Hair Balls announced in earnest at this afternoon's staff meeting its plans to sample the new 402 Quickline Bellaire, which was unveiled by Metro on Friday. The so-called "signature" bus -- the first of its kind in Houston -- runs along the standard Number 2 Bellaire route during rush hour, making far fewer stops in order to travel at a heretofore unimaginable pace.
At this, staff writer John Nova Lomax produced an audible scoff.
"I could beat that on my bike," Lomax said.
And so Hair Balls loaded Lomax's 18-year-old bicycle into the bed of its pick-up and headed for the TMC Transit Center, where the Quickline's westbound service begins. Lomax smoked a cigarette as he waited at the station for the race to begin.
It was here Hair Balls learned that Lomax's confidence was drawn less from his prowess on the pedals than the fact that the road between the station and his house, about one-and-a-half miles away along the route, is plagued by construction. Lomax used to be able to beat the traffic on foot, he claimed. It has since alleviated some, but he predicted a handy victory all the same.
The contest would begin when the bus opened its doors, allowing Lomax a slight head start as passengers boarded. Hair Balls expected to blow past Lomax on the first leg, possibly taunting him through the window. The suspense would come once the construction hit, as Hair Balls anxiously awaited Lomax's approach.
The bus arrived, the doors opened, and off went Lomax in a puff of cigarette smoke. But then the doors closed, because the bus was five minutes early. This generous cushion was doubled when the driver refused to accept a set of Houston Press media credentials as fare, leading to the following exchange:
Hair Balls: Can you cut us a break? We're actually racing a guy on a bike.
Bus Driver: No.
Hair Balls: Why not?
Bus Driver: I just spent five days in ICU.
Hair Balls: What?
Bus Driver: Intensive care.
Hair Balls: ...
Bus Driver: I'm not taking any chances.
Fellow passenger Barry Bullard (one of only four) eventually stepped in and paid the $1.25. But by the time Hair Balls made it to the construction, which did provide a bit of a delay, Lomax was nowhere to be found.
Even with the sporting aspect effectively ruined, Bullard enjoyed the ride. An employee at Ben Taub, he has been making the trip from TMC to a stop beyond Ranchester station, where the Quickline ends, for five years. Usually the Quickline's nine-mile stretch takes about an hour. At least twenty minutes have been knocked off, Bullard guessed.
John Evans, who also works at Ben Taub and lives near the Bellaire Transit Center, said his evening commute time had been cut in half. He thought it a shame that the line opened with the construction still underway.
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"If the roads were fixed, you would really be able to tell," he said.
Both Bullard and Evans were dismayed only that they couldn't take the Quickline in the morning as well; they need to be at work too early. Service runs every 15 minutes from 6 am to 9 am (5:45 am to 9 am heading eastbound) and 3 pm to 6 pm on weekdays.
Hair Balls disembarked at the Sharpstown Center, where it knew there would be ample opportunity to find change for a $20 bill. The trip took about 30 minutes, because that was only stop four.
In fact, when waiting at a red light near a typical No. 2 stop along the way, a confused would-be passenger began knocking on the window. The unbending driver refused to open the door.