Sunday, April 19, 2015

BUS STORY # 441 (Game Girl)

Detail from the photo titled “child-girl-screen-time.jpg” and posted with the permission of r. nial bradhsaw.

Their boarding is a production: bags and cases of groceries, backpacks, and a suitcase come first, piled up inside the door.

The folks sitting on the bench seats up front can see what’s coming, and they bail for seats further back.

Next comes the grandmother, a thin, energetic woman in her mid-50s who starts placing the sacks and packages on or under the seats. She’s followed by two girls who can’t be much more than a year apart. “Second grader” is what sticks in my mind, but I’m not sure which girl it applies to. Both are being scooted along by mom who’s late 20s-early 30s.

Mom positions the kids on the bench seat facing the driver, then hands them packages while she helps her mother get everything arranged on or beside or under the seats. Grandma grabs the packages from the kids, sets them in the aisle, then hands them each a replacement, then moves the stuff in the aisle to the stuff under and around the seats.

Grandma and mom are a whirling dervish, but they do a nice job of quickly consolidating everything with almost no intrusion into the aisle. Mom goes up and swipes two bus passes, then takes a seat across from the kids. Grandma is in the first forward-facing row along with the backpack and the suitcase in front of it.

They are all in a remarkably good mood. Mom and grandma are laughing, the kids watching them and looking around. Then grandma hands the older girl a smart phone. The kid is instantly absorbed. Her sister looks over and watches until mom hands her a smart phone, too.

The younger girl works with it a little, then looks perplexed, then tries to hand it back. Grandma grabs it instead, looks it over, then tells her daughter she can’t figure out how to get it to go. Mom takes the phone, plays with it for a bit, then hands it back to her daughter. The kid can now play whatever game is displaying.

I don’t know if it’s the game or the kid, but she isn’t into whatever’s on the screen like her older sister is. She plays, but she spends a fair amount of time looking up from the phone and watching her mom and her grandma who are telling stories and laughing. Her expression tells me she is paying attention. Meanwhile, her older sister is oblivious to anything but her screen.

We are getting close to my stop when I realize they are either going to get off where I do or just beyond. They start marshaling their efforts, moving sacks and bags. Grandma tells the girls it’s time to hand the phones back.

The younger one hands her phone back to mom. The older one plays on as if she’s heard nothing. Grandma stands up and grabs the phone. The girl screams out and doesn’t let go. Grandma wrenches it free with her next effort. The girl’s face is full of outrage. Then, she puts both hands over her face and begins to cry, quietly, and I think maybe she is trying not to cry and failing.

Grandma tries to hand her a bag, and she pushes it away, then covers her face back up. Grandma tries again, and the girl screams “No!” and twists evasively in her seat.

And that is when we come to my stop.

I am still parsing what happened as I tote my own groceries homeward. I find no easy, tidy wrap-up. It’s disquieting.


The photo at the top of this story is a detail from the photo titled “child-girl-screen-time.jpg” and is posted with the permission of r. nial bradhsaw. You can see all r. nial bradshaw’s photos on Flickr here.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

BUS STORY # 440 (Shorts 40)

Photo by Busboy


We’ve just boarded the Red Line at the Uptown Transit Center when a couple in the doorway asks the driver if this bus will take them to Central. This starts a conversation in which the driver determines where they want to go, and then tells them where to catch the buses they need. They board and take the bench seats across from him. “This is the first time we’ve ridden the bus in Albuquerque,” the woman explains. “Me, too,” says the driver brightly. Everyone laughs. Then he gos on about how some guy just walked up to him and gave him this ABQ RIDE shirt and asked him if he wanted to drive the bus. “I said sure. So we’re all in for an interesting ride.” But the couple knows he’s teasing. And once he starts up the engine, pulls out of the bay, and turns the right direction, the rest of us do, too.


