The moment I saw the bus driver’s smile I realized I was far, far from home; at a magical place where public transit workers realize they’re in the service and hospitality business and act accordingly. LIKE!
What surprised me even further on my recent stay in Phoenix was that the warm fuzzies went both ways. Drivers greet passengers with a smile and travelers reply in kind.
It was obvious when I boarded my first Vally Metro bus, during the morning commute that I was a tourist. I fumbled with the very basics; Where do I put my money? How do I get a transfer? How will I know when I get to my stop? But the driver was cheery and helpful. And this is where it gets really weird. So were my fellow passengers.
Had this happened once, or even twice, I’d chalk it up to beginner’s luck. But on every trip I took on public transportation, and I took plenty this week, I would ask just one idle question and the conversation was off and running.
One morning I talked to a Macy’s shop girl halfway through her 2 hour-a-day, each-way commute. She explained to me how the department store’s employee commission system worked. Yikes! I’ll never return merchandise to Macy’s again. I promise. (For more eye-opening info on this subject read the book, Malled My Unintentional Career in Retail by Caitlin Kelly)
There was the middle aged man headed to the Veteran’s Administration who told me how he was easing his way into retirement by cutting back from full to part-time work, but still spent an hour and a half on the bus getting from one side of Scottsdale to the other. The Jamaican bus driver on this route listened and occasionally joined in with his story of moving to Arizona for love. The relationship had come to an end but his affection for Phoenix was still on a high burn. That was an emotion they all seemed to share.
On my second bus, as I finally approached my destination, the Musical Instrument Museum, another transplant, driver Robert Davis from New Jersey said he missed living near water, but enjoyed everything else about the place. Another bus, another round of smiles and pleasant exchanges.
I was in Phoenix working on several news stories for client somewhat stingy with expenses so, I was watching my pennies; Hence the $5 a day bus rather than a $60 a day rental car.
From Scottsdale to Phoenix to Chandler to Tucson l was not behind the wheel, instead I was getting this unexpected view – the view of a place as seen through the lives of the locals.
On the practical side, there were 3 things especially worth noting about Phoenix public transit;
- Each stop has a unique identifying number. Call or text the transit authority with that number and you’ll get the arrival time for the next three buses. How about that for eliminating wait time uncertainty?
- The aforementioned “welcome aboard” smile from the bus driver.
- The delightfully consistent practice of departing passengers of thanking the driver.
LIKE, LIKE and LIKE.