Tuesday, November 22, 2011

RIDING THE BUS

Ever since I've been back in San Antonio I've been car-less.  My car is in Panama, rented out for a few months to some friends who need a second car for a while. San Antonio is a big city, the seventh largest in the US. Too big to cover on foot.


So by necessity I've become a regular bus rider.  As an environmentalist, I've been wanting to do this for some time but didn't have the incentive until now.  Perhaps it was class-ism or snob-ism that prevented me from riding with "the common people".  But now I am one of them.  And in reality, have been one of them always, whether I realized it or not.  Now, with no other choice for the time being, I'm riding the  bus.


Fortunately San Antonio has the best public transportation system in Texas, and probably one of the best in the US.  Its buses are new and clean, its drivers courteous and competent.  Most buses are equipped with hydraulic lifts that lower and raise the entire bus to make it easier for the mobility-impaired.  Every bus has devices to strap wheelchairs into place securely.  Besides the regular buses, VIA also has downtown "streetcars" (old-fashioned looking quasi-streetcars but with regular wheels) that run on tourist routes:
San Antonio Downtown Trolley
(Credit:  http://www.san-antonio-daily.com/4208.html)
Many of the bus stops are clean and shiny, covered and with lights:


Some of the older ones are quite picturesque, such as this "Tropical Theme" stop in Alamo Heights:


Alamo Heights Bus Stop - All Concrete
In case you don't know how to ride a bus, VIA has video instructions, broken down into four parts for those of us who are simple-minded.  At first I was quite intimidated by the whole process, but now am getting comfortable with it. 

Here's another good thing.  Because I'm a senior citizen, I am eligible for a Senior Discount Bus Pass.  One of the first things I did after arriving here was to visit one of the VIA Customer Service Centers to get my pass.  This entitles me to ride during non-peak hours (9:00 am - 3:00 pm) for $.25 plus $.07 if I need a transfer.  Peak fares are half off.  And it's totally free on the weekends:
VIA Senior Bus Pass - Now I've Arrived.
To help plan your trip, VIA has an interactive trip planner based on Google Maps on their website.  And if you zoom in enough in Google Maps, you can see little bus icons showing where bus stops are.  Clicking on one of these icons triggers a pop-up window that lists all the bus routes at that stop:
Google Maps Bus Stop Icons
Colors on route numbers have meanings.
You can get to them directly in Google Maps.
I don't know whether or not these bus icons are available for every city that has buses, but I suspect they are.  I just checked my old neighborhood in Baltimore, and the icons are there.  I had never paid any attention to them before they became a necessity.


And here's the best part.  The Alamo Area Council of Governments sponsors an on-line program called NuRide to encourage people to use more environmentally-friendly modes of transportation.  It seems to have been designed to establish car pools for commuting employees and has various corporate sponsors for this, but anyone can use the program.  Many restaurants and shops are sponsors and offer rewards for participating.


If you take the time to record trips you make by walking, car-pooling, bicycling, and of course bus-riding, you earn points for each kind of trip.  You can save frequent trips so you don't have to re-enter them from scratch every time.  It also calculates the pounds of carbon dioxide emissions saved in comparison to driving cars with no passengers.  And if you want to find a car-pool partner for regular trips, it can help you do that too.


So far, in the short time I've been here, I've received three coupons for $5.00 off grocery purchases at the largest grocery store in town.  I'm also getting a coupon for a free burrito at Chipotle.  And I have many points left to cash in.  Because of my senior discount, I've earned more in rewards than I've spent in bus fares!  


I love NuRide because it provides material incentives for people to be more friendly to the environment. It is one of the most creative programs I've seen in a long time.  NuRide is also available in other regions of the country, including the metropolitan New York City and Washington DC areas. DC-area friends, please take note!  


And NuRide is making a difference.  Here are some summary statistics on their impact:
NuRide Stats
If I'm still in San Antonio and eventually get a car, I'll still take the bus for trips that are not time-sensitive.  And the extra walking back and forth to the bus stop is good for me too.


It's by changing that we grow.  Riding the bus has been a new and rewarding experience for me, and it can be for you too.


-bjd
PS:  Rode the Express bus today up to the UTSA campus.  Still $.25 during the off-peak hours.  Fancy-schmancy upholstered seats and free WiFi.  What's not to like?

PPS:  I now have my old American car back, but still take the bus sometimes, especially when going downtown.  It's cheaper than driving and there's no hassle about finding and paying for parking. 

Monday, November 14, 2011

MORE REVERSE CULTURE SHOCK

So I went to Fuddrucker's today and had the first burger since returning to the States.  I believe it was only the third burger I've had this year.  Yes, it was excellent - cooked rare with bacon and blue cheese and mayo, and sweet potato fries on the side.  I don't remember Fudd's having sweet potato fries, but have to confess that I didn't visit them very often when living in the States previously.


