It’s always been hard for me to get excited about riding the bus. My grandparents took the bus, my mom took the bus every morning to get to her job at the factory, and I rode it twice a day to get back and forth to high school. Back in those days, bus riders were sort of frowned upon in St. Louis. It was acceptable if you worked downtown or if you were a student that was too young to have a driver’s license. Other than that, the perception was that if you took the bus, you were too poor to own a car.
Riding the bus to school every morning for me meant waiting up to thirty minutes in the cold, being jostled around when the bus started moving and you were trying to find a seat. There was the choking smell of diesel early in the morning and the curious smell of a gentleman who sat in front of me nearly every time, wearing some of the strongest cologne imaginable. Then one year, after I decided to enroll in a technical school, I had to wait for another bus after I got to school to take me to the technical college and back. This amounted to four bus trips in a single day.
Streetcars first made their appearance on the streets of St. Louis on July 4, 1859. They ran on rails, but were drawn by horses. Steam powered cars were tried in 1870, but they met with some resistance because the noise frightened the horses that were still on the streets. Electrified cars started replacing the steam-powered ones in 1890. A man by the name of Fred Wilson wrote a song about riding the streetcars in 1870:
“A riding in the cars, on a wet and muggy day, along with Pa and Ma, you’ve fifteen cents to pay. You sit down side by side, on seats so well arranged, and fumble through your pockets, for the necessary change.”
Now the new Metro Link Light Rail extension is all set to open this Saturday, August 26th. The eight-mile extension took more time and a lot more money than was originally anticipated, but I’m excited about it because they decided to build a station just a few blocks from my house. Now I can step outside, cross the street and pretty much go anywhere in St. Louis and parts of Illinois for just a couple of bucks. No more parking problems at the airport or Busch Stadium for a Cardinals game. I can hit the casinos on the riverfront or the restaurants and nightclubs on the Landing or the shops at Union Station. Doctor visits are a ten-minute wait and a fifteen-minute ride with just a couple of blocks to walk after. (I’m sure the exercise will do me good.) The trains are modern and new, and the stations are well lit; one of them even has a light sculpture that increases in intensity with the addition of people waiting on the platform.
The Grand Opening celebration starts this weekend with free rides, music, and a ribbon cutting ceremony by St. Louis mayor Francis Slay and County Executive Charlie Dooly. With gasoline prices on the rise and traffic and parking a nightmare in some places, public transportation is a good idea for everyone, and probably more pleasant than it was back in 1870 when Fred Wilson wrote the next verse to his song:
A man stands at the door, who is not at all polite, he’s had too much to drink, and smokes a dirty pipe.
You ask for him to move and kindly give you placeÃ¢Â?Â¦instead of moving, he will puff tobacco in your face.”