Tuesday, May 31, 2011

It's a DMV thing, you wouldn't understand

I couldn't put it off any longer:  Brigid needed a learner's permit.  I had a post about the experience prepared in my head but now I realize that writing about a visit to the DMV is even more boring than the actual visit to the DMV.

I planned to regal you all with the tale of how I saw a vanity plate displayed on the wall: PRSNLZD and I thought it meant "Prison Lizard."  You know, because license plates are made by prisoners.  And "lizard," well, I figured that was a reference to Prison Lizards some sci-fi horror movie that everyone in the world has seen except me.  Or an example of DMV humor.   Brigid, looking at the same plate and said, "Personalized." Oh.  I realized that the balloons and "Happy 30th Birthday" banners were not for the benefit of a DMV employee, but were to signify the 30th birthday of personalized license plates in Virginia.

And where would the roadways of America be without the daft vanity plates of Virginia to amuse us?

This plate lived in my neighborhood a few years ago.

Anyway, all the DMV employees were wearing mini vanity plates that say BE FUN.  How cruelly ironic!  It is ever so much fun to have your personal documents scrutinized by the gimlet eye of the DMV.  And to pay a fee for the privilege!  A young man who'd arrived a few minutes ahead of us was called. I'd noticed him in the parking lot and got my cougar on, admiring the elegant way he managed stick shift and cigarette while parking his car.  They started calling people who had definitely come in after us.

The man who had arrived immediately ahead of us was still waiting.  I remembered him because he had approached the information window and said, "Hi, I'm back, do you remember me?" and the woman at the window said, "No, not really," which was funny because he wasn't someone you'd forget . For one thing, despite the 94 degree day, he was wearing a wooly cap and bundled into thick sweats.  His lobster-bright sunburn and white-blond hair didn't exactly blend into the background.  How many people must approach the information window at the DMV for this woman not to remember a man as distinctive as this one?

Wooly cap man was called and then at last it was our turn, yadda yadda yadda, now Brigid has her learner's permit.  How convenient that we no longer own a car that's easy for her to learn on!  There is the school of thought that it's best to learn on a stick shift right off the bat.  Then again, I taught my nephew to drive a stick here in Charlottesville--and he already knew how to drive--and the experience caused me much anxiety.  We did several laps of the flat parking lot at the Amtrak station and then took to the streets.  Five seconds later I was telling him to pull over, NOW.  I guess the smart thing would be to teach her before the warranty on my new car runs out.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Number 10 Bus: Nothing to See Here

I expected the number 10 to be empty, because who in the world wants to ride a bus to Pantops from downtown in the middle of the day?  Be that as it may, four passengers got on with me at the downtown transit center. From Water St, we headed down Market and onto E. High St, past Martha Jefferson Hospital, and the string of dive restaurants as High St. meets the 250 bypass.  We turned into the Pantops Shopping Center, a place I rarely visit.  What's there?  A Chinese restaurant, an ABC store, Food Lion, the Lazy Parrot restaurant--a hang out for some of my neighbors--Tuesday Morning--a good source of cheap luggage--and Roses, a store I have never been to.  I have no idea what they sell.  Clothes?  Automotive parts?  Stereos? Sports equipment? Clueless.

At Food Lion, a Latino woman with three bags of groceries, an infant and two small boys got on the bus.  One of the boys was exceptionally cute, like a baby Gael Garcia Bernal.  We left the shopping center and turned left on route 20, and then into the low-rent-looking Wilton Farm Apartments where the mother with the cute little boy got off, then exited once again onto 20 and back onto 250 up Pantops mountain away from town.   We turned into the Giant Shopping center at the top of the hill, but drove behind it rather than stopping at any of the shops.  Back here was a walking trail and a pretty sheer drop off down the side of the mountain.  We passed the DMV, then turned into a bland office park--I believe I saw signs for Merrill Lynch and State Farm.  No one got on or off at the stop there.  I suspect the bus does little here except allow workers who see it to note that another hour has passed.

From there, we circled the Martha Jefferson Hospital outpatient center with its precious row of white slatted rockers and then crossed 250 into the Westminster Canterbury residence driveway, let someone off, at an unofficial stop, and then did a round of the doctors offices clustered near the WC entrance.  The bus was insufferably hot and we had been riding for nearly an hour.  I hoped we were headed downtown again, but no, we crossed 250 again, and passed the new Martha Jefferson Hospital, which I heard will open in August.  It's an imposing building and the patients will have gorgeous views from their rooms, but I'm glad I don't work there because I like being able to walk to work.  I hope the number 10 will have a stop at the new hospital once it opens.

One more round of the Pantops shopping center.  A large crowd of teenage girls got on, and an older man with a bicycle.  I watched him keenly as he put his bike in the rack on the front of the bus.  I have wanted to do the bus/bike thing but I am intimidated by those racks.  Jon pinched his finger in one the first time he put his bike in it.  This man had no difficulty.  He was at least 60 years old.  Right on, older, bike-riding man!  At last we were back in town.  I was hot and a knot of misery had developed in my stomach.  It was a relief to get off the bus and walk home.  The number 10 had a lot more passengers than I expected there would be.  It's the least scenic route, poor Pantops has been made so ugly with that string of car dealerships and the Pantops shopping center is decidedly unattractive.

