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.