When life gives you lemons, make lemonade! We hear that saying all the time. Recently, transportation challenges has handed me a bag full of lemons. The Wausau Area Transit System (WATS) has come to the rescue to sweetened things up!
Over a year ago I was stranded outside in the bitter cold when my van lift died a few miles from home. It took a small army of caregivers and friends to rescue me. An even larger army of friends, family and community came to my rescue in a huge way. A fundraiser was held to raise money for a new van. Getting stranded provided me with the lemons, the army of supporters provided me with the sugar. VOILA! Lemonade!
While I have the funds from the benefit to buy a van, but I am still awaiting funding to come through for the modifications. Both of my parents have tried to keep my old van afloat until then, but a few weeks ago we had to throw in the towel. Life threw lemons at me once again!
To make the most out of this current situation, last week I decided to try out the Wausau Area Transit System (WATS), my local city bus. My friend Kaytee, my mom and I set out on a rainy Tuesday afternoon to test out my new mode of transportation.
There is a bus stop right in front of my apartment building. The buses run every thirty minutes. When the WATS bus pulled up and came to the stop, it lowered closer to the ground. A ramp was lowered from the front door and I was able to ride right up into the bus. My visual perception deficit made it a bit difficult to back into the designated space, but the bus driver helped guide me in and then she strapped down my chair. Once I was in place, there was plenty of room for others to walk past me in the aisle.
I noticed right away that there was a button right next to me to alert the bus driver when to stop the bus. How cool is that?! After a few bumps and turns I noticed something else. We forgot to fasten the seatbelt on my chair! My mom and Kaytee tried to fasten it while the bus was moving but it was stuck in my chair. The bus driver was so awesome, she pulled the bus over and helped us. My mom apologized and the driver assured her that it was no problem. In fact, she said she empathizes with the challenges faced by individuals with disabilities, as well as their families and caregivers. She was a caregiver herself prior to driving!
All WATS bus routes start and end at the downtown Transit Center. The Transit Center reminds me of a small-town train station. It is easy to transfer buses from here to your final destination. One side of the bus station was accessible and had a ramp. The other side, however, was inaccessible and had a curb.
From the Transit Center, we headed to the Wausau Mall and had a wonderful time. We laughed, joked and gabbed for what seemed like hours. According to astrology, Tuesday is the luckiest day for an Aries, and trust me I’m a believer. I got two video games for the price of one at GameStop, gamer heaven!
We took another special field trip that day to the one and only Wausau Area Transit System main office and garage. Kaytee’s dad, Peter Burek, is the Metro Ride Operations Manager. He met us at the front door and took us on a tour of the entire office and bus garage. Down the hallways, there are a plethora of photos, articles, awards and memorabilia on the walls.
Mr. Burek’s office was really cool and told the story of his two passions, family and his career. His office was filled with family and personal photos, bus pictures, and collectibles. Perhaps the gem in all these collectibles, were 3 steering wheels of former buses he had driven when he started as a driver for WATS, which hung on the wall as trophies. What a great way to honor your passion and over 3 decades in the bus industry!
My only disappointment was to discover that the buses do not run on Saturday or Sunday. According to Peter Burek, WATS used to run buses on Saturday, until budget cuts made it impossible. For many adults with disabilities, public transportation is the only affordable option. Most community events happen on weekends, which can isolate those without transportation.
Additionally, the buses are parked for the night at 6:30 Monday-Friday. This eliminates the opportunities to enjoy the nightlife Wausau has to offer. I think investing in expanding WATS would open doors and opportunities for many.
If I was not handed a bag of transportation lemons, I would not have had this adventure on the Wausau Area Transit System. I may have also missed out on meeting Peter Burek and our wonderful bus driver! This experience was definitely sweet…as lemonade!
If you are in the Wausau area, I encourage to utilize the Wausau Area Transit System.
Here are the fare rates:
Tokens: 10 for $10
Monthly Pass: $38.00
Monthly Pass: $19.00
Students (thru senior high school)
Tickets: 10 for $8.50
Monthly Pass: $19.00
For bus routes and schedules, check out the WATS Website.
In a future blog, I will write about my tour of the WATS garage and the special service WATS offers to individuals with disabilities
Until next time, Keep Rollin,’ and Keep Smilin.’
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