The wayward bus.

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.

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  1. Hi,
    Coming out of lurk to give a frugal UK tip: the Great Britain Heritage pass gives free or discounted entry to all sorts of places (50% off the tower of London, for example). it needs to be ordered ahead, and isn’t super cheap, but the savings add up (especially with the exchange rate!). DH and I saved a lot using it when we went 🙂

  2. I would say I bow down to the frugal princess but I leave that distinction to big guy upstairs-God! LOL You are such an inspiration, I would have never thought of saving a cup of lemonade. I admit I woud’ve thrown it down the drain. Keep up the good fight.

  3. Have fun!

    And I hope all future bus drivers know their way around…

  4. At least she wasn’t a taxi driver reading a map while the meter runs.

  5. lostAnnfound

    Glad to see you made it home okay!

  6. You really do inspire me. Glad you’re back home in one piece. ! really look forward to hearing about your upcoming travel adventures. Especially the trip to england. One of my life goals is to visit england and visit jane austen’s home.

  7. I might be the only person who doesn’t know but could you post or explain how you cook pintos in a slow cooker. My pintos cooked on the stove always have a bitter, almost soapy wang to them.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Jenny: See my reply to Ali, above.
      And that’s quite an interesting typo in your comment. 😉
      Thanks for reading.

  8. People who meet my husband and I assume we have tons of money because we travel so much. The truth is we had very modest salaries when we worked and have a modest retirement. But we are FOCUSED on travel and any extra bucks go into the travel fund.

    It’s amazing what you can have when you put it in the front of your mind.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Emma: I agree. Some people focus on sporting activities, porcelain figurines or DVD collections. I choose to travel. And to eat pinto beans.
      Thanks for your comment — it should help inspire folks who also have the travel bug.

  9. I just got a slow cooker for xmas and I’d love to know how to cook beans in it.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Ali: Pick over and wash the beans, then put them in the slow cooker with at least twice as much water as beans. Turn it on and check back every so often to see if they’re done. My older model takes a couple of hours (I think) on “high.”
      You can put in flavorings such as ham bits or cured neck bones, or just cook them plain. To the flavored ones I add a little Johnny’s Seasoning Salt; if I remembered to buy cornmeal, I make cornbread, and if not I just eat the beans.
      I turn the plain ones into chili once they’ve been drained of any remaining water. My sister uses plain cooked pintos to make refried beans.
      Note: I always used to soak beans before cooking. Then I read an article about Mexican food in which the cookbook author said she never bothers to soak them. If there’s any chance to simplify cooking, I accept it gladly.
      Good luck with your new slow cooker. There are gazillions of recipes online.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  10. Cathy Sullivan

    I got on a NJ Transit bus from NY Penn Station to my Aunt’s house in Union, NJ. The driver didn’t know the route. Luckily the other passengers knew it and gave directions to the driver.


    • Donna Freedman

      @Cathy Sullivan: Yikes! As a Jersey girl myself (originally), I know that making the wrong turn in the Garden State can ruin your whole day.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  11. Don’t forget about Hoppin’ John — if you eat it on New Year’s Day, it’s supposed to bring you good luck all year long. Or so North Carolina-bred Husband says…
    It slow cooks the same way as pinto beans — but substitute black-eyed peas. I also put in chopped onions, garlic and a shot of hot sauce. That’s where my Christmas ham bone is going later this week.

  12. Great story!

    Your frugality makes me feel like a spendthrift. And that’s after I had leftover beans for breakfast. 🙂

    • Donna Freedman

      @Funny: That’s probably what I’m having for breakfast tomorrow. Otherwise I’ll have to freeze them, too.

  13. http://www.artfund.org/whatson/member-offers If you know someone in the UK who can order and receive this on your behalf, you will save a lot of money on art exhibits (many museums are free, and special exhibits are half-price). This was my favorite money saver when I lived in London (these offers are for all over the country).

  14. Agree but often don’t have enough self disipline for this to work for me. I am working on it though lol.

  15. Donna, those sacrifices make sense when I hear about the travels you have planned.

    I bet that was frustrating when all you want to do is get home and run into transportation issues. You handled it great!

  16. Your stories always bring about a smile and leave me impressed with your abilities.

  17. Welcome briefly home dearie. I remember a very scary experience on a Seattle bus many years ago. At least you knew the way home. Now, I am very curious about dried beans in the crockpot. All the books say that you must precook the beans before putting in the crockpot or they will not cook through properly. So maybe your new crockpot cooks hotter on high than the older ones? I would just love it if I could get properly cooked beans by just throwing them in in the a.m. So they really come out okay using that method? Have I been deceived all these years? No presoaking or anything?

    • Donna Freedman

      @Reta: This is an older model crockpot, and I’ve been making beans in the crockpot for 30 years or more. Note that if I am making chili, I first cook the beans, then drain them and put them back in with the chili ingredients. But for beans and ham or beans and neck bones, I just use the crockpot.
      And no, I don’t pre-soak any more. Not since reading an article on Mexican cooking.
      Good luck with your next pot o’ pintos.

  18. I pretty much feel stupid for not just going for it in the past! Thanks for the heads up.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Reta: You’re welcome. When you think about it, a slow cooker does the same thing a stove does: Boil (eventually) its contents.
      There’s a ton of bean-based recipes for slow cookers out there. Have fun.

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