The first time I rode the Matbus, I was a mass transportation idealist, envisioning golden days of blissful bus rides across town. Then, following a 40-minute one-way trip to the Moorhead Target, I was a cynic. Apparently, efficiency here in Fargo-Moorhead belongs to those with vehicles, and car-less college students must be condemned to a woeful two-mile walking radius.

 It wasn’t until a couple of months later that I realized the aforementioned mire of inefficiency was largely caused by user error; namely, a misunderstanding of bus transfers. So I gave Matbus another chance, and our relationship blossomed like so many tulips.

Efficient mass transportation is a luxury usually reserved for large metro areas, and Europe. Below a certain population threshold, subway, train, and bus systems simply become economically unsustainable. The sprawl of the Fargo-Moorhead metro area is so spread out that there is no efficient way to connect it all. There’s also something of a chicken-egg paradigm going on: since there is not an efficient transit system, personal vehicles are considered a necessity, and since most people have their own vehicle, there is not a huge demand for efficient mass transit.

But efficiency is relative. Economics teaches us that everything has a cost. When we hop in our own cars and take the quickest route possible to our destination, we sacrifice something. Taking the Matbus shows us exactly what we’re missing.

Community. The first person I met on the Matbus was a man by the name of Thaddeus Simmons. He told me about his plasma donation experience, hinting that if I donate and say he recruited me, he’ll get a little stipend. On my way home from a movie, one passenger regaled the bus with the fascinating story of when his friend bought him a blow-up doll for his birthday. He had to hide it in his room before his parents saw and then deflated it by stabbing it with a knife. At the main terminal in downtown Fargo, bus drivers on their break mingle with security officers, angsty teens, and a host of interesting characters. This kind of high-octane people watching cannot be had in a Toyota Camry. Moreover, for those who fret over the amount of time spent on computers and cell phones, what better cure than the rich social opportunities that the Matbus offers.

Sustainability. Ease your carbon emission-plagued conscience. You’re using environmentally friendly mass transportation, and it’s FREE for Cobbers. To earn an extra environmental pat on the back, take advantage of the Matbus bike rack system and combine your trip with a bike ride.

 Zen. Once you get comfortable with the bus system and schedule, there’s really nothing you have to do. Just hop on, sit down, and enjoy the ride. The Matbus will get you to your destination; it may take more time, but it will help you remember the significance of the journey itself. You’re not just cruising blindly forward; you’re stopping to smell those strange plastic seats, or the heady perfume of the woman in front of you. The Matbus is the present, and what a fascinating present it is.

Try it: For an evening jaunt, head over to the bus stop on 5th St behind Brown and catch the 8 bus at :04 and :34 after the hour. Get off at the GTC in downtown Fargo, walk a couple of blocks to Broadway or Main Ave, and grab a cup of coffee at Atomic, Babb’s or Red Raven Espresso Parlor.