As readers have commented on more than one occasion, you never know where this column is coming from.

Today's is coming from the route of the 472 express bus.

That's right. I'm on a UTA bus. Traveling in a northward direction toward Riverdale Road in Ogden, where my plan is to disembark, cross to the other side of the park-and-ride lot and catch the southbound 472 back to downtown Salt Lake City, where I boarded.

I am doing this to demonstrate the fact that Utah's public buses, the express ones that run between counties at any rate, are on the cutting edge of technology.

Last month, the Utah Transit Authority authorized the installation of wireless hookups in all its county-to-county express buses. The inter-county fleet is now one big connected laptop. Like Starbucks on wheels.

All a person has to do is supply his or her own personal laptop, or maybe a Blackberry or similar device, and Internet hookup is on the house, er, bus.

They even provide electrical outlets.

In my case, I boarded with a Macintosh PowerBook G4, determined to write and send this column, via the miracle of the World Wide Web — all from the front seat, right-hand side, aka "my new office."

I have to admit I was skeptical. I still marvel at inventions such as the radio and the Clapper. Things like cell phones and Wi-Fi leave me as flummoxed as 11th-grade calculus.

But no sooner had I sat down and opened my laptop than I was hooked up. With one keystroke I had joined the "UTA Wi-Fi" rolling network.

The only possible glitch could have been the fact I entered the bus with a $20 bill for the $4 fare, and since buses don't carry change and they don't take debit or credit cards — although they are wireless, figure that one out — I was faced with an old-fashioned, bus-rider's dilemma.

But a good Samaritan named Hilda Sandi, who got on just before I did, came to my rescue, pulling change for a $20 from her purse and handing it to me.

Hilda works for Zions Bancorp. in downtown Salt Lake City but was catching the 12:19 p.m. bus back to her home in Layton because her daughter had called in sick from school. (Note to Hilda's bosses: I personally saw her get off the bus at the park-and-ride lot in Layton, NOT at a ski resort or day spa ... and Hilda, thanks for the change.)

The bus driver, Patrick Dunford, admitted he didn't know any more how the Wi-Fi works than I did, other than it does work.

"A lot of people are using it," he said. "It's real popular, especially in the mornings. They get on and get their work started."

"They read the news," added Hilda.

The service on the outbound bus to Ogden was painfully slow. It took me 15 minutes, well past Bountiful, to start to download the Deseret News Web site (in order to prove to Hilda I was who I said I was). A man named Kelly, a Web designer by profession, seated two rows behind me, was downloading some graphics and getting them, as he said, "pixel by pixel."

"The system has its days," he said. "In the beginning, it seemed like it worked pretty fast, but when they loaded it onto all the buses it slowed down. Two days ago, I couldn't even log in."

At this rate, I figured my column would be sent somewhere near Bozeman.

But at Riverdale Road, I switched buses and, Voila!, on the return trip to Salt Lake City, the connection was running faster than a Clemens denial. I was pulling up exhibition baseball scores, my bank balance, the weather report, the latest headlines ("Gunfire Kills 8 in Jerusalem School," "Favre Discusses Retirement") and checking my e-mail as fast as I pleased.

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"I've had some passengers pull up alongside the bus in their own cars and use the Wi-Fi that way," said bus driver Cory Davis. "There's a little bit of overlap outside the bus."

By the time Davis dropped me back off in downtown Salt Lake City, my work was done, my column sent. Who knows, you may be reading it right now on the 472, seated next to Hilda.

Life is sweet in cyberspace.


Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to benson@desnews.com and faxes to 801-237-2527.

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