New York City has the subway, London the tube and Boston the T. Even Chattanooga has the postcard-ready hybrid CARTA buses and the less-gleaming clunkers on the city bus line.
In Morgantown, there is the Mountainline, a casually humorous nod to the completely nonhumorous fact that everything in the town is uphill. The buses follow routes through the main drag; the surrounding neighborhoods; the downtown campus; and the larger second campus, with its engineering buildings and hospitals.
Though the Mountainline is free for students, it costs only 50 cents for riders without college IDs, and it is just as much-if not more-a service for the community as it is for students.
The system tailored specifically toward students is the PRT: the Personal Rapid Transit, or as I like to call it, the PBT. (I initially misheard the acronym with a “B” in place of the “R.”)
Whether I have continued to call it the PBT because it allows me to think of it as the Peanut Butter Train and, thus, randomly break out into the “Peanut Butter Jelly Time” song-well, that’s up for debate.
Why would I ardently feel this mode of campus transit deserves its own theme music? Let me create a mental image, or simply refer to the picture on the right.
This thing is like a munchkin train decorated in bright blue and yellow WVU colors and set on a roller coaster track. From afar, the individual cars running one-by-one really do appear to be miniature boxcars sure to shrink anyone who unassumingly steps onboard.
In reality, each accommodates eight seated passengers and several more standing. It happily whisks students between campuses while offering lovely views of the Monongahela River and the downtown skyline.
The PRT resembles one of the vintage dioramas Disney World developers might have constructed as they envisioned the rides at Epcot.
A friend has theorized that the system was actually designed by a WVU engineering student as part of a class project and has never been updated.
Even better is the nonchalant, supremely casual attitude with which everyone else seems to regard the PRT, as if this kind of setup is No. 1, a standard feature of every American college campus; and No. 2, not in the least bit odd.
After riding the PRT, I can firmly say it is neither No. 1, underwhelming; nor No. 2, a normal experience.
But as a grad student with more desire to rub my pennies together for $3 wine at Aldi than for gas, I desperately want to utilize free transportation when possible.
So I sought out the bus.
The natural place to start seemed to be the bus stop. I had been scouring the area for signs of bus stops to no avail. Were they hidden? Were they unmarked? Were they shaped or colored in some unrecognizable design?
Nope. I was not seeing them-because there are none.
To repeat-there are no designated bus stops.
Boarding the bus is a matter of being on the bus route at the time the bus passes and flagging it down like a cab. Basically, a potential rider waits by the side of the road until he or she spots the bus. Then, he or she is expected to step into the road, being sure to avoid oncoming traffic, and flail wildly until the body movement catches the driver’s attention and he or she stops the bus.
And then the vehicle continues on its route until someone else hurls his or her body into the street.
Disembarking the bus, which is built less like a typical public transit bus and more like the shuttles at the Atlanta airport that ferry travelers from parking lots to Delta check-in counters, is just as treacherous.
As there are no designated stops to wait for the bus, there are no designated stops to get off the bus. Instead, passengers hop off exactly where they want. Exactly.
It’s as if the pull cord to alert the driver that a rider has reached his or her destination is directly connected to the emergency brake. The bus instantly grinds to a violent stop-in the middle of the road, of traffic, of rush hour with a line of cars behind and a green light ahead.
Passengers are immediately out on the sidewalk and praying to escape the blame for the rear-end accidents they may have indirectly caused.
The first ride on the Peanut Butter Train leveled my confident ability to traverse transit systems, in addition to my control over my utterances in public.
The roller coaster description is no joke, specifically in the sense that the PRT has intuitive speed peaks and lulls as it crests and descends the track’s inclines, as well as jerky, unexpected lurches in motion.
The cars themselves are not connected to a rail. The four tires make contact with a pavement lane, while the rail acts as a bumper guard, leaving just enough wiggle room to corral the cars into the lane and allow them to suddenly and delightfully move side to side along the way.
Entering a station requires a secret swipe technique, the gates change their destination with each car just to keep it interesting, and express cars to the end of the line are denoted no differently.
Best of all, the cars have massive front-facing windows (to better view the oncoming drop-offs) that I’m convinced were designed by the makers of the Cannonball, but the seats face the interior of the car. As such, neck strains and motion sickness are two common side effects of riding the Peanut Butter Train.
I exited the PRT suffering from both, more firmly committed to my bike and trying not to think about how hordes of undergrads successfully use the system every day.
Meanwhile, Charlie and Pat the Cat continue to live the dream of napping, windowsill lounging and wrestling together.
Because Charlie Barley Behringer could not simply disappear from Nooga.com, Mountain to Mountain will follow her and her mother’s adventures, dispatch-style, in Morgantownas they tackle graduate school, first-year teaching and living in West by-God Virginia.