You must try sweet potato fries if you haven't yet.  When properly made, they are just a bit crunchy on the outside and tender on the inside, so naturally sweet they don't need ketchup.  A light dusting of salt perfectly complements the sweetness. And they need to be cooked to order and served really, really hot.  Yum.


But that's not what I want to talk about.


Instead, I want to bring you, my dear readers, up to speed on the new Coca-Cola dispenser.  I was fascinated by the two dispensers sitting side-by-side in the restaurant.  Truly I felt like a country bumpkin going to town for the first time.


These new dispensers have a bit of a "Retro" shape, but are ultra modern and computer-controlled.  The customer touches the screen for the drink selection.  At first I didn't know what to do after getting the ice, but after a few seconds figured out to touch the screen.  There were 18 different kinds of drinks to choose from.   I selected "Diet Coke", my usual.  This was also the first Diet Coke I've had since returning to the US about three weeks ago.


But wait - instead of pouring out Diet Coke, the machine took me to ANOTHER screen, where I had a choice of different flavors of Diet Coke:  Cherry, Vanilla, Lime, and I've forgotten what else.  I think there were about six different choices of flavors.


I went with plain Diet Coke, and the machine automatically knew how much to pour in my glass.


Golly Gee Whiz!


I was so excited I tried to take a picture of the machine with my cell phone, but couldn't figure out how to do this.  There were no other customers there at this odd time of day, so I didn't make a total fool of myself.


Later I looked it up on-line:
The New Coke Dispenser -
Coming Soon to a Restaurant Near You

It turns out this was still experimental as late as 2009, so I haven't been that much out of touch after all.  And - get this - when Coke wants to test market new flavors, they can program the machine to create them.  Customer selections are also uploaded to a central server, to keep tabs on the ever-changing market. 


Yes, I thought this was a bit too much like Big Brother too.


If you want to know more, here's a link to an article with technical information.


And here's a YouTube video of the machine in action.


OK, there you have it:  consumerism at its finest.


-bjd

Thursday, November 10, 2011

REMEMBERING TEACHERS

Yesterday we attended the funeral of Mr. Pierce Grisham, who taught us Texas History in junior high.  Mr. Grisham died at the age of 92.  After a long teaching career he became one of the most popular docents at The Alamo.  Here he is in his "Alamo costume" about ten years ago at the age of 83:


It was good to be reminded of our past and of some of the people who had a big influence on us.  I was doing OK until my junior-high homeroom teacher's widow went up to the front to speak at the service.  I didn't know that Mr. Brehm, my teacher, and Mr. Grisham were friends.  Mr. Brehm also taught me typing, a skill I use every day.

When Mr. Brehm's widow mentioned that he had died, I choked up.  I had been hoping to see him at the funeral.  I wanted to go up to her after the service and say something, but I was still too emotional to speak.

Later, at the graveside service in the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetary, I did approach her.  I was doing OK at that point until his daughter came to me to introduce herself.  I could see Mr. Brehm in her.  We hugged each other and had a nice talk.

I never knew that Mr. Brehm had married, had children, and died.  I'm so sorry that I didn't see him again after I was all grown up.


Somehow we think of our teachers as being immortal, not mere humans like the rest of us.

Rest in peace, Mr. Grisham and Mr. Brehm.  

"A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops." - Henry Adams

-bjd

REDISCOVERING SAN ANTONIO

Its thrilling to see the changes that have occurred in San Antonio during my twenty-year absence.


The arts are even more prominent now than before.  They have always been important here, because of the rich Spanish and Mexican heritage, but now the arts seem to be everywhere.  This may be due in part to my increased awareness, but there is no doubt that San Antonio is a mecca for the arts.


Run-down neighborhoods are being revitalized around the arts:


  • SoFlo (South Flores street near downtown) now features loft condos and restored and remodeled houses.
  • The King William Historical District just south of downtown is almost totally restored, and what a jewel it is.
  • The South Side, where I grew up, used to be considered "The Other Side of the Tracks" but is now known as Southtown and is becoming more and more upscale.
  • The Deco District on the West Side features original Art Deco storefronts in its mainstreet section along Fredericksburg Road.


And the traditional tourist attractions have continued to be developed into a unique, pedestrian-friendly destination centered around the famous San Antonio Riverwalk.  The Riverwalk has been expanded to the north and south.  It now connects Downtown with the San Antonio Museum of Art and will go all the way down to the Spanish missions in the near future.


All in all, San Antonio is a unique blend of history, art, great food and wonderful people.  I encourage you to visit San Antonio and see for yourself.


Here is the first image I took in San Antonio after my return.  It is of the Central Library.  It was designed by the renowned Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta, I've tweaked the image to make it look more "Mexican". It is my gift to the city that I love. I hope that you will discover San Antonio and love it as much as I do.


San Antonio Central Library
-bjd