Yesterday was my eldest son's ninth birthday. The day was his to do as he pleased. I had two goals I needed to accomplish, but I would try to get them done without deviating from the birthday mission.
Goal for 2/5/09: Mine - sign papers at WEFT (community radio station), ship a package to a customer via USPS, and pick up some blueberries for the requested birthday dessert. His - eat lunch at the Y Eatery (Thai restaurant on campus), spend time at the Urbana Free Library, and pick out a present at Art Mart (local toy store).
Weather: Windy! Very windy so it made it feel much colder than the low 20's it was reported to be, but warmer than the last few days.
Travel Plans: WEFT is about 1.3 miles away so often we walk, but the wind made me opt for the bus. We took the bus near us downtown to WEFT, I did my thing there and walked across the street (very convenient!) to the bus terminal with no plans on which bus to take next. As we arrived at the terminal, I thought I'd ridden the bus which was about to leave to the Y Eatery before (years before, but I figured I could at least get to campus and we could walk if we needed to) so the four of us hopped on. I was correct and we were dropped off pretty much in from of the Y.
Rant: At this point, I had this feeling which I really haven't felt during the car free time until that moment...it was actually easier taking the bus than it would have been in the car. It was a good feeling. Let me say it again...being car free was easier. Parking downtown Champaign and on campus can be a hassle (not a hassle like parking in downtown DC, of course, but a college town type of hassle). It can be hard to find parking, paying the meters are tough because I never seem to have enough change and for the couple minutes I was at WEFT it hardly would have seemed worth it. I didn't have to get the kids in and out of car seats. It was actually a pleasure to take the bus and I felt like all the dopes in their silly cars were suckers who have bought into this American car culture which tells us from a very young age that cars equate to freedom. Cars often tie us down.
Back to Travel Plans: We walked a half mile or so from our lunch spot to a bus stop which would give us the most options. On campus, you can't throw a parking ticket without hitting a bus. They are everywhere, but many of them are just staying on campus or at least not going where we want to go so I opt to wait where I have options if I can. Many of the buses have signs which have the color of the route, but then say things like "Hopper" which I'm not certain what that means exactly, but we hopped on one of the hoppers to get to the library. We walked to the post office, Art Mart, and the co-op from the library and caught the bus which goes by our house for the ride home. This last leg of our trip was the hardest because everyone was tired, it was very windy and cold, and per normal apparently "our bus" does not like to run on the scheduled time. Luckily, at the place we wait on the way home there is a digital readout saying when each bus will arrive. For the "our bus" this information varies greatly with the scheduled time posted with the bus maps. I assumed the digital readout was right and the schedule was "wrong", but I didn't want to risk going inside for the 20 minutes we had to wait, just in case neither was correct. It was a cold long 20 minutes, but doable.
All in all, during our day, we took 3 different bus routes with 4 different buses.
More Rant: The key to traveling around town via bus with three kids in tow is clear to me now...be willing to take different buses and deviate from the "scheduled" routes and plans. Memorize all the different bus lines to be able to hop from bus to bus without getting stranded and being efficient. Don't be afraid to ASK THE DRIVER. This is key and something I never did even in all the us bus riding I did previously...even in DC. I am a smart person who can read a map, I will not ask for directions. This is just silly. Go ahead and ask...they don't seem to mind and even if they do, it is their job. If it was just me, I wouldn't have learned this lesson, but waiting for 20 minutes in the cold with tired children makes you wake up pretty quickly.
Savings from this Trip: Gas and money for the several meters we would have used over the course of the day...knowing the way things go with me and meters it probably saved us a parking ticket as well.
Time: Around 5.5 hours. Maybe 1.5 hours...it is hard to add up since we got on and off several buses with almost no wait time for some and 20 minutes waiting for our last leg.
Bonus: On the ride home, for the first time I had a bus driver ask to see my eldest's bus pass. I think it made him feel grown up and was a nice birthday "present".