A few observations about public transportation in Charlottesville:

If we can get a bus up to Wal-mart, can't we get one to the airport?  There have been many times, for me--and surely for other people as well-- when public transportation to the airport would have been nice.  The airport isn't only for flying; it's where most of the rental car agencies are.

Regular bus routes should run until 9:00pm and night service until 1:00am.

Any bus that stops at UVA hospital, (hello number 6, I am talking to you) should have its first stop of the day there at 06:45, so that people can get in the building and catch the elevator to their units and get clocked in on time.

The monthly bus card is not good.  My son used it when he went to Piedmont.  You can only buy the stupid things at five locations: city hall,  PVCC, downtown transit center, the Greyhound station and UVA parking office--and you must have cash to buy one at PVCC.  That's a pretty limited number of locations, not to mention the fact that the next month's passes don't go on sale until a few days before the current month is up.  It's SO annoying to make a special trip into City Hall, on, say May 25th, and be told that you can't get the June bus pas until May 28th.  Also, it is so easy to lose them.  Why not a fare card like they have in New York, that you can load with money at vending machines?  Sure, you might lose your fare card, but if you know you are prone to losing things, you wouldn't load it with a lot of money.  And, if I recall Ian's cards correctly, they are too big to fit into your wallet's credit card slots, which is why people lose them in the first place.  And for God's sake, whatever type of fare card you sell, make them available at grocery stores and other places that people actually go to.  Who would ever even think of buying them at the Greyhound station?  "Oh, I just got off a bus from out of town, and now I will buy a city bus pass."  Who would do that?  And UVA parking and transportation office?  Really?  All UVA employees get free use of the buses, so none of us are buying these cards.

The Greenbriar neighborhood is the only city neighborhood I can think of that gets no bus coverage.  Why is that?

The Charlottesville Bus Awards!

Most punctual: Number 4

Slowest:  Number 7

Best Scenery:  Number 3.  (Runner up: Number 1. Honorable mention: number 9.)

Best for UVA Health System staff:  Number 4

Best for staff on the "academic side" of UVA:  the trolley, number 7 and number 8

Most dangerous to your health:  Number 5

Most eccentric passengers:  Number 3

Most obnoxious passengers:  Number 7 (Runner up: Trolley on Friday nights from UVA to downtown.)

Best bus to take if you want to avoid a DWI:  the trolley

Best overheard conversations:  the trolley at rush hour.

So concludes my highly subjective, non-scientific study of the Charlottesville bus system.  I guess it's not so bad for a city this size.  Some thought has been put into the routes, about getting people to where they need to do business.  Except for a short stint in Kalamazoo, Michigan, I've always lived in larger cities and judge C'ville's transportation system to theirs, which may not be fair.  I encourage you to use the bus once or twice a week--at least it saves you parking hassles--and see how you like it.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Book Reviews and More

Yesterday was "wait around for the dryer repair man" day, so I got some reading done.

Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson.  This is the story of the Chicago World's Fair in 1893.  It revolves around a hero and a villain: Daniel Burnham, chief architect of the fair and Henry Holmes, a serial killer who murdered an unknown number of victims, mostly young women, partly by luring victims to his World's Fair Hotel.  The two men had no connection other than geographic proximetry. Paris had held its own world's fair in 1889, at which the Eiffel Tower was revealed, and the US felt that it had to put on something bigger and better for national pride.  Chicago, struggling against an image of a dirty meat packing town with no culture, put in a bid to host the fair, exposing itself to ridicule from more polished eastern cities.  Yet Chicago got the bid.  Burnham assembled the greatest architects of the age, including Frederick Law Olmsted to transform a boggy wasteland on the shore of Lake Michigan, to the elegant "White City."  One important thing was to outdo the Eiffel Tower, prompting kooks to submit all kinds of ludicrous plans.  The winning design?  I won't tell you so as not to spoil the story, but when you find out you will be delighted.  The fair was a triumph for Chicago.  Meanwhile, a few blocks from the fairgrounds, Henry Holmes, a handsome young doctor and pharmacist, seduced young women and killed them.  The total number of victims killed in his "hotel," a building he constructed specifically for the purpose of easy disposal of bodies is unknown.  Hundreds of people went to the Chicago World's Fair and were never heard from again, although they can't all have been Holmes' victims.

Adam Bede by George Eliot.  I haven't finished this yet, but I can tell you that it's perfect comfort literature, if you go in for pastoral British fiction peopled with strapping English workingmen, vicars, tart-tonged farm wives and dewy farm girls falling in love with the squire's handsome son.  George Eliot is a writer I admire.  This is her first novel, and you can see that she had some growing to do as a writer.  There's some preaching, awkwardly inserted by a narrator.  There's an entire chapter that I skipped because it was all the narrator's comments on the character of one of the characters plus a "conversation" with Adam Bede in his old age.  It doesn't seem like the sort of book a woman like George Eliot would write.  But that doesn't mean it's not the perfect book to cuddle up in bed with after a long day.  There's a movie too, which is in my netflix queue.  Another low-budget BBC costume drama.  Sometimes they're good, sometimes they're appalling.

