Thursday, October 2, 2008

Getting Around Milwaukee: Riding the Bus

Generally speaking, one usually has two options in Fort Wayne, drive a car, or stay home. Even sidewalks are hard to find, outside of the older residential districts. No bicycle lanes to speak of, and frankly, the bus system is not designed to be convenient and accommodating for a commuting populace. It seems, rather, to be the last resort when all other options are exhausted. And if you find a route, expect to wait a while for the bus to show up. I don't condemn Fort Wayne for these quirks, per se. It is a culture with which its life long residents seem quite content.

Being from a city like Milwaukee, such an environment only made me miss the options I had before I moved to Ft. Wayne. Now that I'm back in Milwaukee, I have been riding the bus lines of the Milwaukee County Transit System almost daily. Let me share what I experienced just today.

I was on the 10, which I catch just one block from my apartment. It becomes apparent soon after I step inside that certain aspects of the bus ride are different from my experience years back. One is that there are three cameras, obviously placed on the ceiling. And though I have already seen a couple of reports in the local news about attacks and muggings taking place on the bus, the more modern feel of the bus, and the cameras, contribute to the current system feeling just as safe as it was in the past, maybe safer.

Another new feature is that there are now three monitors, which display various advertisements, as well as information about the route the bus is taking. I personally find this to be mostly unnecessary and more importantly, a distraction to my reading. It used to be, in my younger days, that if someone tried playing his "boom box" on the bus, the bus driver would warn him to stop, and if he continued to cause trouble, he would be ejected from the bus. So I find some irony in the fact that while today such activity doesn't seem to happen (people tend to listen to music through ear pieces now), one still hears unnecessary noise, only now it is coming from the bus TV monitors.

Nevertheless, I don't mind too much. It's just one of those elements of modern public life we must get used to. So I sit down, and before I pull out my reading material, I take a moment to notice the wonderful diversity of urban humanity on this bus. I must admit, though, that none appeared to be Iowan Farmers, so Fickenscher is still right about me. I notice three different people, at the same time, reading The Onion, one of them an older man in a business suit. One of those characteristically Milwaukee things, by the way, is the availability and popularity of The Onion right on the street. There are newspaper boxes on street corners where one can get The Onion right along side the Shepherd Express, the UWM Post, and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The only one that costs money, by the way, is the Journal Sentinel.

So I pull out my library copy of Anthony Trollope's The Warden, and begin reading. (A few days ago we lunched with our friends the Hills at their place, and I noticed in their library a set of books by Trollope. I admitted that I had not read any of his works yet, and so they argued convincingly that I should do so. I am beginning, therefore, with The Barsetshire Novels. Thanks very much to Fr. Michael & Mrs. Hill for the advice.) After a couple pages I look up, and notice that those monitors I just mentioned are now displaying literary quotes. So as I'm riding down Humbolt Avenue I have the pleasure of reading the following quote by Henry David thoreau in bold letters on the monitor just inches above my head: "Of what significance are the things you can forget." I thought, Well, okay, that is worth pondering.

As I am thinking on the worth of Thoreau's claim, I notice that the monitor is displaying a new quote, this one by Ralph Waldo Emerson: "Ideas must work through the brains and the arms of good and brave men, or they are no better than dreams." This one I immediately like, because it seems to strike a necessary tension between our ideas, which must soar in the heavens, and the hard work that must be done on the ground, with real hands and muscle, to turn dream into reality. The old Milwaukee work ethic combined with the poetic ideals of the most poetic is one of the things that makes a city like this so great.

Eventually, I'll settle down and get real reading accomplished on a normal basis when I ride the bus, but for now, I admit, I am happily distracted, not only by literary quotes, but also by the people. There are students, workers, business men, a young lady dressed for the gym, an old lady with groceries, all contentedly sharing this space together as they go to their own destinations. My attention is also caught by the scenery. As the bus winds its way down through the East Side, we go past Brady Street with all its unique shops, coffeehouses, and of course the imposing St. Hedwig Church, a beautiful Gothic and Romanesque building of cream city brick. Before long we are riding up "the avenue" (a Milwaukee short hand for Wisconsin Avenue, the cultural east west main artery of the downtown). Past the Pfister Hotel, past the Iron Block building, past the old Gimbels building, and in short order I arrive at my destination on 6th Street. I ring the bell and suddenly I'm back on the street.

1 comment:

Rosko said...

Latif,
It's nice to know you are comfortable and seemingly happy back in Milwaukee. I enjoy reading your blog and am glad to see it active again. Have a weekend!