If the numbers 22, 70, 71, 81, or 63 don’t mean anything to you, my guess is that you probably haven’t spent any, or much time on our local buses, like I have.
Today I rode the 27, 64, and 81.
When I was 15 years old, I caught bus 63 at 6:45 a.m., and bus 81 about 20 minutes later — every day — in order to get to Independence High School by 7:30 a.m. My point of transfer was usually the Diridon Train Station; it had a snack bar, and I often went inside to buy Mentos. (Today, Mentos still make me think of my time on buses.)
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Why in the world would I jump on the VTA when Uber and Lyft are a few phone-taps away? To put it plainly: After I dropped off my car at the shop for new tires, I could not — for the life of me — download either app on my phone! Being down two lifelines, I decided to “phone a friend.”
He was on his way to an appointment, and couldn’t give me a lift. No more lifelines.
I decided to use some tax-payer money: I went to a bus stop and waited.
Thirty five minutes later I was on bus 27. I asked the driver which routes would take me to Santa Clara. “Bus 64, then 81.” Perfect.
Incidentally, after Bus Driver One realized it had been a VERY long time since I had been on a bus, he kindly said, “I’ll get you to the 64. This ride is free.” Thank you Bus Driver One!
While I waited for bus 64, I chatted with a fifty-seven-year-old who said he was born and raised in Oakland, but decided to come to San Jose in 2012 because there was too much crime in the area in which he lived. In fact, he said his neighborhood was akin to “Sal si puedes.” He must have figured that I was familiar with those words.
He shared an interesting story: After telling a few drug dealers to get off of his mom’s property, one of them shot him in the leg. Two weeks later, the person who shot him in his leg was dead. He also shared that the upper part of his leg (femur) has been replaced with a steel rod. Then he said this, “I don’t know who killed the guy, but I got five brothers.”
Bus 64 arrived.
Because I’m an experienced “waiter”; not the restaurant type, but the type who realizes that some errands will require waiting, I’ll always bring a book to read. Today I brought The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog. Great title, heart-wrenching stories. Perhaps I’ll share them another time.
Between reading, listening, and observing, I noticed a couple of things: First, many of the people on the lines I rode today were either elderly or disabled. Second, the bus drivers are pretty darn helpful. It was evident that “safety” is a paramount concern.
Somewhere in Willow Glen, Bus Driver Two picked up a young wheelchair-enabled person. And again I appreciated how carefully he secured the passenger. Driver Two gave the young guy a thumbs-up before returning to the wheel. It was clear that the young man used his apparatus to move AND to communicate. During the ride, he was vigorously messaging someone, and it appeared that he was enjoying the conversation immensely with the person on the other end.
I also saw a listened to an older woman explain to another passenger why it’s good to get an early start every day, “It’s been so hot lately; I make sure to get up early. By one o’clock, I’m done.”
Last leg: Bus 81.
Bus Driver Three is the one pictured. Like the others, he was extremely helpful. The man in the cap did not speak English; the only intelligible word he uttered was “Race.” The Bus Driver grabbed a map, pointed to Race Street, and said, “Race Street? Okay. I’ll get you there.”
For the remainder of my ride, Driver Three and I exchanged a few stories. I won’t bore you with mine, but here’s what I learned about him: He’s from Michoacán, AND PROUD OF IT! He learned to make “slime” on YouTube in order to entertain his young relatives; he enjoys his job, likes being single, and feels really good about who he is. His biggest challenge was convincing his dad that life doesn’t end at 69. He shared that his dad lost AND then gained his will to live.
He also said that his job is not for everyone, “If you love people, it’s the best job in the world. If you don’t, you may want to do something else.”
If my ride-sharing apps worked today, I wouldn’t have experienced any of this. All in all, it was a great day on public transportation. I saw and met some pretty interesting and resilient people, and as we all know, there’s no app for that.by