Thursday, December 13, 2007

Primer to Riding the MAT Bus

10) Get Route and Schedule
It's available online and MAT will even send you free publications of the routes.

9) Be Early
Expect to wait at the bus stop. It's usually only a few extra minutes, but be especially prepared for long delays on Fridays, holidays, extreme weather and when Hanna Montona is in town.

8) Know the Fare
$1.25 for regular, $1.50 for express. A book of ten rides for $12.50 and an unlimited monthly pass for $40 can be purchased at local grocers. Transfers are a dime. If paying with cash, have exact change.

7) No Food or Drink
Also no radios, boom-boxes, weapons, etc...

6) Before Sitting, Look Down
Watch for bodily fluids and other bio-hazards. It's complement is rule #3, and both are dandy to keep in mind when riding the MAT.

5) Pay Attention
Just don't act like it. Among other things, you'll find out who's sleeping with who, how much it costs to get a handgun out of hoc and who's up for parole.

4) Don't Fall Asleep.

3) Did You Drop Anything?
I left a pair of black leather gloves on the bus once. I loved those gloves. I called MAT to check the lost and found the next morning. To my utter shock that there's actually a decent person in the world, I was told that a pair of gloves had been turned in from the same bus. I nearly dropped everything to rush over and pick them up. Thankfully, my wits quickly returned. I asked to have them described. The voice at the other end replied, "They're bright neon-green and it appears as though the finger tips have been burned off."

2) Avoid Eye Contact
I nearly got the crap kicked out of me while riding the St. Louis BI-State system back in high school. One day, while seated in the back, I was just as happy as I could be --it was a warm spring day, the tulips were blooming and all of that wholesome goodness was in the air. My eyes drifted then settled on another passenger. I noticed that his mouth was moving rapidly, but I couldn't hear him over the roar of the diesel engine. As the driver let off the accelerator, I asked, "What did you say?" Again, lips flapping. I couldn't make out a single word. The bus coasted as I said, "I didn't catch that - whatcha say?" White noise and lots of teeth was his response. Communication was futile. Finally, somebody pulled the stop cord. As the bus slowed, I asked one final time, "What was that?!" The bus stopped. It was quiet enough to hear the birds singing outside. At that same moment, he opened his mouth and delivered these words: "DON'T YOU F***ING LOOK AT ME YOU MUTHA ..." and so on so forth. Man, he liked to use the F word. A lot. He went on and on, cussing me out while the other passengers feigned indifference. Fortunately, he exited the bus at that stop. I can still recall how my heart was pounding while my friend Todd shook from contained laughter next to me. As the bus shut its doors with an exaggerated sigh, I vowed to never look another passenger in the eye.

1) Fear the Bus Driver
The driver is the sole authority on the bus and what they so goes. They are like a god over their domain. Respect that and everything will be fine. So while a friendly greeting to them is nice, it's not necessary. Just make sure to have the exact fare ready and move along. Never question their judgment.

I arrived at the stop early one day this past spring. It was a good thing I did because I almost missed catching the bus. The impatient look on the driver's face struck deep fear in my heart. I averted her eyes by looking down and quickly paying the fare. Most days, the driver waits until you're seated before accelerating. Not this day - she hammered that accelerator as soon as I had paid. The bus lurched and jerked as it weaved in and out of parked cars and raced to the next stop. Finally, we came to a squealing halt in front of an unmarked stop: Petit's Bakery on 16th and Cass. We all watched as she leaped out the door and scurried inside. And there she stood at the end of a line ten-deep, waiting for glazed donuts. I could have walked the remaining four blocks to work faster than the bus would now deliver me, but I was too paralyzed by fear to move. There was no way I was going to disrespect the driver by stepping off the bus. She returned five minutes later and climbed into her seat. The door whooshed shut. An uncomfortable silence and blank stares followed. With a mouthful of glazed donut, she then called out, "NEXT STOP, 16TH AND CAPITOL!" A master of her domain.


  1. oh, man! I can't wait until Jack's old enough to cut people!

  2. Years ago I rode the bus regularly from the Hanscom Park area to about 108th and Fort. It was a lengthy ride with a transfer downtown.

    I fell asleep once, violating Rule #4. Another regular passenger was kind enough to wake me when the bus approached my stop. This dovetails with your Rule #5. He was paying attention. I was able to return the favor once a couple of years ago as the bus was approaching downtown and a fellow near me was asleep.

    Violating Rule #2 can also result in unanswerable questions about your cat, your religious affiliation, and requests for money. I will sometimes keep headphones on, but with volume off, or down low so that Rule #5 can still be applied.

    I can't echo Rule #1 enough. The driver is the captain, and his/her word is the law. I recently had a driver once question my paper tickets that I've had for a couple of years. He claimed the color was different now. I think the swipe cards are what's in use now.

    I took my seat while he pulled over and tried to call dispatch on the radio to ask about the tickets. Dispatch was still asleep.

    VERY POLITELY, I told him how I've had the tickets for a year or so and that I've been using them without incident so far. I fully expected to be ejected, or at least chastised again when disembarking.

    He then used his personal cellphone to call the office, but no one was in yet.

    He told me he'd ask later and let me know tomorrow. I snickered to myself because this was a route I knew I wouldn't be taking again in the foreseeable future.

    Later that afternoon, I rode my bike to the MAT headquarters to do as the driver suggested and trade the 30 remaining tickets in for new ones. The nice, but slow lady at the counter told me that there was absolutely nothing wrong with the tickets. I let her know that they had a driver who didn't know that. I've almost used them all up without any further incident.

    I will add that I always greet the driver "Good morning" or "Good afternoon", and say "Thank you!" as I'm leaving.

    If I were to add another Rule #11, I'd say "Stand for ladies and the elderly, and don't take up a full seat on a crowded bus." I've been crammed onto the short bus a few times that were literally standing room only. Call me a chivalry minded pig, but that's the way my Mama raised me.

    Nice job on the primer. Riding a bus isn't as bad as many people think, and seeing the unwritten rules ahead of time might inspire someone to give it a try.