Big, big guy boards the bus.  He’s got on a white T-shirt that looks like a tent. Black pants cut off below the knees with strings hanging down.  Buzz cut, no sideburns, a mustache.  Tattoos – crude content and crudely executed – on his calves and forearms, and script tattooed on his neck along the jugular.  He heads for the back.  Later, I offer my seat to a dad and his son, and wind up sitting to his left.  He takes up two seats and seems to be staring at the window across the aisle.  A few minutes later, I see him make a small sign of the cross, three times, quickly.


Several of us are seated on the bench, waiting for either the Blue Line, the 5, or the 11. Out and away, standing on the curb, facing the traffic, a big guy is rapping. He is rapping non-stop. I look for ear buds. There aren’t any. He puts some body English into the lyrics. His voice is loud enough to tell he’s rapping, but soft enough -- or maybe far away enough -- that I can only make out an occasional word. Is he doing something from memory or is he free-styling? I wouldn’t know if I could make out every word. When the Blue Line comes, he stays put. Same with the 5. But when the 11 comes later, he still stays where he is. It looks like he’s there to rap, not wait for the bus.


She’s standing at the front of the bus regaling a guy in a wheelchair with a story about Lady Gaga doing a performance in a wheelchair. She tells him she sees all the entertainment magazines where she works, and this was a cover story, can you believe it! As she is relating the details of how Lady Gaga used a wheelchair onstage as part of her act, we pass a Catholic church. She makes a quick sign of the cross and kisses her hand without breaking eye contact with the guy in the wheelchair, and without breaking the flow of details about how Lady Gaga ended up having to use a wheelchair for real because she injured her hip, can you believe it!

Sunday, April 05, 2015

BUS STORY # 439 (Nighthawk At The Bus Stop)

Bus stop beer, © All Rights Reserved, by Bill Morgan

We’ve been sitting on the bench waiting for the bus for a few quiet minutes, me reading, him checking out the contents of his plastic grocery bag, when a fire engine comes blaring around the corner. We watch it go by and on up the street.

“One of these days, I’m gonna call 911,” he says.

Um... “What would you be calling 911 for?” I ask.

“Well, first, I gotta get their number.”

He says this straight, still looking down the road after the fire engine. Then he turns his eyes on me and a big grin crinkles his face.

He’s got Tom Waits’ voice, like maybe he’s been gargling paint thinner for a few years. Yellow short-sleeved plaid shirt, some work khakis with what looks like Christmas tinsel hanging out of his left pocket. Whispy hair, full white mustache. He looks to be at least as old as me.

We talk about the weather (“Ain’t it glorious?”) and then lapse into silence for a bit. Then he tells me he’s been retired but is looking to get back to work.

I ask what he did.

Computers. But back in the old days, and he drops some numbers that don’t compute with me.

I ask where he worked.

He pauses, thinks this over, then says he was “in academics.” He says he’s probably gotta take some courses to catch up now. Then he sticks out his hand. “My name is Victor.”*

I shake his hand, give him my name. He asks me if I’ve ever heard of _____.

I tell him I didn’t catch that name and lean in closer.

He repeats the name and I still can’t extract it from the growl in his voice.

He’s a musician from here in New Mexico, he explains.

He is telling me what I take to be the story of this New Mexican musician, but like many of the lyrics to many a Tom Waits song, I’m not getting a lot of the words.

That’s when the bus comes.

We end up sitting together on the side bench opposite the back door where we continue talking music, this time about “Mr. Dylan.” Then he asks me if I’m old enough to know about “Mr. Seeger.”

“Pete?” I ask, then answer, “Sure do.” I tell him I never saw him perform in person, and I’m sorry I missed the chance while he was still alive.

His face changes utterly. He starts to say something, then breaks off. He looks like he’s about to cry.

He finally asks me in a hoarse whisper, “When did the Good Lord take him?”

I’m not sure, I tell him. Maybe a year ago.

Now I see tears rimming his eyes. He starts to say something, then turns away.

The only thing I can think to say is Pete must have meant something to him. He nods his head.

