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Welcome to Marc's Weblog

— also known as my vanity gripe page

From sunny, Las Vegas, Nevada, this is the blog of Marc Elliot Hall, leader and system engineer extraordinaire.

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Fri, 09 Mar 2012

People Mover

The Anchorage bus system is called the People Mover, and it's a popular way to get around.

This week, I bought a 2002 Subaru Forester and returned my rental car. I figure, even if I lose $1400 dollars when I sell it after I'm through in Alaska, I'll be farther ahead than if I keep paying $750 a month for a rental car. I could be driving a BMW or Mercedes for that kind of payment. 

But no, instead I bought an econobox AWD car with nearly 150 thousand miles on it:

thumb.2002 Subaru Forester 1.jpg  

Doesn't she look like she's ready for an Alaskan winter? And camouflaged, too!

So why did I bring up the People Mover?

Well, dropping off the Chevrolet Aveo rental car and picking up the Subaru Forester took some logistical effort. 

My plan was to walk to the bus station, ride the bus out to Tudor Road, pay for and pick up the Subaru, drive it downtown, walk to the condo, drive the Chevy out to the airport, and ride the bus back downtown. Total distance: less than twelve miles. The People Mover is a hub-and-spoke system; while there are some places where you can transfer directly from bus to bus on the side of the road, most lines converge at three major hubs. I was going to have to ride two buses, so I needed to be at the downtown terminal to switch. 

As I've mentioned before, I enjoy walking around downtown Anchorage and seeing the sights. I've walked past (and into) museums, galleries, restaurants, bars, stores, coffee houses, parks, and neighborhoods. I've even walked past the People Mover downtown terminal and transfer station. Many times. 

However, on Wednesday, when I was ready to pay for and pick up the car, I couldn't find it! I wasted a good 25 minutes looking for it before giving up and driving the Chevy out to Tudor Road. Obviously, I wasn't going to be able to pick up the Subaru right then, as I would need two drivers for the two cars.

So the seller and I did the paperwork, I gave him a check, and I drove the Chevy to the airport. On the way to the airport, I wanted to fill the gas tank, since Alamo would have likely charged me $23 a gallon to do it for me. I stopped at a Holiday station on the way and swiped my card at the pump, which promptly told me to talk to the cashier. Well, I didn't want to talk to the cashier — I needed to get to the airport early enough that I would have time to catch the bus back downtown and then outbound to Tudor Road before they stopped running for the night. So I jumped in the car and drove to another gas station. 

Which did the same thing. 

This time, I did talk to the cashier. My card had been declined. Frustrated — and in a hurry — I paid with cash and drove off to the airport. At the Alamo drop off, I returned the car and asked for directions to the bus stop at the airport terminal. It was right across the street, and I was going to be able to catch the next inbound bus!

However, once I reached the terminal, I realized that the Citibank Rewards MasterCard was not going to miraculously fix itself, so I walked into the (warm!) terminal and called customer service to see what the problem might be. After ten minutes on hold, my call was dropped. I called back. After 15 minutes on hold, I was told a security flag had been raised on my account and I needed to talk to the security department. After 15 more minutes on hold — well, by now I'd missed my bus. Twice. But, the security department finally told me, the Holiday station had reserved $50 of my credit line when I swiped my card, and that had raised a flag. Well, when gas is $4.08 a gallon, it doesn't take much of a tank to use $50 worth. Their algorithm was a little over sensitive. So, I had missed my bus — possibly three times if you count having to stop at two gas stations and waste time with an attendant — and wasted more than an hour dealing directly with CitiCard's customer service. But! Now I could get on the bus and ride downtown. It was about 9:30 p.m.


I've been on a lot of buses, in a lot of cities. In more than one country. I commuted daily by bus and light rail for more than two years as a young man, before I bought my motorcycle. I'm used to buses and the types of people who ride them. And, inbound to the downtown terminal from the airport, the driver and my fellow riders were exactly what I expected: friendly, courteous, and quiet. 

However, when I reached the downtown terminal, I experienced a new environment. 

Indoors, it was chaotic and noisy; shouting drunkards arguing with transit cops, groups of disaffected youth in ragged clothes. Panhandlers insisting I give them my change. Outdoors, it was almost as noisy; the thick cigarette and marijuana smoke choked me; the calls asking if I wanted to buy (or sell) marijuana were aggressive; the clusters of tokers were arguing about who got the next drag — basically, it was like high school, only with old people. 

For obvious reasons, I didn't take any photos. 

Amid the chaos, I saw an approaching bus. "Out of Service" it said, but it was pulling up to the stop for the route I wanted to board, and it was not time for any other bus routes to have stopped there. The driver shut down the engine, walked to the back to verify it was empty, and then exited the bus. He was five minutes early, but I was eager to be on my way, so I stood by the folding doors and waited for him to return. Which he did just a few minutes later. Sure enough, the indicators on the bus changed to announce that this was my ride. I climbed aboard, paid my $1.75, and took a seat. The driver greeted me with a friendly word or two as I boarded.

And, again, the ride itself was quite pleasant. So, apparently, it's the terminal itself that has issues, rather than the buses.

As we approached the neighborhood where my Subaru waited, I tugged the stop request cord. The driver coasted to a stop, I thanked him, exited, and began walking through the dark. As the bus pulled away, though, I noticed that the pavement was very slippery. Dangerously so. 

Despite noticing this, though, I was not being particularly careful. I had realized on the ride outbound that my GPS mount was still in my rental car; I was fiddling with my phone getting ready to call Alamo when my feet began skidding uncontrollably across the ice. Suddenly, I was on the ground. My hip had smacked the sidewalk. Fortunately, nothing — including my phone — was broken. In fact, as I recovered my feet, I felt like I had avoided any injury. Walking the remaining block, I unlocked the Subaru, started her up, and began driving to my condo. Since I had already added them to my speed dial, I called the Alamo desk. "You probably hear this a lot", I said, "but I think I left my GPS mount in my rental car. Can I swing by the garage right now to retrieve it?" The clerk laughed and asked when I had dropped off the car. When I told her at about 7:30 that evening, she replied that more than a dozen GPS mounts had been left in vehicles since 4:30 that day. "So, that's 'yes', you do hear that a lot," I said. She laughed again.

Now it was close to 10:00.

I drove into the rental return garage at the airport, parked, and stepped over to the attendant's booth. "Hey," I said. "I just called…" Before I could finish, the attendant held out the GPS mount for me. "Thanks!" I said. And I meant it. Now I could go home.

So, finally, my ordeal completed, I parked at my condo at 10:30. Four hours from the start to finish. But I was done. 

It was only today that my neck and hip started to hurt. So, while I now know exactly where the People Mover terminal is, I didn’t get away clean.

posted at: 21:21 |

Marc Elliot Hall St. Peters, Missouri 

Page created: 21 January 2002
Page modified: 09 December 2017

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