SEATTLE - The last time this intrepid correspondent and spouse braved the rigors of Seattle area traffic, it was to attend the opening-day game of the Seattle Mariners baseball team at Seattle's Safeco Field. Other than having to experience the high altitude seats in the third level "nose bleed" section of Safeco, it was a pleasant experience as the good-guy M's won their season opener.

Several weeks into the season, the cellar-skirting M's, now trailing the division leaders by double-digit numbers, were still attracting hopeful fans who are wishing for a mid- to-late season upsurge. Therefore, when the wife's cousin offered us his 100 level seats to see the M's play the Oakland A's, we jumped at the chance.

Unfortunately, between the time that we said "yes" to the time when the game was to be played, the wife came down with a severe case of bronchitis. Finally, she decided that, rather than attending the game, she could ride along to visit another of her cousins where we would stay, just north of Olympia.

Her cousin is a veteran of attending most Seattle pro sporting events, especially the M's and the Sonics games, and he has the process down to a science. He was especially intrigued by the idea of sitting in level one "high rent area" tickets in Safeco.

He informed me that we would be taking public transit (a Pierce Transit bus) from South Tacoma to an area adjacent to Safeco Field. We had several choices of the time that we would want to leave and he said that we would catch the 5:30 p.m bus to arrive at Safeco in time for the 7:05 p.m. game. It seemed like a pretty tight schedule to me, but who am I to argue with a veteran of these transit wars.

Shortly after 4:30 p.m., we left his home to drive the 15 or so freeway miles to the bus stop at the intersection of Hwy. 512 and the I-5 freeway, near the north end of McChord Field. Since it was quitting time for many of the people working at Ft. Lewis and the other military bases near that stretch of freeway, we became a little bound up in traffic.

But we made it to the transit stop, which consists of a large park and ride lot and a large bus loading area, with almost ten minutes to spare. As we waited for our "Seattle Express" several other buses pulled up and loaded passengers bound for many different areas in the Puget Sound area.

Promptly at 5:30 p.m., we boarded our bus by paying the fare of $1.50 each one-way (senior citizen's rate). Non-seniors pay a bit more and you must have the exact change to pay your fare, as the driver does not make change.

The bus quickly pulled onto the freeway into the bus or diamond lane and a few minutes later we picked up a few more passengers in downtown Tacoma, and then filled the bus when it stopped at the loading area at the Tacoma Dome Station. As we got back onto the freeway, the driver asked one of the young passengers to get a count on how may were attending the M's game. Twenty-seven of the people on our fully-loaded bus were going to the game.

Again, the driver got into the freeway fast lane and 40 minutes later we were disembarking at the transit area, only two to three short blocks from Safeco Field. We ambled to our level one seats and made the 7:05 p.m. first pitch starting time with five minutes to spare.

The way that the first 8 and 2/3 innings of the game went, we might as well have stayed in Olympia or Tacoma, or Naselle, for that matter. Our level one seats, between third and home, gave us an excellent view of the game, and much of what we saw, was not good for the M's. Then, with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, and trailing by two runs, the M's manufactured two runs, and the game moved on to extra innings.

By this time, a procession of pitchers for both teams managed to keep the scoring to a minimum - in fact, to nothing for the first two extra innings. Then in the 12th, the A's scored a run and it seemed like it was all over for the M's, especially after they had one out in the bottom of the 12th inning.

But the baseball gods intervened, and an A's error allowed two base runners to reach or stay on base rather than turning a game ending double play. After another out, the M's manufactured one run to tie the score. Then, with two outs, the opening day's game hero, Richie Sexson, singled to drive in speed merchant Ichiro from second, who had reached base on the aforementioned error. The two unearned runs gave the M's the win, a little over four hours after the first pitch had been thrown.

At game's end, we hustled to the bus loading area, as we weren't sure of the availability of buses at such a late hour. Not to worry. The transit company has buses leaving 20 minutes after the conclusion of the game, no matter the time. This time, we boarded an articulated bus, which is essentially two buses in one. It was completely loaded with M's fans bound for Tacoma and points south. At least one more bus was to follow as soon as ours departed.

Again, the driver got into the fast lane and an hour later, we were disembarking back at our boarding spot, after we each paid our fare on exiting the bus. A short 20-minute drive later, we were back home a little after 1 a.m.

The moral of this story is: If you are traveling to Seattle to see the Mariners or Seahawks and have no reason to have a car in Seattle, board Pierce Transit and save the driving and parking hassles that are present in that area of Seattle. Transit buses are available from as far south as Olympia, but one has to transfer if you follow that schedule.

By next year, my guide told me that direct service to Seattle would begin at the town of DuPont, halfway between Olympia and Tacoma. For now, the most convenient stop from the South seems to be the one near McChord Field at I-5 and 512.

As far as we are concerned, we are firm believers in the old advertising slogan of, "Take the bus and leave the driving to us."

Pierce Transit information and bus schedules are available on the Internet at (www.piercetransit.org)

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