Vacation Transportation                      

Bill Tune

When one spends time far from home without the benefit of one’s trusty automobile, one learns to deal with public transportation. Being a life-long Texan, my experience with the various modes of public transportation has been very limited.  In my comfort zone distances are measured in time, not miles. For instance, Beaumont is approximately 90 minutes east of Houston and Houston is 3 hours from Austin. Barring unforeseen circumstances, I know that I will leave when I so choose with a reasonable expectation of my arrival time. I’ve discovered that when depending on public transportation these estimates become less certain. My recent trip to Washington, D. C. was most enlightening.

I struggled with the name of this essay.  I had two beautiful alliterations from which to choose: Trains, Taxis, and Trolleys  or  Boats, Buses, and The Bicycle.  To be accurate, I needed both of them, so I opted for the shorter title you see above.

The purpose of our trip to D. C. was a joyous one.  Our friend Allison was scheduled to receive her Doctorate of Ministry from the Virginia Theological Seminary in late May. Our D. C. excursion then became part vacation and part witness to her accomplishment.  Not only did we share in the joy of her triumph, but we also saw the tangible proof that she hadn’t been yanking our chains for the past three years.

Fortunately for us, Bev and Allison began planning this trip months ago. Allison found a delightful Bed & Breakfast in Alexandria, Va., which suited our purposes nicely. Allison’s sister Lisa joined us, and the four of us met at Bush International Airport Monday morning and had an uneventful flight to the Reagan National Airport near D. C. (It was a very conservative flight.) The time had come to live the public transportation experience.

Our initial mode of PT (public transportation) was the Metro Train.  The first challenge was buying the paper magnetic strip card, which gave access to the train terminals. The instructions were very clear – to the veteran riders. However, it took us a bit longer to figure it out. With careful study of all instructions, including both printed and on electronic displays, plus with the kind help and advice of the impatient riders behind us, we eventually got our tickets/passes and were on our way to Alexandria. Luggage-laden we exited the train platform and proceeded to a busy area where people were catching buses and taxis.  We were several blocks from our B&B, and considered taking the free Trolley, but opted instead for a taxi van to facilitate the transportation of our bags. The cab fare was just under $10, and since I was riding shotgun, I gave the driver a ten-dollar bill.  I clearly communicated this to the back seat so they could add a small tip. After finding the B&B and
unloading our bags, our host gave us a tour of the house, which exceeded our expectations. I later asked Allison how much we ended up paying the taxi driver, and she answered with $12.  Slightly confused, I asked, “In addition to the $10 I gave him?” To which she replied, “WHAT!?” Apparently, I had not communicated with the back seat as clearly as I thought, and we made one taxi driver very happy.

Our B&B was a block and a half from King St. – the main drag in Alexandria.  A free Trolley runs the length of King St., and after walking all the way down to the dock Monday evening, we rode the Trolley back to our street.  Easy peasy! Now that we had a full working knowledge of public transportation, we made our plans for the next day’s sightseeing. We decided to take a boat trip to Washington’s Mt. Vernon, which departed at 10:30 a. m. 

We wanted to have plenty of time so we left the B&B at 9:45 a. m., Tuesday, and walked to the closest Trolley stop. Being the intelligent, highly educated adults we were, we noted that the Trolleys ran every 15 minutes, and realized that we must have just missed one.  We sat on the nearby benches and waited.  10 a. m. and still no Trolley.  Hmmmm.  Another PT option in Alexandria is bicycles for rent. Allison suggested that we rent bikes. We carefully considered this option for ¼ second before summarily rejecting it. Finally, Bev had the good sense to read the information sign a bit more carefully and calmly pointed out that the Trolleys don’t start running until 11:30 a. m.  Oops! We had seen a couple of buses go by, but buses are not free, and we were waiting for the free Trolley.  With a slight sense of urgency, we started looking for the next bus. Someone had
mentioned that sometimes the buses use the same tickets/passes as the Metro, so we got our cards out and hoped for the best. Bev was the first to board the bus only to find out that our passes were not acceptable, only exact change.  We weren’t prepared for this, so we frantically started collecting our cash. It was awkward, we were clumsy, and we were holding up the whole bus. We all made it on except Allison, who finally waved us on with the hollow assurance that she would meet us there. On our trip down King St. to the docks, a nice lady on the bus explained some things to us: 1. Our driver was a jerk.  He could have easily let us all on, then worked out the money thing later; 2. The pass that works on both trains and buses is a plastic card, which must be purchased at a different machine than we used; and 3. Our driver was a jerk (see #1).

Time was becoming an issue now, so I volunteered to check out the boat situation while Lisa and Bev waited for Allison. I finally found the boat and explained our situation to the captain who told me he could wait a couple of minutes, but no more. Meanwhile, I unknowingly experienced my biggest disappointment of the entire trip. I missed the ultimate photo-op: Allison coasting downhill on a red rental bike toward the docks!

Allison ditched the bike and all three women ran towards the dock.  I saw them coming and quickly purchased four tickets.  All four of us ran toward the boat just as it began to pull away from the dock. With four heroic leaps, we all safely landed on the deck of the boat and gave our tickets to the attendant. Our visit to Mt. Vernon changed us in ways no one ever expected.

Ok. None of that happened. We missed the boat.  By the time Allison figured out how to return the bike without losing her deposit that ship had sailed -literally! However, anyone familiar with the area knows there are many options for sightseeing. We chose a boat ride up the Potomac to Georgetown, passing several landmarks on the way. [Washington Monument in pic.] We ate fabulous sandwiches at a local eatery and did our own walking tour of the White House, Vietnam Memorial, and Lincoln Memorial. We had a great time. Sadly, Bev had hurt her foot earlier, so we headed back to the Metro station and home.  This time when we got to King Station, we rode the Trolley home.

The rest of the trip was fairly uneventful. We rode the train back to D. C. on Wednesday where we met a couple of Allison’s friends who gave us tours of two amazing Episcopal churches, including the National Cathedral, where we attended the Evensong service. Thursday morning was the graduation service, another wonderful Episcopal service. That evening we rode the Trolley to our dinner reservations at Gadsby’s Tavern, a truly unique experience.  Our only transportation problem by this time was realizing that a busy Trolley takes longer to run its route. We barely made our reservation.

The big decision Friday morning was whether or not it was worth paying a taxi to get us back to the airport. We so chose. Good decision. It was much easier and much closer (and cheaper) than expected.  However, we were careful not to make this driver as happy as the first one.


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