Sunday, January 25, 2015

BUS STORY # 429 (It's Never Really Simple)

Public art at the ABQ RIDE stop at Central and Zuni. Photo by Busboy.

My first impression was that she was a regular. After boarding, she took the bench seat next to the front door and looked us all over, and smiled. A big smile. A “hi there” smile.

She was even smiling at me. Or maybe it was just in my general direction. She had sunglasses on, so I couldn’t really see her eyes, and I was in her general line of vision.

If she was smiling at me, maybe she recognized me from other rides. But I didn’t recognize her at all.

She kept smiling that big happy smile in my direction, so that after a few stops, I was beginning to wonder. I wondered if maybe she was ... simple.

When I got to my stop, I was preoccupied with the question of whether “simple” was offensive or not, and if it was, what word might be used in its place. I’d pressed the pedestrian walk button and was waiting for the light to change when I heard a voice ask if I was catching the bus. I looked over to my right and there she was.

“The northbound Wyoming bus. Yes,” I answered.

“That’s my bus,” she replied.

“It should be here around two-fifteen,” I said.

The light changed, we walked across the intersection, turned north to the bus stop bench, and sat down.

“This is where I catch the bus,” she said.

I nodded.

Silence. Then, “I’m getting my computer back Thursday.”

Um... “Back from where?”

“From my brother.”

Had he borrowed it?

She answered no, he’d taken it with him to fix it.

What was wrong with it?

It didn’t work.

After a pause, she added her brother’s daughter had used it without her permission and put a lot of junk on it, and then it didn’t work.

So your brother is fixing your computer because his daughter messed it up.

No, not that brother. Her brother from California is fixing the computer. Her other brother has the daughter who messed it up.

So is the brother from California mailing the computer to her?

No, he’s bringing it to her.

All the way from California?

He spends a lot of time in Phoenix because of his work.

Ah, I say, “just a hop, skip and a jump from Albuquerque.” I was being cute. Phoenix is over 400 miles from here.

“Just a hop, skip, and a jump,” she answered.

Another pause. Then she said the daughter who messed up her computer was her brother’s who lived here. He shouldn’t have let her use her computer. She put a lot of junk on it.

What kind of junk?

You know, junk. Junk.

I asked how old the daughter was.


I figured her niece had unwittingly downloaded a virus or two (although my wife wonders if she simply spilled something sticky on the keyboard). I suggested she probably didn’t mess up the computer on purpose.

She told me her brother put junk on it, too.

All of this conversation took place in maybe the first five of the 20 minutes we waited for the bus. Over the next 15 minutes, in exactly this same kind of back-and-forth, I learned she had been living with her brother here in Albuquerque. It was not a happy time for her because they wouldn’t let her cook because they were afraid she’d set the house on fire. And they’d go into her room when she was at work even though she’d asked them not to. She wanted to get a job, but her brother told her she wasn’t able to get a job. He thought he knew all about her, but he didn’t. She got a job at a fast food restaurant in the area. And then they ruined her computer.

So she moved in with her mother who had had a stroke but was now self-sufficient. That was a week ago. She’s much happier now because no one is telling her she can’t do this and she can’t do that, and because her brother from California is bringing her computer back with a lock on it that only she and her mother will know the password for.

When the bus came, she got on and was getting ready to take the bench seat behind the driver. I wished her good luck and took a window seat in the middle. I saw her looking over at me, and then she came and sat down next to me. She told me her brother’s daughter probably didn’t mean to mess up her computer. She told me she didn’t eat the food where she worked because it was cheaper to bring her own, and wasn’t loaded with fat. She told me she was glad she was living with her mother. She could cook anything she wanted at her mother’s. She told me her brother from California was putting a lock on her computer, and only she and her mother would know the password to get in to the computer.

When we got to her stop, I told her I was glad she was living with her mother and was getting her computer back, and I wished her luck. She nodded, then headed for the door.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

BUS STORY # 428 (Strangers In A Strange Land)

An old Japanese couple boards the bus. After taking care of the fare, they stand in the aisle looking at an unfolded piece of paper. Then the man folds up the paper and they go to take a seat.

Something about them suggests they are visitors rather than residents. Still, they seem familiar with the bus.

I am surprised when the husband takes the seat beside me, leaving his wife to find a seat further back. I decide I will get up and offer my seat to the woman at the next stop.

But when we stop, two rows in front of us completely empty out. The old man gets up and moves to the aisle seat of the first empty row.

Again to my surprise, his wife does not join him. I turn in my own seat and look back. She is sitting in the very last row, and looking like she has no intention of moving.

