September 13, 2011 in City

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

By The Spokesman-Review
 

On the Web: Read archived columns at spokesman.com/ columnists.

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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