Main menu: Home Tube Challenge Underground : USA Living in America 50p iPod Music

The Bus Race

Carta BusOne day last week, Leigh has the TankMobile® for the the afternoon, but drops me off downtown so that I can do a few things. “I’ll call you on my way back and pick you up if you want” she says “Ok, but I might try out getting the bus back – it’s about time I did”.

Indeed … public transport geek as I am, I felt it was about time to go ‘Get CARTA!’ and ride on a Charleston bus.

I find myself online in an internet cafe right before I want to go home, so hop over to the CARTA website, check out the route map ‘n’ everything, establish that I want to get the No. 20 bus home, and look up on the map to see where the stop is.

I go to the ATM cash machine on the way to the bus stop, and then immediately worry that they might not give change on the bus.

I linger by the bus stop for a few minutes, wondering about if you have to stick your arm out or not to alert the driver like you do back home. Is this a ‘request’ stop or not? There’s no way knowing. Luckily, two other people then join me, a queue is formed and I guess that a cluster of three people is enough to tell the bus driver that he has to stop so that we get on.

We get on. I let the other two go first … and only then do I see the sign that says “Exact fare only”. Shit.

“So you don’t take twenty dollar bills then?” I asked, with a look of desperation. But the driver just shakes his head.

Fifteen minutes later I’m back at the same stop, having gone into a bookshop to buy a magazine. (The new PC Mag is out – excellent!) and I made sure that I get the requisite amount of money in the change given back to me.

This time I get straight on … and then have a small panic about how to pay. It’s a $1.25 flat fee to go anywhere, and in the end with the driver muttering something under his breath I realise that I have to feed the one dollar note bill into a machine, and then just drop a quarter into a slot. You don’t get a ticket, you just get on pay, and sit down.

OK … so I sit down, onto a plastic seat and get out my magazine to read.

People get off, and people get on and I look up and take in some of the surroundings. The bus drivers does do exactly the same thing as the ones back home – they wave or give a thumbs up whenever the pass their opposite number coming in the other direction. Cool.

Carta BusI look at the timetable I picked up on board. Route 20 seems to have a ‘northbound’ circuit and a ‘southbond’ circuit and the route splits for some of it depending on which direction you’re going in. Confused? I wasn’t .. right up until we seemed to take the ‘southbound’ loop for a bus that was heading NORTH out of town.

Leigh calls me. “Hi! Do you want a lift home?” “It’s okay .. I’m on the bus”. “Ok! Whereabouts are you?”, and it’s at that point that I look out of the window and realise that I have NO IDEA of where I am. Bugger.

It’s ok though … a few blocks later the bus turns a corner and I do work out where I am – on my road! But quite a few houses up, and I’m totally confused about which route we took to get here. But now I’ve got a new problem- working out how one goes about getting OFF the bus.

Back home? You push a button or buzzer. Here – there isn’t one! Thankfully, the last remaining passenger on the bus aside from myself decides to get off, and I watch them as they pull a flimsy yellow cord that’s dangling below the windows. This does indeed “ding” a bell, and alerts the driver as to your request to alight.

I get off two stops later. The bus actually goes right past my house, but I’d never noticed that before! The Tankmobile® is not in the drive … I’ve beaten Leigh home! Excellent.

I call her up. “I’m home” I say. “I’m five minutes away” she replies. “Ok – I’ll put the kettle on!”, before remembering that hot tea now isn’t something that I regularly drink when the average daily temperature for July is 97 degrees F. (That’s 36C to you…)

Oh, and one final thing.

14 other people used the bus service as I travelled on it, including the driver.

I was the only white person.

19 responses to “The Bus Race”

  1. David says:

    Hey Geoff. Yeah that was my experience in Berkeley, you have to put the $1 bills in the machine. But there you can buy a transfer if you want. Did your bus have air conditioning. I know the ones in florida do.

    But the ones in Berkeley didn’t, cos in the Bay Area they don’t need. But the difference that you mentioned, that you were the only white person on the bus, is unfortunately (to the african-americans) a story repeated through out the south I believe. Basically they can’t afford cars!

    In the Berkeley area it is a little different because there are lots of students, and there people from everywhere on those buses!

    P.S. The reason I am using different lines on the post is because the text box is screwing up again, and disappearing behind the banner on the right hand side.

  2. David says:

    Oh yes first one to post, well, umm, after you that is Geoff!

  3. Mark Garth says:

    What, no cup of tea! That was the one thing that my aunt really missed when she went to live in Baltimore. She still smuggles the odd box of her favourite brand out now and again. Glad you’re settling in anyway.

  4. geofftech says:

    David … users of Internet Explorer 6 do find the comments box does weird things. Being lazy and because I use Firefox I’ve never got round to fixing it! It’s a wordpress thing. Oh, and I don’t know how to fix it!

    So instead, I’ve just wrapped your text for you so your comment looks all nice now.

    I still try and get at least one tea in per day … but I tend to just drink a lot of iced water now because it’s so hot you just dehydrate otherwise! Mind you, I realised there was something else that I really miss that you can’t seem to get in shops here. But I’m saving it for my next post, all to do with food…

  5. Helen - RavingLoonyLawyers says:

    Do the bus cater for wheelchair users? I can’t recall ever seeing in those Hollywood movies, a wheelchair on those yellow buses.

