Catch the bus (anytime)

October 3, 2008

When the hubby and I first moved to St. Louis seven years ago, we shared one car and relied fairly heavily on public transportation. Then came M. along. Suddenly I could no longer read at bus stops like I used to, and minor inconveniences like a late bus suddenly had the potential to throw off our feeding or napping schedule, and thus our whole day. A couple of weeks ago, a friend mentioned that she and her daughters were planning a bus outing just for fun, and I realized I hadn’t been on a bus at all in at least two years. Instead of the white bread play date we’d been talking about, we set up a field trip downtown.

As it happens, MetroBus route 93 runs past both our houses, so our mode of travel was an easy choice. The kids were spellbound by the ride — who’d have thought 85 cents would buy so much peace and quiet? (Kids under 5 ride free; adult fares are $1.75, and be sure to ask for a multi-use transfer when you get on the bus if you’ll be taking more than one or returning home within the two-hour time window. This there-and-back use of transfers is relatively new, and it’s a great idea.)

We had no plan other than to stroll along Washington Avenue, enjoying the fall weather, so we didn’t mind that the kids kept our pace to about six blocks an hour — they played on every bus stop and fire hydrant and planter and stair rail. The entire streetscape felt to them like one big playground. We toyed with the idea of eating outside at the many sidewalk cafes along the stretch, but settled instead for an indoor booth where the kids would be contained. Flannery’s fit the bill perfectly. It’s a popular lunch spot, but if you arrive between 11:30 and noon, you’ll have your pick of seats. For kids, the little loft level is great, not least because the floor-to-ceiling windows give them an uninterrupted view of the street.

After dessert at the Gelateria, it was back to the bus stop. Here’s where we made our one mistake of the day. We’d been floating along on a pleasant unscheduled cloud, and we continued in that vein a little too long, missing our return bus by a minute or two. The older kids were fine with waiting; the younger ones were getting crotchety for their beds. It didn’t help that the next bus was about 10 minutes late … a minor annoyance that, coupled with tired toddlers, taxed our patience during the 40-minute wait. We moms appreciated that the bus ride home was a short one! M. and his friend, on the other hand, were sad to get off at their respective stops.

The Metro system’s homepage has an ad link promoting October as Transit Month. The cynic in me thinks they chose it because fall and spring are the only seasons where it’s really pleasant to wait at a bus stop for more than a few minutes! But those who ride the bus daily would dismiss my cynicism and say there’s nothing wrong with teaching kids that some worthwhile systems don’t revolve around their convenience.

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