Sometimes being the youngest in a family of six has distinct disadvantages. The 7-year-old has expended an early childhood adapting to the schedules of older siblings. We repeatedly have implored him to hurry and dress, hurry and brush his hair and hurry and eat to drive to someone else's lesson, sports practice, school, doctor's appointment and countless other activities. At one junction, I envisioned his autobiographical essays on childhood containing this passage: "My earliest recollections of my formative years are of being strapped in a car seat, driving through traffic, and my mother fussing about time . . ." It was thus that on a recent warm Sunday we embarked on a carefree journey, with no time restrictions, to places the 7-year-old chose. We rode the North County buses for an entire afternoon.
With three North County Transit District booklets in hand, we had at our disposal bus maps and schedules for several routes. "I get to choose, right?" the 7-year-old queried regarding the ground rules for the afternoon as we walked to the bus stop in Del Mar. In Del Mar, we had parked the car and deposited the oldest sibling, who has recently settled into her summer job as a "yogurt dispenser."
No sooner had we sat down on the bench, than a charming elderly gentleman asked if we were going to the fair. He chatted about his weekend travels on the bus lines throughout the county. With his pass in tow, and his small radio tuned to the Padre game, he shared that upon moving to California from Ohio, he sold his car and began using public transportation "seeing more country than I ever saw before."
In a world where we must warn children to be careful of strangers, this gentleman's pleasant discourse on a bus bench was a reminder of a notable void in friendly human exchanges.
The approach of the northbound 301 was greeted with joy by the young traveler. "Right on time," he beamed. He joyfully deposited the correct amount of change (no dollar bills, he knew) and asked for two transfers. To where, we didn't know. "Can we sit in the middle of the bus?" he chirped as we boarded.
The Del Mar Fair looked decidedly different from the higher elevation of the bus and the young traveler pointed out all the rides he had been on that "made him sorta sick." We traveled past beaches filled with surfers and swimmers. The bus stopped to pick up two young men with fishing polls and their tackle boxes.
"Where's the string to pull?" the young traveler inquired. He was searching for a pull chord that would signal the driver when we wanted to exit. There wasn't one. "Press the yellow tape for next stop" the sign read above a yellow-plastic strip on the bus wall. Before the next stop, two ladies in the front gathered their parcels and pushed the yellow tape. The bus stopped.
"M-i-s-s-i-s-s-i-p-p-i," the traveler spelled. "I learned to spell Mississippi this year," he said as he marked our route on his map. "Let's go all the way to the end," he decided.
We moved along in beachfront traffic in air-conditioned comfort toward Oceanside, where we deposited a group of freshly-sheared, and somewhat weary, Marines.
We took a break at the Transit Center in Oceanside, and chose some treats at the small store. We selected Cracker Jacks, assorted Lifesavers, and an orange soda pop. "Isn't life delicious?" the young traveler sang as he popped a red Lifesaver in his mouth.
Where to go next? Two choices loomed before us--a trip through Camp Pendleton or a jaunt over to Escondido. We opted for Escondido on the westbound 302, agreeing to tour Pendleton another day.
As we sat on the benches and awaited the arrival of the 302, a grandmotherly lady inquired, "Say, do they still give you a prize in the box of Cracker Jacks?"
"Yes," the traveler replied, proudly displaying a small cardboard insert which held a decal. The young Marines witnessing this exchange nodded, remembering this added attraction in each box.
The young traveler was delighted with his route choice. From the rear of the bus on this trip, we visited Plaza Camino Real, Mira Costa College, the Vista Transit Center, Palomar College, rode past a dairy farm, the Family Fun Center and ultimately found ourselves deposited at the Escondido Transit Center.
The revelation upon exiting the bus was the heat. We had been traveling in blissful comfort until this point. "It's hot and we need another soda," the traveler whimpered. Unfortunately, since it was Sunday, there was nothing open and we had to satisfy our thirst with a rather warm drink from the water fountain.
At the information desk, the young traveler began a discourse with the information officer. After some discussion of north, south, east and west, the southwesterly 308 was chosen as our next bus. "We can transfer to the 301 in Cardiff," my now-seasoned traveler told me, "and the man told me that we'll love the scenery."
The bus roved through Harmony Grove, past wind surfers on Lake Hodges, through Rancho Santa Fe and paused briefly at a polo match in Fairbanks Ranch. We transferred in Cardiff and headed south to Del Mar to retrieve our car and buy a yogurt before heading home.
I had been struck by the absence of young adolescents on the buses all afternoon as we traveled through North County. Are the extensive routes of the North County Transit a well-kept secret, or have we too easily dismissed the bus as a mode of travel?
Later in the day, two appraisals of our journey were ascertained:
Overheard on the telephone between the yogurt-shop sibling and a friend, "Yeah, I had to work, but my mother spent the afternoon riding the bus with my little brother . . . Weird . . ."
And the second, from the 7-year-old traveler: "I thought it might be boring, but I had a great time."