This is a long story. Perhaps you would like to take notes. Especially if you are a Metro Transit employee.
My wife was out of town over the weekend, but I had plans to keep me busy. On Saturday, I would go to Bainbridge Island to have dinner with friends. And on Sunday, I was scheduled to moderate a panel discussion about media at the Sustainable West Seattle Festival.
Both locations are somewhat inconvenient — we live in northeast Seattle — so some planning would be in order. It would involve the bus. I hate riding the bus. But it's silly not to take the bus downtown, at least. It's less than seven miles from our house to the Puget Sound ferry at Colman Dock, and the Mariners were in town, making downtown street parking difficult and lot parking expensive. As for Sunday, I would normally drive the 12 miles to West Seattle, but hey, it was a sustainability festival. I would at least check the Metro Transit trip planner.
So Saturday comes, and I have a plan: Catch the 71 bus, which runs every half hour and stops 200 feet from our house, at 2:25 p.m. and arrive downtown at 3 p.m. Plenty of time to walk the six blocks to the ferry dock and catch the 3:45 p.m. sailing to Bainbridge Island, which gets me there at 4:20 p.m., about when I was supposed to be at my friends' house, a short walk from the ferry. Elapsed time: about two hours.
So at 2:20 I'm at the bus stop, and some other people are already there. I check my iPhone, which has the Seattle bus app that gets real-time bus information, to see when the 71 bus is coming. It says three minutes. This app is amazing, and it's nearly always accurate. All the buses have GPS, and the app taps into the database of bus locations and actual arrival times. (It will also use the iPhone GPS to find the nearest bus stops and routes, but I digress.)
Three minutes come and go. No bus. A few minutes later, I check the iPhone again, and now it says the 71 will arrive in like 27 minutes. It's as though the bus has vanished from the face of the Earth. We will have to wait for the next bus, at 2:55.
Well, these things happen. And if the next bus goes according to schedule, I can still probably make the 3:45 boat with the 2:55 bus, though it will be tight — about 15 minutes to get from the bus to the ferry. It's supposed to be a 35-minute bus ride downtown. Thirty-five minutes to go six miles. How hard can that be?
The 2:55 bus arrives as scheduled. I get on and settle in. The 71 during the day is called an express, but it's not really. It stops every two blocks all the way through the University District, then becomes an express for about three miles to downtown. When the Interstate 5 express lanes are southbound, the bus takes those. Otherwise, it goes down Eastlake Avenue East, which is loaded with traffic lights. Express my ass.
So after creeping through the U District as usual, my 71 pulls away from the Campus Parkway stop to express its way downtown. But something unusual has happened. There is a backup of cars trying to get on the University Bridge. (For those of you not familiar with Seattle, like most bridges here it is a drawbridge and is easily clogged.) The bus gets in line on the little on-ramp. I happen to look up at the I-5 Ship Canal Bridge far above us and notice that the express lanes, yes, are open southbound, and traffic is whizzing by. But we're not going that way. We're taking Eastlake, one stoplight at a time. Why, oh why, aren't we taking the express lanes? We'd be at the Convention Place Station in five minutes if we did that.
So we creep along, slowly merging with other traffic on the clogged University Bridge. It occurs to me that complicating matters traffic-wise is the fact that it's the ceremonial first day of boating season, which means that the next drawbridge east, the Montlake Bridge, is closed because of crew races being held on the Lake Washington Ship Canal. So a lot of the cars backed up on the University Bridge are diverted from there. They'll peel off Eastlake soon, and we'll be on our way.
Sure enough, the traffic thins out, but of course there are still stoplights ahead. It's like 3:20 or so now. We can still make it downtown in time for me to catch the ferry, but it's going to be very close.
Then I notice something odd. The bus veers off the usual route, heading southwest on Fairview Avenue North instead of continuing downtown on Eastlake. The driver gets on the P.A. and says the detour is due to the fact that an intersection of Stewart Street is closed for construction. But we won't miss any of our downtown stops.
By this point I'm pretty resigned to the fact I won't make the ferry and try to relax. My stop on Third Avenue, the six blocks up the hill from the ferry dock, will be the fifth one the bus makes downtown. This will, of course, take forever. And I do miss the boat, probably by about 10 minutes. I call my friends and head for the bar. The next boat is in 55 minutes, at 4:40. I arrive on Bainbridge Island at 5:15 p.m. Elapsed time from home: not quite three hours. Miles traveled, including the ferry: about 14.
I could have swum it faster.
Well, going home surely won't be as big a problem. It will be late, and there will be no traffic. The only down side is that the 71 bus returning home won't be an "express." It will stop every two blocks for the entire six-mile trip from downtown to my house. Though probably not — there won't be many people on the bus. I'm on the 9:45 p.m. boat from Bainbridge Island to downtown, and it will likely be 10:30 or so before I get to a bus stop on Third Avenue to catch the 71.
That part goes according to plan. I know the bus routine on Third very well — use them all the time. You have to be careful, because all the buses don't stop at all the stops. They alternate, effectively stopping every four blocks instead of every two. But the kiosks at every stop are pretty explicit. And I know I can catch the 71 outbound at the corner of Third Avenue and Madison Street, in front of the IDX Tower (now called the Fourth and Madison Building). And the kiosk says so.
I have to wait about 20 minutes for the next 71, and by the time it comes, I'm the only one at this stop. It's right on time, at about 10:50 p.m. The street is deserted. No cars, few people. I step toward the curb in front of the kiosk where the driver can see me. The bus appears to be empty. I raise my hand to wave him down. The bus slows a bit but passes me. I think, oh, he's going to stop nearer the curb, on the other side of the kiosk. They do that sometimes.
But not this time. The bus continues through the intersection, northbound on Third Avenue. I shout and wave my hands. "Hey!" Astonished, I check the kiosk again, even though I've boarded the bus here a million times. Yep, it's got the 71 listed.
I wish I had had the presence of mind to take of picture of the bus cruising up Third Avenue without any passengers, but I was too pissed off.
The next bus is in half an hour, at about 11:20. That would put me home no sooner than midnight. It's windy and cold, and I've had enough. I walk up Third to University Street, then up the hill to Fourth Avenue where cabs are lined up for the Fairmont Hotel. The fare home is $19.50.
So the next morning, I need to go to West Seattle. The schedule says I would need to transfer buses once downtown. The trip's supposed elapsed time is one hour and six minutes. Yeah, right. That's why I drove my SUV to the Sustainable West Seattle Festival.