That week began with long walks up and down snowy hills, and it ended with two men wanting to fight. That week began with cold, relentlessly snowy days, and it ended with me reeling in memories of other public transit experiences I’ve had in my life. I touched on some of those feelings in Scooter pt.1, but that week–that week was something else.
Before we discuss that week, I have to provide a kind of counterbalance to what can be seen as pure negativity about Cleveland’s public transportation reality. Many days, the buses run more or less as they should. Many days I arrive at work, and arrive back home relatively on schedule. Many days there is nothing out of the ordinary to report, although there is plenty that is out of the ordinary, like the people.
There was the man who stepped onto the Healthline holding doughnuts and speaking on the telephone. He looked toward the front of the bus, saw a Muslim man with prayer beads, and shouted, “As-Salaam-Alaikum” or peace be upon you. The man replied, as expected, “Wa-Alaikum-Salaam.” The man on the phone then spoke loudly into the phone something to the effect of, “…and if he messes with me I’ll **** him up.” Peace.
There were the two men who knew each other from prison, or from common friends who did time. They spoke about being at the same correctional facility, talked about inmates who were serving a long time, and talked about certain guards. “You don’t want to **** with that guy.”
There was the man with a bag of candy bars. He had boxes of candy bars, in bags, selling them 2/$1. There was no organization for which he was selling. There was no pitch to help kids, or softball teams, or whatever. Just a man with candy. And he made some money.
The eclectic mix of passengers does make public transit interesting, and as a journalist it lets me hear what people are worried about. These can lead to further reporting later, and I can help address some issues overheard on the bus. My point: there are positives to riding public transit. Which brings us to that week..
When the weather turns bad in Cleveland, the public transit system suffers. Bus and train delays are regular. And on this point, Cleveland is not alone–even the Swiss had frozen rail switches and snapped overhead power lines every once in a while. But the distances covered by Cleveland’s transit system cause difficulty for commuters like me. If one connection is missed, sometimes there won’t be another connection for an hour.
The Healthline is a bus system that runs along a major Cleveland thoroughfare, Euclid Ave. It goes from downtown to East Cleveland, and it’s supposed to run every 6-10 minutes. After my shift I have two possible Healthlines to catch to make it to my transfer bus on time…if all are running as they should. If I miss my transfer, I can wait an hour, or walk 40 minutes up a relatively steep hill. If the Healthline doesn’t come, I can take a train, and then walk the 40 minutes. So during that week…
Feb 4: From 6:45 pm until 7:20 pm there was no Eastbound Healthline along Euclid. I began at 14th/Euclid, and walked to Tower City to catch a train, and didn’t see any Healthline along the way. This made me miss my connection…and had to walk.
Feb 5: From 6:45 pm until 7:05 pm there was one full Eastbound Healthline at 14th/Euclid. There were four Westbound Healthlines. When I arrived at my transfer stop, there were now three Eastbound Healthlines all bunched together, two of them were empty. My connection left just before the Healthline pulled up…and I had to walk.
Feb 7: The Healthline ran as expected. But from 7:10 pm, there was no connection (scheduled at about 7:20)…I had to walk, and didn’t see the bus along my way.
Feb 9: My transfer bus broke down. The replacement was spotted about 50 minutes later.
Feb 11: Two passengers on the Healthline began to yell, then stood to fight, apparently because someone touched someone else’s bag? One man yelled, “That’s some penitentiary **** there, I done that.” Other passengers separated them. The driver maneuvered through intersections before stopping safely at a stop, and got out to call police. One of the men disengaged, so no call was needed. The remaining belligerent continued to yell even though the other guy was gone. He then put on his music, loud, and aggressively banged his head to something similar to “Celebration” by Kool and the Gang. You know, happy music.
Things happen. Nothing’s perfect. Most days are not bad days on public transportation. But I’ve experienced a lot in my year+ of commuting by bus/rail to work, including fights, a purse snatching, drunk teens, and a lot of walking.
I still ride, and I am still a proponent of public transit. But I look forward to warmer weather, and switching to two wheels, and taking a few variables out of the commute.