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Every time a billionaire complains about public transit, it's like they walked through mud and are showing you the underside of their foot. Their attitude portrays a dream of solitude, this idea that people have a right to live in the world without encountering other people, especially people different than them. It assumes that any system they could build could be enjoyed by anybody who matters.
But for the rest of us, there's public transit. For those who don't want to pay an arm and a leg to park downtown, there's public transit. For people who understand other people there's public transit.
Seattle's mass transit started as streetcars, beginning in West Seattle in 1902. Streetcars ran all over the city — the only remnant of such being the old Seattle waterfront streetcar that was removed when the Seattle Art Museum's Sculpture Park demolished the transit maintenance barn in 2005. That streetcar is expected to return as part of the construction of the 1st avenue Center City Connector, beginning construction next year.
In 1940 or so, the streetcar system was converted to buses, and in 1972 Metro appeared as a consolidation of a number of different systems. Remember the ride free zone? It used to be, on Metro buses, that you could ride through the downtown core for free. That meant there was a novel fare system: if you were headed into downtown in a fare zone, you had to pay while boarding the bus. If you were heading out of downtown, you had to pay leaving the bus. So, if you boarded, say, a #3 on Queen Anne, you paid getting on (then got your transfer so you didn't have to pay again), but you had to show it on your way off the bus on Cherry Hill. It was a weird system.
It's simpler now: pay when you get on, or swipe in with an ORCA card and board on the back doors of one of the main bus lines.
As for the billionaires — well, sure, you do run into people on the bus you want to avoid, but you also get to see a wide swath of humanity you would not be exposed to otherwise. It provides empathy, and also understanding. And, if you're interested in fashion, there's no better way to see the trends of what people are wearing than a daily bus ride.
On one bus alone, there are so many stories. Let's ride that #3 and see who we can find.
Queen Anne — The McClure middle-school students sat together, five of them clumped in the back of the bus. Maybe they were ditching, it was a time when normally they would be heading towards school, not away from it. Nobody would believe this is what they said, but they actually said this: "Oh my god, you guys, that is hella the bomb," said one, about something, before she leaned in conspiratorially and said "You guys. What's between us, is between us forever."
MoPOP — The bus was crowded, but he had his guitar with him, and it was awkward no matter how you held it. He was coming from an early morning showcase, one chance to play a few songs for a rep before a conference at MoPOP before the museum. "Hey, could you, like, watch that?" said a woman, and he realized he bumped her with his case, right in the behind. "Oh god, I'm sorry," he said. The rep at MoPOP cut him off in the middle of his second song. "We have someone who sounds like you," she said. "Thanks." The bus jerked and he stumbled, his guitar falling over, and slapping the ground with a sickening crunch. Today was just not going well at all.
Belltown — It was the two tech bros in the exit. The bus wasn't even that crowded, they could have moved or sat or done something else besides block the fucking door. "Excuse me," she said when the bus pulled in, and both of them made a lame attempt at pressing, but it was still impossible to squeeze through their backpacks. "I said, excuse me," she said again, stopping. Someone behind her said "Just squeeze through them." She turned, "No. I'm not going to squeeze my body past these inconsiderate assholes. Step off the goddamn bus and make room for people to get on and off, you selfish fucking pricks."
Downtown — Everybody waited at that stop on Cherry Street because that was one steep hill. That's where James was waiting, in the chair. Some people look at him like he doesn't need it, because he pushes with his legs, but that just shows what they know. He doesn't have one of those electric ones, so the old fashioned one is all he gets. This time, the #3 pulls up, and everybody else who doesn't want to walk up that hill to Harborview comes running on in front of him, and the driver has to tell him to wait for the next bus. They already have two chairs on the bus. So he's gonna be late for his appointment, and there's no way around it. He tries not to, but some tears well up and then he feels stupid and punches at the garbage can a few times, just to show he's not some weak fucker who can't take a little disappointment.
Cherry Hill — It was the hardest day she ever had. She'd only worked at the hospital for a few months, but it was no trouble cleaning up and keeping things tidy. Sometimes it got gross, but that was nothing she couldn't handle. That was the job. But the woman today, crying out in pain all day, moaning and screaming and not stopping. They were helping her, she knew they were, but it was so bad. She was trembling and wanted a drink, but had to get home to relieve the sitter. There was no way to process it. Just hope that woman got the help she needed. Hoped she was feeling better.