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.


  1. And here I think going shopping is horrifying enough. I'm trying to imagine going the way you did--my jowls would ACHE!

  2. I'm pretty sure some of the old buses have exhaust leaks. I've gotten light headed, sleepy, and nauseated on some of them. . . and it's not like I'm on the #4 that long from downtown to my house, so something's not right.