  6. Brent says:

    Having once lived in a larger metropolis (Cleveland, OH…GCRTA!) I rode public transit a great deal…every day in fact! Its a little different there, though. There, they have what’s referred to as “the rapid” which is basically light rail service. This is the ONLY public transportation you will find white people on in Cleveland…and even more so, only on the VanAken (Blue) or Shaker (Green) lines. The reason for this is because they put in these lines specifically to transport the weathly upper class of the east-side to downtown for work so they wouldn’t have to drive their cars there and cause greater congestion.

    Pretty biased, huh? Other than the rapid, they have a great bus system that runs on a very good schedule…sadly, not many people take advantage of the bus service.

    Living in Columbia, I greatly miss the rapid and my personal time everyday reading a book. I really have no idea where Columbia’s buses go or when they come around, but I often see the same people waiting at stops for 30-45 mins at a time :-/

  7. David says:

    Thanks Geoff! I appreciate it! It’s bloody hot here, about the same temperature.
    I must be drinking like 3 litres of water a day.

  8. I rode the Big Blue (Santa Monica line) every day to school (UCLA) and the school sold student passes, which the driver punched when you got on. But if you didn’t have a pass, you did do the coin machine thing. We also had the pull cord but if you were a regular rider, the driver would know where you wanted to get off. (I did have a car but it was difficult to get a parking permit. 30,000 students attending and only 18,000 parking places. So the bus worked out better. )

  9. geofftech says:

    Someone who read my blog today (would like to remain nameless) tells me that when they lived in Atlanta, the local Bus & Metro system is the MARTA. (

    And that, quite cruely, it’s colloquially known to some as not the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transport Authority, but instead “Moving Africans Rapidly Through Atlanta”.


  10. Mikey says:

    btw Geoff, can i suggest that you create an favicon for your site, because your bookmark sticks out with its blank icon…tis is relying on the fact that firefox isnt being silly and not detecting an existing favicon…

    oh, and, inserting dollar bills in a machine? that sounds crazy

  11. scottb says:

    I took the bus a fair bit during University. Sometimes when I was feeling particularly cheap, I
    would get a fistfull of change (mostly nickles and dimes) and “short” the fare by about 25 cents —
    the bus driver is not going to sit and count the change at the bottom of the cash box. I must have
    saved at least $10 doing that. It was my way of protesting the wrongs I had been dealt by Calgary

    The first time I used the bus in Britain I was similarly confused, as the driver wouldn’t open the
    door even though he was just sitting there. They always just let you on here. I pressed the door
    to see if that would help, and then just waited to see what others would do. Ohhhh, they don’t let
    you on until they are about to leave. And they issue a ticket, so you can’t get away with shorting
    them. Of course almost everyone here drives, and not many people ride the “loser cruiser”.

  12. Speaking of transit change panic moments, when I was in Chicago in November the cash ticket machine would not take my wrinkled two dollar bills. Kept rejecting them, and I as I saw the train was about to leave, I grew (slightly) more panicked… so I put in $20 into the other machine, thinking I’d get change back, which I did not. Turns out it was for $20 worth of rides, NO CHANGE. A guy behind me gently pointed that out when he saw me pounding on the machine. Since I wasn’t using that train again, I spent $20 for a $2 train. Now that sucked.

  13. Pah. I’m always the only British-Chinese dude on any public transport I go on. Except maybe in London…

    Tell Leigh to catch the bus! Ditch the tankmobile!

  14. I think the TankMobile could easily serve as a bus.

  15. geofftech says:

    It does seat about 8 people. She could charge a buck a ride and literally coin it in!

    Maybe that’s what I could do? provide a ‘downtown shuttle taxi service’, between where I live and the heart of charleston. heh.

  16. TowerBlock Tina says:

    You are a brave man going on that bus! I’m just back from Krakow (Poland) where I just had to try the tram.
    It was extremely hot but cheap, and like much of Europe you but your tickets at little booths on the street, and then punch them on a machine as you get on. We go to Europe quite a lot, and I always insist we try to public transport to
    keep up the family tradition. It’s often a bit of a hit and miss where you end up, if you don’t speak the language,
    and have had a few sweaty moments when you think you are lost! So far have tried, buses and trains in Italy,
    Tubes in Hungary, trains in Spain, & the Metro in Paris (hasn’t everyone). In Redhill loads of people use the bus
    especially as we oldies now get all of it free! I could ride round the whole of Surrey all day if I chose!

  17. geofftech says:

    Brave? Why? It was fine.. pleasant ride. My comment was on the face that white people = rich, have cars to drive.

    Blacks = poor, have to get the bus.

    Then there are weirdos like me who just like checking out public transport.

    The journey itself was pleasant and fine, and I even nodded “hello” to a couple of the people as they got off.

  18. Jon Allen says:

    Excellent post, very amusing. I am looking forward to trying the buses in South Korea. I’m leaving tomorrow. ( all being well. Have you seen the news about UK flights today ? )

  19. Rhys says:

    I saw an interesting site and thought of you. Basically it has a page of logos from subway/metros around the world. You click on the ones you’ve been on and it makes you a silly little badge with all of their logos that you can display proudly.

Powered by WordPress