excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave
o’erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted
with golden fire, why, it appears no other thing to
me than a foul and pestilent congregation of `vapours.
— Shakespeare, Hamlet
I’ve been riding the bus to work this past week. We’ve been having a heat wave. The temperature has been in the 100’s. Well, in the 30’s in Celsius but “100’s” sound more impressive. It was impressive—and oppressive—heat
Because of the heat the powers that be declared Wednesday, Thursday and Friday as “Spare the Air” days. It means that the expected air-pollution levels will exceed some value and so people are asked to not drive their cars to work or to carpool. Of course, compliance with this request is purely voluntary. As such I would guess less that 1% of the population adjusts their commute habits.
But I do: I ride the bus. The company I work for hands out little stickers that we can put on our employee badges. These stickers allow us to ride the bus for free. I guess my employer pays some annual fee to the bus company.
In Livermore all bus rides are free on “Spare the Air” days. But then, much of the pollution from around here blows over to Livermore. I have always thought this was God’s punishment on the people of Livermore: It was at Lawrence Livermore Labs that the hydrogen bomb was developed, and is still being perfected. Detonate an H bomb and the air will become much more foul and pestilent than it is now.
So I ride the bus so the people of Livermore (as well as here) don’t have to smell my stinky exhaust.
Riding the bus in wealthy Silicon Valley is strange. I used to ride the bus every day when I lived and worked in San Francisco. There the buses were packed; many people from lawyers to the janitors who cleaned the lawyers’ offices rode.
Here, no one rides. The bus I take typically has three or four other passengers, mostly Hispanics. On Friday coming home from work, there was no one but the driver on the bus when I got on.
Why don’t people ride? Well, when I drive to work it takes 15 minutes. When I ride my bike it takes 30 minutes. When I ride the bus, it takes 45 minutes. Of that time 15 minutes is walking to and from the bus stops. 5-10 minutes is waiting for the bus.
I justify the extra time by counting the walking time as my daily exercise. Walking is probably sufficient on hot smoggy days, but I can’t use that as my only exercise. So I won’t be riding the bus every day. When the weather cools down (which it actually already has this weekend) I’ll be back to a combination of driving to work and riding my bike.
But I will miss the bus. I think what I’ll really miss is the fascinating variety of people: a young pair of Indian women, one of whom has a baby. An elderly Chinese woman. An Hispanic man who can’t seem to stop yawning. Come to think of it, I may be the only white guy on the bus,
Well, summer’s just begun. There will be more “spare the air” days and more bus trips before long.