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Tue02192019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

A few weekends back, at a party in Indian Wells, I gobbled down a tall drink in a can. The drink was red and cold … and it tasted so good.

No wonder … I didn’t realize it was cranberry juice and vodka.

The party was over for me. I knew I wasn’t myself, but I was sober enough to realize it was not a good idea for me to drive that night.

I left my car safely parked in a gated community. As I slowly walked toward Highway 111 to request a Lyft ride, I discovered my iPhone was dead.

I had about $20 on me, and no credit card. I didn’t even realize I was actually standing at a bus stop until a SunBus pulled up next to me. It was a Line 111 bus en route from Coachella to Palm Springs.

In my 20-plus years here in the desert, I’ve never been on the bus. The SunLine Transit Agency, founded in 1977, runs buses seven days a week all over the valley. I hopped in and paid only $1 for a ride to a bus stop literally steps away from my home in Palm Springs.

There were quite a few people on the bus—which was clean and air-conditioned; it even had Wi-Fi. I soon found out the people on the bus were much more interesting than the people at the party I’d just left.

The first fellow passenger I chatted with was a long-bearded fellow with an expensive backpack in his lap. Allan is a middle-age lawyer from Seattle who was taking an overnight break from a Pacific Crest Trail through-hike. He started the hike near the Mexican border.

“I plan to end it in Seattle, four months from now,” he said. “… I’m taking a long sabbatical from years of hard work as a corporate lawyer.”

Allan told me that the next morning, he planned to continue his hike, heading toward Big Bear.

As we chatted away, an apparently homeless man entered the bus in Cathedral City. His clothing was soiled, and he carried a beat-up, old backpack. He went through his pockets and put some change in the machine by the driver, but was short of a full fare. Before Allan and I could react, a voice from behind us asked: “How much?”

“Fifty cents more,” said the driver.

Another man who was apparently homeless was sitting in a row behind us. He got up, walked to the front, pulled out a handful of change, and paid the fare difference.

Since I needed my car the next day, I asked the driver when the first bus was headed back toward Indian Wells in the morning. He said there was a ride almost every half-hour or so, starting at 5 a.m.

I was actually looking forward to riding the bus again. I was up early and hopped on the bus like a pro. I paid a buck for the ride without asking how much the fare was. The bus was again almost full, and cold like an ice box. I soon struck up a conversation with a tattooed fellow. A tat on his right bicep got my attention. It read: Fuck off!

“I got it in jail,” he said without a hesitation—while flexing.

Brian is in his early 30s and has been in jail and prison “quite a few times.” His left arm was tattooed with gang symbols all the way to his fingers.

“You’re asking me: Why do I ride the bus?!” Brian said with a grin. “Because it beats the hell outta walking, that’s why!”

Brian told me that during the summer, a lot of homeless folks get on the bus and ride all day long, “because it’s nice and cold in here.”

At a five-minute stop in Cathedral City, Brian left, and I met another friendly passenger. José is an older Latino man who offered me a cigarette, even though I didn’t ask for one.

We chatted as we smoked outside. José showed me his right knee, which was bent, arching like a bow.

“I was hit in this knee by a truck in Tijuana, many moons ago,” he said. “I was lying in the middle of the road in agony, and the driver who ran me over drove away like nothing happened!” After surgeries and physical therapy, José’s “days of playing soccer and driving a car are over. So now I’m a regular on the bus.

“And then,” José said with a wink, “there are girls on the bus as well, and I meet plenty of them every day right here!”

Mel is a woman who rides the bus to and from work at a Palm Desert restaurant. She said she loves the bus, but “not every (woman) feels comfortable riding it at night.”

Mel pointed to placards with warnings in Spanish and English that live recording was taking place on the bus. There are also warnings that say attacking the driver is a criminal offense that carries a severe punishment.

I briefly chatted with a driver at another required five-minute stop.

“Not long ago, I was a project manager on a $150 million business venture, and then things turned for worse,” the driver said.

He lost his job and moved here to the desert, because his wife found a job as a nurse.

“Driving a bus is a decent job,” he said. “I’m not out there in the cold or under the direct sun, and the company treats me well. Life is good!”

I got to my car and drove home thinking of all people I met during just two rides on the SunBus. I’ll be taking a bus ride again soon—and I’m looking forward to it.

Published in Features

When the Coachella Valley Art Scene announced the first 111 Music Festival last year, the idea of putting local bands and DJs on SunLine buses seemed pretty crazy. But the festival was a success—and the 111 Music Festival will return for a second year on Sunday, Nov. 1.

