Reno to Sacramento

A business trip across state lines shows the glories and obstacles of public transportation


Commuter rail: 2.9 miles, $0.50
Walked: 5.85 miles
City buses: 50.2 miles, $13
Greyhound buses: 264 miles, $41
Total: 323 miles, $54.50 ($0.06/mile)

As I walk along the parkways leading away from the Damonte Ranch subdivision of Reno to the nearest city bus stop, a light sheen of sweat breaks out from my lower back despite the cool morning. I’m walking fast. If I miss my bus, my whole day will be thrown off. I’m scheduled to be at the data center in Sacramento no later than 3 p.m. today.

I consider myself a conservationist, and while I’m new to the inter-city use of public transportation, I’m conducting an experiment to see whether this mode of travel is efficient enough for business use. As I was leaving the house, my wife said, “Sometimes I think you take this stuff too far. Buses use lots of gas, and how much is your time worth, anyway? It’s not worth it.” I tried to explain that the buses run whether or not I’m on them, the environmental benefits of public transportation, and that I’m in no hurry as anytime I do anything in the data center requires an overnight stay. She just shook her head. Some folks just don’t get it, even the spouses of conservationists.

I have a mile-and-a-half walk to the bus stop, and my years-old rolling suitcase is not behaving properly. It’s loaded with a network switch (about the size of a DVD player and twice the weight), a laptop, an “entertainment and comfort” backpack and clothes for this evening and tomorrow. It was fine for the first mile, but now it’s feeling heavier and heavier. At first I think it’s just because my arm is getting tired—which has me questioning my physical prowess—but then one of the wheels pops out and rolls across the sidewalk like a mouse looking for a floorboard to follow.

I recover the escaped wheel and burn a finger because its axle has heated up. I inspect its plastic housing on the suitcase and find that one side of it has been melted through and that the other has been totally melted and ripped out. In what I know to be a futile attempt, I try to wiggle the axle back in, with the hope it will at least get me through the two RTC bus rides on my way downtown to the Greyhound station. I burn another finger in the process.

I make it a hundred yards or so before I realize that the wheel has fallen out again, and I don’t see it anywhere. I’m the kind of guy who is always picking up trash in this area so I’m disturbed to think that I just added to it. I don’t have time to look for it now, but as I curse the cheap Chinese manufacturing, I vow to recover it on my way home tomorrow. Thankfully the now-empty wheel housing has an angled edge to it so if I hold the suitcase at a 45-degree angle while walking, it drags along quite nicely on that side. It will be harder than rolling it, but life goes on. I will attempt to repair the thing when I return home, assuming there is anything left of the housing.

Headed south

I panic for a moment when I don’t find the bus stop where I think it will be, but then I spot it on the next segment of the roadway. I’m proud that I have made it with a few minutes to spare. That’s when it dawns on me that throughout all the transportation planning I’ve done for this trip—routes, timetables, alternate routes—I never thought to reserve a hotel room. It turns out that I have several minutes to take care of this, as the bus arrives four minutes late. This causes me some alarm because there is only a six-minute window for me to transfer at Meadowood Mall. Oh, well. There’s nothing I can do about that.

Once the bus arrives, I’m so ready, with two $1 bills in a pocket of my shorts. Do you accept—cha-ching—cash? The system that takes the money is computerized, and I recognize the dollar graphic, so I align my bills and insert them. The driver asks if I want a transfer and I do, but she doesn’t hand me one. She notices my puzzlement a few seconds later and points to a slot next to the money input that has quietly spit out a paper card with a magnetic stripe on it. I have not ridden a bus in 15 years, so all of this is new to me, and I feel a little disconcerted.


The ride to the mall is uneventful, and we actually arrive three minutes early. I had stressed the connection time for nothing. I easily spot my transfer bus parked right in front of us. This is a boon as I’m not feeling entirely intelligent this morning. After a few minutes, its driver appears, and we load up and leave on time. I simply insert my transfer card into a reader next to the money intake, and it returns the card to me. Nifty!

There are many more passengers than there were on the first bus, and they seem to represent the diverse array of the American population. Drunks who have lost their driver’s license, the elderly, a young mother with three children in tow, a few young people on their way to work at minimum-wage jobs, some commuters. Among us, we also represent the region’s main ethnicities.

