Our kids are Suburban with a capital S. Their entire lives-to-age-18 have been lived on the outskirts of major cities. It's a good life; I don't think they've suffered any lasting trauma from the locations and we've always made lots of trips "into the city" for museums, zoos, theater, what-have-you.
Always made plenty of trips into the city.
The downside to our locations has always been a lack of public transportation. There has never been public transit that has reached out to where we live. If we want to go somewhere, we jump in the minivan and off we go. If parking is occasionally a problem, well, that's life. When gas prices go up, we think twice about longer trips, but gee, you do pay a price for living out on the outskirts, and sometimes you just have to deal. It's a good life.
They've even been exposed to good public transportation. Washington DC, Vancouver, Denver. Read the maps and timetables, buy a token, hop on, hop off. Under mom's and dad's watchful eyes, it was just one part of some fun family vacations.
Elizabeth headed off to college in Boston and as part of Freshman Orientation, she learned to navigate the MBTA. She adapted quickly and shows us the best ways to get from point A to point B when we visit her.
Next week, Alex will head off to join thousands of freshman Longhorns living in a dormitory at U-Texas. Compared to the ordeal of getting Elizabeth to Boston, this will be a walk in the park. No packing and shipping of boxes of clothing. His winter wardrobe won't change from what he wore last winter; as a matter of fact, it's already in his closet. We will pack the minivan and move him in. If he happens to forget something crucial, we can get it to him the next weekend.
He will NOT have a car on campus. Like Elizabeth, he will learn to get where he needs to be using the resources available. Unlike Elizabeth, a tour of the Austin bus system probably will not be a part of orientation.
So, today, Alex and I set out to learn.
We chose three major stops, and he found the online route maps and schedules. We drove to the nearest Park-and-Ride (about 11 miles from home, as it turns out - why have we never done this before?) and caught the first bus, which took us to the campus. There, we switched directions and proved that it is really, really easy to get from the campus to his favorite miniatures/gaming store (this may not be a good thing!). Back to campus, then on through the downtown area and right to the front door of my favorite yarn shop (you didn't think I was doing this just for the joy of bus travel, did you?). And then, back on the northbound route, and amazingly, that same bus that goes right in front of the yarn shop took us right back to the Park-and-Ride.
It was quite possibly the hottest day of the year. We walked as necessary, 2 blocks here, a block there, 4 blocks out of the way to have some lunch, and we enjoyed every minute. We bought a small robot model at the game store, as much to prove that we had BEEN THERE as anything, and took notes on the relative locations of bus stops to Alex's dorm. We enjoyed the scenery of the Capitol building area without a thought about traffic. We wondered to each other about the reasoning that allowed some people to get on the bus carrying a coffee mug or frozen latte, yet others were asked to toss their food or drinks before entering the bus. We were amazed at the number of people who really DO make use of the "bike route", placing their bikes on the racks on the front of the bus, then removing them after the bus ride and pedaling away. We shared the space with a blind couple and their tiny baby daughter, numerous college-aged kids with iPods engaged, an elderly woman and her extremely large, furry and brown Service Dog, a young man who appeared to be moving all his worldly goods, one bus load at a time, and a flamboyant cross-dresser well known in South Austin.
And you just KNOW where this is heading, don't you?
Two specialty coffee drinks to get the day rolling - $6.84
Two all-day Cap Metro bus passes - $2.00
One plastic robot model to prove we'd been there - $4.99
Lunch for two at Arby's (with an extra glass of water, please) - $8.68
Two skeins of Debbie Bliss Cashmerino - $16.00
The view from the other side of the bus window, and a day with my son - Priceless.
Alex, you've earned a front seat. Enjoy the ride.