He gets off on the near side of the Louisiana intersection. He tells me his name again and shakes my hand. I tell him I enjoyed talking with him.

I get off on the far side of the same intersection and walk north to the Red Line stop. I’ve already taken a seat on the bench when I see him cross the intersection, then turn north toward me. He walks slowly to the stop. He’s maybe twenty yards away when he puts his hand up over his eyes, shading and squinting. Then he grins.

“I thought that was you,” he said.

I laugh, shake his hand again, and he sits down beside me on the bench.

I ask him where he’s headed.

To the International District (an area south of Central roughly between Wyoming and San Mateo). He’s got a place he eats at where he can get “a complete protein.”

Then he tells me he’s an artist. He got into art by way of the martial arts. “You’ve heard of the Samurai?”

Yes I have.

Well, they were trained in dance. And the art of dancing is what made him such a good fighter. He won some tournaments, even came in second in a state championship. That was back when he was just angry all the time.

He pulls the cord for the stop at Central. He tells me he’s got a little place nearby. As we’re pulling into the stop, he gets up and growls, “Yeah, I’m so tough when the bedbugs bite, they just crawl off and die.”

That could’ve been Mr. Waits himself, live from Rafael’s Red Line Lounge.


Real name changed.


The photo at the top of this story is titled “Bus stop beer,” © All Rights Reserved, and is posted with the permission of Bill Morgan. You can see all Bill Morgan’s photos on Flickr here.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

BUS STORY # 438 (Black Sheep)

Poem by Anna McKenzie. (Photo by Busboy.)

Last summer, in Vancouver, our good friends Will and Carol took us to the University of British Columbia Museum of Anthropology. The museum specializes in “First Culture” -- what we call “Native American.” Among the displays we saw was an installation of mixed media presentations of the experiences of many young, Native, urban-dwellers.

One of those installations was the poem featured in the photo at the top of the page. The author explained she had written the poem on a bus after seeing “an Indigenous brother” asked by the driver to get off the bus because he was inebriated. I took the photo because a bus was part of the story. Months later, I saw the same scene play out here in Albuquerque with two different Native Americans.

He’s tall, trim, Native American, with long hair down his back that could use a wash and some combing. Blue, long-sleeved sports shirt, worn denim jeans.

It’s mid-morning on the bus, and he’s inebriated. Not stumbling, slurred-speech inebriated. He’s a friendly drunk, perched on the edge of the bench seat across from the driver, talking away, his movements a little too exaggerated, his voice a little too enthusiastic.

After a while, he turns his attention to a rider sitting in the aisle seat of the first row.

This rider is a kid, a large kid, with thick, short black hair, sunglasses, white earbuds, big white T-shirt and basketball shorts. The legs coming out of the shorts are small and short for his size. I think the drunk is thinking the same thing I am: a fellow Native.

He asks the kid if he’s going to school. The kid doesn’t respond.

He asks again, leaning toward the kid.

The kid removes his earbuds. I can’t hear his voice, but the way he turns his head suggests he’s asking if the guy is talking to him.

The way he moves his head is also how I sense he is asking reluctantly, as if having to deal with the earbuds’ failure to protect him.

The guy asks again if he’s in school. No trace of irritation or impatience in his voice at having to repeat the question.

The kid shakes his head yes. One slight nod.

The guy asks if he’s Navajo. Before the kid answers, he adds, “I can speak some Navajo.” And he speaks several sentences which sound like they could be Navajo.

The kid shakes his head no.

I sense the kid is acutely uncomfortable.

The guy tries another set of phrases. The kid shakes his head no. I’m taking this as “No, I don’t understand” rather than the answer to some question he’s being asked.

Nice kid, a polite kid, maybe Navajo, maybe Pueblo, but mostly a teenager just trying to fit in here in the city, just riding the bus to school and minding his own business, you know? How many other things feel worse than being publicly embarrassed when we’re adolescents?

