Last week, out of the blue, I received an email from a former yoga instructor/friend who now lives in Canmore. He tells me he had just met with a woman who is travelling to 10 Canadian cities to collect stories about people who ride the buses, and he thinks we should meet. So he asks if he can he give her my contact info.
Of course I said “sure. ” I am always up for chat with an interesting stranger – especially one with that “mission!”
Backstory: Brenda and I are avid transit users when we travel to other cities – even in Las Vegas where many people don’t even realize there are things to see other than The Strip and Downtown, let alone they actually have a transit system. We have had great transit experiences and have often chatted about the idea of one day just hopping on a Calgary Transit bus and riding it from end to end. We have often too wondered where the #72/73 route goes, as we seem to encounter it in odd places all over the city, including on Crowchild Trail at the end of our street. But like most tourists, the fun things we do on holidays we never do at home!
I soon get an email from the “stranger” Denise Pinto who shares more about her project and website (busrideswith.com). She asks if I would be interested in riding a Calgary Transit bus with her while we chat with each other and some of the people on the bus about our experiences riding buses.
#17 It Is!
I suggest the #72/73, but it turns out she has already done that one. So I suggest the #1 (close to home and goes from one end of the city to the other, from east to west), but again she has already done it, as well as the #3, which goes from north end of the city to the south. There go my top 3 choices.
But then a light bulb goes off - I remember young Alec’s birthday party on the C-train and wonder if he and his Mom would like to join us. Turns out they are VERY keen to do so and the #17 bus stops just two houses from their home. So, as neither Denise or I had ridden it, the #17 it is!
The route sounded perfect. We would start in Ramsay, one of Calgary’s oldest communities, then make our way to Stampede Park and Erlton Station, through Mission to Downtown, Chinatown, over the Bow River, up Centre Street to Renfrew and back.
We met up at Café Rosso at the old Dominion Bridge industrial site for coffee and to get “miked-up” (Pinto was creating audio podcasts of her bus rides). She is also planning a fiction book, using the stories and experiences of the various rides.
Eight-year old Alec was amazing. He enthralled us with his knowledge of not only Calgary’s transit system, but also Toronto’s where he and his family had visited so he could check out their buses, street cars and subway. He is like the “Encyclopaedia Britannica” (my younger readers may better relate to a Wikipedia analogy) when it comes to transit. While Pinto was supposed to talk to others on the bus, she graciously let Alec be our tour guide.
Alec told us how he loved the fact you can tweet @CalgaryTransit and get an instant answer about stuff that isn't necessarily essential information like, "Is the Mask C-Train going to be running today?" or "Please say thanks to our bus driver for the great ride we had today on the #17!"
He also reminded us route #17 used to be called route #403. Sam then shared with us the story about the "23rd Avenue Artwalk" and how they used some of the grant money (Calgary was the Cultural Capital of Canada in 2012) to buy a community garbage bin for 23rd Avenue which she painted with landmarks from the street - including the bus stop sign. The garbage can is still there and still has the old route number on it which she hopes isn't too confusing to new bus riders!
At one point, Alec told Denise that if her project takes her to Winnipeg to keep her eyes open for one of his favourite older Calgary buses (a few were sold to Winnipeg in early 2016 to his dismay). He informed Denise they may have been repainted, but you may recognize them by the curved exhaust pipes on the roof at the back! CBC Story Link
Near the end of our ride, Alec informed Denise there used to be a few older Calgary buses which he calls the "U2 buses" since they look like the blue & white U2 C-Trains. In 2015, these disappeared from the fleet and Alec was wondering what happened to them. In the summer of 2015, while on a family road trip to Saskatchewan they were passing through Cold Lake in northern Alberta. They took a random turn on a road in the city and found themselves driving by the Cold Lake city bus barn. And there lined up along the fence were a few of his beloved U2 buses, still with their Calgary paint, but now featuring the words "Cold Lake Transit."
Sam added, it was such a great surprise and made Alec and his parents think about how buses have adventures beyond the same old route you expect them to take. Link to Alec's photos.
Alec also had questions for Denise. He wondered if she knew about two books – “The Subway Mouse” by Barbara Reid (all about Toronto's subway system) and "Next Stop" by Toronto author Sarah Ellis. He thought she’d really like "Next Stop" which is about an afternoon in the life of a bus and a girl who is riding by herself with a secret. He thinks the bus ride in this story must be happening in Toronto, but he tried checking the names of the stops mentioned in the book and couldn't find them. He now thinks maybe the story is based on a Toronto bus ride, but set in a city that could be "anywhere."
Not to be left out, Sam shared how Alex’s interest in transit has taken her in directions she I would never have imagined. She loves the everyday journey through unexpected territory that is being a parent. (Editor’s note: Especially being Alec’s mom.)
Denise loved learning about Alec's early interest in transit and how it has – and continues to - greatly influence his family’s life. The fact his first word/phrase for anything with wheels was "go-go" and how he referred to the U2 train design as “bright and loving” were touching.
She was also impressed with story around Sam's wonderful initiative starting up the 23rd Ave Art Walk after learning there were 26 artists living within a few blocks of her house.
The fact Calgary will never have double-decker buses because of the Plus 15s also intrigued her.
She also loved the story about my trip with my 84-year old mother to Mexico City for 18 days where we walked and rode their VERY crowded subway, LRT and buses almost every day.
When she heard my Mom has also ridden the bus from Whitehorse to Calgary (the trip takes almost 29 hours just to get from Whitehorse to Edmonton and then you have to take another bus to Calgary which is another 3.5 hours) arriving the morning the Bow River flooded downtown Calgary (including the bus depot), in 2013. As part of her research, Denise hopes to meet my Mom, a self-described “Queen of the Rails,” as trains beat out any and all means of transportation for her.
It turns out Denise is on sabbatical as the Global Director/Executive Director of Jane’s Walk based in Toronto. It is “a charitable project that honours the late urbanist Jane Jacobs' ideas and community-based approach to city building by encouraging citizen-led walking tours that make space for every person to observe, reflect, share, question and collectively re-imagine the places in which they live, work and play.”
Good chance Alec, Denise and Sam are going to be my new best friends.