The first stop of the day was a chiropractic appointment (life doesn’t stop in the midst of a crazy idea). Since it was on her way, Heather was able to drop me off. As I got into the car, she gave me a once-over - green pants, red, velvet jacket, green bowtie and all.
“No one is going to be fighting over you today, are they?” she said. She has a way of summing things up perfectly.
Later, just before dropping me off, and listening to me complain about the clumsiness of the backpack and scooter, she reminded me that I got myself into this. For a little tongue-in-cheek, she reminded me that if I got scared going down a big hill on my scooter, just to use my little break to slow down. Clearly, if I was looking for sympathy, I would need to look elsewhere.
Of course, this was her little way of kicking me in the pants a little – which was of course exactly what I needed. Admittedly, I was a little anxious. One little “Kindergarten moment”, and I would have never left the vehicle. She sensed it and responded accordingly.
After my appointment, I met Lyle Wheeler (one of our board members) for our regular Wednesday coffee appointment, and then off to my first bus stop. From 48th and Van Dorn, I would need to schedule 1.5 hours to get to Southeast Community College (normally a 20 minute trip). As soon as I boarded, I requested information from the driver, as I wanted to be sure I was heading in the right direction, and I wouldn’t miss my transfer downtown. A passenger overheard my conversation.
“You will get on the Bethany line,” he said. I would discover later that his name was Don.
“I’ll make sure you get on the right bus – I’m going the same way.”
I thanked him for his grace and kindness – and willingness to look past my strange clothes and take a stranger under his wing. We struck up an immediate friendship. I would sit with him for the next hour.
I learned that Don has mowed lawns and shoveled driveways and sidewalks for 23 years and counting, and the bus has provided the means of transportation for years and years. Without it, he said, he wouldn’t be able to work. When you see his picture, it might shock you that he and I are the same age – a combination of his life full of very hard physical labor and my life more attuned to deskwork. Don also takes care of his mom, and he had hernia surgery not too long ago (the by-product of the heavy snow this winter), but he is back to mowing six lawns a day. When he got off the bus, I saw him also walk with a hobble and a limp. My backpack and scooter didn't seem so heavy anymore. I will make it a point to ride that route again before this month is over. He offered grace and kindness freely. I will never forget that.
I arrived at SCC to the welcome sight of one of our current NTC students, Matthew. His class was ending around 11:00, and we scheduled a lunch together – followed by me tagging along as he rode the bus home. He has been riding the bus for years, and I was very happy when he offered up his map reading skills and bus-riding tips. As we planned our trip, it became apparent that – even though I would have a little over four hours between arriving back at the transfer and my later afternoon appointment – it wouldn’t be enough time to get all the way home and back again (again, normally 20-minute trips). So, I offered to ride all the way to Matthew’s drop-off and back again instead of sitting at a bus stop or coffee house.
After realizing this would mean extended time on my own on the bus, Matthew offered to stay with me until it looped around on the route. Meaning, instead of getting dropped off outbound, he would get off inbound – staying by my side for another 30-40 minutes instead of me having to ride alone.
This kid. Heart of gold.
I took him up on his offer. The time came, he got off and sent me on my way. It’s funny how quickly you can develop a kinship over something as silly as riding a bus.
While I waited for my late afternoon appointment, I got a call that the appointment would need to be canceled. Normally, no big deal – just hop in my car and go home. But without a car and having to reconnoiter the route, figure out transfer, find the fastest route . . . on the first day . . . it was a different story. Luckily for me, I had a great teacher in Matthew, and I found my way without a hitch. I saw that a bus would be arriving in just a few minutes at a bus stop close by, so I quickly packed up and left the coffee shop.
I have already noticed that “goodbyes” are a LOT quicker when I need to catch a bus stop. If I am meeting with you, please don’t be offended. Missing a bus means waiting another 20-60 minutes and could mean longer waits downline. It can mean the difference between a good day and a bad day. Additionally, it’s no fun waiting outside in the cold – and this is May . . .
Ending my day will not necessarily be any fun for the next 29 days. Most of the folks in Lincoln live an average of 3-6 blocks from a bus stop. My neighborhood is the sole exception to the rule; my bus stop is 1.7 miles away from my house. After a long day, it’s a bit of a bummer, and while the scooter helps, I’m not sure it is worth lugging the thing around with me all day just for the walk to and from. I noticed that I was “that guy” on the bus who was loaded down with “stuff”. I may have to re-think that.
Of course, the 1.7 mile walk to and from might also offer a gift of reflection. Maybe "getting there faster" takes a back seat. Maybe the long walk becomes the vehicle to recapture the grace and kindness witnessed throughout the day - even with the promise of walks in stormy weather. Chances are very good that I will find out.
Lessons learned today:
1. As we plan our curriculum, our students will find that the routes are easy to follow, the bus drivers are really nice and helpful, and the people who ride the bus are gracious and kind.
2. Grace and Kindness are alive and well. Thank you, Don, and thank you Matthew. I discovered that people will help even when I am afraid to ask.
3. I am going to remember Don. My backpack and scooter are no longer heavy. Our visit was short, but you made a difference in my life, Don. Thank you.
4. While the bus routes are not necessarily convenient, they are as efficient as they can be. Kudos to Star Tran.
5. The bus routes will force me to slow down my days. This is a very good thing.
6. The scooter is a HUGE pain in my rear. It is for sale. Cheap. I will take my bike and load it on the bus (something else I will have to learn). If the bus doesn’t have room, I will ride.
If you have found these blogs to be meaningful, and you are willing to take that extra step in helping us continue to offer programming for individuals with autism and other disabilities, please consider giving a small donation at www.nebraskatransitioncollege.org
Our "I've Got a Ticket to Ride!" campaign goes until May 30 - Join us as a new donor today!