Ogilvie Street is also the location of the largest grocery store in town. It’s past a small plaza, with a huge parking lot, and more than once I’ve come running across that lot with a pack on my back and bags in my arms.
Almost always, the bus driver scans the parking lot before leaving the central station on Ogilvie and waits patiently if he sees someone is headed for his bus. It’s usually over an hour until the next run – even longer at noon – so it’s important for passengers to be at Ogilvie at the scheduled time.
Yesterday I was pushing my luck a bit too far.
It took me slightly longer than estimated to walk 10 blocks on icy sidewalks and, as a result, I saw the #2 starting to pull away just as I was cutting across the parking lot.
It would be an hour and 10 minutes until the next one; so I ran, as best I could for an old woman, waving my cane as I did so, but the driver did not see me. I sighed and shuffled my way across the street to the bus stop, anyway.
I was tired, but there was nowhere to sit down …
The only bench was piled high with snow. What I did not know was that although the driver of #2 had not seen me, another driver had. Thanks to their cellphone communication, I then saw my bus zip around the block and come back to pick me up, its driver apologizing for not having spotted me himself.
The fact that the drivers know their regular passengers was a real advantage when I lost my pass for a few days. (I know I would not be able to get away with that in larger centres such as Victoria or Vancouver.)
Another big difference between here and those big cities is that Whitehorse bus drivers, before pulling away, always check first to see that any exiting passengers are safely on their feet and a safe distance from the bus. When the downtown streets were particularly icy, it was the driver’s suggestion, not mine, that he ignore the traditional bus stops and drop me off wherever it looked safest.
Last week I was to transfer at Ogilvie in order to go to Yukon College. I crossed the road and was standing, waiting for my second bus, when I saw the driver of the first one come running across the street with the case for my glasses in her hand.
“I believe this is yours,” she said, handing it to me with a smile.
I was impressed that, in less than three minutes, she had spotted a black item on a black seat that was located behind her and then left her bus so that she could deliver it to its owner. That was definitely beyond the call of duty; made her look more like a caring mother than a busy bus driver.
Maybe all this thoughtfulness is something today’s drivers have learned from the originators of the system. A few days ago another older woman and I were glancing at our watches and waiting for a bus to arrive at a downtown stop.
“How much is it?” the woman asked me. “I haven’t ridden the buses since they were free.”
“Free?” I echoed. “When was that?”
“I believe it was back in the 70s, when this town was a lot smaller. There were no buses anywhere, not even school buses, so there was this group of women …
“They got together and got some money from Ottawa to buy and drive some minibuses. It was a phone-in service, at first, right to your doorstep if you wanted. Then you could flag them down and, like I said, it was all free.”
How typical of a town like Whitehorse, I thought. What considerate people!
Friday is the only day of the week when there are evening runs, and one Friday evening I was coming home on the last bus of the day.
Eventually, I also became the last passenger, so the driver turned to me and said, “I know you live on Dalton Trail, but what’s the number of your house? I have to turn around, anyway, so I may as well drop you off while I make the loop.”
I suddenly felt as though I were riding in a limousine, not a city bus.