The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

February 18, 2010

Sit Down, Shut Up and Hang On

Filed under: Seattle — Brian Lutz @ 11:06 pm

Source: Flickr user Atomic Taco, Creative Commons License

 As I discussed a couple of posts ago on this Blog, for the past few weeks I have been working in downtown Seattle.  I know I’ve been a bit light on posting here recently, although this isn’t because my life is exceptionally boring or anything like that right now (far from it in fact.)  I’ve actually got quite a bit of interesting stuff going on, it’s just that all of seems to be subject to non-disclosure agreements for the time being.  I’ll eventually talk about some of this stuff once it gets out into the general public.  In the meantime.  there are still a few aspects of working in downtown Seattle  that I am not all that fond of.  Perhaps the biggest one of these right now is the fact that it requires spending an hour and a half riding on the bus most days. 

Not that this is anything new to me.  Back when I worked my first tech support job in downtown Seattle I rode the bus to work daily.  Back in those days, I was generally getting on the bus at 6am to arrive at work by 7, so I spent most of my time on the bus sleeping (or whatever reasonable facsimile thereof I am capable of sustaining on a moving vehicle, which pretty much meant closing my eyes and pretending to be asleep.)  Although I’ve never been a big fan of the transit system around here, if there’s one thing they do well, it’s getting people in and out of Seattle.  Back in those days, the buses to Redmond went through the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel, which allowed them to dodge the traffic and get around a lot quicker.  Generally, the ride would be on one of these busses, which are apparently old enough by now to be considered historic (although, based on some of the comments on these photos, “historic” isn’t the word most of their drivers would use to describe them.)  

Fast forward 13 years to now, when I find myself once again commuting daily to downtown Seattle and once again riding the bus on a daily basis.  These days, the buses are actually a fair bit nicer than the old ones I used to ride.  Of course, “nice” is a relative term when you’re used to doing your daily commuting in a three-year old German hatchback with seat heaters and the steering wheel in your hands, but the New Flyer buses they have these days are a definite improvement over the old ones I used to ride on in the Mid Nineties.  In fact, I’d say that the interior of the current ST Express busses seem to be more along the lines of an airplane than what you’re going to find in the standard-issue Metro bus, with things like overhead storage bins (that I’ve never seen anyone actually use.) individual lights for each seat and even reclining seats.  A number of them even apparently have wi-fi, although I don’t generally have any device that would actually use it besides my phone, which can just use its EVDO connection.  It’s about as nice as you’d expect to find in coach class on an MD-80, which isn’t saying much, but you don’t (usually) have to spend three hours sitting in one spot to get to your destination, and it’s not nearly as claustrophobic either.  The windows are also a whole lot bigger too. 

Then again, if you actually take the time to look out the windows, you might not necessarily like what you see.  Although most of the bus drivers are relatively sane, it seems that every once in a while you get one of the other kinds.  I suppose it takes a certain bit of brute force to get a one of these busses through the mess of traffic in downtown Seattle (especially the mess they’ve got on 4th Avenue, which is currently torn up throughout most of downtown for some unspecified construction project)  but on the few occasions I’ve found myself actually paying attention to the driving, I’ve not liked what I’ve seen.  It’s one thing for someone in a small car to drive through a stale yellow light that’s just about to turn red (generally not a good idea, but it does happen on occasion.)  It’s another thing entirely to do the same in a 40 60-foot articulated bus (corrected) with people already stepping into the crosswalk.  I’ve also seen drivers use shoulder (which I’m reasonably certain isn’t exactly a valid lane) to get around the east 520 backup heading into downtown Redmond in the evening.  Generally, there’s  no shortage of not-so-legal driving going on if you happen to pay attention.  Probably not “unlicensed bus drivers in India” level mayhem, but probably not quite according to the book either.  Most of the people riding the bus tend to have their noses buried in books or electronic devices of some sort, and don’t notice any of this (I swear that on some of the buses around here fully three quarters of the people on the bus are using iPhones, and most of the rest have Amazon Kindles.)  To be honest, that’s probably not a bad idea, given some of the alternatives.  

To be honest, if it wasn’t for the horrendous cost of parking in downtown Seattle I’d probably just drive (and on a number of occasions when I’ve needed to do some testing for a location-aware app, I have) Then again, at $5 per round trip on the buses, it’s not even that much more expensive to park than to ride (as long as you can get one of the lots with the before 9:30 rates,) and I get home a lot faster that way too, since unlike the buses, driving in my own car gives me the ability to actually dodge the traffic instead of stubbornly slogging through it and making a dozen stops along the way.  Especially with the aforementioned mess on 4th in downtown, there has been more than one occasion where I can get on a bus at 4th and James and it takes fifteen minutes to make it to Pine Street (Remember, the mnemonic for the streets in Downtown is “Jesus Christ Made Seattle Under Protest,” for Jefferson, James, Cherry, Columbia, Marion, Madison, Spring, Seneca, University, Union, Pike and Pine.)  Once I manage to get through that, there’s the usual messes on I-5 and 520 to deal with.  I suppose the fact that I don’t need to actually drive when I ride the bus (not that I’d particularly want to drive one of those)  does offset this somewhat, but spending an hour on a bus after spending eight hours at work isn’t exactly my idea of a fun evening.  

Still, I suppose I can’t complain too much about a little thing like an occasional bus ride.  Yeah, the busses can be a bit of a pain, but at least I do have the option to drive if I want, the work I’m doing pays pretty well, and I’m actually quite enjoying it too.  It’s given me a chance to work on some stuff I haven’t done before on platforms I haven’t worked on. It’s also nice having the opportunity to take full responsibility for testing on a product, instead of being buried three managers deep in a test team with half a dozen project managers punting all your bugs for arcane reasons and spending more time fighting the test automation than it would take to just do the testing manually.   There’s a time and a place for all of that (after all, if you’re selling high-powered enterprise class stuff with pricetags to match, the customers are going to expect there to be just a bit more testing than you’d find on iPhone applications selling for $5 a pop)  but to be honest, the whole process can get to be just a little bit soul-crushing after a while.  And getting a chance to get away from it all for a while is a nice little breath of fresh air.



  1. Thanks for using my photo! By the way, the articulated coaches are 60 feet long.

    Comment by Atomic Taco — February 18, 2010 @ 11:29 pm

  2. I believe the proper term is “bendy bus”.

    Comment by Stephen B — February 22, 2010 @ 5:43 pm

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