My father and I rode the bus to Seaview last week. Actually, we rode eight buses to Seaview last week. The first bus departed from Bremerton, which is west of Seattle, and the last one dropped us off at 33rd and Pacific.
It was last winter when Dad said he had figured out how we could take public transportation all the way from Bremerton to Seaview. I knew this idea wasn't just a feature of his recent retirement - I come from a family of people who seek out long journeys.
We chose a Friday in July. Dad was in charge of lunch, the itinerary of inter-county bus connections, and ensuring that the various transfer stops included the occasional bathroom. I was in charge of transporting a cell phone - in case we became stranded - and taking photographs.
The 150-mile drive usually takes about three hours. The county bus method, which was soon to be known as the Very Long Bus Ride or "Take your Daughter to Retirement Day," was scheduled to take 12 hours.
My family has been making trips to Seaview and Long Beach for four generations. In the past, some came by train, most came by car. We've come for weddings, festivals, family reunions, weekends, and, sometimes weeks - if we are lucky. Next year my parents will come here to live permanently. It was over 20 years ago they bought a small cabin in Seaview. About four years ago they tore down the cabin and built the home they will retire in. I grew up learning the drive from my parents' house in Bremerton to the beach house in Seaview. Since moving to Seattle over 10 years ago my husband and I have made the drive to the Seaview house so many times we can predict each bump in the road.
Dad and I boarded our first bus, a Mason County Transit #13, at the Bremerton Transportation Center, i.e. the ferry terminal, at 6:20 in the morning. We paid a dollar for the trip from Bremerton to Shelton and we were the only passengers who traveled the old Belfair highway to a grocery store parking lot. While the driver was on break I stood in a small wooden hut, which was painted with pictures of songbirds, while Dad walked through the rain to the store's restrooms. Ten minutes later we were back on the road with two new passengers, a person that we guessed was a Hood Canal oyster farm worker and a woman who told me that she traveled to Olympia six days a week for methadone. She also told me that she liked my jeans, my socks, and my bag. Sitting in a bus shelter next to my dad, she asked, "Is he your dad?"
"Yeah," I said.
"That's cool," she said.
While we stood outside the Shelton Civic Center waiting for the next bus we listened to train whistles. Dad told me that when he was a boy a great-uncle who worked on the railroad took him to the Portland train yard and showed him how to put a freight train together. Dad described how the engines shuffled the cars around and communicated through short blasts of the whistle.
A few moments later we were leaning into plush, tall-backed seats on the Mason County #6. The woman on her way to Olympia and a couple new riders stretched out and slept in the back of the bus.
I sat up in my seat as we past the harbor at Budd Inlet in Olympia about 40 minutes later. Before this trip, Olympia had only served as the big right turn on the way to Montesano. We exited the bus at the transit center and used our hour-long layover to walk the harbor and explore the patchwork of streets and businesses between the inlet and the capitol building.
Like all journeys, this trip was not just about getting from here to there; it was about what happened in between. It was about turning left off the highway after a chainsaw carving school in Allyn and making a loop through the sleepy community of Grapeview. Or, rambling along the narrow Monte Elma road that connects the stops in McCleary, Elma and Montesano. In Raymond it was about the bus crossing the highway and meandering residential streets, at one point dropping a man and his box of sweet rolls off at his front door.
In Olympia we boarded the Magic Bus. The Magic Bus earns its name by its chartreuse color and the brightly colored stuffed animals and curls of ribbon dangling from the rearview mirrors, fare box, windows and handrails. It also earns it name by its smiling driver who wore large reflective blue sunglasses on a rainy day and decorated the bus just the way she likes it. After dropping two dollars into the fare box and taking in the decor I sunk into a seat. Dad sat next to me and sunk so low that he was shorter than me. We propped each other up with our shoulders and mused about the ride ahead of us. "Maybe we'll just wake up in Aberdeen, having no idea how we got there," I whispered. "I think we are going to fly there," Dad said.
This Grays Harbor bus was crowded with long-distance travelers. Passengers carried sleeping bags and dragged suitcases through the front door. One man gently cradled a guitar. The woman in front of us carried a dachshund in a box. She sighed as she told another rider that she was returning home after a week visiting her mother. "Thank you so much kind lady!" a man exclaimed to the driver as he stepped off the bus in Elma.
