Take a minute to Thank a Transit Driver!

By Jessica Maxwell

Being a professional transit operator isn’t easy, although many make it look that way.  Professional operators must memorize routes, adhere to schedules, check and collect fares, give directions, answer questions, obey traffic laws, remember passenger requests, exercise sound judgment in stressful or emergency situations, assist passengers of all abilities and endure an array of weather conditions– all while safely maneuvering oversized vehicles through tight spaces and unpredictable traffic.  An operator’s work day starts and ends with a complete pre/post-trip vehicle inspection, and any issues are reported to maintenance personnel.  Safety is a top priority.

It’s a demanding career, but a rewarding one.  People rely upon public transportation for increased mobility, affordable access to essential needs and improved quality of life.  Those fortunate enough to own their vehicle might not always recognize the importance of public transportation, but professional operators witness, firsthand, its direct impact on the lives of passengers.

Waco Transit System, along with other transit agencies across the country, celebrated National Transit Driver Appreciation Day on Friday, March 16.  This effort was started as a way to honor the hard-working men and women who keep our nation moving on a daily basis.  With more than 1.3 million passenger trips in 2017 alone, Waco Transit System’s operators are certainly kept busy, and we are grateful for their service and commitment to our passengers and the community.  Professional operators, along with vehicle maintenance personnel and other staff who work behind-the-scenes, deserve our heartfelt thanks and appreciation.  A simple smile or wave when you board and a sincere “thank you” as you leave can go a long way.

While we believe every day is a good day to let your driver know how much they’re appreciated, it’s wonderful to see the country come together on one nationally-recognized day to celebrate the vital role professional operators play in public transportation.

For more information about this national effort, visit www.transitdriverday.org.

Have you thanked your professional operator(s) lately?  Let us know why you appreciate your driver(s), and we’ll be sure to pass along your comments.  Drop us a line at wtscomments@wacotx.gov, Tweet us @WacoTransit or post a comment to our Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/WacoTransit/).

Jessica Maxwell is the Director of Marketing for Waco Transit System. She graduated from Northern Illinois University with a BA in Journalism and Communication Studies. Originally from Illinois, she moved to Texas with her husband in 2013, and they have been happily settled in Waco ever since. She enjoys spending time with her family, traveling and experiencing all the great outdoors has to offer. You can reach Jessica at jessicam@wacotx.gov.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email ashleyt@actlocallywaco.org for more information.



Let’s be civil…don’t make me uncomfortable

By Craig Nash

I’ve been thinking about anger and its place in our public discourse and how we communicate with our neighbors.

I’m no techie, which makes it difficult for me to understand everything about Russian “bots,” data analysis, and all the other digital interference that has been in the news since the last Presidential election. But I do understand that it was (and is) more than an effort to elect a certain person to office or to sway public opinion about a particular issue. The ultimate goal is to create instability and to sow chaos. To make us so angry at each other that we don’t trust the motives of our neighbor. And it has worked. We’ve all chosen our tribes and are yelling at each other across the expanse.

This is unsettling. Though I love an entertaining argument among friends, it is always with the assumption that, once it is over, both sides are able to lay down their swords and enjoy a drink of choice together.  There’s a point, however, where arguing seems counterproductive and dangerous. Though I fail at this often, there’s a point when I want us to talk to each other more calmly, rationally and respectfully.

I am also aware, however, of this: The last sentence I wrote in the previous paragraph is a product of my place in society. Calm, rational and respectful dialogue is the goal of those of us with privilege. For me, it is a privilege my whiteness, straightness and maleness to demand “calm, rational respect” occur during dialogue. It’s also a privilege for me to DEFINE what is meant by calm, rational and respectful. Demanding these things in conversation about big issues allows people like me to control the conversation and, more often than not, maintain the status quo.

So, there are these two things I hold in tension—The need to talk to each other more calmly and respectfully on one hand, and on the other, the realization that my wanting this is a result of my place in the world.

