I flew back from Alaska on Monday morning. It was standby – a friend gave me an airline buddy pass, bless his heart – but I got on. The last person to get on, mind you, and in a middle seat, but how could I complain? It cost only $65 including fees and they didn’t charge me to check a bag.
From there it was the light rail into downtown Seattle, followed by a most unusual Metro bus trip: The driver didn’t know where she was going.
Although I was half-asleep, I heard her tell a potential passenger that she didn’t go to Northgate Mall. That woke me up.
“Yes, you do,” I said. “This bus is an ‘N’ bus that goes to the Northgate Transit Center. That’s right behind Northgate Mall.”
“I’ve only driven this route (to) Shoreline Community College,” she said.
By now I was not only awake, but really awake. Most of the buses do go to the college, I said, but a certain number of them go to the transit center.
Which was news to her. “I don’t know the other way,” she admitted.
This did not inspire confidence.
My face must have shown my surprise because she said, somewhat defensively, “I’m filling in for someone who’s on vacation.”
Wonder if that person knew how to get there?
‘I’m good at reading maps’
By then, the woman sitting behind me – who looked as tired as I felt – was half-whispering/half-whimpering, “I just want to go home.” The two of us told the driver to turn right on 105th and continue down to Meridian, then turn right, then left, then left again to the transit center.
“Or you could call your supervisor and get directions,” I suggested.
“Never mind,” she said. “I’m good at reading maps.”
This also did not inspire confidence. But at least she waited until we reached a red light to flip through a Metro route book to look for the way there.
I was flashing back to the house-sitter who told me that she didn’t have the time or money to wash the big pile of sheets and towels she’d used while I was away. See “The true and simple rules for house-sitting” plus its brief sequel for more about this headache-inducing situation.
Maybe there should be a “true and simple rules for bus drivers,” too. My suggestion for Rule No. 1: Read the route map before you leave the bus barn.
Back to reality
At home, frugal indicators awaited. My apartment was chilly because I’d turned the heat all the way down before I left. A shirt was hanging in the bathroom; I’d hand-washed it on Nov. 27 and left it to dry. (It was.)
I’d mostly emptied the fridge before I left, too, since I didn’t want to come home a month later to shrunken heads of lettuce and bowls of fuzzy leftovers. But I’d put in a couple of cans of fruit, and I still had half a bag of dried plums (which before their image makeover were known as “prunes”). There was also a container of Signature Café minestrone that I’d gotten free with a coupon during the grand re-opening of a nearby Safeway.
But I didn’t feel like eating soup, so I took a couple of slices of pizza from the freezer. It was left over from a nearly free meal I got when I bought a deeply discounted Entertainment Book. While the pizza baked I put on a pan of frozen corn (50 cents a bag) and made a pitcher of iced tea.
After supper I mixed up a pint of powdered milk to use on my breakfast oatmeal. I also picked over a cup and a half of pinto beans and put them in the slow cooker with the last remnants of a ham that I’d cooked in January 2009. Did I mention that I love my freezer?
The freezer had also preserved about half a cup of lemonade. (Rather than use fresh lemons, I use a dollop of sugar-free Wyler’s in each glass of tea.) Since I knew it wouldn’t hold for a month, I froze it to use when I got back. Yep, that makes me an illegitimus frugalis. It’s just that I saw no reason to waste the beverage, even though it cost me only a couple of pennies.
More to the point, taking the lemonade out to thaw helped me return to frugal form: Vacation’s over, time to get real again.
One of the reasons I have been able to travel so much this year is that I live carefully the rest of the time. Things like pinto beans and $1 boxes of lemonade mix mean cheap meals when I’m home and also when I get back from my trips.
Last night was a case in point. I was really tired, having stayed up late the night before and then having wrestled nearly 60 pounds of gear on and off the plane, on and off the train, and on and off the bus. (Couldn’t sleep during the three-hour flight because of a fussy baby nearby and a seatmate who kept bumping me with his elbow.) But instead of being tempted to order in, I was able to fix a stopgap meal of pizza, corn and fruit, and to cook several meals’ worth of pinto beans and ham with very little trouble.
Incidentally, this is a relatively short “get real” period: I leave on Friday for a house-sitting job in Los Angeles and from there will make a week-long visit to my daughter in Phoenix. But when I return in mid-January I’ll go right back into frugal lockdown. Not only will I need to make up for the meals I spring for in Phoenix (some of which will be cheaper thanks to discounted gift cards), I’ll be saving up for a nearly four-week visit to the United Kingdom that’s coming up in late February. If I want to go to the theater and visit the St. Fagans National History Museum, then I’d better prep for it. Sunk-cost oatmeal and beans rule.