September 29, 2013

Albany NY: Solving the mystery of public transportation

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — Jane Stillwater @ 11:14 am

So I went off to Albany, New York, last week, to attend a convention for murder-mystery writers and readers, where I got to meet a whole bunch of my favorite writers — and have the photos to prove it too

But the biggest mystery in Albany, for me, was how to get around on its bus system. By the time I left that fair city, however, I was the Agatha Christie of bus schedules — but had to do a whole lot of gumshoe surveillance first, before this mystery could be solved.

Why in the world would anyone want to drive a car anywhere when taking public transportation is so much more adventurous, exciting and, er, challenging? Forget all that stuff they say about taking trains and buses because it is good for the environment. Taking public transportation is good for the soul!

Where else can you have so many adventures in so short a time? Or get lost so often? Or have so many helpful people come to your rescue? Or even meet so many interesting people? When you’re alone in the bubble of your own car, who do you meet? No one.

So I left my airport hotel (after having just spent three whole hours on the phone with AT&T, trying desperately to explain to them why I still wanted access to my Yahoo e-mail account and they were not making that possible) and went to stand at a bus stop in front of a Dunkin’ Donuts on the road to Schenectady. No buses appeared for almost an hour — so I stuck out my thumb. But no one stopped. How come people always stop to pick up Jack Reacher — but apparently a little old lady with a broken arm and struggling along with a laptop bag, a huge carry-all purse and a roll-away suitcase is far too intimidating to stop for. But I digress.

Then the bus into Albany finally came. But it was the wrong bus. But then some nice lady from the Capital District Transit Authority talked me down off the wall over the phone. “Can you see a WalMart from where you are standing?” No. “How about a Home Depot?” Yes. “Well, then, just walk two blocks north from there to the stop for the 182 bus.” Sure. But which way is north?

Another hour later, I finally got into downtown Albany with only two mistakes — all rectified by various helpful people who I met on the bus, America’s salt of the earth.

And the convention went well. I met all kinds of authors and got all kinds of free books. And also stumbled across the wonderful New York State Library’s seventh-floor computer room — with its awesome view of the Empire State Plaza and the Catskills.

The Empire State Plaza is all built in that grand Mussolini/Stalin/Mao type of imperial architecture that reminded me of the main plaza in Pyongyang, North Korea. But, hey, it was built by a Rockefeller so it’s entitled to look imperial.

Albany has a whole bunch of amazing architecture, from its old colonial buildings and amazing gingerbread state house to its modern convention center, appropriately called The Egg. Definitely worth a trip there.

But now it’s six o’clock and time to fathom the mystery of how to catch a bus out to the motel I will be staying at. But then I got lost again, ended up walking six blocks in the wrong direction and getting stranded on some dead-end freeway on-ramp, still carrying the roll-away luggage and the laptop bag and the carry-all purse — plus an additional 20 pounds of free books. And the broken left arm.

And then I got on the wrong bus. Again. “I’m sorry,” said the bus driver, “but you must have wanted the 182.” Really? “So just walk back that way another three blocks.” Really?

And then there it was, the glorious 182 bus, stopped at the light. I waved at the driver frantically. No use. “Not an official stop,” he mouthed and waved. So then I desperately and hopelessly chased the damn bus, running penguin-style on my poor painful knees for the next five (5) blocks. With the purse, the roll-away luggage, the laptop case and the new bag of books, all balanced on and/or being dragged along behind me with my one functional arm.

But then the bus got stuck in traffic — but I still wouldn’t have caught up with it if everyone on the bus hadn’t been cheering me on out the windows and forcing the driver to stop for the penguin-stepping little old lady and the roll-away luggage and the books and the laptop case and the broken arm who had just sprinted five blocks “through the traffic like a mounted cavalier,” to quote Chuck Berry.

And guess what? One of the authors from the BoucherCon convention, Robert Kroese, was on my bus too and gave me an autographed copy of his new book!

Now I ask you. Would I ever have had such excellent (and mysterious) adventures if I had only just rented a car?

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