We have a lot of calls for calm dialogue in our country. At least once a week I see a news show convene a group of people with disparate opinions on a given topic to have a dialogue. It usually ends with an exhale by the moderator and a calm, sweet, “Now wasn’t that nice? No one got angry. You listened and spoke to each other with respect.” What we don’t often hear is a defense of anger and emotion. So I decided to ask some of my friends who are experts in being told to be more calm and rational—women—what they thought about these ideas ruminating in my mind. Their responses were instructive, and rather than giving commentary on what I learned, I wanted to share directly some of the things they had to say.

Respondent #1 (In addition to being female, also a Person of Color.): “…We want to trust our neighbors but that does require them to speak out and risk giving up some of their privilege and protection which is not easy to do…. I know that for myself and other friends of Color that we are not in place that we can filter or code switch* at all. Being polite and speaking reasonably is something we have done for so long that we end up taking ourselves completely out of those spaces and conversations to maintain our sanity, but also so that we don’t do irreparable damage to those people we care about while we wait for the conversation to shift.”

(*Note: “Code Switching” in this context refers to modifying behavior, tone, dialect, appearance, etc. in order to accommodate to the social norms of another — usually dominant — group.)

Respondent #2: “Anger as an emotion is a good thing. It’s an alarm bell that says you are being violated… The problem isn’t anger, the problem is injustice. Anger is the right of the oppressed, and blaming anger for our problems mislabels the problem. That being said, how we wield anger is important…. I am less and less convinced that civil discourse is the answer…at least, it cannot be the answer when “civil” discourse favors the privilege and the status quo, which it so often does. I’m not saying we ought to yell profanities and call names…I’m just saying anger is not the enemy here. You can be very angry and still say things that are true and constructive.

At this point I anticipate the pushback to these thoughts about anger, which often takes some form of this question: “Ok, I hear you. But what do you want me to do.”

Respondent #3: “People seem to want to circumvent the understanding part. ‘let’s just make the changes and be done with it.’ (i.e. I don’t want to feel anything, I want to be efficient with my time which means let’s get to a solution) Majority members don’t seem to have time to hear the pain or anger often.”

Respondent #4: Many times marginalized groups have tried polite civil discourse, and have not been listened to. Then, when they speak with frustration and anger, they are criticized. As a society we say, oh well I would listen to you if you weren’t so angry/emotional, when in truth many groups have tried that and gone unheard. Calling for civility has been a way that our society has attempted to quiet or sidestep uncomfortable conversations.  That being said, I do think civil discourse has its place especially if trying to reach beyond someone’s instinctual tribal reactions. Also speaking from privilege as a white female, speaking calmly and politely has helped me deescalate many situations, but it has also forced me to not ask for what I needed out of a situation for the sake of everyone getting along.

I think everyone would agree that we live in turbulent times. Maybe not any more turbulent than other times, but the stakes seem heightened. From national issues of gun violence, immigration and race relations, to local conversations about the fate of our schools and the location of our landfills, we are all bumping into each other’s worldviews and opinions in ways that can feel uncomfortable. What I have learned from these women is that this discomfort may be needed. Or, perhaps, the discomfort that certain groups have owned as a part of their inheritance needs to be shifted onto those of us for whom discomfort is foreign.

Craig Nash has lived in Waco since 2000. Since then he has worked at Baylor, been a seminary student, managed a hotel restaurant, been the “Barnes and Noble guy,” pastored a church and once again works for Baylor through the Texas Hunger Initiative. He lives with his dog Jane, religiously re-watches the same 4 series on Netflix over and over again, and considers himself an amateur country music historian.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email ashleyt@actlocallywaco.org for more information.




Sustainable Waco: World Water Day

by Melissa Mullins

Most people have heard of Earth Day, celebrated on April 22 each year and started in 1970 when millions of Americans demonstrated in protest against deterioration of the environment.  But not as many people are aware of World Water Day, celebrated on March 22 every year.  Every year you can find World Water Day information on worldwaterday.org , including the theme for the year.

