Easy does it

Chico Area Transit offers a convenient alternative to gas-guzzling, repair-needing automobiles

ON THE BUS <br>The bus is a relaxing, convenient way to get around town, says writer John W. Young.

The bus is a relaxing, convenient way to get around town, says writer John W. Young.

Photo by Tom Angel

I ride buses. Frequently. And it’s not because of some big environmental stance I’ve taken or some barely hidden hatred of automobiles I might nurture. Rather, it is because they are accessible and comfortable. What you might call convenient. Yes, that’s right. Convenient.

Consider the preparations and rituals you enact every time you need to “hop” in your car and “go” somewhere. Whether it’s simply locating your car keys or dealing with whichever offspring or friend wants to come along, you can waste a lot of time simply getting your act together enough to “hop” in the car.

Plus, there’s gas to worry about, oil, air in the tires, filters, valves, cables, belts, a veritable plethora of things to check, fill or replace, not to mention the more intimidating monoliths of license, registration, insurance, license plate sticker and so on. There are lots of hassles—and costs—just in owning a car.

That’s OK. I’ve got nothing against it. It’s more or less a part of being an American, in a way. We like being able to go. We instill and nurture that ongoing sense of mobility and movement.

We equate that, for better and worse, with freedom.

But mobility is also available to us by way of the Chico Area Transit System. At roughly a quarter to the hour every hour, Monday through Saturday excepting holidays, CATS buses line up along West Second Street, between Salem and Normal. The fare is a mere 75 cents, and you can catch buses to practically every corner of Chico: from East Avenue and Highway 32 to the Chico Mall; from the North Valley Plaza to Skypark Plaza.

Sure, the routes don’t go everywhere. But generally you’ll find that the stops occur within walking or bicycling distance of wherever you’re heading. And if where you’re heading is a major shopping center or establishment—say, the Safeway on Nord or WinCo Food on Forest—you’ll be let off exactly where you need to be.

Well, so what, you might say. You can drive there.

Yeah, but there can be a particularly satisfying feeling that comes only with riding the bus. And it’s not just from helping the environment (which, incidentally, riding the bus happens to do; we can significantly cut down on poisons belched from our hundreds of cars just by riding public transportation a few times a week—a small sacrifice!).

The bus offers social opportunities and sufficient pause for reflection. The bus suggests the choice of interacting with your fellow passengers or simply sitting quietly on your own, contemplating the day’s tasks that lie before you. Yes, occasionally you encounter a jerk or a shrieking child. But, honestly, don’t you sometimes encounter these anyway?

Besides, being closed off in a vehicle continually, particularly a large vehicle, seems to conjure delusions of grandeur in many drivers. Because a vehicle is big, drivers start to think they are big too. Sorry, but it’s true. As a confirmed pedestrian, I’ve seen it: a sort of radioactive-faced road rage emitting the shrill signal, “What I’m doing is much more important than YOU!”

It’s good for people to interact with all types of their fellow human beings. The more people you interact with, the better you become at dealing with life. Besides, if a jerk on the bus is really obnoxious, you can demand and receive his removal; jerks in your car sometimes require a lifetime to remove.

I spent about two hours recently riding around on CATS buses, simply taking in the view and talking occasionally with two of the drivers. They seemed like genial, easy-going folks who knew their job and did it well. They explained that their clientele tended to be mixed—children going to and from school, working adults, senior citizens with medical appointments, people with disabilities and so on. The drivers said they liked the interaction with the passengers. In time, they had even developed on-duty relationships with the regulars, learning the passengers’ usual stops along with their particular personalities.

The drivers were in agreement on one thing. Over the last couple of years, the number of cars filling the streets of Chico has grown to almost lane-glutting proportions, particularly when school is in session. This slows everybody down. Even people in big vehicles. Nobody gets anywhere in any decent amount of time. And what does it profit a driver who floors it only to arrive in time for the next red light?

Do yourself a favor. Pick up a bus schedule from off the rack at the inside front of a CATS bus, find a stop location nearest you, note the time the bus arrives (advice: always be there a wee bit early; trust me on this!), catch it the next morning and ride it to a stop nearest the place you work or go to school. A few times a week and you’ll get used to it in no time. Heck, you’ll probably even make a few new acquaintances. You’ll do fine. And you won’t have to worry either. Your big car is safe. After all, you left it at home.

And don’t be reluctant to talk to that stranger riding the bus with you.

It just could be me.