At the next stop, more seats empty out. This time, she comes down. But not to her husband’s side; to the seat directly behind him. She does not say anything to him, and he does not indicate that he knows she has moved.

I am looking at the scarf she is wearing over her hair. It is tied like a do-rag except it is a pink, gauzy thing, and it’s too short to cover the back of her head. And then I notice her pants: wide-legged stovepipes that stop above the ankle.

I look at her husband and notice his sweater vest: a large waffle weave in a color that comes closest to being what I call brown.

I think they must have brought their clothes with them from Japan.

Downtown, at the end of the route in the ATC, I watch them exit through the front door, the man first and his wife behind him. I catch sight of them again when I exit through the rear door. They are standing together, heads almost touching, looking down at the unfolded piece of paper in his hands.

Together again.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

BUS STORY # 427 (Busboy’s Annual Pass: Was It Worth It?)

In a word: yes. It was worth it.

I’ll get to the spreadsheet above in just a minute, but let me refer back to this time last year, when, after weighing the pros and cons, I decided to buy an annual bus pass. (You can read that story here.)

The big pro was I could save a lot of money. The big con was I had to use the bus enough times to save money.  The big question was would I really use the bus enough times to make buying a pass worth it.

After deciding to try the annual pass, I also decided to keep a record of my rides to calculate the actual number of boardings and the net gain or loss on my $90.00 up-front purchase price. I posted the results in spreadsheet form monthly, on one of the side links. (You can see December’s there now.)

The spreadsheet above is the cumulative 2014 record of trips, expenses, and savings. It shows my gamble was definitely worth it: I saved $113.00 (bottom of last column on the right, Gain/Loss). I used the bus enough times: 580 boardings (bottom of the second column from the left: # of Times Used).

I also kept track of the routes I used (second column from the left). That was just for my own curiosity.

Using only my own starting and finishing route, the 11, I came out ahead $16.05. From left to right, the 303 times I used the 11 at $0.35 a ride equals $106.05. Minus the $90.00 I paid for the pass equals $16.05. That’s how the spreadsheet works.

No surprise to me the Red Line, one of the three Rapid Ride lines, was my second most-used route.

My greatest disappointment: I’d hoped to ride more lines than I did. On the other hand, I had four first-timers: routes 1, 2, 10, and 157. One of these days, I’ll need or want to get to where one of the other routes goes. It’s good to know that, most of the time, I can get there from here.

I will definitely be buying another annual pass. But I won’t be keeping track of my rides anymore. I’ve proven that, for me, it’s a savvy investment.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

BUS STORY # 426 (Messed Up)

Photo by Busboy

The driver recognizes the guy who’s just boarded.

“Hey, aren’t you supposed to be at work?”

“Yeah, but I gotta go to court this morning. I got a DWI.”

The driver groans. The rider asks him to let him know when the Second Street stop is.

“You want before or after I turn the corner?”

“After. It’s closer.”

The rider takes a seat in the first row behind the bench seat on the passenger side.

There is a pause, then the driver calls back, “So what were you doin’ drivin’ DWI, bro?” There’s a softening in his voice, a tone that says he isn’t just shooting the breeze but he isn’t wanting to push any buttons.

The story is complicated in the rider’s telling, but it comes down to his leaving a restaurant thinking he was sober enough to drive. He explains when he pulled onto the street, the cops were right there. It was as if they were waiting for him, he says.

He goes on to say he made things worse by demanding a blood test. He said not only did they refuse, but “they slapped me with an aggravated.”

I am confused. My understanding is an aggravated DWI comes with a driver’s refusal to take a test. Perhaps I misheard...

The rider goes on to say he should have just “bit the bullet” because now he can’t drive and he has to work and the whole thing has just messed up his life.

I was listening to that last as the bus pulled into my stop. If the driver had a response, I was already out the back door and missed it.

But I couldn’t help thinking about how this DWI had “messed up” his life. He could have injured or killed somebody, including himself. I wonder if he has any sense at all of just how much more “messed up” his life could have been.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

BUS STORY # 425 (Portrait # 26: Vietnamese)

The Finest Vietnamese Cuisine by busboy4
The Finest Vietnamese Cuisine, a photo by busboy4 on Flickr.

When the bus stops, the driver puts the bus in the kneeling position. I watch a walker emerge through the doorway, followed by an older Asian man.

He has trouble maneuvering the walker, and ends up pushing it against the first row of forward facing seats -- empty -- on the door side, then sitting down on the bench seat.

He looks around at the rest of us. It’s hard to read his expression, but it is not blank.

I decide pretty quickly he’s Vietnamese.

