Are you going to ride METRO for free next week?

By: Susan Elmore

When I first heard this on the radio in June, I made a mental promise to myself that I would ride the free bus to work. And home. And, perhaps even to exercise class!

Why am I so obsessed?  I’m a native Houstonian. I can count the number of times I have ridden a bus on two hands. When you take away riding a bus to camp and a paid shuttle to the airport, I can count the number of times I’ve ridden a bus in Houston on one finger… as in ONE TIME.

It was the spring of 3rd grade. I was living in Afton Oaks and going to Will Rogers Elementary on Richmond Avenue.  Those of you from back in the day may recall that Will Rogers was next to the Hattie Mae White Headquarters building for HISD, dubbed the “Taj Mahal” by skeptics of big education. The Taj Mahal is now a Costco, and Will Rogers Elementary was an “experimental” school. Trust me – experimental education can be a challenge for a nine-year-old girl. But, I digress.

For some reason Mary Sue, aka Mom, decided that my brothers and I would ride the ‘city bus’ home from school one day and give it a try. After school, we were to meet up with the next door neighbors and ride together.

For those of you not from the ‘hood, we are talking about a bus ride of one-eighth of one mile, and today’s Google map tells me this ride can last four minutes on a bus today. If you clicked through to the map, you see that our ride ended at Newcastle Drive. We then walked 3.5 blocks to our house at 4715 Shetland Lane, which is the equivalent of one-fourth of a mile. (Who doesn’t love Google maps?)

I remember two things about that ride: It was tough to keep my change in my sock and shoe all day so that I had the money to ride home, and that my brother Dan was being very bossy. Dan is two years older than me, still likes to use ‘big words’ that I don’t understand, and would be at my side in one instant if I needed him. Oh, and one other thing, the machine that accepted my coins was pretty cool. It could count. Fast. I was still learning to count.

OK – fast forward. Today is 2015.  Why am I obsessed with riding the bus now? I think I’m inspired by so many people who are way ahead of me with regard to public transportation and reducing our carbon footprint. Ten years ago I saw that my friend and colleague, Kimberly Sterling, was driving a Prius. It was the tipping point, and I’m now on Prius #2. I’ve both seen and watched Michael Skelley ride his bike to all sorts of work appointments. Brave man. I broke both arms at the same time in a bike accident a few years ago, and now I ride a recumbent bike and I’m afraid to get out in traffic where my body is at the level of an automobile wheel. I once had a co-worker who commuted from Spring to downtown, and I envied her quiet time. My son and his girlfriend, on a date, would ride the bus from the Heights to Freebirds on Shepherd at 59. I never understood that, but then, I’ve not tried the Freebirds burrito either.

Today, with less than a week to go, I’m still gung ho!

Below are the facts of my METRO commute and my challenges. Important note: I’ve borrowed the “thumbs up” and “thumbs down” system from the Saturday editorial page of the Houston Chronicle, which is my absolute favorite part of the paper!

Thumbs Down I just tried to find out if my dog, Dora, can ride with me next week. I wasn’t patient enough to find this rule on the METRO website, so I posted my question on the METRO Facebook page. Within two hours I had my reply from METRO’s TJ Rooney, who advised that to ride the bus a dog must be either a) a service dog or b) in a crate. (Private message me if you know a place I can buy black market credentials for a service dog. Dora is an integral part of the ‘happiness factor’ at Elmore PR.)

Thumbs Down – While on the METRO facebook page, I continued to see posts about buses that were late. I’ve also found several blogs and news reports on this topic. NERVOUS!

Thumbs Up – I understand my route to work and like it: Hop on at Yale and 33rd, change over at Studemont and 19th, get off at West Dallas, and walk one-sixth of a mile.

Thumbs Up – I understand my route from work to exercise. It only requires two changes. What could go wrong? (Nervous laughter.)

Thumbs Up – I love the route from exercise to home. One bus, no changes. A bit of walking, which is really good. Perhaps I can stop by Red Dessert Dive, my favorite bakery!? Wait… that would undo the exercise. Rats!

Mixed Thumbs – As a consultant, I have many appointments throughout the day. In theory, I can catch a ride with a team member, right? Hmmm… this is starting to get a little complicated. Should I leave my car at the office the night before so that I have it the next day if I need it? Yikes!

Wish me luck next week! And if I miss an appointment or two, please understand. I’m trying out public transportation.