A ticket to ride

October 19, 2003|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

"Where you going?"

Mary Nelson, the driver, already has an idea, but she asks anyway.

"Wally World," Wilbur Mastiano says as he steps on the bus.

Mastiano is a regular on this Washington County Commuter route, which follows Salem Avenue to the Centre at Hagerstown and comes back through Hagerstown.

One of the stops is Wal-Mart - Wally World, as Mastiano calls it.

Each week, Monday through Saturday, Washington County buses carry thousands of people on trips of work or pleasure - or necessity.


This past Wednesday afternoon, Mastiano made his second trip of the day to Wally World; he forgot a few items on his grocery list the first time.

Meghan Meyer set out for her home off West Washington Street after a day working at Wally World.

Andre McCreary finished an eight-hour shift at Subway.

Wednesday morning, Angela Nave-Seal went to Hagerstown Community College for a writing class.

Student Dustin Holley picked up the bus at the college for a trip home.

Chris and Carol Harris and their daughter Cheyenne, 4, boarded at Robinwood Medical Center, where Chris had his injured leg examined.

Neither bus - the Robinwood run and the West End loop - was empty, but they were nowhere near packed. It might have been the time of day, or it might have been the weather.

"This bus is usually full ...," Mastiano said. "I think the wind's keeping a lot of them away."


Janie Taylor finishes her lunch break at 10:30 a.m. and climbs into the driver's seat of Bus 438. That's not too early for lunch when your shift starts at 6:05 a.m.

As she pulls away from the transfer point on West Washington Street, near the Hagerstown police station, Taylor says riders have been alarmed since last month, when County Commissioner John Munson called County Commuter an underused "big waste" and suggested it be shut down.

"They say, 'Janie, what are we going to with the buses?'" Taylor says.

"I know there's people that can't get around" without public buses, she says. "...The senior citizens would be lost."

Munson softened his stance a week later, saying smaller buses might help the County Commuter reach more people.

Nave-Seal, one of those people upset by Munson's initial comments, gets on Taylor's bus at Public Square. She plops a bookbag on the floor and breaks open "Snow Falling on Cedars" by David Guterson.

She's on her way to a Hagerstown Community College class. She hopes to become a registered nurse.

"This is my only transportation to school .... He has cars," Nave-Seal says of Munson. "He doesn't think about the little people.

"There's no way I could go to school .... Is he going to take me to school every day?"

As the bus reaches the traffic light at East Antietam Street and Cleveland Avenue, Nave-Seal is still the only passenger on board. She's taking advantage of the silence to concentrate on her reading.

"It's unusually quiet this morning, huh, Janie?"

The bus rocks and bounces along Dual Highway as it pierces the wind gusts. Leaves whip across the road. Young trees shake in the median.

No one gets on the bus at Martin's Food Market. Or at the Francis Murphy senior citizen apartment complex off Robinwood Drive.

"Did you try one of those inside-out Reese's cups, Janie?"

Taylor says she hasn't.

"Well, you're in luck," Nave-Seal says. She pulls one out and drops it in Taylor's jacket. "It's in your pocket. They're delicious."

Taylor inches the bus around two construction vehicles blocking part of the Hagerstown Community College circle. The bus stops. Nave-Seal exits.

Taylor takes the bus across Robinwood Drive to Youngstoun Drive. No one gets on there or at the Stonecroft development off King's Crest Boulevard.

The bus goes back to HCC, where Holley gets on. He drops himself into a seat, holding a cup of ice and a little soda. Taylor tells him he can't drink on the bus.

Holley is studying business management. He said he doesn't know many students who ride the bus. They walk - or, if it's cold or rainy, take a taxi.

The Harrises rely on the bus now. Since Chris hurt his leg at work three weeks ago, he hasn't been able to drive his five-speed truck.

He says he fractured his leg, dislocated his kneecap and possibly tore a ligament when he stepped awkwardly off the back of his tow truck.

"My knee went this way. I went that way," he says.

"I'm out of work for six weeks - unless I need surgery," Chris says. "Then, it's six months."

Mauri Medina boards on Manor Drive, near Weis Markets.

Medina, appropriately, uses the bus to get to her job: driving a County Commuter paratransit bus, transporting people with disabilities.

Kay Rubin is the final passenger on the 10:30 a.m. Robinwood route. Today, she rode downtown for a flu shot and an eye doctor appointment.

"It's very important to me because I don't drive," she says. "I'd have to pay a cab and that adds up."

The weekends are different.

"I have a chauffeur," Rubin says, referring to her daughter.

West End

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