Get on the bus

A ride on the No. 23 can transport you -- in more ways than one

CARAG resident A. M. Duerr thinks that every American should ride the bus regularly. More than avoiding overstuffed highways and toxic automobile fumes, Duerr said that riding the bus is a culturally edifying experience.

"The only way you can have an

education as an American citizen is to ride the bus," she said. "You know the city. No one can fool you."

Most people who take the bus ride

it from point A to point B or maybe from point E to point P, but have you ever wondered what it would be like to ride the entire route of a bus? Fanciful as it may sound, a ride on the bus can be a magical and eye-opening thing -- like tracking a dollar bill as it travels through various owners or finding the elusive end of a rainbow.

Take the No. 23. One of the precious few east-west bus lines in Southwest

Minneapolis, the No. 23 follows a loop that begins (or ends, depending on your perspective) at the spanking new Uptown Transit Hub, travels east on 38th Street toward the Highland Park neighborhood of St. Paul and then doubles back and starts the whole process over again.

Along the way, you see the Riverview Theater at 38th Street and 42nd Avenue,

a second-run Art Deco moviehouse with arguably the best buttered popcorn in the city; the highrise on the Ford Parkway and just off the Mississippi River where Abigail Van Buren -- "Dear Abby" -- once lived; and, of course, the long stretch of 38th Street, a corridor which changes in a matter of blocks from downtrodden at Chicago Avenue to blue collar at Nicollet Avenue to fairly yuppie at Grand Avenue -- seemingly all before you can bat an eye.

Similar to the fantastical red balloon in the 1956 French film "The Red Balloon" that takes a lonely little boy named Pascal away from his sheltered life and exposes him to various Paris locales, the bus -- given the chance -- can be a passport to the world.

Axsel Bjorklund, who drives the No. 23 every day during the week from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m., says that enough people don't give transit a fair shake.

"Everybody talks about public transportation -- it's a good thing, there's less traffic, etcetera -- but when it really comes down to it," Bjorklund said, "people don't think it's convenient."

A nine-year veteran of Metro Transit, Bjorklund started driving a bus when he lost his job as a Minnegasco meter reader in 1991.

"It was the recession," he said. "And, then, they automated meter readings, so I was laid off at the age of 51."

Bjorklund, who also drives the No. 17 bus, said that certain people never take the bus.

"Nobody takes the bus unless they don't have a car," he said.

Which seems true. Most of the people riding the No. 23 on this day are car-less, except for East Harriet resident Jeff Schaper, who said he is only temporarily without wheels.

"I think the bus is great for when I need to get to my mechanic," Shaper said, as he headed east on 38th St. to collect his car. "It's very convenient."

Shaper said this is only the second time he's ever been on the bus. What about the first time?

"Actually," Shaper said sheepishly, "I was picking up my car from the mechanic that time too."

The No. 23 doesn't have the crush of riders that the No. 4 or the No. 17, for example, enjoy. Wrapped up in their own thoughts and staring blankly out the window, the riders on the No. 23 resemble an Edward Hopper city scene -- they are together, but alone.

"It's a mellow bus," said Myron Patterson, who got on at the Uptown Transit Station and was on his way to a cleaning job at Market Plaza. "It's not the No. 5, it's not the No. 21. It's a lot more quiet, a lot less people and that's just fine with me."

Unlike the No. 4, which seems to have a more uniformly professional ridership, or the No. 17, which caters to a large Somali population, the No. 23, perhaps because it travels across town, is filled with a random assortment of people.

Nancy Williams travels west from the Riverview Theater to her waitressing job at Casalenda's. 16-year-old Kela Alquist doesn't have a driver's license and is bringing her boyfriend flowers. Thomas Lott just moved here from Omaha, Neb., a year ago and is taking the No. 23 east to Highland Park, where his daughter lives. Kent Janson and Jorrel Doney, who live near the Riverview Theater and are both cloistered in headphones at the back of the bus, are on their way to Loring Nicollet Alternative School; and Kingfield residents Adrian Yackley and Dwight Carlson are on their way to Uptown to their respective hairdressing jobs.

"The best part of the bus is you get to see other people," Yackley said. "That, and it's a lot cheaper than owning a car."

Duerr, who on this day is traveling to St. Paul where she audits classes at the College of St. Catherine, says she is a bus rider through and through."I've been riding the bus since the Fifties," she said. "At first, it was because I couldn't afford a car.

"But, now I wouldn't trade riding the bus for anything."