Thursday, September 11, 2014

Riding a rocket to a standstill

Our son and his four-year old son were coming from Japan to the Twin Cities in the last week of August.  My wife planned to stay in the Twin Cities until Labor Day and then bring our grandson back to Duluth with her.  I didn’t want to stay in the Twin Cities that long and wanted to spend most of the weekend at our cabin.

There was no point in driving two cars down so that we could come back separately.  Ah ha! This is my chance to try Jefferson Lines’ Rocket Rider.  I went to Jefferson Lines’ web site and determined that my best choice was to get the bus at 5:55 P.M. at the University of Minnesota stop.  That seemed the easiest to find.  The bus would arrive at UMD at 8:55 P.M., just in time for me to catch the 9:00 DTA bus down the hill.

I ordered my ticket online, printed it out and tucked it in my backpack.

After I had my ticket and before we left for the Twin Cities, the rains came.  And the rains came.  Our sump pump turned our lawn into a swamp.  There was so much water that it washed the mulch and gravel down from the side of our newly-built steps to the front walk.  It even undercut the steps.  There goes going to our cabin on Saturday.

I fretted about it for the rest of the week, even more so when I was in the Twin Cites and more rain was coming in Duluth.

Well, it wasn’t raining when my wife dropped me off at the U of M stop in Minneapolis.  The bus arrived on schedule.  I gave my ticket and travel bag to the driver and got on a nearly empty bus.  Plenty of window seats left.

The next stop was the Union Depot in St. Paul.  I was glad that I didn’t chose that as my stop.  Even though I have some familiarity with Downtown St. Paul, I couldn’t keep track of the streets that the bus driver used.  Besides, there must have been twenty people waiting for the bus.

Two young men got on that were speaking some foreign language that sounded Slavic to me.  I asked the man that sat next to me “What Slavic language are you speaking?”  He looked at me in consternation and said that was German, they were from Basel, Switzerland!  Finally, I understood why my German colleagues in Basel were upset with their Swiss colleagues for holding meetings in Schweitzerdeutsch.  Anyhow, the two young men were impressed that I had spent several weeks in Basel.  We had sporadic conversations after that; my seat mate was engrossed in a book, as was I.

The driver announced that we would be at UMD by 8:30.  But he didn’t consider the heavy traffic going north for the long weekend.  It didn’t really clear up until Forest Lake.  Although the bus driver allowed lots of room behind the cars he followed, my guess is that he was going 75-80 miles per hour.  It seemed that he spent more time in the left lane than the right.

As darkness fell, I had a harder time knowing where we were.  I would see the signs as the bus approached them, but I never saw them as we passed them.  Of course!  There often were not any cars close enough behind to shine lights on the signs.

We arrived at the West Duluth bus station sometime before nine.  Most of the passengers got off there.  The Swiss asked if I was familiar with an address in the 300 block of E. Superior St.  One was getting the address out of a guide book, but I didn’t think to ask to see the entry.  I suggested they take any of the buses on Grand Avenue and offered to look up the schedule on my iPhone.  They said they would take a taxi.

The bus arrived at Kirby Plaza after nine.  I didn’t want to walk home with a heavy backpack and a travel bag, and so I had to wait until ten.  Oh, to be back in Basel where one tram line ran every ten minutes even at midnight!

I’ll spare you the details of how I fixed the erosion by our front steps, but I think the new sod will hold and be green.  But the task left me too tired on Sunday to go to our cabin, and I was still to tired on Monday.  So, my rocket ride left me at a standstill.

What did I think overall about the Rocket Rider?  It beat driving alone for two-and-a-half hours.  The seat was comfortable and I got to read a good portion of a book.  The overall time was longer, considering having to come from Shoreview to Minneapolis and waiting forty-five minutes for a local bus ride of three minutes.  The $27.99 I spent for a senior ticket would beat the $50 or so that I would have to spend for gas.  But that’s round trip for gas.  I would be ahead with an SUV over a bus had I taken the bus both ways.  If I had taken the Prius, I would have spent less for gas for a round trip than I would have spent for one way on the bus.

If you consider a family of two or more, then the car is definitely a better deal than a bus trip.

I couldn’t find any quick information about the Northern Lights Express, but my guess is that it may be a good deal for somebody traveling alone city center to city center.  All others would find a car cheaper and quicker.  That’s a hard thing to write for a guy who likes trains.

Mel would move back to Basel but it would be too far from his cabin.