I began acquiring the habit of guessing Asian nationalities from the time my kids told me Asians do not see themselves as “Asian.”

What do they see themselves as, I asked.

They replied, they see themselves -- and other Asians -- as Chinese or Japanese or Vietnamese or Thai or Korean or Laotian or Hmong or...

I keep in mind that they were in high school at the time. American society doesn’t get much more balkanized than in high school.

Still, I began making the effort afterwards. Knowing the Asian nationalities of many of my co-workers has helped me form a rudimentary template which functions much the same way as my sense of whether a bird of a certain size and backlit on a wire or branch is a Robin or a Thrasher or a Kingbird. You gain confidence with practice over time, but, of course, you never really know.

I’m better at it with the birds.

So I’m looking at a man who I am thinking is Vietnamese, a man who is younger than me but debilitated to the point of using a walker, and who is regarding the rest of us with an expression that I cannot read.

If he’s Vietnamese, he’s probably here as a consequence of our involvement in the War in Vietnam.

I find myself wondering what he might be thinking.

He could be feeling old before his time and broken down and looking around and thinking this is not his home and we are not his people and wondering if his decision to come here was the right one after all.

Or he could be looking around and thinking how he and his family are still together in America, which used to be some sort of Disneyland fantasy back in Vietnam, but is now this place, this Albuquerque, New Mexico.

He could be looking around and thinking how wonderfully different the bus service is here and how much room there always is compared to back home.

Or he could be thinking back home, his daughter or daughter-in-law would never have gone to work and left him to take the bus to wherever he’s going...

I am, of course, trying to imagine being a stranger in a strange land.

I did not really learn my world was not The World until I went to high school, where I encountered city kids and town kids and farm kids and rich kids and not-rich kids and white kids who were German or Czech and Mexican kids and a few Lebanese kids...and a lot of them had funny ideas about my world.

We were balkanized in my high school, too.

We come to his stop. He gets up, takes some time getting the walker in the right position to exit, and turns to leave.

That’s when I see the back of his black T-shirt for the first time, and I am pleased with myself. The name of one of the many Vietnamese restaurants in town is written across the back.

He’s slow to exit the bus, and that gives me enough time to wonder if he and his family were in the restaurant business back home, or if this was a matter of finding a way to survive. And I wonder how different the food they make today is from the food he knew as a teenager back home, and if he’s old enough to know the differences between how his family got their supplies then, and how they get them here in the States.

I’m wondering what he thinks was gained, and what was lost, and if he thinks the trade was worth it.

And while all of us know there is no better place a human being could live than right here in America, I’ve been perplexed by multiple surveys* purporting to measure national happiness in which we, ourselves, have reported ourselves not happy enough to make anyone’s Top Ten list.

We’re way ahead of Vietnam, though.


*Although this is far afield from bus stories or public transportation, here are some links to some of those recent surveys of “national happiness.”

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s report on life satisfaction in the developed world.

New Economics Foundation’s report on the Happy Planet Index.

Earth Institute’s report on world happiness.

The UN/Gallup Polls’s report on the happiest countries.

Buthans’ Happiness Index report on the happiest countries.


Two weeks ago, I posted a story about the changes to ABQ RIDE’s “Plan Your Ride” webpage feature. You can read it here.  Earlier this week, ABQ RIDE announced its move to Google Maps. You can read that here.  Note that, in fact, the old Plan Your Trip is once again (or perhaps still) accessible, but not from the Trip Planning menu! From the ABQ RIDE website: Bus Routes & Schedules - HTML Format > Plan your ride.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

BUS STORY # 424 (Wow)

Bus Stop Santas” by Lynn Friedman. Posted with permission.

I’ve been posting bus stories weekly through eight Christmases now -- the ninth is just a few days away. I’ve always tried to have a Christmas bus story for Christmas week, but finding one -- mine or someone else’s -- is the hardest thing about Bus Stories I do. They are not easy to come by.

Once again, I’m having to settle for a generic, non-denominational, “nice” bus story that at least evokes some of the human warmth most of us associate with the holiday spirit -- and this one truly warmed my heart. I’ve also tried compensating for the lack of a Christmas story with the Christmas-themed bus photograph at the top of the page.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good ride.

I’m sitting on the bench reading and waiting. The woman at the other end of the bench is taking care of business. She’s on her phone, and she knocks out a series of calls with a crispness and efficiency that make me wonder if she’s an executive secretary when she’s not riding the bus.

“Sir, do you know the date?”

I look over and, yes, the executive secretary has just asked me the date.

I’m pretty sure it’s the 27th, I tell her.

She looks through an organizer. Thursday, she says, half to herself.