Flashman's Lady by George MacDonald Fraser.  Another book I haven't finished yet, but I have to give a shout-out to the Flashman series.  These books are so much fun.  Henry Flashman has managed to be present at all the most important military engagements of the Victorian period, plus had a few private adventures.  The books are violent, sexy, funny, and manage to teach a little history along the way.  You will need to lower your threshold for being offended or you will never make it through the series.  For one thing, Flashman sometimes refers to women as "mounts" (among other things) but don't let a little sexism (and imperialism and racism) ruin your enjoyment of fantastic historical fiction.

The dryer repairmen have come and gone.  My dryer needs a new motor.  Motors are on backorder and won't be available for at least two weeks.  I told the repairman I was annoyed because my dryer is only three years old.  He shrugged and said, "It's a GE" as if everybody in the world should know that G.E. makes crappy appliances.  I guess I missed the memo.  I have a clothesline and I know how to use it, but I can see these "two weeks" stretching into months.

I am going to try to get my ass onto a number 10 bus today.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Hell on Wheels

I know I owe you all a bus post but I've had so much going on lately I haven't had time to joy ride on a city bus.  For one thing, I had to buy a new car.  It was a race to find a new car before the engine seized on my old one, a boring but dependable 2000 Toyota Sienna.

When we bought the Sienna, back in 2005, I was driving an ancient Volvo 240 wagon with a slipping transmission.  Driving home from the house of the couple in Ruckersville who sold us the Sienna, the Volvo dropped 4th and 5th gears and Jon had to drive the entire 16 miles home with the car revving like crazy in 3rd gear.  It then sat in our driveway for four years serving as a mouse hotel until Jon sold it without my consent.  We bought the Volvo in 1997 after a spectacular breakdown in my old Subaru station wagon.

True story:  Halloween.  Dark and rainy. We were on our way to a party at my mother-in-law's house.  All of us were in costumes.  Grace was a baby, Brigid was four and Ian was five.  Jon was wearing a dreadlocked wig and full face paint.  The Subaru's engine quit (dropped timing chain) on the transition between the Scajaquada and Kensington expressways in Buffalo.  This picture doesn't show the exact spot where we broke down, but it's nearby and it does illustrate the lack of shoulder, insurmountable concrete wall and shitty neighborhood.

Luckily, where we were stopped, the wall wasn't so high, although it was topped by a chain link fence.  Of course we didn't have a cell phone.  Jon had to use rain on the windshield to scrub the paint from his face and then hop the wall and climb the chain link fence and wander out into the surrounding neighborhood to find someone who would let him use their telephone so we could be rescued.  The rest of us sat in the car and I freaked out every time a car came speeding at us and swerved at the last minute, prompting Ian to say, "Mommy, if you are going to panic, please do it in your HEAD."

That same car a year earlier died suddenly while I was driving on a city street.  I had to stick my leg out the door and use it to propel the car to the curb and then walk home a mile with the three kids--Grace was an infant and Ian and Brigid were 3 and 4.  I attempted a short cut (and edifying architectural tour for the kids) through the grounds of the state psychiatric hospital and we got lost and wandered among the patients for many minutes before finding our way out. The beautiful walk almost made the ordeal worthwhile.  The old psych center:

My very first car, a 1981 Subaru DL, died for good when I was at the bank getting the money to buy my next car.   Jon and the guy who had sold me my new car had to come rescue me.  The only way to get the car to go was to push start it in reverse--it was a stick shift, of course.  We rolled it into the middle aisle of the bank parking lot.  Jon and the car seller pushed me backwards as fast as they could run and once I had some momentum I was able to start it in reverse, then while the car was moving backwards, quickly jam it into first, an operation that produced a thrilling gear-grinding crunch, squealing tires and a very satisfying cloud of smoke.  The car roared away and just made it to its final resting place. That was the most exhilarating drive of my life.

So when I say we drive our cars into the ground, I'm not kidding.  My Sienna had either ruined valves or a cracked head gasket.  It was burning copious amounts of oil and at one point I had nearly driven it dry before adding more.  Foolish!  Foolish!  But I was tired of driving a minivan.

Naturally, the kids had strong opinions about what kind of car to buy, Grace especially.  "What about a Volkswagen?" I suggested, eyeing a cute Passat wagon.
"No!  It's pretentious."
"Oh, look at that Subaru Outback.  I could drive that," I said.
"You'll become someone who goes to potlucks and holds hands with the neighbors," Grace objected. (Indeed, later my sister-in-law complained about the phalanx of subarus that surrounds the fab Black Rock coffee shop on Saturday mornings.)

