“Let’s sit in the back!” I hear as I’m slipping a pass into the scanner. Before the driver has given me my transfer, the kids are settled into the very back seats of the bus, grinning from ear-to-ear.
Initially, the idea of taking my two-year-old and five-year-old to Central Library and the Hamilton Farmers’ Market by bus seemed daunting and impractical, but I am a self declared environmentalist, so it was high time I put my money where my mouth is.
Every outing with kids involves lots of gear. The added bonus of traveling by bus is that one can just roll the stroller onto the bus floor, which our driver kindly lowered for us, without having to empty the underlying basket and re-pack everything at the other end. Our plans to sign out some library books and pick up some fresh local produce made me glad not to have to load everything in and out multiple times! It felt just as though I had gone out for a walk with the kids and we’d taken a brief respite on one of those people movers they have at airports.
New to the route, I asked the bus driver where and when it would be best for us to get off. The trip was quickened by the kids’ excitement, and it seemed as though our driver was calling out to us: “This is where you’ll want to get off,” just as soon as we had boarded. He stopped and lowered the bus floor so we could roll right onto the sidewalk. The kids happily waved goodbye to the driver and we headed toward the Hamilton Farmers’ Market entrance and down the ramp that circumscribes the market.
Taking my mother on the bus with me is no less entertaining than taking my children. She asks all of the same questions: How will the driver know we need to get off? Which door do we use to get out? How do you know how much money to put it? Are you sure this is the right bus?
As much as I tease her about her public transit naïvité, I fear she is representative of a surprising portion of our population. Taking the bus never occurs to her, indeed where she lives, it is not even an option, and so the process is largely unknown to her. It seems to me, there should be a demography category called: Public Transit Virgins. Such a demographic would cross generational, gender, age, racial, and socio-economic boundaries alike. There seems to be people who take the bus, and people who do not.
It doesn’t matter how many times we go. The kids’ eyes widen with excitement as soon as they see all the bright colours and rich textures of local flowers and fruit and vegetables and dried beans typical to farmers’ markets. We always buy cheese, buns, and fruit, enough to take home but also enough to eat in the dining area just outside the doors leading into Jackson Square.
Bellies full, and ready to explore some more, we cleaned ourselves up and headed to Hamilton Central Library. There we were greeted by the life-sized Sully of Monsters Inc., which invariably ends in hugs. The kids headed straight for the windows where there are toys and books and where they could play and explore relatively freely. The hardest part about this trip was leaving, but the kids’ disappointment was somewhat tempered by the two stacks of souvenirs we took to the desk to sign out.
Although the stroller basket was chock full, treats from the Asian candy store in Jackson Square only needed space in eager bellies! Candies in hand, we headed out on the short walk to our bus stop. There is a sense of the energy in downtown Hamilton and I think of my Dad who describes this as the hum of the City, with our feet keeping the beat. You can’t feel this whie enclosed in a car. The kids finished up their candies while we waited for “our” bus, which we knew would come, because buses always come, regardless of the weather.
This time the kids had a sense of experience and, without words, they headed straight to the back where they sat up high to see the City in new ways. The whole trip cost me less than $5.00, because children under six ride for free. I defy any family entertainment centre to provide the ratio of entertainment to dollar value that traveling by bus provides.
My kids now know “our” route number and when they see the number 7 they declare: “There’s our bus!” whether we’re taking it that day or not.
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