“It’s definitely Thursday,” I affirm.

“Between work and everything else, I can’t even keep track of the date,” she says. She goes on to describe committees she’s on, research projects she’s in the midst of. She says she can hardly wait to retire. Her parents are retired now, lucky dogs. But, she tells me, they deserve it. She and her brother put them through hell when they were kids.

Now, the shoe is on the other foot. Her brother is married, with two kids who are giving him hell. She doesn’t have any kids herself, but she does have a husband who’s filled the role. He’s not working, and she’s the sole support for the two of them.

Disabled? I ask.

You could say that, she replies. He has a disability, but his real issue is how he presents himself. He has a grandiose sense of himself, and he ends up overwhelming, then scaring, the folks he’s trying to get a job with.

She’s got him in counseling for that particular problem.

I salute the effort both of them are making.

“Yeah, well, it doesn’t bring in any money,” she replies.

She says he could go on SSI, but he tells her if he does that, he’d be giving up. He wants to work; he wants to be normal.

There is a pause, and then she says, quietly, looking across the street, “I kind of admire that about him.”

I don’t say anything. I just sit there and all I think is “Wow.”


The photo at the top of this story is titled “Bus Stop Santas” and is posted with the permission of Lynn Friedman. You can see Lynn Friedman’s photostream on Flickr here.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

BUS STORY # 423 (Plan Your Ride: An Update)

Downloaded from Joseph M. Foster: Living the Outrageous Life

This past July, I posted a story called Plan Your Ride. The post described the three options then available on the ABQ RIDE website that enabled riders to plan a trip from point A to point B. Those three options were ABQ RIDE’s own Plan Your Ride, Google’s Maps, and Hopstop. I went on to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each option.

A couple of months ago, Hopstop disappeared from the ABQ RIDE website. This week, I discovered Plan Your Ride has also disappeared. Now, when you click on Trip Planning, you are taken directly to Google Maps. (I’ve found nothing about these changes on the website, nor in my review of the ABQ RIDE Facebook and Twitter postings.)

I’ve used Google Maps for planning bus trips both here and in other cities, and it has proven to be extremely helpful. But there are a few caveats. One is that I’ve found routes best taken using the Rapid Ride don’t always display on Google Maps when there are other options. For example, I can meet a friend at O’Neill’s on Central at 11:30 a.m. by taking the 11 to the Red Line at Nob Hill, then the 66 to O’Neill’s. Google Maps would have me stay on the 11, then walk a mile to O’Neill’s. Or else walk two miles to Central and take the 66 to O’Neill’s. The Rapid is faster, with minimal walking.

Another caveat is that your arrival time must be exact. For example, there is a neighborhood Asian restaurant, An Hy Quan, where I often meet friends for lunch. We meet at 11:30 a.m. Using the now-removed Trip Planner, I knew to catch my 11:07 departure to Juan Tabo, then five or so minutes later, catch the 1 to the stop across the street from my restaurant. The bus usually arrives around 11:32. Trip Planer always gave me options which included arrivals that were a little past my specified arrival time -- 11:32, in this case.

Google Maps is precise. Using 11:30 as an arrival time will not give me the same option. In fact, for this same trip, Google Maps tells me to catch my bus 22 minutes earlier, get off at Juan Tabo, then walk a mile to the restaurant.

A final caveat is that Google Maps doesn’t necessarily have the same schedule for ABQ RIDE that ABQ RIDE is using. I discovered this disconcerting fact earlier this week when I went down to my stop ten minutes before my bus was scheduled to arrive according to Google Maps, and almost missed my bus! I assumed my driver was way early, but when I checked the bus schedule against the actual arrival time, I found my driver was within five minutes of being on time.

I’m not sure how ABQ RIDE conveys its schedule changes to Google Maps, nor how long it takes Google Maps to incorporate those changes when it receives them. I now am sure that whenever I need to be some place on time, I better double-check the Google Maps directions against the ABQ RIDE schedules -- both for departures and transfers. It’s a pain, but not getting where you need to be when you need to be there is a bigger pain.

Still, the availability to riders of a reliable trip planer is an excellent service, and Google Maps is a wonderful tool. And the real key to making all this work is for the drivers to stay on schedule. That’s even more important than a trip planner. And, in my experience, ABQ RIDE continues to do this well.


Last week, under the Holy Cow! link to the right of Bus Stories, I posted this link: Too few bathroom breaks drove bus drivers to adult diapers. As the report speculated, the Dept. of Labor did indeed come down hard on King County Metro. This week, a Seattle bus driver comments: About Those Urine-Soaked Seats...