What I really wanted was a Honda Element.  This provoked the strongest objections of all.
Grace:  It's a lesbian car!
Me: So?
Grace:  It's a coffin!
Me:  It looks nothing like a coffin.
Grace:  It's a jack-in-the-box on wheels.
Me:  That only makes me want one more.

The Honda Element, it turns out, is hideously impractical for families.

Jon left for his annual retreat to the Buddhist monastery in Santa Fe.  I decided to go ahead and buy a  car.  Don't freak out.  Jon had said it would be nice if I bought a car while he was away.  I went to the small, friendly used Volvo dealership down the street.  They let me borrow a Cross Country wagon for a few hours.  I am such a sucker for a Volvo!  The satisfying clunk of the doors shutting.  The feeling of being immersed in luxury.  The tight steering radius. ( I need eight lanes to make a u-turn in my Sienna.) Seamus came home from school and we took the Volvo to Whole Foods and on our other errands.  What fun.  I was ready to buy it then and there, although I had a few objections, such as the fact that it's not as fuel efficient as I want.  I wasn't sure I wanted to be "Ivy Mom."

We returned the Volvo and went to the dealership that bills itself as being "the way car buying should be."  A dreary experience indeed.  We looked at a few cars and test drove a Toyota Highlander.  The salesman insisted on coming with us.  I had barely started when he interjected with, "Why don't you go ahead and check the mirrors and make sure you can see."  I was all casual: "Oh sure," like I'd planned to start driving and THEN stop to check the mirrors.  He dictated our route too.

We hated the Highlander.  On to a different dealer who produced a 2009 Nissan Cube and a 2008 Scion XB, both in my price range and both with good gas mileage and both about the size I was looking for.  I rejected the Cube because it had been a rental car and had an accident on its record.  The Scion is zippy and fun.  It's fuel efficient and roomy. It's a stick shift, and that's what the cool kids drive.  It was one of the brands I was considering. I made a decision, with a small tinge of regret for the Volvo Cross Country.

I'd never bought a car from a dealer before.  I've always found my cars through the classifieds.  I planned to trade in the Sienna.  "It burns a quart of oil a week," I said.  The salesman closed his eyes as if pained by my simplemindedness.  "Don't tell me that, " he said.  I didn't tell him about the rattling of the furiously overworking oil pump, the plastic garbage bag that got sucked under the car on a windy day and melted to the drive train, the ominously shaking steering wheel, the missing hubcap.

It was a Friday night and just Grace and me, as Jon is off being a Buddhist and Seamus was at a weekend orchestra camp at JMU, and Brigid was out with friends.  How about a mother-daughter night on the town to celebrate?  We went to Bang, my favorite place for cocktails.  I had the "sin city," my favorite martini and they made a non-alcoholic version of same for Grace. No one raised any eyebrows at the site of an adult woman with teenaged girl in a bar.

I may have been rash in getting a car with manual transmission.  I was also worried about Jon's reaction, but when I told him, he said, "Cool!"  I know how to drive a stick shift--my first three cars had stick shifts and I used to feel very scornful of manual transmission drivers.  Charlottesville is so hilly that driving a stick shift is a little scary.  Plus, while it's the sort of skill that's like riding a bicycle, there are certain subtleties that you lose without practice.  Right now, driving with me is a jerky experience.  Pulling out of my uphill driveway Saturday, I gave the car too much gas without releasing the clutch and peeled out, squealing my tires, like Daisy Duke on the run from Boss Hogg, with the neighbors out on their porch as an audience.

There's a two week learning curve for stick shift driving and I've only had the car two days, so I need to be patient, but I am definitely not ready for Cherry Ave yet. I consulted the internets, naturally, and found all sorts of amusing web sites and movies about how to drive a stick shift.  I still stall the car occasionally and try not to get flustered at other drivers who are impatient.  As one of the websites said, "Don't worry.  They're just manual transmission drivers!"

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Buffalo Love

Last week I drove up to Buffalo, which is always an adventure.

As you can see from the picture, Buffalo is pretty much due north of C'ville, but much of the way is through wilderness that lacks the highway essentials: Starbucks and toilets.  The all-interstate route is a full 120 miles further than the direct route.  See how much of the route goes through Pennsylvania?  Most of it is mountains and steep grades of the sort that require all trucks to come to a complete stop before descending. I've ranted about Pennsylvania before.  It is always a great relief to get to New York.

The point of the visit was to collect Ian from college, but then he got a groundskeeping job on campus which comes with the perk of a FREE room in the dorms for the summer but I decided to go up anyway.  He has also been working as a desk clerk at an old-fashioned downtown hotel, where I got a fabulous room on the 8th floor, with a view of distant Niagara Falls (on a clear day.)  I couldn't quite see the falls, but I could see the Grand Island Bridge, which is pretty close.

