Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Bus Rider's Guide To Columbia

I didn't have a car for my first three years at the University of Missouri-Columbia. I didn't need one until I had to haul out to KOMU-TV, located on Highway 63 south of campus.

"We put it out there to keep it out of the politics of the university," an adviser explained when I asked why the MU-owned station was out in the boonies of Boone County. "We have professors coming by KBIA [the MU-owned radio station] trying to mess with the record selection."

Until then, I got around Columbia just fine on a red Raleigh Pursuit 10-speed. I didn't use it on reporting assignments, not wanting to get my slacks dirty with bicycle grease or sweat. I also didn't want to crash onto somebody's car, like what nearly happened in my first week at Mizzou. My brakes weren't working as well as they should've been, and my front tire collided with a driver's front fender, tipping me upwards and nearly turning me into a new hood ornament. I still remember her mouth open a mile wide. But no scratches or bruises developed, and we both continued on to morning classes.

Out on my leisure, I pedaled for miles upon miles from campus to the the Business Loop near I-70 to Columbia Mall and back through residential Columbia to campus. That worked for the warm months, but when things turned cold, stormy or snowy, I had another option: walking or making a short bike trip a few blocks north to catch the CATS bus.

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Wabash Station is an old, rustic train depot now serving as a bus stop. Fares were cheap: $1 got me where I needed to go, mainly to Columbia Mall to catch an occasional movie or do some shopping. The attendants at Wabash are user-friendly, even though one gave me an awkward response when I handed her a fiver for a bus ticket.

"Got anything smaller?" she asked from behind the bars of the ticket cage.

"Nope," I replied. I wanted to add, Sheesh, do you think I'd give you a five if I had anything less. I got onto the bus with $4.50 in quarters stuffing my wallet. I got them changed back to bills at Columbia Mall's customer service counter.

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Riding the bus is one of life's great equalizers. It puts you in contact with people you never see and will never meet. It's where I learned how bad the economy was in November 1992. Three women had just gotten on board after a day of shopping for Christmas gifts with limited funds. One was giving her two children a pair of "Uno" card games -- a smart choice considering she originally planned to give them both giant candy canes that wouldn't last long.

"After they use it up, that's it," she said.

"I remember Kammy's first Christmas," another woman said. "All we had on the tree was bows."

"How much you got left from your paycheck?"

The wheels on the bus turn round and round as the conversation turns to other matters and I drift off into a short nap...

"...She's trying to get her Pell Grant back... but I don't want her going out and getting drunk... I tell her to get a job..."

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