Yesterday was the Milwaukee County Transit System Adventure, Opening Act.
Here’s the gist of it: Ride the bike from Germantown to the furthest northwest point of the Milwaukee County Transit System (Park Place and Liberty), start-stop-start-stop-start on the BLU Line bus for 40 stops, transfer to the 15 bus, walk out onto Kinnickinnic with arms raised, a small adventure and personal victory. 36 hours later, flip it in reverse to complete the round-trip.
Why? Sounds a bit impractical, Luke. Here's why:
I have a thing for “non-traditional” transportation. I’m lucky and grateful to have accumulated a fair bit of this “non-traditional” transportation. Some examples to illustrate what I’m talking about: Crossed China clickity-clack, clickity-clack, days and days on the trains. Zipped through japan on the electric bullet train. Floated, driven by the slow rumble of diesel engines, across the Pacific. Ferried to Hong Kong Island. Ferried across the Baltic Sea. Piloted mopeds in Cambodia. Uber-ed on the back of mopeds in Vietnam. Hoofed it across European cities, multi-day trekked in the mountains of Morocco, stomped up and slid down the dune fields of Colorado. Biked 100 mile point-to-point rides among the Rocky Mountains. Red bikes in Madison. Indigo bikes in Philly. Jump Bikes in Portland. Alibaba bikes in Chengdu. Been squished onto the laps of strangers in the commuter vans of Ghana, chest-to-chest and hip-to-hip in the subway of Chongqing, 6-deep hanging on to a tuk-tuk in Siem Reap.
Yet, not once, not ever, had I taken the public bus in my hometown city, Milwaukee. Last week I realized this and decided it was an opportunity for a perfectly good Backyard Adventure
I suppose the genesis of the “transportation adventure” was 12-months ago when I began a journey Eastbound, planning to continue east until I was back again. The rule was, as much as possible, no flights and no cars. As much as possible, not practical. Because, from almost any point of view, this travel rule is fully impractical. If you eschew cars and planes, you can expect transportation hours expand dramatically, personal comfort to take a hit, mild colds to be contracted, and to often leave the security of your personal goods up to faith in human good nature. And expect to get your steps in, because there will almost always be a last mile(s) to get you your “destination”. As a final bonus, much of the time, expect to pay as much or even more than a car or flight. No cars, no planes. It’s a dumb rule. Not practical at all. But 100% worth it. I would do it again and I couldn’t recommend it enough. Here is why, explained through the tale of the Milwaukee County Transit System Adventure.
1. See the people and the places. Especially the people.
100 people were on and off the bus with me. I doubt I had seen any of them before. For certain I had not paid any of them a moment’s attention. On the BLU line, though, I had no responsibilities and no distractions for the 60 or 70 minutes it took to start-stop the 40 pickups between Point Burger Bar and Milwaukee Public Market. So I looked and watched and chatted.
Seems to be, just like our brothers and sisters on the other side of the globe, our Milwaukee county neighbors are just people too. Just like the other side of the globe, these fellow humans have different skin color than me, different socio-economic status and opportunity, and, when lucky, I understand enough of what they’re saying to fill in the gaps with smiles, nods and laughs. Just people. Same as everywhere else.
There are 1,000 stories and small activities to be seen, from the kid commuting from middle school, the girl journaling, the fellow explaining why he doesn’t have the bus fare, the mom happy to be next to her son, even if he is just clicking away on a phone. And outside the bus, I finally took note of the houses, apartments, storefronts and shops we usually whiz by or skirt around. (Reynold’s Pasty Ship is now on my list – I need to compare this Cornish handheld meal from the BLU Line urban black neighborhood to those made by the Norwegians and Italians in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.)
I’ll never understand the lives of the people along the BLU line, no matter how many rides I experience. It’s good, great, though, to finally see and be among and interact with the people that live here every day, our neighbors and friends.
Don’t book a flight, leave the car keys at home, renounce Uber, and you have the start of guaranteed adventure.
I biked a half hour from home to the bus stop. It was 25F outside. Will I be cold? I didn’t know the route. Will the roads be safe to ride, will there be a sidewalk or shoulder? I hadn’t seen the bus stop before. Does the bus stop actually exist? Is there a place to lock my bike? Will my bike be there here I get back in 2 days!? These are tiny risks, small uncertainties, and they make me alive and pull me into the moment.
I don’t know anyone that lives along the BLU Line. Who am I going to meet on the bus? These people don’t look like me! Is it “safe” for me to be on the BLU line? I should probably put my laptop away? I transferred busses and lost myself in the small scenes and people around me. Whoops, this isn’t the correct transfer bus.. I got off and walked 25 minutes to get back on-route. Is it “okay” for me to be walking in this neighborhood? And then 25 minutes disappeared as my feet covered the distance, the cold air went in and out of my lungs, my eyes opened wide at the big and small sights around me. Wow, look at the old factory! Wow, cool library! Wow, a French Bakery!
“No Flights, No Cars” was good fun on the other side of the Pacific, and it is great fun right here at home. I heartily recommend it to you and to my future self. If I’m lucky, I’ll always take the time to do the impractical, take the small risk, foray into the uncertain. In this case, it means taking the alternative transportation and along the way finding unexpected adventure, taking in a new neighborhood, meeting the neighbors, feeling a bit uncertain, and, for even just a brief instant, living in the moment.