It's good that my son is not coming home.  I celebrate his independence!  And yet, I also feel blank about the fact that he will be gone for the whole summer.  He may never live at home again.  He and his friends have rented a flat off campus for next year.  He's only 18 years old and he will be graduating from college next year.  He's talking to me about taking the GRE, of taking a year off between college and grad school, to work and just enjoy life.  It's good, it is, but it was just yesterday that I was dressing him in little John-John suits that showed his chubby thighs.  Now he is tall--over six feet--and skinny and handsome.

Returning to Charlottesville from Buffalo makes me depressed.  It is so hard to return to the fetid, muggy, dank, hot  Charlottesville where there's hardly ever a breath of real wind and where bugs infest dark corners and you don't even want to sit on the couch in your own house because it feels damp and smells like dog.  This, after fresh, clean, cool, breezy Buffalo that has block after block after block of stunning old houses and gardens and museums and restaurants and art and parks and abundant Catholic churches, and people who are friendly and actually know how to drive and to cross a street.

I would move back in a second, but Jon refuses to do so.  It's not so great when you hate where your husband wants to live and he hates where you want to live.  Who is supposed to make the sacrifice?

I'm a terrible photographer, but I'll post these anyway.

Our old house in Buffalo.  We had the second floor flat, which was huge.

Arlington Park in the Allentown neighborhood--one of my favorite streets in Bflo.

More Arlington Park.

A deli I saw in Black Rock.  The other side of the sign says: POP, BEER, FROZEN FOOD.

It's not the most upscale part of town, but it has a certain charm and a fantastic coffee shop, where I stopped for breakfast on my last day. (This photo is from their facebook page.)

 Ian is convinced that Black Rock is due for a revival and is thinking about living there after graduation.  At least the rent will be cheap and there's a certain air of it being a  cutting edge place on the verge of discovery. It has an awesome gritty urban vibe, trains continually rumbling through, abandoned factories, heavy iron drawbridges over the Black Rock Canal.

Where was I?  Ian moving out, Buffalo, Black Rock.  I'm sorry for hating on Charlottesville, there are some things I like about it but it's a very difficult city: so smug in its belief that it is the perfect place to live.  You're a college town!  Get over yourself!  Maybe I am more conscious of the smugness because in general the people of Buffalo--where I lived for most of my life-- have a different attitude--a little defensive sometimes, but pleased when anyone choses to notice what's great about their city. Definitely not smug.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Clean Commute Day on the Number 9 Bus

Before I get to the number 9, I need to relate my continuing adventures on the trolley.  Late Wednesday afternoon I got on the trolley downtown in order to retrieve my car from its inspection.  I was the first one on, and after me came a couple I immediately identified as tourists.  He wore a loud shirt with an aggressive bald eagle/American flag print, a blue sweatshirt, and a baseball cap embroidered with American revolutionary soldiers.  She wore mom jeans, comfortable shoes, a blue sweatshirt that matched her husband's.  I saw a young man running with an undignified lope for the trolley,  his--oh dear!--his breasts jouncing up and down.  He sat in front, facing the tourists and He had barely settled into his seat before he addressed them:  "Hello.  I am a volunteer with the Virginia Organizing Project and did you know that many banks got trillions of dollars in federal bailout money and--"

"We're from out of town. We're not interested," cut in the tourist lady, her voice cracking with panic. The young man seemed not to sense her anxiety.  "Are you from Ohio?" he asked hopefully.
"New Jersey," she said, which surprised me because their look didn't say "New Jersey" to me.  "Near Philadelphia," she amended, and that made more sense.

"Do you like it here so far?" asked the young man.

"I don't know, we just got here," said the lady but she seemed to be regretting her vacation choice.

I saw the young man look at me, but he evidently decided I wasn't to be bothered.  I must put up a good show of being unapproachable because people hardly ever talk to me.  Even the gypsies in Rome left me alone.   The gypsy woman who ruled our piazza--a truly scary person--would stroll about asking people to give her their chewed-up pizza crusts because she was so hungry.  Once, I was sitting on the steps of the fountain.  She paused in front of me and I sensed her appraising me, and then she moved on to find a different victim.

The trolley got underway and the young man switched seats so he could go through his spiel with the other passengers.  His speech in its entirety: "Hello.  I'm a volunteer with the Virginia Organizing Project.  Did you know that many banks received trillions of dollars in federal bailout money and now they are refusing loans to small businesses?  There's going to be a protest in Columbus, Ohio and we're organizing transportation.  Would you like to come?"  He repeated this speech to every single person he talked to, despite the fact that the trolley's small size meant that we could all hear it every time.  Everybody listened politely, but nobody was willing to go to Columbus, Ohio to protest a bank.  Would you agree to go off to Ohio because some guy on a bus--no matter how bumbling and adorably earnest he was--asked you to?  He got off the trolley at 9th St.  and immediately approached the group of people at the bus stop and began his speech again.

At the stop on JPA, at the hospital, were standing several down-and-out looking men, all carrying identical rice cookers in boxes.  They all got on the trolley and dispersed to separate seats.  Was it FREE RICE COOKERS FOR THE POOR day at UVA?  Meanwhile, the tourists were anxiously twittering and wondering if this sudden left turn past a hospital and crowd of rice cooker-carrying men meant that they were perhaps on the wrong trolley.  I exited at JPA near Maury Ave. and left them to their fate.