This year’s theme is “The Answer is in Nature” and explores issues around how we can reduce floods, droughts, and pollution.  As stated on the website “damaged ecosystems affect the quantity and quality of water available for human consumption.  Today, 2.1 billion people live without safe drinking water at home; affecting their health, education, and livelihoods.”  Communities around the globe, including in Texas, host celebrations for World Water Day.

Don’t limit World Water Day to one day of the year!  Practice conservation and water-friendly living practices throughout the year in your daily life. There are many ways to conserve and protect water.  We’ve probably all heard about tips like fixing leaky faucets, or not over-watering or over-fertilizing our yards, or picking up pet wastes.  But what about “hidden” uses of water?  Baylor University’s Center for Reservoir and Aquatic Systems Research offers a monthly virtual classroom visit for schools, and on this month’s visit a student asked “what can I do to conserve water?”  And the CRASR scientist answered “turn off the lights!” –you may not think about it, but electricity generation is a HUGE water user!

In addition to observing water-friendly living practices in our personal lives, citizens can have a voice in decision-making around water issues in our community.  Water planning in Texas is coordinated through a state water planning process, and locally we are in the Brazos G Regional Water Planning Group which meets here in Waco at the Brazos River Authority offices.  Meetings are open to the public and there are opportunities to serve.  The City of Waco has the Sustainable Resource Practices Advisory Board, whose purpose is “to advise the City Council on the development and/or support of ecological and environmentally sound programs and policies within Waco”, which certainly includes water!

The Center for Reservoir and Aquatic Systems Research at Baylor University has often supported Citizen Science efforts for monitoring local water bodies by schools as part of the World Water Monitoring Challenge.  If you have ideas about events you’d like to see for World Water Day next year in Waco, let’s talk!

Melissa Mullins is an aquatic scientist who coordinates education and outreach at Baylor’s Center for Reservoir and Aquatic Systems Research.  She is a Baylor alum (M.S. Environmental Biology ’95) and is on the Board of the Informal Science Education Association of Texas which focuses on promoting science learning outside the classroom.  She loves goats and yoga and recently visited the Nile River in Uganda as part of a Baylor trip.  She believes that a vibrant scientific community that includes the public in its work is a fundamental underpinning of a democratic society.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email ashleyt@actlocallywaco.org for more information.

It’s Never too late to Tri

(With this post we are kicking off a new regular series “Trails & Trials,” a monthly adventure series inspiring others to experience the physical, mental, and social benefits of cycling, running or swimming in Central Texas . Keep an eye out for more posts in coming months! – ALW)

By Natasha van der Merwe

I’ll never forget the day Kevin walked into my office where I was director of triathlon. He was 70, and he wanted to know how to prepare for his first triathlon.

He had some swimming experience, a very old Schwinn bike and the will to get through the run, even if it meant doing a lot of walking.

He jumped in head first to training. He never missed a practice or an opportunity to ask a coach a question about how he could improve. The questions were limitless: How can I improve my swim form? What should my cadence be on the bike? What should my heart be on the run? How can I fuel my body for the best performance?

Kevin embodies one of the biggest reasons so many people are drawn to our sport. Trying to conquer three different sports in the quickest time possible is a challenge that not only attracts people, but hooks them in for life. Because just as in life, in triathlon, there is always an opportunity for improvement.

I came into the sport pretty late, too, compared to many of my competitors who started as junior triathletes.

At 27, I was a tennis coach, putting all my hours into helping others reach their full potential. But, I also longed to find something to feverishly pursue for myself.

Enter triathlon. A friend entered me into my first race, and I was hooked. I still don’t know how I did not find this sport sooner.

Like most and like Kevin, I started with a sprint triathlon, a 500-meter swim, 12-mile bike and 5K run.

I hadn’t been in the pool since my junior school swim team days. A lot had changed, and I was fortunate to have a swim coach to watch my stroke and give me pointers. With a few swims before race day, I knew I wasn’t going to drown.

A friend was kind enough to take me out riding and teach me how and when to shift gears. I soon found myself riding with a group from the local bike store. It was one of the most joyous times in my life; feeling the wind and sun on my back, taking in the beauty of the countryside, getting the endorphin high of exercise all while chatting away with the person riding next to me. My best friends to this day are those who I bike and run with.