This ride is also uneventful, and roughly half of us disembark downtown on Center Street between First and Second streets, an area thick with casinos. As I make my way west for the half-mile walk down Second Street, things are quiet until I reach an intersection whose sidewalks have been completely torn out, followed by a mid-block construction project that forces me and my rolling/dragging suitcase out into the street twice. Thankfully, traffic is light this morning.

I spot the Greyhound station, but there is also construction near it. I can’t make much out and end up walking all the way around the building the long way, carrying my suitcase over some construction spots before I find the entrance. I have the feeling that these construction obstacles will set the tone for my trip.

Leave thedriving to us

After being checked in by a lady with an Eastern European accent, confirming my $23 E-ticket, separating my backpack from the suitcase and getting the damaged unit weighed in and tagged, I have 45 minutes to wait. I spend the time reading and writing. During this time I get a text message from an associate. He is supposed to be coming from the Bay Area to pick me up from the Greyhound station in Sacramento a little after noon as he wants me to teach him how to drive more fuel efficiently, but he has been pushed into giving a product demonstration for his company on his day off. In anticipation of an event like this, I had already mapped out some SACRT bus routes to get to the data center. I tell myself that I’ll be fine.

We leave the depot in Reno on time, and as everyone settles into their groove, I hear a babble of English and Spanish. It concerns me that there are no seat belts in this bus, especially after what happened with the shuttle that departed I-80 near Floriston a few weeks ago. It crashed, killing one person and sending many to the hospital. The woman sitting behind me smells like peppermint, and I decide that I like it.

We hit some large and long construction zones where I-80 has been shut down to one lane in our direction. It was so nice to be able to read a book right through those sections, as the driving negotiations weren’t my problem.

Soon after the Donner Pass Summit, I get a phone call from work. The internet connection at our Tahoe office is down. When driving my passenger car, this would meant it’s time to find somewhere to pull over, put the hazards on, and work the issue—in a rather high-stress environment, what with big rigs flying by and rocking the vehicle. Instead, I am able to get through the phone calls and text messages from a relaxed position, in the comfort of a large cushioned seat and while traveling down the highway at speed. I take other phone calls, as well. It’s nice not to have to split my attention between the road and the conversation.


Upon our arrival at the Greyhound depot in Sacramento, I retrieve my suitcase and begin looking for a place to eat. Half a block down and half a block over, I spot a Hard Rock Cafe in the Westfield Downtown Plaza. I have only been to an HRC once before, so this is something of a treat for me. I even have cookie pie for dessert.

Disaster averted

When I finish eating, I walk two and a half blocks to 7th and L streets to catch my bus, but I make a totally rookie mistake. It’s a busy stop that services many different lines, and the bus I want pulls in behind one that has stopped for a fellow to load his bicycle in the front rack. I wrongly assume that it’s like airport shuttles and that the driver is waiting his turn to get into the pullout. After about 45 seconds, my bus simply pulls away and heads down L Street. I try to get the driver’s attention, to no avail.

Some folks nearby ask me about my destination and tell me that rather than waiting for an hour for the next one, I could walk four blocks to 8th and catch a different line in 25 minutes or so. I do just that, using my phone’s internet browser to verify the schedule on the way.

My connection point at the Natomas Marketplace turns out to be a hot place to hang out. By this time, the temperature has topped 90 degrees, and for the first 10 minutes of a 15-minute wait, I simply sit in the little shade offered by the covered stop and sweat. Then the afternoon winds common to the lowlands on both sides of the Sierra Nevada kick up, and I immediately feel a little better.

The bus takes me to a spot across the street from the data center, and I go about the business of moving through the security procedures and installing/testing the network switch. I plug in all my electronic devices to recharge them while I work. Despite my delay with missing the first city bus earlier, I make it to the data center by 3 p.m. and break even with my original planned schedule due to giving myself a troubleshooting window that I ended up not needing. I am out on Market Boulevard to catch a ride back down to the Natomas Marketplace with some time to spare.

While waiting there I have the nagging feeling that I have forgotten something. A rapid inventory shows me that I’ve left my laptop charging in the data center. I have to abandon my shot at the planned bus in order to go back through security to retrieve it. I use my phone’s browser to check SACRT’s “Trip Planner” and find that I can catch an alternate line right around the corner to the same point in just 14 minutes. Woohoo!

Leaving my suitcase in the care of the manager at the front desk of the theater, I enjoy dinner and a movie at the Natomas Marketplace, then catch another bus to get to my hotel near Northgate Boulevard and I-80. After checking in to the hotel just after dark, I take advantage of its pool for a much-deserved swim, which really helps me cool off and stretch out, and then enjoy a nice, hot shower. It has been a 17-hour day, and I fall asleep as soon as my head hits the pillow.

