If you’re lucky, you can find an early-bird parking rate for about as much as you’re making per hour. But if you can’t, you’ll be stuck feeding meters or, as in my case, paying $47 for eight hours in a garage.
So I decided instead of driving around, looking for cheap parking — or getting to the lots before sunrise to nab the few early-bird stalls in downtown — I would catch the bus.
Growing up in Kalihi, I caught the bus everywhere — to Kaneohe to visit my best friend, to downtown to meet my parents after school, to Ala Moana Center to eat pizza at the old Makai Market, even around the island on the weekends just for fun.
It was my only mode of transportation when I was in college, too, working at jobs that paid $5 an hour — not enough to afford the gas a car would need, let alone the car itself.
But after getting my first car in my final years at UH, I was addicted to the freedom it afforded. I could literally go anywhere, at anytime. No more waiting at bus stops. No more sitting next to smelly strangers. No more transfers.
It had been years since I caught the bus — and I’ll admit, I was a little nervous getting on one. All these thoughts ran through my head: Would I know how to pay for the fare? Would I know which stop to get off? What if I’m standing on the wrong side of the street?
I packed a light snack, grabbed a book and headed to the nearest bus stop, hoping it wasn’t obvious I hadn’t done this since “Forrest Gump” won the Oscar for Best Picture. (Let’s put it this way, it was the year Justin Bieber was born.)
The anticipation was too much. The bus was four minutes later and I was starting to panic. I kept thinking I was at the wrong bus stop, at the wrong time, or maybe I looked at the bus transit schedule for another city.
I was about 30 seconds from walking back to my house and jumping in my car when I saw it, the No. 1, approaching.
Getting on the bus wasn’t a problem. These days Honolulu buses are outfitted with every comfort imaginable on a city-run transit: air conditioning, comfortable seats, tinted windows, bike racks, even a step that lowers to help you get on more easily.
And the crowd wasn’t as, well, colorful as I had remembered. Sure, there was a young guy mumbling to himself — turned out to be a former student of mine — and another woman yapping on her cell phone. But everyone on board seemed to be like me — trying to get somewhere. Some were heading to work; others to the mall. There was a couple who looked like they were hoping to find something more magical than Walmart. It was a quiet, mindful group of commuters all hoping no one started up a conversation. My kind of crowd.
The ride to downtown turned out to be incredibly enjoyable. The bus took the same route I would have had I been driving my own car — except I didn’t have to drive. Or think, for that matter. I could read my book or play Words With Friends and not worry about which side streets to take or how bad traffic was. I could just enjoy the leisurely ride into town without any of the stress.
Despite having to walk about two blocks to the office, I got there in less than 30 minutes. It would have taken me that long to drive into town — then another 20 minutes to find parking and walk to work. In that extra time, I got a Diet Coke and contemplated a scone. Much more productive!
While I won’t be commuting to downtown much longer, I did gain a certain respect and appreciation for our bus system. I wouldn’t give up my car — I’ll be honest — but I don’t mind the alternative at all.