ON ECHODALE Avenue at Harford Road, I have caught the No. 44 bus at 5:40 a.m. every workday since I totaled my car in March. Most of the Baltimore metropolitan area sleeps as a handful of passengers and I travel to work on the verge of daybreak. I transfer to the northbound No. 8 bus at 6:05 a.m. on York Road at Northern Parkway.
The "coach" -- as in, "REMAIN BEHIND THE STANDEE LINE WHEN THE COACH IS IN MOTION," is full of folks who can't or won't drive a car. The landscaping crew from BARC (the Baltimore Association for Retarded Citizens), the sharp dresser who I suspect is a salesman or a minister, the couple of guys nodding off bound for their methadone treatments across town get on and off at stops along the way.
Then there are the dozens of people like me bound for Stella Maris or one of the human service programs off Dulaney Valley and Pot Spring roads in Timonium. And there is usually the one passenger, a different person each morning, it seems, drunk or high on something who will have to be urged to leave the bus at the end of the line to take a southbound bus back to the city. We may not be a classy crew, but we have character.
I look down, literally, on the commuters in their automobiles and remember how I envied them. After all, with their own cars, they can get up and go anywhere they choose at any time -- so long as it's to work at the crack of dawn. I do that, too -- for a lot less money.
With gasoline costing more than $1.60 a gallon, my former car cost me $2.40 per day in fuel. Of course, I needed auto insurance at $1.64 per day. Then there were repairs and maintenance averaging $1.37 per day. Finally, there was depreciation.
I got about 50,000 miles out of my old, used car that I had bought for $7,000. I received $3,000, its Blue Book value, when it was declared irreparable by my insurance company. That's a net cost of $4,000, or $3.60 a day, just for the ultimate driving machine.
My total cost to fight traffic in my own car, therefore, came to $9.01 a day. This doesn't include traffic tickets, vehicle registration, a driver's license, parking fees and other necessary costs of operating a motor vehicle.
With one daily MTA pass for $3 ($14 for a weekly or $54 for a monthly pass, $14 per month for senior citizens and folks with disabilities), I can ride the bus and the light rail and Metro subway anywhere I want to go, any time of day, as often as I like. I don't worry about accidents, vehicle theft, vandalism or road rage.
Of course, there were costs of buying in to the passenger culture. I bought a radio with earphones (not the ear buds but the headphones that look like earmuffs). I don't flutter my paper pass at the driver anymore, but keep it in a sort of business card wallet so that I can snap it open like an FBI agent showing his badge. I may get a cell phone eventually so it can play a cute little tune in transit, and I can hold a conversation at 6:15 a.m. showing how greatly in demand I must be. Aside from those items, my startup costs were minimal.
Past the stop for St. Joseph's hospital, past Towson University, past Towson Town Center, up Dulaney Valley Road and through the grounds of Stella Maris, I am pretty well awake by now. It is 6:25 a.m. and the last of the morning mist hovers over the 37 acres owned by the Archdiocese of Baltimore on which my employer is located.
A deer or two are often grazing at the edge of the woods, and the same fat rabbit waits for me at the same place on the property of Francis X. Gallagher Services as I arrive for work.
Bill, the regular bus driver who learned I have osteoarthritis in my knees just as he has, reminds me to call my orthopedic surgeon for an appointment. I thank him sincerely. We joke about something as I step gingerly off the bus. I tell him to drive safely. He wishes me a good day in return.
It will be nice to have a car again and the freedom it affords. But for $3 a day, I will probably leave that automobile in front of my house and continue to ride the public transit's ultimate driving machine -- to and from work, at least.
My grandfather once told me, "Mikey, don't ever run after a streetcar or a woman because there's always another one coming." At age 16, I took that as reassuring advice about girlfriends.
At age 52 and happily married, I wonder now if he wasn't singing the praises of mass transit. I've finally learned both lessons.
Michael T. Bornemann is residential site manager of a facility operated by Francis X. Gallagher Services for men with developmental disabilities.