The festival will take place on the 19-mile long Route 111 Line from Palm Springs to Indio—and back again. Bands playing the festival include The Flusters, Alchemy, Brightener, CIVX, IIIz (formerly the Yip Yops), Machin’ and others. The fare will be $3 for the whole festival; a one way ride will cost $1.

Coachella Valley Art Scene founder and director Sarah Scheideman and marketing director Ian Cush recently explained how they came up from the concept. (Full disclosure: I also do work for the Coachella Valley Art Scene.)

“It actually came from Portland,” Scheideman said. “I went up there (to Oregon), and I saw a much smaller version of it, and I thought it was a cool idea. I thought about doing it down here in the Coachella Valley. It was like, ‘They do it, so why can’t we do it?’”

Cush explained the differences between Portland’s festival and the 111 Music Festival.

“Their festival is tiny,” Cush said. “They have carolers and things. Sarah mentioned she had a good time with it, and that it was fun and cool. I worked with SunLine before, doing their training and tutorial and training video. I said, ‘Let’s do something like that, but really put it on the bus.’ The one thing that comes down to this festival is that this place is open to ideas, too.”

Cush said there was no resistance to the idea when it was pitched to SunLine.

“The logistics of it is where there was a lot of worry,” Cush said. “I think we came in strong with the idea, and we were both passionate about the idea. I called them on the phone, and within two minutes, I had the CEO on the line. They were like, ‘Yes, we want to do something like this!’ Once they met us and realized we’re not completely crazy, it was more like, ‘How is this going to work?’ We still probably freaked them out every day.”

The festival results in no changes to the normal SunLine schedule.

“We didn’t want to change anything that they were already doing; we just wanted to add to it,” Scheideman said.

The response to the 111 Music Festival last year was quite positive.

“Ridership was good, but we could have had more riders,” Cush said. “I think there was a little worry the first time of, ‘Is every bus going to be full?’ It’s such a small venue. You put 30 people on there, and it’s packed. We had a worry and said, ‘Let’s not go too crazy.’ So many people talked about it that the idea now is clear. Everyone was excited about doing it, too.”

Playing on the bus isn’t hard for some bands, although others obviously cannot play on a bus. When I was discussing the idea with Dan Dillinger of Bridger, he remarked, “You think we could fit Katie (Cathcart’s) drum set on a bus?”

Cush said organizers talk to participating bands in advance about what they can and can’t bring.

“The nice thing about bands is they are road guerillas,” he said. “(Some) brought the full arsenal. We did have some inverters go down on the bus, and they just had to play acoustic. They also had some swinging mics, because things move on a bus. That’s what makes it cool, though: It’s live, and it’s a crazy event; everyone is in there together. You’re going over bumps, and you’re mobbing. It’s like road trippin’ with the family.”

Local musician Alfa Cologne said his performance last year offered him some welcome exposure.

“It was very interesting. It gave me a new crowd to play music to: people who were just riding a bus, and also people who came to see me play on the bus,” he said. “It was a little wobbly; the mic was swinging, and felt like a Disney ride at times. But it was a very fun experience.”

There will be some changes to this year’s festival. Scheideman said an event in downtown Cathedral City has been added.

“This year, instead of having people get on the bus and not have any direction, we’re going to be directing traffic toward the Cathedral City City Hall lawn, where we’re going to have a stage, and headlining bands performing on the stage,” she said. “You can ride the bus with the bands to here, and they’ll perform on the stage, too.”

Cush said almost every city on the Route 111 Line has been supportive of the festival.

“Next year, the line will go all the way into Coachella. Coachella has been a donor; they see it coming, and they want to be a part of it,” he said. “They donated last year, and they donated this year. Every city on the route donated to this festival. It’s a true public festival, and it’s for the people. The whole point is we’re connecting everyone: Everyone is getting on the bus together and enjoying this experience. Cathedral City stepped up and said that they wanted to be more involved, and they let us have the lawn to produce something.”

Cush said he hopes next year’s fest has even more stages.

“I hope next year, we do the same thing we’re doing in Cathedral City at city hall in Coachella, Indio and Palm Desert. Why can’t we do the entire valley?” he said. “I also hope businesses along 111 will do something for it. They don’t need our permission, and they can get involved. If the stop comes by your business, offer something.”

The 111 Music Festival takes place from 3 to 10 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 1. For more information, visit 111musicfestival.com.

Published in Previews