When I had a car, a typical commute home from Bedford to Arlington took about 20 minutes one way. Now that I take public transportation, the trip on the 351 bus and the walk from Alewife home generally takes about an hour.
Today, we had our first snowstorm of the year. People were leaving work early to try and avoid the expected mess. I had to wait until the first bus of the afternoon before I could go. That bus leaves the station at 3:15PM and gets to MITRE about 3:20.
When 3:10 arrived, I headed out to the bus stop. The snow was light and fluffy, but coming down heavily. Out on the road, I could see that traffic was hardly moving, so I expected that the bus might be late. I didn’t think it would be too late, because MITRE is not that far from the beginning of the route.
The bus didn’t show. The 351 runs every half hour, so I waited outside, hoping that the bus was just very late, or that the next one would arrive. 3:50 came around, and still no bus. I was starting to feel the cold and beginning to worry. A nine mile walk in the snow was possible, but would take hours. Commuter rail stops were just about as far away. A cab would be stuck in traffic for a long time, and be prohibitively expensive.
A little after 4PM, a Lowell Regional Transportation Authority (LRTA) bus came by, on its way to the Lahey Clinic via way of the Burlington Mall. I waved it down, figuring I could go to Lahey and double my chances of getting a bus to Alewife, as both the 350 and the 351 stop there. And I could get warm, at least for awhile.
I got on the bus, and settled down with my iPod and book. About a half hour later, we’d made it the mile or two to the mall. As we were waiting to turn in, the 350 bus coming the other way turned in ahead of us. I was hoping that we’d be able to catch up with the 350 and transfer over, but the two busses stopped in different places, so that didn’t work.
As we were leaving the mall lot, the 350 was coming out another exit and down Mall Road, also heading toward Lahey. Since traffic was moving so slowly, I jumped off the LRTA and ran over to the 350. When I got there, I could see that the bus was jammed full. People were packed in with no room to move. “Like sardines” is a cliché, but it was appropriate here. Even if they were letting more people on, I wasn’t going to spend the next two hours (or more, given the traffic) jammed in there, and they weren’t letting people on anyhow.
The LRTA bus was still hung up trying to get out of the mall lot, so I got back on for lack of anything better to do. I wasn’t going to be able to get on the 350 at Lahey, and who knew when the next bus would come by. Then the driver pointed out another LRTA bus heading the other way on Mall Road. It was running the same route, but was further along, so it was now an express heading back to the terminal in Lowell, where I could get the commuter rail. So I jumped out again, ran over, and got on the new bus.
This bus backtracked past MITRE (getting me back to where I’d started two hours earlier), then got on Rt. 3 North. We weren’t moving fast, and the lights in the bus were out so I couldn’t read, but at least the next stop was Lowell.
Or not. I could hear on the radio the dispatcher asking our driver to divert to cover another route that had been missed because of snow delays. Soon the bus pulled off Rt.3 and slowed down even more as it wound through North Billerica to bring in the stranded riders. At least some of the internal lights had come on, so I could read again while we crawled along, stopping once in awhile for accidents or to pick up cold, snowy passengers.
Finally, at about 6:45, we made it to the Lowell terminal. There was a 6:50 train to Boston scheduled, but it hadn’t arrived yet. That gave me time to go to the only source of food in the area, a Dunkin’ Dounuts stand. They were totally out of coffee (!) and most pastries, as it had been a long, busy day for them. The station is in a particularly desolate area of Lowell, so the only other option for travelers stuck there waiting was the stale food in the vending machines. I got a hot chocolate and one of the last bagels, and settled down to wait. There were three more trains scheduled, but the guy at DD had said the last one was two hours late, so I had no idea if I’d be getting home, or trying to find a hotel somewhere in town.
Luckily, the train arrived at about 7:15. The rest of the trip went by without incident, with the train getting to North Station about 8:15. I took the Green Line to the Red Line to Alewife, and then trudged the half-mile through the snow to get home. There, 10 inches of snow awaited me in the driveway, as did a washer full of wet clothes that need to be dried if I was to have anything to wear for my weekend trip to Vermont.
The whole trip took about six hours. I could have walked it in half that. Next time, I work from home.