So, the number 9, some of which covers what used to be part of the old route 3. A few years ago, I crossly commented that there ought to be a bus that went to Charlottesville High School, and all of a sudden there was a bus that went to Charlottesville High School.  From downtown, we headed down Water St.  We turned right on McIntire and left onto Preston Ave, covering the same territory as the number 8, only we turned left onto 10th St.  I like the 10th and Page St. neighborhood.  There's an element of danger to it and there are some interesting houses and it has a jumbled, treeless, urban feel that I like. Friends of ours lived in a great old house on 9th St. NW but eventually gave up and moved to the country.

Newer houses have been built in the neighborhood that mimic the style of the original houses.  A friend of mine calls this project "Miami Beach in Charlottesville" because of its tropical color palate but I think the houses are pretty.

From 10th St. we turned right on W. Main and right again on 14th St. with a stop in front of Venable School, near the Gordon Ave. public library and then right on Grady Ave.  Each of the city's public libraries can be accessed by public transportation.  The number five goes to Northside library and the 1, 2, 7, 8 and 9 all go down Market St. past the downtown library.  Now we were back on Preston, headed toward downtown and turned left onto Rose Hill Dr.  This is an odd neighborhood, with the train tracks cutting it in half and a mix of low and high end houses.  I don't normally like new construction, but I love the look of the Madison Place neighborhood, with its picket fences and tall, colorful houses, all very close together and friendly looking with tiny lots.  I hate new developments in which all the houses are identical and in tasteful, neutral colors.  Many of you may disagree with me, but I think a large lot is practically a liability.  There's so much maintenance involved.  A very small lot, creatively landscaped is much more attractive than the typical expanse of suburban lawn.  And it's better for the environment to build houses close together.

Anyway, as you get closer to Greenleaf Park, the houses get more expensive looking--mostly cape cods from the 1940s and '50s.  They weren't built to be grand, but over time some have acquired high class additions and almost every house is beautifully landscaped.  We passed Walker Upper Elementary and crossed the bypass into the Meadowbrook Heights neighborhood.  Here, the houses are larger and newer, but have still had many years to settle into the land.  The Charlottesville High School stop is in front of the Performing Arts Center.  We had picked up several genuine high school students along the way and they all got off here.  It was mid-morning, but seniors have off-campus privileges.  CHS students all get free bus passes.  It's great that some of them are actually taking public transportation to school.  Oh sure, if they had cars they'd be driving themselves to school but at least they have learned to function without cars.  Some people haven't, and it may become a useful skill, considering the volatile nature of the oil market.  My daughters are both at CHS and they take the number 9 sometimes to get home after activities although since it only runs once an hour, it's not always convenient.

From there we retraced our path back to the transit center, with a slight deviation down a couple little side streets near Greenleaf Park.  There's a stop at Walker School, in front of the Central Office building only it's right at the corner where people turn from the bypass ramp and there's no sidewalk and poor visibility.  Anyone standing at that stop is really at risk of being hit by a car and I would never allow Seamus, who goes to Walker, to wait there.  I realize the stop was meant to serve Central Office employees, and not students, but it's not a safe stop for adults either and to get to the building you have to cross a street where people are driving fast and can't see you.

The day of my number 9 adventure was Clean Commute Day.  All bus travel was free that day and there was an event on the downtown mall.  After I got off the bus downtown, I went to check it out.  There were a few booths run by JAUNT, UVA parking and transportation, and others.  One booth was devoted to the "Clean Commute Pledge."  I felt it might be dishonest to pledge to do something that I already do anyway, but they said  I could just pledge to continue my clean commute. There's a drawing to win a free pair of Amtrak tickets to Boston, or any city on the way, which is pretty sweet.

 I have only one route left to cover, the mysterious number 10, about which I know nothing except that it goes toward Pantops.  I'm not going to cover the night routes--I think they're numbers 21, 22, and 23--because they are just abbreviated versions of the day routes.  It's pretty lame that "night" coverage begins after 6:30pm because--how many times must I say this and when will the city realize it--people who work at UVA Health System get out of work at 7:30pm (or start night shift at 7:00pm) and the night routes aren't adequate.  The regular routes should run until 9:00pm and night coverage should extend until 1:00am--when, HELLO!! the bars close --instead of stopping at 11:30.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Ultimate Bliss on the number 8 bus.

I am sensing a certain lack of enthusiasm about my bus posts but I want to finish what I started so you are going to have to bear with me and tolerate a few more entries about the whirlwind of public transportation in Charlottesville.  But take heart, there are only ten routes, and I have now covered six of them, plus my experience on the number seven, which started this whole project.  I am not going to make a special trip on the number 7 because why would I want to go through that again?

