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The Record, Stockton, Calif., Donald W. Blount column: City bus riding 101: Be aware, have your fare, don't stare
[May 25, 2009]

The Record, Stockton, Calif., Donald W. Blount column: City bus riding 101: Be aware, have your fare, don't stare


May 25, 2009 (The Record - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- If you're waiting for a bus and someone asks to use your cell phone, what do you do? If you're sitting on a bus while waiting for it to depart and someone asks you for bus fare, what do you do? Here are a few more details, and then I'll explain what I did.

Last week, I took the bus to work for a few days while my car was taking its annual vacation trip to the mechanic. I don't complain about this, because the 21-year-old car is paid for, runs well and the cost of getting it repaired is less than one month's car payment.

I picked up a few rides to and from work, but my primary transportation was the bus. The Metro Express stop is accessible from my home and provides a quick easy ride downtown and then a two-block walk to the office.


During this time of year it's sunny and not unbearably warm, which contributes to a relatively pleasant commute.

And it saves greenhouse emissions by keeping my car off the road.

I don't often take the bus, because it doesn't mesh well with my work hours.

Here's an example. Tuesday was election night. It wasn't a busy election, voter turnout was low and five of the six propositions on the ballot were shot down.

The last bus on my route leaves Stockton at 10:30 p.m. I bolt out of The Record at Market and California streets at 10:15 p.m. for the two-block walk to the transit center. As I leave the grounds and head toward Market Street, one of the pressroom workers on a break says to me: "Be careful if you're going that way." I try to be careful. I've heard plenty of stories about downtown Stockton at night. Some from years ago that make it seem like the wild West, but nothing recently that gives me reasons for concern.

The city at that time of night reminds me of parts of Philadelphia, which is my hometown. I just go into a certain mode: be alert, look for potential trouble spots and don't make yourself a target.

The Downtown Transit Center is well lit and clean -- no graffiti or litter that I could see at that time of night. About a half dozen people were hanging around. I presume most were waiting for their rides.

There was about 10 minutes before my bus departed when someone walked over to me and asked if I had a cell phone that he could use. I reply no. To me, that was an easy question. He wasn't in distress, and my general rule is to not lend my phone to strangers, particularly at nearly 10:30 p.m. at the transit center in downtown Stockton.

A few others also are waiting for the bus I'm going to take, including a man and a woman, both of whom have bikes. The woman appears to be mentally disabled, judging from her speech, actions and interaction with the man she's with, but I could be wrong.

After boarding the bus, someone with transit security goes through the bus asking passengers for tickets. I have mine, and am about to go into my inner city "don't bother me" mode. I glance to see who is behind me on the bus. I put on the headphones to my iPod shuffle, and turn it on very low so that I can still hear what's going on around me. I have my magazine open and begin to read, while glancing up every 30 seconds or so.

I hear chatter between the bus driver and the guy in that couple I just described. They are sitting in front of me, in the seats that face the aisle. The guy asks me if I have $1.25. He says it's for the woman with him and that she doesn't have bus fare.

I don't know why you would get on a bus if you don't have the fare. And I'm not sure if they're trying to scam. But given the time and what I perceive to be the woman's condition, I give him $1.25. If they need to scam for bus fare, then they must be in bad shape.

He runs off the bus to the ticket dispenser, returns and gives me 25 cents change, thanking me the entire time.

The bus ride itself is uneventful, and the woman goes to get off the bus one or two times at a stop other than the one they need. She and her companion eventually get off at the Lincoln Center stop. Before leaving, her companion shakes my hand and thanks me again.

I had two different requests from strangers. I think I did right in agreeing to the one that I did.

I get to my stop at about 10:50 p.m., and it takes me another 20 minutes to walk home.

As I'm walking, I see a man, bundled up, sitting on his porch, who appears to be reading. I come across several cats that cower and run off into the night.

As I walk, I think of the number of people in this area who primarily use public transportation to get around. It's not easy. I'm fortunate to have a choice.

I get home at about 11:10 p.m. My commute, which usually takes 20 minutes door to door, has taken nearly an hour.

I'll be glad when my car returns from vacation.

Contact Blount at (209) 546-8251 or dblount@recordnet.com.

To see more of The Record, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.recordnet.com. Copyright (c) 2009, The Record, Stockton, Calif.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. For reprints, email tmsreprints@permissionsgroup.com, call 800-374-7985 or 847-635-6550, send a fax to 847-635-6968, or write to The Permissions Group Inc., 1247 Milwaukee Ave., Suite 303, Glenview, IL 60025, USA.

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