Home again, home again

I awake in the morning feeling fit and rested. I begin getting ready and soon realize that in getting all of my electronic gadgets ready for this trip, I managed to miss packing a pair of underwear for today. There is nowhere close by to get some, and yesterday’s pair are not viable for a second day, so there’s only one thing to do: go commando.


I do a “box cross” at the busy intersection of Northgate Boulevard and Rosin Court and catch a southbound line. At the Arden/Del Paso station, a young woman tells me I don’t have to wait the 22 minutes for my scheduled train to get downtown as all of the light rails march down K street at Capitol Park as they route to the west. I catch one less than five minutes after departing the bus and have a smooth ride downtown. I leave the train at 8th and K and walk one block to the Greyhound station.

As I approach the station, I realize I have not purchased a return ticket. Why on Earth did I do that? I truly am a rookie at this. I purchase a ticket to Reno at the counter, which costs me $3 more than if I had bought it ahead of time. Serves me right! I settle in to write as I wait 40 minutes for my bus and munch on a banana that the desk clerk at the hotel gave me last night.

While the bus that took me to Sacramento had a straight-through trip, the one back to Reno makes stops in Roseville, Colfax and Truckee, adding an hour to the route. Despite driving this highway at least a dozen times in the last two years, I notice for the first time that there are beautiful yellow wildflowers on the sheer rock walls that were blasted out to create the highway. They’re everywhere! Dirt must have blown down over the years, and that’s enough for the flowers to find purchase in clumps. I am upset with myself for missing this spectacle before, but in my defense, it’s hard to see things like this while dodging the big rigs.

Construction on I-80 slows us down again, but this has been calculated into the schedule, and we arrive in Reno right on time. I depart a few blocks early when the bus makes a street-side stop near some casinos. I walk right down Virginia Street—suitcase in tow—something I have never done in the three and a half years I’ve lived here. Speaking of my suitcase, the housing where the wheel used to be has worn down as I drag it everywhere. By the time I stop for lunch, it can no longer stand upright without careful balancing.

I eat at the Cal-Neva casino—simply because I never have before—and then I make my way to Second and Lake streets for a southbound bus. It runs frequently, so I pick one up 10 minutes earlier than I’d planned. This actually compounds my problem at my transfer at Meadowood; that bus only runs once per hour, and I know I’ll miss it. I will have an extra 10 minutes to wait at the mall rather than on Lake Street.

Upon arrival at the mall, I see my next bus on the departing side. I’m never that lucky! I try to make my way to it, but the crowd is thick and a wheelchair-bound person is boarding up ahead. I miss it by about 10 seconds. See? I really am never that lucky.

I now have a solid one-hour wait, by far the longest of the trip. Just to spice things up, the winds are increasing, the sky is dark, and rain is imminent. At least there are covered waiting areas here.

When I see another southbound bus come by the mall, I entertain the idea of taking it instead as it can drop me a couple of miles up the road from my original destination—within walking distance of home—but between the impending rain and my broken suitcase, I decide against it.

End of the line

Eventually the bus arrives, and I board and ride down to Double R Boulevard and Damonte Ranch Parkway, then disembark and begin the walk home. It’s started to rain, and the winds are up, so I dig out my umbrella and get going. What a sight I must have been: bare legs wet with rain, trying to control a windblown umbrella over my shoulder, a hands-free snaking from my pocket to my ears, dragging along a broken suitcase that only rolls on one side. Well, we can’t all be famous.

Along the way I keep my promise to myself and locate the missing wheel of my suitcase. It’s in the area I expected it to be, wedged into the trench left behind by a grass edger. At least it has cooled to the touch over the last 30 hours, and it will not be trash I’ve left behind. It won’t do me any good, though; the suitcase is ruined. The broken wheel housing has ground down to the point that the steel upright tubes and main edging have been exposed and damaged, and I can see into the main compartment at that corner. I can’t complain too loudly, though, as we bought that suitcase a decade ago for less than $20. We have definitely gotten our money’s worth out of it.

I am home at 4:15 in the afternoon. I don’t hear any choirs singing, but I’m not being chased by zombies, either. While I had minor obstacles and delays my first time using public transportation, it isn’t much of a hassle. It’s just another way to get there, and it works.