Having run into a recent spate of car-related problems (yeah, it's back in the shop again....), I had the opportunity to ride MetroBus. It would be my first time riding it since Metro instituted the new routes, and my first time departing from the newish Gravois/Hampton MetroBus Center.
Readying for my trip, I visited the MetroBus website and downloaded a PDF of the schedule. Possibly due to my limited tech-savvy, when printed, the font on the schedule was scaled so small, I needed a magnifying glass to read it.
I arrived about 20 minutes early for the 7:20 bus. Passing by car, I always enjoyed seeing the new Gravois/Hampton bus depot. It was a positive addition to the Gravois entry into South City. Having had an up close and personal look at it, it was not so impressive.
The waiting areas are equipped with electric heaters. Unfortunately, they were only working on one half of the station. On the side they were working were piles of trash, including an empty liquor bottle, discarded fast food containers, the remains of a lost purse, and strewn stacks of "Playback" magazine. So, instead of sitting amongst the garbage, riders chose to wait it out on the unheated side.
My bus arrived about 15 minutes ahead of its scheduled departure time. I asked the driver if I could wait on the bus. He said "no". I then mentioned to him about the piles of trash in the heated shelter. He said he'd "call someone". Then he disappeared into an auxiliary building for about 15 minutes. Why he didn't come out with a broom and a dustpan to clean up the trashed waiting area, I couldn't explain.
In the meantime, I searched the MetroBus station and the side of my bus unsuccessfully for fare information. At about 7:19 am, the driver invited me aboard. The fare machine read, "$1.65" for a one-way ride. I deposited the fare and took a seat in the rear-third of the bus.
About 7:30 am, we passed the Southampton Presbyterian Church. Not knowing the potential health risks of cel phone antennas, I can say that the visual impact of the device on the church chimney is barely noticeable. Not sure if I ever posted before how I remain one of the world's last remaining cel-phoneless residents.
A block west of Kingshighway, at the southeast corner of Lawn Avenue and Oleatha, we rode by one of the city's top decorated Christmas houses. A must-see on any lights drive...
Turning north onto Kingshighway, the sun was just rising above the purple facade of the Charles Schmitt exotic used car lot.
7:39 am: Traffic jammed briefly on northbound, South Kingshighway, ten riders on the bus.
7:40 am: Pass King Dodge. Wave in direction of the family car in distress. Offer a novena to the auto repair gods.
7:41 am: Pass Steve Smith's "Royale". Sidewalks clean and swept.
7:42 am: Tower Grove Park stop crowded with at least 15 riders waiting for buses.
7:43 am: Overhear fellow passengers bemoaning bad luck drawing "Lotto" numbers.
7:44 am: Eastbound across Magnolia along northern edge of Tower Grove Park. Rising sun shining through the branches of the park's bare trees. Park looks pristine. Nets off the soccer goals.
7:45 am: Enter Shaw neighborhood heading north on Thurman. At corner of Thurman and Shenandoah, pass the remains of the Thurman cafe, housed in the former home of the Garden District Commission. Outdoor seating, tiny wrought iron fence, and outdoor fireplace still positioned for phantom cafe customers.
7:45 am: Eastbound on Shenandoah. Historic Shaw buildings looking better than ever. Out of the whole ride, Shaw neighborhood looks by far the "most improved".
7:49 am: Northbound on 39th. Pass mini-traffic jam at entrance to St. Margaret's of Scotland.
7:50 am: Northern edge of Shaw neighborhood, at Shaw and 39th, pass the only visible signs of remaining neighborhood decay. Cross under Hwy 44, approaching Botanical Heights.
7:51 am: Passing Botanical Heights. Tiny street trees, fresh asphalt, and most of the windows in the new houses having no curtains gives the new neighborhood a sterile feel. Northern edge of Botanical Heights neighborhood, a passenger on the bus shouts out, "Somebody running for the bus!". The driver stops and opens the door. The runner climbs on board. Standing room only now on the bus.
7:56 am: Passing through SLU Hospital land. The area looks sharp. Ever since the start of the ride, there is a noticeable lack of trash blowing through through the city's streets and sidewalks. The neighborhoods looks clean! Passengers on the crowded bus are speaking in muffled tones. The crackle of the driver's radio is audible above the soft conversations of the riders.
7:59 am: Crossing Grand on Park into the Gate District. Years of work started by neighborhood resident LaVerne Foster, and carried on by organizations including SLACO, CF Vatterott, and Pyramid Construction, have resulted in a dramatic, mixed- income, diverse new urban neighborhood built upon the original street and alley grid.
8:04 am: First sight of the Arch and downtown.
8:05 am: Pass under the elevated, double-decker Highway 40 structure connection to Illinois. It still looks like braces hanging across the southern edge of downtown.
8:08 am: Pass the City Hall/Savvis surface parking lot built on the site of the former Children's Building.
8:10 am: Conversation in the back of the bus reduced to talk of b-----s, mo-fo, shid, a--, booty, shid like dat, smack dat shid.
8:12 am: Headed eastbound along Washington Avenue. Abundant signs that groundfloor retail spaces of loft buildings are rapidly filling with tenants.
8:15 am: Overhear two middle-aged ladies riding the bus since Southampton express dismay at the amount and prices of downtown loft housing developments.
8:17 am: Exit bus at the Convention Center, walk the one block to the office. Total trip time from South St. Louis to downtown: 1 hour.