It is right here that I find myself remembering the display in Vancouver. But there is a difference between the two Native observers. The young woman in Vancouver was older, more experienced, more self-aware and self-confident. And she was able -- afterwards -- to articulate her experience:

The kid's not there, not yet, not now. If he’s having any thoughts, I’d guess they’re in the form of a prayer: “Please, make me invisible.”

And then a miracle. The bus is stopped, and a woman with a walker is making her way onto the bus.

The buzzed guy stands up, steps back, and with a sweep of his right arm, offers the entire bench to the woman. She says thank you and maneuvers herself into a seat. He stays standing until she is seated, then takes the aisle seat in the first forward-facing row.

He introduces himself and offers her his hand.

She declines, explaining she doesn’t shake hands.

(The kid is now invisible!)

He tries again.

She declines again.

He backs off, waving both hands in the air and saying, “That’s cool, that’s cool.”

At the next stop, the driver turns and tells him this is his stop.

This is his stop?

This is his stop. This is where he gets off.

And he does.

As the bus pulls away, the driver calls out, “Sorry about that, folks.”

I last see the guy out on the sidewalk, looking around trying to figure out where he is. The kid is looking straight ahead. All of us on board, except maybe the kid, have only the vaguest idea of what “led him to this place of darkness,” and probably none of us are thinking “There but for fortune.” I know I don’t until I’m telling this story.


Here is a better shot of Anna McKenzie, the author of the poem at the top of the page:

Sunday, March 22, 2015

BUS STORY # 437 (Go Catch It!)

Be Her Champ by busboy4
Be Her Champ, a photo by busboy4 on Flickr.

I watch them board. She’s a big woman with white hair and a walker. He’s a skinny guy in a baseball cap with “veteran” across the front, and he’s wearing those old aviator-style sunglasses.

She takes a seat in the front row on the driver’s side, then directs him to the bench seat in front of her. He has another idea, but she cuts him short and directs him to the bench seat. He takes it.

They don’t talk much, but when they do, she’s loud and emphatic, and he’s quiet.

We pull up behind the 5 in front of UNMH and she calls out to the driver, “Tell him to wait.” Then, to her companion, she says, “Go catch it! Go catch it!”

The driver doesn’t respond to the first direction, and the skinny old guy delays before getting up and wandering tentatively toward the front door.

The 5 pulls away.

He tells her they can just ride down to the ATC and catch the bus there. She tells him they could have saved a lot of time if they’d caught that bus.

We catch up to the 5 again a couple of stops later.

Again, she calls out to tell him to wait, and this time, the driver honks the horn a couple of times.

Again, she directs her companion to go catch it before it gets away, and he moves more quickly this time.

Outside, he turns as if to wait for her. She waves him on impatiently to go catch that bus.

He does, and they do.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

BUS STORY # 436 (Volunteer)

Reproduction of an untitled painting by Michael Christiana featured at an ABQ RIDE bus stop on Wyoming. Photo by Busboy

It’s just a short ride from Lomas to Central on the San Mateo southbound. I’ve picked up a prescription, and I’m planning to catch the Red Line to La Montanita for some grocery shopping.

I sit down beside a guy who turns to me and says “Good morning.” Close cut hair, glasses. He looks like the tall and lanky type. I’m guessing early 40s, but he could also be the older-than-he-looks type, too. He doesn’t have headphones or earbuds, isn’t scrolling through a smart phone, isn’t reading a book or a newspaper or a magazine.

“Good morning,” I reply. “Beautiful weather.”

“Yeah,” he says, and goes on to say they keep telling us cold weather is coming, but so far, we’ve dodged the bullet.

I tell him I don’t mind the cold as long as the wind isn’t blowing.

He agrees with that, and tells me the other day when he was volunteering down at the VA, that big flag was stretched straight out and popping in the wind.

“You’re a volunteer at the VA?” Then I ask, “What do you do?”

He troubleshoots computer problems. There are plenty of problems to keep him busy. Now that I think about it, yup, he look like an engineer.