Running was the easy part – logistically anyway.  All I needed was a pair of running shoes from my local running store and a Garmin watch because it’s always more fun to see how far and fast I’ve gone.

One of the best parts of triathlon, I’ve found, is the opportunity to build lifelong friendships, and meet people like Kevin, who are determined to give it their all no matter their stage in life. Want to join a community of other fitness enthusiasts or triathletes?  Waco has lots of options and everyone’s welcome at Waco Bike Club, Waco Triathlon Club, or Waco Striders.  Need some expert advice on equipment or nutrition? Stop by Bicycle World Waco or Waco Running Company any day of the week. There’s nothing like being fully accountable and equipped. It gets you up in the morning, and pushes you to start your day with a great sweat session.

So why sign up now for your first 5k or sprint triathlon? Because you’re never too old to take on new challenges. Just ask Kevin. Or me. And because sport will give you the energy and confidence it did when you were growing up and will help you be a role model for your kids, too.

Here’s just a short list of the benefits:

  • Work ethic – a commitment to preparing for race day, because there is no faking a triathlon.
  •  Discipline – Getting up in the early morning to train stinks  at first, but soon you won’t be able to start your day without those endorphins.
  • Time management – To fit everything in with your busy life, you’ll have to prioritize.
  • Goal setting – You know you’ll want to beat your office friend or training buddy who entered the race, too.
  • Perseverance – It won’t be all smooth sailing, so you’ll have to learn to problem solve and stay mentally strong despite setbacks. (Pro tip: If you’re struggling, it’s usually because you aren’t eating and sleeping enough. Do that right and smoother waters are ahead.)
  • Confidence – Something we all need more of.
  • Pride – Hard work does yield gratifying results.

At 70, Kevin found all those benefits and is still pursuing his triathlon goals more than two years later. For me, triathlon gave me the structure and the goals I needed to channel all of my passion into a growing career in sport while being a role model for my toddler daughter.

What will it give you? You never know til you tri. But I can guarantee you, it will be worth it.

The Tenth Annual TriWaco Triathlon will be on Sunday, July 15, 2018. Registration opens on Sunday, Nov. 5, 2017! The race starts with a 1500-meter open water swim in the Brazos River followed by a mostly flat and fast 25-mile bike ride on country roads north and west of Waco. The race finishes out with a hilly 10-kilometer run along the Brazos River that leads to the oldest suspension bridge in Texas. The Sprint distance event includes a 400-meter swim in the Brazos River, a 12-mile bike ride along the same country roads and a 3.5-mile run finishing on the suspension bridge. For more information, visit the website: triwaco.org

Natasha van der Merwe is originally from South Africa. She is mom to a 19-month old girl, former professional tennis player and tennis instructor, and a professional triathlete representing Bicycle World and Waco Running Company.  She has multiple top 10 finishes in Ironman and 70.3 events around the world. She is Director of Team Programs for Bicycle World, Texas



2018 Greatest Hits #1: I admit it…I did not want to go to the March for our Lives

(During these last few weeks of December we will be reprising the Top 10 Most Opened Blog Posts for 2018 from the Act Locally Waco blog. I couldn’t possibly pick my favorites – so I used the simple (cop out?)  approach of pulling up the 10 blog posts that got the most “opens” according to our Google Analytics.  It is an intriguing collection that gives at least a little insight into the interests and concerns of Act Locally Waco readers. I hope this “Top 10” idea inspires you to go back and re-read your personal favorites.  There have been so many terrific ones… If you would like to see the Top 10 according to Google Analytics, here’s the link: Top 10 Most Opened Blog Posts of 2018.  Merry Christmas! — ABT)

By Ashley Bean Thornton

I went to the “March for our Lives” rally Saturday, but I did not really want to go.

I do not like political rallies and protest marches.

Sure, I can appreciate a clever sign and an inspiring speech as much as anyone, but once the initial emotional high has worn off, I feel bad.

