By Emily Harrington
When I was a little girl, I would occasionally stay overnight at my grandma’s house in Urbana. I remember how special these occasions were. The hard candy in the strawberry wrapper, the steep stairway up to the old attic and even the powdered milk she used—everything was different from my own home. Everything more interesting and much more exciting.
She didn’t drive, so we didn’t leave the house much during these sleepovers. Occasionally, however, she would get out a little paperback book the size of a Reader’s Digest, and she’d check the bus routes and corresponding times. She had a bus stop right outside her front door. If the timing was right, we would get showered and dressed, wait at the stop for our bus and travel either to Lincoln Square or Market Place Mall. Coincidentally, my husband recalls his dad taking him on bus rides just for fun, too. And it’s just that. Another awesome thing to do in our community that’s cheap, convenient, different and a lot of fun.
Given our bus history, it wasn’t a big stretch for us to take a Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District (MTD) bus ride on a beautiful fall morning. The closest stop is just a few minutes away from our house in Savoy. Even if you’ve never noticed them before, there’s one close to you—guaranteed. We waited just a few minutes. Soon the bus came charging up to our stop as our toddler jumped up and down in delight. Anything with wheels is fascinating to them. You can check where your bus is in real time and plan your trip with one of the many technology options available. The bus driver released a ramp so we could easily roll our stroller onto the bus. Our infant and toddler were free, for they both fell beneath a yellow 46-inch tape mark. My husband and I each paid a buck! A buck! Cash only. There are many day, weekend and annual passes available. Discounts for various groups are also available.
There was no one on our bus except for a student who boarded with us. We had plenty of room to spread out, and there is a designated spot for your stroller. The driver was so kind and informative. He was invested in our route and safety. He seemed genuinely concerned we got to the right place at the right time. We were bound for the University of Illinois Campus in Champaign. This route required no transfers (the first transfer is free when requested upon boarding).
The ride was pleasant and quiet. Our infant slept, and our toddler stared out the windows pointing out the endless corn and beans. With the stops, our actual ride was around 45 minutes. Just enough time that no one got restless. Make sure you eat before you go as no food or drink is allowed on the bus. However, the driver gave my son some candy when we reached our destination. He even called him by his first name throughout the ride.
Most students hadn’t woken up yet, so the streets and shops weren’t crowded at all. We also went to Gameday Spirit, also on Green Street, to stock up on Illini gear. They have a great selection for infants and toddlers.
We walked around a bit more as we scared the students into using birth control with our energetic toddler and intermittently fussing babe. We needed a sweet to balance the savory pizza, so we stopped by Insomnia Cookies on John Street. Pricey, calorie heavy and GOOD. And warm! They sell milk, too, with their cookies. A few chocolate varieties later, and we were ready to roll.
We had two options for our departure within about 30 minutes of each other. We chose the earlier route so we would be home in plenty of time for naps (ours, not the kids). The same stop we were dropped off at, Transit Plaza, was our departure location. The stop has an electronic board that shows all the incoming and outgoing busses. And there’s a Starbucks. Score. Though, make your order brief. My husband got caught with a slow barista, and I had to pound on the store window to get his attention (and all other patrons) as our bus rolled up. Phew. We made it just in time. Thank goodness I didn’t have to leave him and my coffee behind!
If you board a bus on campus, it’s free. Free! This time the bus was much more crowded, but students poured off at the various surrounding stops. Soon it was practically empty. On the busses you’ll find diverse, friendly riders who want to chat you up. Everyone we experienced was very kind and inquisitive.
My son was able to pull the string above the windows before we got to our final stop. This in turn tolls a bell alerting the driver that someone needs to get off. My favorite part as a kid. There are also electronic boards on the bus that give you the play by play of where you are. It’s a fairly intuitive process that’s not intimidating at all. We left our home at 10:45 a.m. and were home by 1:20 p.m. The trip was such a success, in fact, it made us think of other ways we could use this mode of transportation.
The entire system was seemingly designed for families. The adventure consisted of good eats and a lot of exploration. A perfect Saturday excursion. Keep warm in the winter or cool in the summer while looking at our community from a new perspective.
Emily Harrington is a Chambana townie. She left her 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. job in communications so that she could be a 24/7 mom to two busy boys. Still interested in writing, Emily uses some of naptime to practice her passion and keep her mind right. Emily is a happy wife with a happy life because she fell for a fellow townie. Emily usually finds herself engulfed in balls, blue and belly laughs.