I didn't plan on having a bus adventure today, but I dropped my car off to be inspected and my usual mode of travel between C'ville Imports and my house is the Trolley.  The Charlottesville free trolley was meant to be used by tourists as shuttle between downtown and UVA.  It's a bus pimped out to look old fashioned and it is completely ridiculous; an urban Disneyland ride full of homeless people.  I am always embarrassed to be seen on it. And the seats are super uncomfortable.

Actually, the trolley has two characters.  Near the university, where I got on, the riders are almost exclusively students.  We passed Scott Stadium and eventually turned onto McCormick Rd, through the heart of the grounds.  The trolley is convenient if you want to get to UVA but don't want to deal with the fierce parking situation.  There's a stop at Alderman Library and I'm thinking I might take advantage of the trolley as a means of getting there.  And you should too--if you are not aware, one of the perks of living here is that residents may check out materials from UVA's libraries.  You do not need to be UVA staff.  That's pretty generous and the UVA libraries offer a lot that is interesting to the general public, especially fiction.  It's my go-to place for books I can't find at the public library.  Not all universities allow this, by any means.  My brother has to pay a hefty fee to be able to use the library at the public university of which he is an alumnus.

Once we passed the hospital, the character of the trolley changed.  A group of Burmese refuges, along with a Japanese tourist got on the bus at 9th St. He had the baseball cap, windbreaker and alert posture of the tourist, although I didn't see a camera.  At the Greyhound station, a man with a large rolling suitcase got on.  There were many empty seats but he squeezed in next to the tourist and proceeded to soundlessly sing, bang imaginary drums, dance with his upper body and otherwise behave in a way to scare the pants off our little Japanese tourist.  The tourist got off at the downtown mall, the singing/dancing man got off at the Haven homeless shelter.

From the transit center I had planned to walk home, but the number 8 bus was just pulling up so I impulsively hopped on.  Here is a picture of the transit center I keep mentioning.  Behind it is the Belmont Bridge, and Belmont beyond.

I knew that the number 8 bus goes to K-Mart, which it does, rather more efficiently than the number 5 gets to Wal-mart.  First it heads down Preston Ave/Barracks Rd.  I drive down Preston all the time, but it was nice to see it from a bus.  There are some elegant houses along Barracks Rd, although the trees make me think "jungle."  There's also a very expensive neighborhood between Barracks Rd/Dairy Rd/Rugby Rd.  My kids and I once got lost there on a dark December night, looking for Christmas lights.  It turns out the people of that neighborhood do not indulge in Christmas lights.  Or street lights.

We pulled into Barracks Rd. Shopping Center--which is served by three bus routes, the 7, 5, and 8--and then headed up Emmet St and into the Kroger Shopping center and then across Hydraulic into the K-Mart shopping center, which is soon going to see a lot of action when the new Whole Foods opens in early June.  That area is already very congested.  I am dreading what it will be like with WF in business.

From K-Mart, the bus turned into the Seminole Square shopping center and then headed back toward town, first turning into the Best Buy shopping center.  My goodness!  What a lot of shopping centers Charlottesville has!  Since there was almost no one on the bus, we got ahead of schedule and had to wait for a few minutes at a stop on Angus Rd, next to Best Buy.  I realized that this stop is directly in front of Ultimate Bliss, C'ville's adult shop.  Charlottesvillians need never worry about not having a car to go buy sex toys because the number 8 bus is there for you.

We headed down Preston, back downtown.  At the stop in front of the Haven, I noticed the suitcase guy, holding court among a group of other homeless men.    I walked home from the transit center.  The entire circuit of the number 8 had been just under an hour.  The bus had been mostly empty, did not vibrate my brain into a coma, and it was a beautiful, chilly spring day on which to observe more of Charlottesville.

Monday, May 02, 2011

The Number Five Bus: Shaken, Not Stirred

I awoke Friday, sat down to check my facebook and realized that the Royal Wedding had happened.  Everybody in the world seemed consumed with Kate and Pippa Middleton.  If you rank excitement about the Royal Wedding on a scale of zero to ten, with zero being no excitement at all and ten being as excited as possible, I'm about a four.  I looked at the dresses, marveled at the hats, and realized it would be a good day to take public transportation to Wal-mart.

The number five bus is the only one that does not rendezvous at the downtown transit center.  I decided that if I was going to take public transportation to Wal-mart, I would really take public transportation to Wal-mart so I got on the number three bus to downtown and transferred to the number seven which takes you to the Barracks Road Shopping Center, where you transfer to the five.

The number three bus smelled strongly of marijuana, but we made it to the transit center in a timely manner and the seven was just pulling up, so I didn't have to wait at all.

The number seven bus was its usual rowdy self.  The man in front of me was reading a very thick book.  I was dying to know what it was.  As much as I hate being asked what I am reading, I am always curious to see what everybody else is reading, although I wouldn't dream of asking.  So I tried to read over his shoulder and caught something about General MacArthur at which point I lost interest.  The book turned out to be The Conflict in Korea.  Or was it The Korean Conflict?

