Buses and trains can provide cheap entertainment—and lasting memories—for your kids, no matter your destination.
Driving to Denver International Airport last week to send our adult daughter back to the East Coast after a brief vacation home with us, I told her about wonderful ride-to-the-airport memories from my own childhood. The old #64 bus ran from west Denver at one end of the route to Stapleton International Airport (which was replaced by DIA more than twenty years ago) on the other end. The westernmost bus stop of the #64 was directly across the street from our house—from our front window we saw the bus come and go twenty or more times each day; the airport was the easternmost stop of the #64.
On special outing days, my mom would pack lunches and take my younger brother and me on the long bus ride to the airport. For a dime each. The #64 was not an express bus, so it stopped every 5-10 blocks, including multiple stops in downtown Denver. On the way, we took turns sitting by the window, marveled at the 24-story-tall “skyscrapers,” ate our picnic lunch, and could barely contain ourselves thinking about the fun we would soon have at the airport. When the two hour ride ended, mom took us to the outdoor observation deck where we sat forever, watching (and hearing and smelling) the planes take off and land. Nothing was cooler than that. We had never been on a plane, but this was the next best thing.
Finally, anesthetized by the outdoor air, the plane exhaust fumes, and the wonderment at the Bernoulli Principle in action, we boarded the westbound #64 back to our front door. On warm days, we got an ice cream cone or Popsicle for the ride home.
The #64 bus route is long gone, and there are no outdoor airport observation decks left in this age of hyper-security, but there are infinite equivalent public transportation experiences for parents and kids today. In Denver, for example, the new sleek light rail system runs from downtown all the way out to DIA. The trip takes about 40 minutes, making 8 stops along the way. Its starting point is at the beautifully remodeled Union Station, and the trip ends at one of the most fun and interesting airports in the country. True, it no longer costs a dime (adult fare is $9.00 each way), but kids under 5 are free!
If your usual mode of transportation is a car, as it is for most of us in our automobile-centric society, city buses and trains can be a novel activity any day of the week, especially when you’re a bit short on ideas for novel activities. Using public transportation can be a fun experience in and of itself, regardless of the destination.
As summer winds down, find a bus or train stop near you that runs a long way. Remember, half the fun is getting there. Pack lunches and snacks for the kids and disembark at a beautiful park or library or museum or...airport! Spend quality time exploring, and then hop back on the bus or train and bring your tired little adventurers back home with fond “#64 bus” memories they’ll someday share with their own kids.
Dr. Harley A. Rotbart is Professor and Vice Chairman Emeritus of Pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and Children's Hospital Colorado. He is a Parents advisor and the author of books for parents and families, including No Regrets Parenting, 940 Saturdays, and Miracles We Have Seen. He is a Parents advisor, and a contributor to The New York Times Motherlode blog. Visit his blog at harleyrotbart.com and follow him on Twitter and Facebook.