Friday, August 25, 2006


(News-Herald, August 24) Ordinarily, as a pretend journalist, I feel no particular obligation to get Out There to report on something. But in the summer, I do like to take a few spare hours to pursue experiences that residents of Venangoland are curious about.
Unfortunately, my resources don’t allow me to investigate important questions like “What’s a scenic cruise to Alaska like” or “How hot is Andie McDowell really?” So, instead, I spent a day on the VenanGo Bus.
There are actually three GoBus routes—around Franklin, around Oil City, and the massive Inter-Cities route. In the course of a day, I managed to hit all three.
Finding the schedule was not tough—a few inquiries got me to the county used-to-be-a-bank building office where someone directed me to a stack of schedules. I’m not sure what I’d do if I were a stranger in town; like many things in Venangoland (church schedules, store hours, general navigation), we’re geared pretty much toward local people who already know what’s going on.
My first connection was right on time and while it might seem ominous that the song playing on the radio was (I’m not making this up) “Highway to Hell,” it was a pleasant ride.
The buses come in a range of conditions. The first I rode was cool, clean and comfortable. Another had a ferocious squeak, and in the third, the driver had to request passenger help in getting the door to close properly. On one, windows were held in place by duct tape.
The drivers were uniformly pleasant and helpful. One maintained a steady friendly banter with the passengers (sample: “Hey, Ron, where you been all my life” “Shut up and drive!”). On each bus I simulated a person who was confused by the schedule and couldn’t figure out how to switch from one bus route to another (I think I was pretty darn convincing) and in all cases the driver answered my questions without in any way suggesting that I was either A)the six zillionth person to ask or B)a dope.
The buses travel to most of the places a person could want to go. The Inter-City bus can get you to the mall or the hospital, and the city routes cover most of the places you would expect to find people who, because of either age or finances, cannot drive themselves around.
Some of the stops surprised me. I had no idea the GoBus made stops here on the lower end of Franklin, but it sure does. In Oil City the bus wanders up hill and down dale and I’m pretty sure it took me places I could not find again if I had to. But the GoBus appears to be a service that, geographically speaking, is available to most everyone.
And I saw most everyone on the bus. There were riders of every age (including one in a baby carriage) and a wide variety of backgrounds, though, admittedly, I don’t think I saw any doctors or lawyers commuting to the hospital or the courthouse.
A large percentage of the riders appeared to be regulars. One way to spot regulars is to note which riders greet the driver by name. But I also noticed that many of the riders had a well-developed stance (I suppose the equivalent of sea-legs would be bus-butt), because even the newest of the buses hits every ridge and pothole like a professional wrestler being slammed into a cement truck.
Some regulars obviously knew each other and inquired after family, friends and health. Other folks struck up new conversations; one pair introduced themselves by trading stories of how they had their drivers licenses suspended.
Each bus has twenty seats, plus a wheelchair lift and a spot for the chairbound rider (this was used at least once). A sign discretely suggests leaving the front seat for the elderly, and everybody, including the elderly, left the seat open. Another sign on one bus asked for “No Profanity, Please,” and I heard almost no bad language all day.
The drivers stayed in touch with each other and dispatch; at one point I heard them make sure that two buses would definitely connect so a passenger could make a transfer.
It is clearly a program that depends on subsidy. In six hours of riding, I saw about forty-five riders, which, at a buck-fifty a rider, doesn’t buy a lot of gas.
But the buses were generally on time, the ride pleasant, the service good, and the passengers good company. And they remove the major barrier of transportation for many people. A day on the GoBus probably is probably not as much fun as a week in Alaska, but if my car blew up tomorrow, I wouldn’t be afraid to take the bus.

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