I want to believe people can work together to understand each other’s points of view and to find a way forward together when it comes to difficult issues.  Once the PA system and the signs come out, however, I feel like we aren’t trying to understand each other and work together any more…we are trying to make sure our side wins.

I have a democrat sticker on my car and I have heard people say that means I hate guns.  I don’t hate guns. I would characterize my feeling toward guns as neutral.

I don’t personally own a gun. They are not interesting to me, so I spend my money on other things.   Also, I am pretty much blind in one eye…the one you need for shooting it turns out.  So, there’s that.

But, I don’t hate guns. Many of my friends have guns for all kinds of different reasons… hunting, protection, fun.  I don’t have any problem with that.  I don’t have any problem with you carrying your gun in your purse or your pocket or your holster or your pick-up truck.  If you are not using your guns to shoot innocent people, and you are keeping your guns away from little kids, then I don’t have any problem with your guns.

I do not hate guns.  Most of the time I don’t even care about or think about guns.

One reason I have the luxury of not caring about guns is that most of the people who do own guns are very responsible with their guns.  Most gun owners are responsible. I get that.

I also get that responsible people don’t like having their rights and privileges abridged because of the behavior of irresponsible people.  I don’t want my car taken away because someone else drinks and drives.   I don’t want my cell phone taken away because someone else texts and drives.  You don’t want your guns taken away or your gun ownership made inconvenient because some other guy was irresponsible.  I get that.

Also, I believe that some (maybe most) gun owners “get” some of things that are important to me.   For example, I am fine with a whole lot of people having guns, but there are some exceptions.  I am not fine with unsupervised teenagers having guns that can kill people. I am not fine with certain kinds of criminals having guns.  I am not fine with mentally unstable people having guns.

I bet most gun lovers can understand why I believe some people ought not to have guns.   I believe we could have a fruitful conversation about where to draw those lines and how to enforce them. I believe we could make some headway that would keep us all safer.

When it comes to “assault guns” or “AR-15’s” or whatever the right word is for guns that fire many, many bullets incredibly quickly…I don’t like them, but I can understand why some people might not want to have them banned completely.  I bet most gun lovers can understand why I think the standards and rules for owning such a dangerous weapon should be very, very strict.  I bet if we got in a room together with the goal of coming up with rules we could both live with on this matter, we could come up with something that would move us down the road.

There have always been and always will be trade-offs between freedom and safety. We can’t protect ourselves or our children from every harmful person, but we can work together to get better at it than we are doing now. I believe that’s what we should do.   Or more to the point, I believe that is what our elected representatives should be doing in our names.

I don’t really like rallies and marches because I feel like, if we are not careful, they become opportunities for vilifying each other, reinforcing our worst opinions about each other and making it harder than ever to work together.

So why did I go to the “March for our Lives?”  Honestly, I succumbed to peer pressure.  My friends were going, so I did.  And, despite my misgivings, I’m glad I did.

The young people who spoke were magnificent! Smart and poised and well-reasoned, they gave me hope for the future of our country.

Also, bluntly, the way I wish we would work together doesn’t seem to be working.

As I stood in the sun listening to the speeches, I thought about how long we have been trying to figure out how to protect our children and ourselves, and it seemed to me we have made no progress.

As I looked around at the crowd of hundreds in Waco (and the pictures that showed crowds of thousands, and possibly hundreds of thousands in other cities) I thought, “I guess this is what it takes to make progress. It takes bodies getting out into the street. It takes showing the sheer physical mass of people who care about an issue. This is what it takes to get an issue on the table.”   I understand this is what it takes, and I am so very grateful to those hardworking souls who are making it happen, but I still wonder why … why can’t we just talk? I wish we could.

This Act Locally Waco blog post is by Ashley Bean Thornton, she has lived in Waco almost 20 years now. Far longer than she ever lived anywhere else. She likes to walk. If you see her out walking, honk and wave and say “hi!”

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email ashleyt@actlocallywaco.org for more information.