Saturday, January 11, 2014

Reading and Riding (the Bus)

Until the last month or so, bus transportation was not a regular part of my life.

When I was in seventh grade, I was deemed old enough to start riding the bus by myself. As I recall, my mother gave me bus fare to get me the mile or so to our church in Berkeley, where I was enrolled in confirmation class. But then, we moved to Houston, to a suburb not well served by buses, and then to Ashland, Oregon, a small town where my transportation needs were largely met by walking or biking.

So I never really got in the habit of considering buses as a means of local transportation.

When I came to Seattle in 1988, I worked part-time over the summer at the Puget Sound Business Journal. For that, I did take a commuter bus from Lynnwood down to Pioneer Square. Since then, if I had occasion to go to downtown Seattle, I would often choose to take a bus, usually from the transit center near Northgate Mall.

From our house here in north Seattle, there are a couple of buses with stops within easy walking distance which run to downtown. One of these, the 5, changes to the 21 and continues south, dropping me off about a block from my office.

At about one hour, it maybe isn't the fastest way to get to work. If I drove to Northgate, took the 41, and then transferred to one of 3 or 4 buses heading south, it might shave off 10 or 15 minutes from the time I leave the house to the time I walk into the office.

But I have discovered that taking just one bus all the way gives me something I haven't had in a really long time: uninterrupted reading time where there is no other claim on my time — no chores that need doing, no other activities to attract my attention.

Last Monday, I decided I would try taking the 5 and see how I liked it. I was about halfway, maybe two-thirds, through a book called Dreaming in French. It had taken me 2 or 3 weeks to get that far, often reading just a few pages while eating breakfast or lunch.

I finished it while coming home Wednesday.

It was interesting to learn how a year studying abroad in Paris influenced the lives of the three women profiled — Jacqueline Bouvier, Susan Sontag and Angela Davis — three women who are about as different as possible. I especially liked the chapters about Bouvier and Davis. Reading about  Jacqueline Bouvier, before and after she was a Kennedy, gave me a better sense of her as a complete person, not just the president's wife in a pink suit and a pillbox hat.

And Davis. I knew the name, and was vaguely aware that she had been in the news in the late ’60s. But I came away with new knowledge about the source of her activism and the details of her trial.

Also interesting about the book as a whole was how these three women were connected, through the threads of other people's lives who might encounter one or another of the three years apart.

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