Growing up in Virginia Beach, there wasn't a whole lot to do. We generally had to make up our own fun or just get in a car and go somewhere...anywhere. The idea of driving around aimlessly, usually from one store to another store, basically summarizes what we call a Suburban Adventure. It was mostly about just hanging out with friends, having fun, and becoming incredibly determined to accomplish some goal, like finding a place that sells sour patch kids, playing four square in the local walmart, or visiting every single thrift store on Va Beach Blvd to rummage through their dusty record collections.
I thought while back in VB, I'd try an adventure without a car - by taking the bus around town. While the bus system has been the butt of many jokes in VB (sparse service, limited routes, overwhelming dominance of cars), having lived in Chicago I thought I'd give it a shot to see if it is possible to get around VB without a car.
I set out with an admirable SB goal: find a notebook and running shoes.
I think I left my house at around 4:30 pm, with $1.50 in hand, and waited at the nearby bus station for about half an hour. I saw a bus go by, but waved it on 'cause I thought it was the wrong one. After waiting another ten minutes, I realized the bus I wanted wouldn't come until 7:30 pm. Ok...I would have to pick up the bus I wanted much farther down, on 19th street. So I started walking down the beach, about 30 blocks. I could've waited for another bus to take me that distance, but I'd have to wait another hour. So by the time I got down to 19th street, I saw the bus I wanted and ran towards it.
When I got on the bus at 6:08 pm, I paid the fair and sat down, only to have the bus driver tell me we had to sit around for ten minutes before we could start going. Nobody else was on the bus. We started going at around 6:20 pm, picking up a few people on the way as we winded our way towards Norfolk.
I got off the bus around 7:00 pm near Pembroke Mall. This area is the manufactured "downtown" district of Virginia Beach. Back in the day, this area only had a small sized mall and a movie theatre. Now they've constructed some moderately tall sized buildings bunched up together in one spot, with Town Centre Dr. road running through it. The local "skyscraper" is a tall parking garage about 30 stories high with a large pole and blinking light at the top. Laughable, but endearing - you have to give them an "A" for effort. It wouldn't be half bad if there wasn't a monstrous four lane semi-highway bordering one side of it. This road is freakishly unfriendly to pedestrians, which means getting off the bus and crossing this street involves a 60 yard sprint. This place was built for cars, and I felt like a small human running wildly through its deserted parking lots to avoid getting hit.
First stop was a giant Barnes and Noble which is hard to miss, so picking up the notebook was pretty easy. I then crossed a parking lot to get some soup at a Schlotsky's, which brought back some strange memories (my friend's band once played a show in this parking lot). I meandered through the "downtown" district and found myself lost in a sea of construction and buildings just tall enough to obstruct my view of what was down the road. After finding the massive sports store outlet, I found the shoe section and then my shoe-buying phobia kicked in so I quickly ran out of there.
Heading back home, I walked about 3/4 a mile down the boulevard searching for the bus stop. It was pretty hard to find as the street lamps combined with car headlights pretty much silhouettes anything in the distance. I waited about twenty minutes and picked up the bus around 8:20, which was suprisingly crowded. I fell asleep only to wake up as the only person left on the bus. We were back on 19th street. This bus was supposed to go all the way to 68th street, so the driver asked me where I was headed. He then quickly got in gear and started trucking down Atlantic Ave. Then all of a sudden two blocks later, he stops the bus in front of a subway, tells me "I'll be right back" and jumps out. I thought maybe he had to go to the bathroom or something, but as I look harder, I see him standing in line to get a sandwich.
Sure enough, ten minutes pass by and he comes running back with a sandwich and large soda in his hand. Too funny.
He dropped me off near my house and I think I walked through the door at 9:30 pm.
I can't imagine trying to use this bus system reliably as an alternative to driving a car around these parts. Things are just way too spaced out. It's tough and there is little flexibility with timing. The schedules also run at odd times and not always bi-directionally. And then when you get off the bus, most likely you'll have to run across huge intersections of traffic to get to your destination. Kind of exhausting in a man-vs-machine sort of way.
But it was pretty hilarious and with a group of friends during the summer could rival the best driving adventures. Although don't count on getting home on time!