out my neighborhood bus route, the No. 46 Altamont.

How could a horrible thing like this happen?

True, I haven’t ridden the bus in, oh, several years at least. But I’ve grown quite used to gazing up the street every now and then and seeing a bus roll by.

I find that comforting.

So in a fit of nostalgia and with nothing better to do, I decided to ride the good ol’ 46 to work one last time.

Here now is a timeline of my journey.

11:42 – I don’t bother using my computer or iPhone to check the bus schedules. I’m a gambling man. I’m betting the bus will be waiting for me when I get there.

11:43 – I’m halfway to the stop when I see a neighbor standing in his yard. “Who are you pissing off today?” he hollers. “You’ll just have to wait and see,” I yell back.

11:50 – Come on. Where’s the freakin’ bus? Maybe I should have checked the schedule.

11:55 – Every 10 minutes spent waiting for a bus actually feels like 70 minutes. It’s one of those mysterious time/relativity conundrums that Einstein talked about. You know, like the rapid way dogs age or the seemingly interminable length of a City Council meeting.

11:57 – This would be a nice, quiet neighborhood if it weren’t for the constant cawing from all these damned crows.

Noon – There was a period when I rode the bus to work on a semi-regular basis. On one trip a disturbed elderly woman got on and decided to doff her clothes and change into a different outfit. Good thing I hadn’t eaten breakfast.

12:02 – On another commute, a bizarre character entered the bus and started marching up and down the aisle repeatedly yelling “Taxi! TAX-EE!!!” until the driver threatened to eject him.

12:05 – Hooray! The bus arrives. And not a moment too soon. One more minute and I was going back home to get my crow call and slingshot.

12:06 – Wow. Bus fare is a buck-fifty now. If the economy gets any worse, I hear the STA will start accepting squirrel pelts, live chickens and gold teeth. Or maybe that was Avista.

12:07 – Looks like I’m the only rider. My wheelman is a big lug named Mike McLean, who next month will celebrate his 40th year as a bus driver.

12:08 – What do you give a man who’s spent the last 40 years bouncing over Spokane potholes? A goose down seat cushion seems appropriate.

12:09 – Mike is a likable guy. He tells me his mom spent 36 years driving a bus. I’ve stumbled onto the bus-driving equivalent of the Royal Family.

12:10 – We pass 17th and Ray, heading west. I ask Mike for his weirdest transit memory. During a winter about 35 years ago, he says, he picked up some punks from a school. A few minutes later, one of them fired a snowball at him from the back. It clipped Mike barely and splattered all over. Mike didn’t say a word. He just turned the bus around and headed back to the school. The delinquents scattered when he stopped.

12:11 – Forget the lousy cushion. This guy has earned a purple heart.

12:15 – Mike announces through the loudspeakers that we’ve just reached 17th and Perry. I find this highly endearing since I’m still the only civilian aboard this tub.

12:16 – A young woman joins me at Ninth and Perry. Well, so much for privacy.

12:20 – On another bus ride I looked out my window to see a scruffy man actually peeing on the sidewalk. Hey, you fool! That’s what the Davenport flowerpots are for.

12:24 – Fifth and Browne. In 2003 the STA started offering free rides on Wednesdays. So I got this wild notion to ride on all 25 bus routes in one day. I started at 6:27 a.m. and finished almost nine hours later. You’ve heard of jet lag? I had a near-fatal case of bus gag.

12:26 – That might have had something to do with why I stopped riding the bus.

12:27 – Heading north down Washington. We slow to a crawl due to street construction. “Near Nature – Near Orange Traffic Cones” should be the real Spokane motto.

12:29 – My journey ends after we pass the Bus Plaza, a landmark money pit also known as the Garage Mahal.

12:30 – All the way downtown with only two passengers? Looks like there’s a reason why the 46 Altamont is going, going, gone.

Doug Clark is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or by email at dougc@spokesman.com.


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