We knew we were hungry when we arrived in Aberdeen. In Olympia we had discussed oysters. On the road, Dad had reminisced about his childhood summers in Seaside, going into detail about how the Pronto Pup vendor dipped a hotdog into corn batter and then put the pup on a small wheel that dipped it into hot oil. After a quick stop at the restroom at the Aberdeen Public Library we ate the sack lunch that Dad had prepared for us, sitting on a city bench near the front door of a bank. I nibbled on crackers, cheese and apple and bit into fresh garden peas and radishes. I was reminded of the lunches that Dad used to pack for me every morning before school.
As soon as we boarded the Pacific Transit #14 I phoned our chase car. "We're good to go." I whispered into the cell phone. Mom had asked us to call her as soon as we left Aberdeen. She was making the trip from Bremerton to the beach house in her truck and wanted to know if she needed to pick up any stragglers along the way. Rain streaked the fogged up windows of our bus. A frowning bicyclist and his six bags filled three seats in the front and a man with a large blue suitcase and two backpacks occupied the seats behind us. Mom commented that I sounded tired. "I'm not tired; I'm just trying to be quiet. We are good to go." Fifty minutes later we were in Raymond where we transferred to the #32. When we reached South Bend it was 2:20 p.m.
During our two-hour layover in South Bend we visited the Pacific County Museum, the public restrooms, and a coffee shop. After a short walk up and down the quiet street we huddled under our umbrellas outside the espresso and seafood outlet and waited for the #50. I sipped hot tea and we shared the sweet oat bars that Mom had baked. Suddenly, Mom was there, grinning as she pulled her truck to the curb in front of us. She had been driving just over two hours and would arrive at the beach house in about 45 minutes. She chuckled as we peered into the car window, recounting some of our adventures. "I've never had lunch at a bank before," I laughed.
About 20 minutes after mom pulled away from the curb the bus arrived. As we rode toward the Peninsula we talked about a surreal sensation we were having. We had made this drive so many times that it was odd seeing the familiar sites from a bus. "It's like we are watching a video of the drive," Dad said, staring out the front windows. After about 30 minutes on the road, including a bouncy ride along the narrow strip of asphalt that runs between the black cows and oyster shell piles of Bay Center, we were at Johnson's Landing. We turned left toward Naselle. A few minutes later we were surprised to find ourselves off the bus, standing under a drippy fir tree in a grocery store parking lot. A fellow bus rider sat on his suitcase a few feet from us and grumbled about having to change buses. We didn't know the #50 has a north route and a south route that use this parking lot as the transfer stop. After we boarded the south #50 we continued on to Astoria, where we picked up a handful of passengers. As we sped across the bridge the bus filled with the sweet, pungent scent of alcohol and the salty smell of fresh seafood. The new riders sat in the back of the bus and shared stories and phone numbers.
In Ilwaco we stood at the bus stop and eyed the row of seafood shops, galleries and restaurants while we discussed how every bus we had ridden - all eight of them - were on time. Our last ride, the #20, pulled up and we each tossed 35 cents into the fare box. We tallied our fares as we passed through town, discovering that we had each paid a mere $5.70 for the whole ride.
Rounding the bend of Pacific Highway, we entered Seaview. It occurred to me that I had only seen one passenger pull the stop cord on the all of the buses. Most of the drivers knew their passengers by name and their passenger's desired stops by heart. I thought back to the driver in Montesano who had dropped off an elderly woman, her arms filled with groceries. Just as she started to exit the bus he asked her to wait while he pulled the bus forward a few inches. "I didn't want you to have to step in that puddle," he said.
Dad nudged me and I pulled the cord. The driver steered the coach to the curb and we thanked him as we stepped onto the sidewalk. We smiled as we walked toward "K" Street. I looked at the time - it was nearly 6:20 p.m. Our trip had taken exactly 12 hours, just as Dad had predicted. We laughed and waved when we saw Mom and my aunt sitting on the porch with their shoes off, drinking glasses of red wine. We had arrived at the beach. And, we had made the journey together.