The Concord, NC buses are not always 10 minutes late

The last time I rode the Orange bus on a Saturday – same bus stop, same time – it was 15 minutes late. So I thought there was no harm in now showing up 10 minutes late and still catching it, but it would appear that I missed it. Shucks.

And one time, I was catching the purple bus, and I again banked on a secure 10 minute cushion. So I showed up just about 3 minutes late to the stop. As I walked up, the bus pulled up from the other direction! I had to run to make it to the stop in time. And then, I actually delayed the bus further because I hadn’t had a chance to count out my change. I had to do it while the bus was waiting on me, and my $1-bills all disappeared at the crucial moment.

Update: I ended up catching the bus a bit later in the afternoon. Same bus, same stop. I got to the stop 3 minutes late, and the bus came 2 minutes after that. Wow!

The purple bus

I had to go to the license plate office to pay the car registration. It is in a very dangerous part of town, as far as driving goes – the streets are busy and scary, and cars zoom about like masterful bullies –  but luckily, I found out I can take the bus there! I started off on Union Street, then walked to the library (also on Union Street) and from there I went west about 4 blocks till I came to the bus stop. The bus was supposed to come at 10.42. Of course, according to tradition, it did not come until 10.52. But no matter, I stood and read a book, and all around me were beautiful views of hilly fall-colored slopes stretched in all directions.

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Then the bus showed up. I was only to ride it for 6 stops, or about 10 minutes. Just perfect! I didn’t need to transfer, it was a short walk to the bus stop, and I’d be on and off the bus in no time. And the bus made things easy because a women’s cool voice announced every single stop (and then a man’s stately voice repeated it in Spanish). So I was able to follow along and checked off four stops, but then all of a sudden the announcements stopped. I thought it was because we were passing through an empty stretch with no stops, but no! We whizzed past my stop without me knowing it. But I think it was for the best. Google maps had told me to get off at the stop right after the coffee factory, and then cross the street, and walk 3 minutes to the license plate office. But it’s dangerous to cross right there — certainly no pedestrian signal, and the traffic light is so crazy and has cars going in so many directions at the same time, I’m sure it’s not safe.

Luckily, the bus was almost at the end of its route, and getting ready to turn around. I was still expecting my Google-specified stop, when lo and behold, we pulled into the vast Wal-Mart parking lot. I have lived here nearly all my life, but it wasn’t until yesterday’s bus ride that I figured out where the Wal-Mart is in relation to everything else. Honestly, I haven’t missed much!

Passengers got on and off at the Wal-Mart, and then the bus maneuvered its slow way out the other end of the parking lot, and now started its clumsy way back-tracking its route. I got off at the very next stop, in front of the Aldi. I had to walk about 30 seconds alongside the highway (luckily there was a grassy bank; no sidewalk) till I came to a little shopping complex, and then I walked 5 minutes across the parking lot to where the license plate office is tucked in. I never knew until that day where the Aldi and license plate office were. I feel like a new person.

I was in and out of the license plate office in about 20 minutes (reading my book as I stood in line), and then I had about 20 minutes until the bus was *scheduled* to come back. So I went back across the parking lot, back down the grassy edge of the highway, and into the Aldi. I bought almond chocolate cookies, returned outside, found a nice spot on the grass a bit back from the road, and ate cookies and read my book, waiting for the bus to come back. It was expected at 11.57. I knew that means, “add ten minutes”, so you could have knocked me over when at 11.54, I looked up and saw a bus zooming past, en route to the Wal-Mart. I figured it actually might get to the Wal-Mart, unload, and spin itself about in time to come back to the Aldi stop at 11.57. But I waited and waited and nothing! Finally, at 11.02, another bus came zooming down the highway, en route to the Wal-Mart. This time I paid attention: yes, this bus was labeled ‘purple’, and I watched it as it proceeded to the traffic light, and turned into the Wal-Mart.

I checked the transit map and there’s no other bus that’s marked to come down that highway. I don’t know what that first bus was. At 11.08 (11 minutes late), the purple bus came back to the Aldi stop, and I rode it about 10 minutes till I again disembarked a few blocks west of Union Street. There was a hijabi lady on the bus, so I gave her a really big smile. The walk coming back to Union Street very very beautiful.

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It cost $1.25 each way on the bus. I had made sure ahead of time that I had exact change. But because I caught the second bus so soon after getting off the first bus, I thought my transfer pass might do the trick and save me five quarters. Unfortunately, the bus driver was very strict: transfer passes ONLY valid to get on a different colored bus.

The bus in Concord

They have something called the “Rider” bus system here. I think it’s six different routes, all color-coded. I needed to get to the train station last week, and I hate driving, and didn’t want to leave my car at the train station anyways, so I decided to take the bus.

My train left at 10:55. The bus was supposed to get to the train station at 10:48. I thought: yes, I know the bus will probably arrive late, but surely the 7 minutes cushion will smooth things over.

So I had my bag packed with presents for friends and a few changes of clothes, and I had an extra coat hanging on my hand for cooler evening weather, and I locked the door, walked out of the gravel driveway, a bit up the sidewalk, through a shady back lane, and there I was at the bus stop! I got to the bus stop at 10:00, and the Orange bus was supposed to get there at 10:07. So far, so good!

Because I was stress-free and didn’t have any big PhD dissertation hanging over my head, I got to instead look up at the blue summits of the sky and marvel at the perfect fall beauty of it, at least until 10:12 rolled around and there was still no bus. Five minutes late, huh? Surely the bus will be around soon. But then it became 10:15 and now the bus had exceeded my 7 minute cushion. It finally showed up, and bumbled its way down Church Street, around the mall, me egging it on in my head to go faster. Somehow, we made it to the transfer station at 10.26. I raced over to the Blue bus. The counter was re-set; my 7-minute cushion for the train was still intact.

At 10.31, the buses started bustling out of the transfer station driveway. Great job, I thought — you’re only 1 minute off schedule. But then, my Blue bus suddenly paused! All the buses were rolling out, except one which was sidelined, and for some reason, our Blue bus decided to wait politely for the sidelined bus to make its move. That’s very nice, but I had a train to catch. Now it was 10.32. We finally reached the street just as the light turned red. We waited at the light literally for 3 minutes. So it wasn’t until 10.35 that the bus actually started on its route. At a blow, my 7-minute cushion was cut to two.

We were supposed to get to the DSS at 10.38; instead, it was 10:48. Ten minutes late! By now, I was investigating whether any Lyft drivers could help out, but the earliest Lyft estimate arrived at the train station at 10.59. That wouldn’t help me either. At this point of accepting I was going to miss the train, the driver suddenly stepped on the gas. We exited onto a empty, lonely ramp surrounded by forest, passed the Kannapolis city limits, whirled by A.L. Brown High School – all within 2 minutes – and somehow at 10.52 we made it to the train station. According to the schedule, it’s supposed to take 10 minutes to get from DSS to Amtrak, but we did it in four. I made it with 3 minutes to spare. And the train itself was actually like 2 minutes late, so everything was fine, and soon I was whizzing through fields of yellow wildflowers, and little brown creeks flowing out of forests, and horses in pastures caught in a quick glimpse through trees, and small towns of central, rural North Carolina, with just the tiniest touch of pale yellow or dark red wreathing the landscape in tufts and drifts here and there.