Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Ride the bus with us

When I lived in California, there was a push at one time by the Monterey-Salinas Transit to increase ridership, and one of their ads was a ridiculous commercial that sort of took "Down on the Corner" by CCR and changed the words to "Ride the bus with us." You know those cheap commercials that government offices often do to spend money while saving it at the same time? This was one of those. Bad. However, you couldn't help but have that damn song stuck in your head.

I drove an MGB at the time, and had a British mechanic in Salinas named Mick. Mick was the Hagrid of the west coast. He was at least as large as Robbie Coltrane, and so, so funny in that way the British often have of being funny without trying. He drove a vintage Jag and I swear I have no idea how in the world he fit into it, nor how he possibly fit into my car to test drive it. My Gumby-Girl was always breaking down (hey, it was an MG!), so I was seeing Mick on a regular basis. Once, when it needed a completely new engine, Mick said something to the effect of, "So I guess it's ride the effin' bus with us, eh?" You have to imagine a giant of a man in greasy coveralls saying this with a thick Cockney accent. It was hilarious. When I have to ride the bus, I usually am reminded of Mick and his "ride the effin' bus" line.

Back in the days when I first moved to Pacific Grove and didn't have a car, I would take the bus to Carmel where I worked, and it took an hour to get there. The service was so bad compared to Costa Rica, where buses are frequent and usually on time. And cheap. Did I mention how expensive it was to ride the MST bus? Then, when I went to UC Santa Cruz, I had a car but was pretty much forced to ride the bus because of the lack of parking at school and the outrageous price of parking passes, if you could even get one. I got a bike, rode the bus up the hill, and rode my bike back home downtown. It was fun, and the Santa Cruz buses were a LOT more frequent than the MST buses.

Bringing us to the present, you all will recall I have no car at the moment. Esposo is, hopefully, coming home tonight and we can get the financials together tomorrow and go get my new car. In the meantime, it's ride the effin' bus with us. Yesterday I had to go into Grecia to pick up my Interlink mail at the ecomiendas bus office, so hop on the bus we did. I also wanted to get some toner for my printer (ok, yes, it is a hundred and one years old, but still it works fine and I'd like to be able to get toner for it -- is that too much to ask?), but the one store that supposedly carries it still doesn't have it in stock, plus I wanted to get a cake mix and some dog food. The box I had been waiting for since before Christmas for ended up being huge and weighing 5 pounds, so I sort of had to balance it on the top of the stroller while attempting to navigate sidewalks that are mostly holes, with actual paved sidewalk few and far between. So imagine me trying to get on a full bus, carrying a bag from the grocery store, a large and bulky box, a stroller, my purse, and a sleeping three-year-old (notice I left out the dog food; I just could not carry one more thing). It was sort of a nightmare, but a nice young man on the bus helped me get my packages through the door, while a young mom helped me fold up the stroller and get it in the door (because the guys could not figure it out!), before I finally got situated in a seat up front which a man had given up for me. I mean, talk about nice. Esposo had told me earlier yesterday to just take a cab, but I actually feel a little safer in a bus than in a cab without a car seat. Call me crazy. Plus, our son loves to ride the bus. Oh, I forgot to mention that the nice young mom (who had her adorable little girl with her) offered son some plantain chips, and you know since he's a blondie, no one expects him to speak Spanish (which I guess is good for him, because he doesn't speak it very well anyway). So when he said, "No, gracias," she thought that was just the cutest thing.

Usually on public buses here, people will either be selling snacks or taking up a collection for something or another. One man from some organization in Puntarenas got on with a sad story about a child who needed spinal surgery but his parents couldn't afford it, and do you know that only me and the young mom gave him some money? I guess the thought of our own children going through something similar hit us both with a wave of gratitude.

When it came to our stop (and a normally five-minute drive to town only took about 10 minutes by bus, not bad! I'm sure it would have been an hour on MST), the same young man again helped us get our things out of the bus, and son said "Gracias!" (which sounds like "Grasshus!") completely unprompted, causing several old ladies in the front to exclaim, "How cute!" Did I mention the cost of the bus rides? 160 colones for both of us each way, so that's about $0.75 total. A fargin' bargain. I think MST was up to around $2.00 one way by the time I left.

A couple of things to know about riding the bus in Costa Rica: A lot of bus stops are marked, especially in San Jose, but many are not, especially in rural areas. If in doubt, ask someone, or just flag a bus down. More often than not, they'll stop for a Gringo who looks lost (or anyone, for that matter!). Remember not to stand between the electronic bars in the doorway. They count how many people come and go, and if you stand in between the bars, the people count won't correspond with the amount of money the driver has on hand. So you can imagine he'll get mad and maybe yell at you. Bus lines are run by private companies, which means frequent buses and usually on-time service. But it also means no transfers, and there isn't a set fare for every bus in the country or city or province, there are only set fares by line. You can usually find the fare rate in a sign on the front or side window of the bus, but if you don't see it, just ask. If you have a baby or young child, as long as they are in your arms, they ride for free. Don't hold up a line trying to get your money out (which you pay directly to the driver, not deposit in a box like you do in the States). Sit down, or stand just behind the driver, get your money, and then pay. But don't just go sit down without paying. Say, "Yo le pago," which means, "I'll pay you," and then dig out your change. Don't pay with large bills. The elderly, women with children, pregnant women, and handicapped are by law given the seats in the front of the bus. If you fit any of these categories, and there's someone in that seat that doesn't fit these categories, they'll usually get up, but if not, don't hesitate to ask them to move, particularly within earshot of the bus driver. Most people are extremely accommodating. Oh, and forget about route maps or time tables. You ain't gonna find any. If you want to know how to get somewhere or which bus to take, ask a bus driver. And the only real modern buses are the Alajuela-San Jose lines, though I think Escazu has recently upgraded some of its buses. Otherwise you'll be riding on those old Bluebird buses we used to take to school back in the day, or something similar. No LNG or electric buses here, not yet, anyway. Most buses are really cheap, and even going all the way to the beach from San Jose is only going to cost you a few dollars.

Once upon a time, MST had a survey out that asked people what they thought of service and the costs, etc. I let them know that bus service in this so-called "third-world" country was head and shoulders beyond what it was in the posh Monterey Bay. Bus service here may have its drawbacks, but let's face it: you're taking the bus because you want to get somewhere. And I think Costa Rica does that better than Monterey does. So take that, MST!

1 comment:

  1. heh
    All these years later.. they aren't that great still (MST that is)... hence the reason I rode my bike the 10 miles to work for 3 months when our car got smashed and we were waiting to get money for the new one...