I won’t lie to you: Taking the bus in Seattle was a much more pleasant experience than it is here in Las Vegas. Seattle’s buses run with greater frequency than Vegas routes do, and those routes cover more area. The views from Seattle buses are better—face it, parts of this town are straight-up ugly—and Seattle’s drunks and weirdos, while just as drunk and weird as the Vegas variety, mostly keep to themselves. I’m not saying that Seattle transit is perfect, but it’s good enough that I rarely gave a thought to what could make it better. I simply used it.
But I see the raw potential in Las Vegas’ RTC buses, as entrepreneurs see the potential in the underdeveloped downtown core. Every new restaurant, every new bar, every freshly planted tree downtown inspires downtowners to celebrate: Now we’re getting somewhere!
Someday, I’ll feel the same way about this city’s public transit. I fervently anticipate the day when I can take the now-useless monorail from the airport to the Bonneville Transit Center and hop a gas-hybrid coach from the BTC to the Huntridge, without once checking the mobile app for arrival times. Perhaps I’ll even grab a coffee from one of the several businesses that should, even now, surround the center.
When I take that future ride, I want my only thought to be now I’m getting somewhere. But we have a long, long way to go.
Part of what I’ve been trying to do with these blog entries is to take the stigma off riding the bus. You may think that using public transportation is some sort of admission of failure or retreat. It is not. It’s something city dwellers do without considering appearances. New Yorkers, Chicagoans, Parisians, Londoners and, yes, Seattleites don’t have half their value—financial or intrinsic—tied up in their cars. They get on the fucking bus, and they don’t care what you think.
And every so often, believe it or not, they enjoy doing it.
People sometimes ask me what I get from a one-hour-plus bus ride from downtown to Town Square, a trip I have to make a couple times a week. I give them all the stuff about being an organic part of a city, about being part of the climate change solution, blah blah blah. What I don’t tell them is this extraordinary truth: I find a kind of romance in it. Some days I wouldn’t trade my bus ride for anything.
I had more of those days in Seattle. Getting on the bus at 7:30 a.m., I’d settle in with a pack of nicely dressed commuters enjoying their last half-hour of sleep. Sometimes the sun would filter through the clouds and throw a spotlight on Lake Union; we would regard it as if it were the fleeting specter of a dream.
And on the ride home, 6 p.m., I would slip on my headphones and listen to ambient techno and classical music as the rain made horizontal stripes on the windows, refracting the neon light. These were perfect moments, and I couldn’t have enjoyed them from a car, where getting somewhere is kind of secondary to staying alive on wet roads driven by transplanted Californians.
I haven’t had one of those perfect moments on a Vegas bus. Not yet. But I believe one of them is out there. One autumn night, perhaps, I’ll be busing back from WENDOH with Chicane blasting on the iPod and the skies will open the hell up. A tourist couple sitting across from me will hold hands. A 7-year-old girl will press her nose to the window to watch the downpour. And the rain will make patterns of light on the window.
In that moment, Vegas buses will have taken me to somewhere familiar, and the reunion will be a sweet one.