We traveled down West Main toward UVA, and passing the corner, the parade of fashions on this bright spring day was almost as interesting as that at the Royal Wedding.  At Barrack's Road, the number five was waiting and I hopped right on.  It was just about noon and I had started my journey at 11:30.  Oh sure, I can drive to Barracks Rd. in less than fifteen minutes, but for bus travel, this wasn't bad.

Charlottesville recently changed the name and image of its public transportation system.  What used to be CTS with handsome red, blue, yellow-trimmed buses has become CAT with brand new buses decorated with green and blue dogwood flowers.  Preceding both of these were white buses with big yellow and red sun smiley-faces.  The number five bus was one of the old smiley face buses.  I didn't realize they were still in use and I wondered if they are reserved for the number five route because they are not pretty enough to go downtown and be seen by the tourists.  At any rate, it was clearly second string and was prey to a steady vibration every time the bus stopped, which was a lot.

We turned onto Arlington and then onto Millmont St.  I'd assumed we'd head for Emmet St. and take a straight shot up to Wal-mart, but we turned left onto Barracks Rd and headed out into the county.  Another neighborhood with which I am unfamiliar.  I spend almost 100% of my time within the city limits, except for occasional trips up 29 North to shops and the airport.  Albemarle County is almost as unfamiliar to me as if I just moved here.

The number five bus, it turns out, in addition to taking to people to Wal-mart, covers what I think of as the "back side" of 29N.  We wound about through a wilderness of moderately priced apartment complexes and suburban houses--Georgetown and Four Seasons Dr are some of the streets I remember-- eventually surfacing on Rio Rd East where we reached 29N, but instead of turning left and heading to Wal-mart, we crossed 29N and stopped at Fashion Square Mall and then out to Hillsdale Dr. and Rio Rd. West and then the Albemarle Square shopping center and Northside library, and then onto 29N, stopping in front of Lowe's and turning onto Berkmar Dr.  Would we ever get to Wal-mart?

The bus's vibration, a minor annoyance at first, was starting to get to me.  The rubber band around my pony tail was slowly coming loose and the subcutaneous fat in my cheeks was gently vibrating, as if being pummeled by hundreds of tiny rolling pins.  We passed the back side of a building that I felt sure must be Wal-mart, but it turned out to be Sam's Club, but from there we crossed the access road into Wal-mart itself.

My original plan was to get off the bus and buy something at Wal-mart and catch the next bus into town but what was I going to buy?  I needed nothing.  At the Wal-mart bus stop was a motley collection of people including a stylish older woman and an enormous man wearing a quadruple X sized tie-dyed tee shirt.  The bus driver got up to fold up the first three seats in the front of the bus and I actually thought he was doing this to make room for the enormous man but he was preparing for the woman in the wheelchair who I didn't see because she was completely blocked from view by the tie-dyed tee shirt man.  I had thought that my number five bus experience would be something like "People of Wal-mart" but it wasn't.  Even the tie-dyed tee shirt man was just a big guy in a bright tee shirt.

From Wal-mart we headed to the Rio Hill Shopping center, which has three stops, and then back to Fashion Square, where we stopped for several minutes.  The vibration was now making me feel like my teeth were being shaken from their sockets.  I had to hold my jaw open, because if my teeth touched, they would knock together, my jaw moving without my control like a ventriloquist's dummy.  It was 1:00 pm.  It had taken us an entire freaking hour to get to this point--just over halfway through the route and overall I had been bus bound for an hour and a half.

Leaving Fashion Square, we headed south on 29 toward town but soon turned onto Berkmar Dr. and stopped at the entrance of Shopper's World, home of Whole Foods.  Now you know that if your car breaks down and you have a need for organic munchies, the number five is your go-to bus.  Actually, earlier that day I had been at Whole Foods where I purchased, among other things,  a $22 flank steak and some "artisanal" chocolate, and thought about the contrast between my lifestyle and that of the "I take public transportation to Wal-mart" crowd.  If I had known there was a stop here, I would have postponed my shopping and done it by bus.

We proceeded into the suburban neighborhood behind Whole Foods.  The bus's vibration was now churning my cerebral spinal fluid and rocking my brain like a nerf ball in washing machine.  I felt unaccountably sleepy andI actually had a dream in which a blogger I know was also on the number five bus and told me that she was going to write about it first.  After this I tried mightily to stay awake with little success.  I tried clenching my jaw to stop my teeth from rattling.  I put my hands to my cheeks to make them stop shaking.  We were never going to get back to Barracks Rd.

At last--it was now 1:40--I stepping into the sunshine at Barracks Rd.  The number seven wasn't there yet so I leaned against the side of the Old Navy building and tried to recover.  This stop is a big transfer point.  Would it kill them to provide a bench?  I was exhausted even though I'd been sitting for two hours.

The number seven was smelly and humid but blessedly free of vibration.  My cheeks were sore.  I got off the bus at the liquor store on W. Main and bought a bottle of whiskey and walked all the way home with it wrapped in a brown paper bag.  My cheeks, although not exactly sore, still had a lingering sensation of having shaken.  I got home at 2:30.  Taking the bus from Belmont to Wal-mart and back had taken three hours.