Like everyone else who tried to get to the Common Ground Fair last Saturday around mid-morning, I got stuck in the usual monumental traffic jam. We were scheduled to arrive at 10:30 a.m. We pulled into the fair parking lot two hours after that. Two hours I sat in traffic and could not enjoy a fair I’d been looking forward to all year.

Still, I had an advantage over most of the drivers and passengers in the cars that formed the crawling, unbroken line that snaked in front of us for the last five miles of the route. Because I was riding a bus, I could read the fair program and plot my afternoon, or read the novel I’d stowed in my bag for just such an eventuality, or simply stare out the window at the lovely landscape. I almost wrote passing landscape, but passing it was not.

The bus, one of three that ran on Saturday and Sunday, was organized by the Maine Adult Education programs, “an effort to reduce our carbon footprint and traffic load,” according to a press release aimed at drumming up ridership. The buses – school buses because they were cheaper than plusher coach buses would have been ($34 roundtrip from Portland, including reduced admission to the fair and a bus snack of apples and cider) – picked up passengers in communities as scattered as Windham, Portland, Freeport, Gardiner, Bath, Waldoboro, Fairfield and Skowhegan; Central Lincoln Adult Ed (which is under the Maine Adult Ed umbrella) has offered fairgoers a ride for the last five years. Combined, the buses carried 83 riders.

Other passengers on my bus – who ranged in age from about 10 to 70 – gave an assortment of reasons for signing up. A young couple didn’t own a car. An older gentleman was recovering from knee replacement surgery and said the walk from the parking lot to the fairgrounds combined with strolling around the fair itself would have overtaxed his new knee. As the sole member of her family interested in attending the fair, one woman figured, “It’s just a waste for me to go up by myself.”

Eighty-three riders is, of course, a tiny fraction of the 60,000 people estimated to have attended the Common Ground Fair. And my bus ride was not without a couple of hitches: The organizers didn’t seem to have figured out the route ahead of time and were anxiously trying to call up GPS data on their cellphones. More annoyingly, one of the “chaperones” accorded us 15 minutes at a rest stop and then took an extra 20 minutes herself in order to get coffee, while some 40 people sat in the school bus, knees pressed against the seats in front of us, waiting for her.

But these were small, easily repairable irritations and outweighed by the pleasure I felt in the companionship of other riders (who joked about singing 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall and laughed uproariously when, during the last few miles of the trip, we played a game of tag with a fleet-footed pedestrian; in the end, we both reached the gate about the same time. Then, there was my profound satisfaction in contributing less to global warming while going to a fair that celebrates environmental and agricultural sustainability. (An overheard conversation: “They said there are 41 people on the bus? So say that’s 30 cars off the road. Now imagine if you had 10 buses!”)


Yes, imagine that. Ten buses. Or how about 20? Or 30? Maybe the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, which organizes the Common Ground Fair, will figure out a way to give buses priority, so that the buses could breeze through the traffic jam ahead of idling cars, a temporary High-Occupancy Vehicle lane, subtly encouraging fairgoers to sign up for cleaner, greener shared transportation the following year.

Tom Nash, with Windham/Raymond Adult Ed (also part of Maine Adult Ed), is already plotting to improve the trip:

“Next year? I think so,” he wrote in an email from an out-of-state conference. “Leave a lot earlier and possibly stay to the end. Go a different route or a different day? Have more adult ed programs participate so one bus doesn’t need to make so many stops.”

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Credit goes to Maine Adult Education for taking that first step.

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