I want to ask if he’s working on the VA’s computers or the patients’, but I don’t have a lot of time before we reach Central, so I ask him why he volunteers.

He tells me he’s a disabled veteran and he doesn’t have anything else to do. He says he’s also trying to set up an art therapy program. He corrects himself: “Art in therapy.” One of the other vets told him he has to be a licensed counselor to be an art therapist. “I just paint,” he explains.

I tell him it’s a good thing to be volunteering. He says it’s good for him, that’s for sure. He invites me to check out the program there. “There’s plenty to do,” he tells me.

We’re at the Central stop, so I wish him good luck and head out the back door. He’s on his way to the VA, at the end of the line.


Michael Christiana is one of six New Mexico artists who also served in the Armed Forces, and whose work is being featured by ABQ RIDE's "Art in Transit" series. Check out this week’s side link under This Week in Albuquerque.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

BUS STORY # 435 (Portrait # 27: Strange Bird)

A rare U.S. sighting of the Rufous-necked Wood-rail. Photo by Jeffrey Gordon, AP.

I’m so taken with her appearance that I don’t realize until later her boarding is a stage entrance. She takes care of the fare, then sits with a swirl of skirt on the bench seat opposite the driver, all the while talking on her cell phone.

The skirt is long, but open in front, the sides like curtains showcasing legs coming out of blue denim shorts and disappearing into cowboy boots. The boots are gorgeous, intricate patterns in a gray and brown exotic-looking leather. It’s probably not what she intended, but the skirt and boots steal the show.

She’s got the swirl down pat; no need to rearrange how it falls once she’s seated. She crosses her legs, and now I understand it is all part of the swirl.

The skirt is part of a jumper. The bodice is a dense display of brightly colored small dots, mostly blue and yellow. The dots give way to a larger pattern of irregularly-sided rectangles on a tie-dyed background of soft pink and pale yellow. The tie-dye fades into a linen-looking tan.

She moves her glasses -- black frames with gold accents, round, large, smokey lenses -- to the top of her head. Her hair is short and black, and gives the overall impression of slightly ruffled feathers. Black eyeliner, makeup that makes her freckled cheeks shiny. Large elongated hoop earrings, enamel inlays that flash green-gold with each emphatic shake of her head when she speaks to the phone.

She has rings on every finger except for her left pinky -- two on her left index finger. I try counting the bracelets on her left arm. Fourteen. No, sixteen. No --

“Thirty-nine and holding” comes to mind.

She has a small tattoo just above the webbing between her left thumb and index finger. It looks like it might be a turtle, the shell a square spiral pattern. She has another small tattoo behind her left ear, but I am too far away to make it out. Both are in the standard black ink, no ladylike color accents.

I cannot take my eyes off her.

I find myself thinking about the Rufous-necked Wood-rail, not exactly a pretty bird, but very colorful, and rare in these parts. Back in 2013, a hurricane blew it into the state for a couple of weeks. Folks flocked here from all over, couldn’t keep their eyes off the thing.

I’m not sure what kind of hurricane blew this woman onto the bus, but when I get to my stop, her voice rises. “I can’t believe you are _______ saying this to me.” I turn back and look, and she is wiping her eyes with her free hand.

Twenty minutes later, I’m done with my errand and waiting for the bus. When the door opens, I see it’s the same driver. Makes sense; I’m fairly close to the far end of this route. I board, and to my surprise, she’s still on the bus, still sitting in the same place, now off the phone. Her eyes don’t look smeary.

I sit pretty much in the same seat I was in before -- across the aisle and two rows back.

Sitting directly across from her, in a bench seat facing hers, is a guy in a black T-shirt and jeans. Looks somewhere in his 40s, with a mermaid tattoo on his right forearm. The tail extends to his upper arm, and it flexes when he bends his arm. He looks like a delinquent gone straight for a couple of decades now.

He’s looking at her like he doesn’t know what to make of her. He can’t keep his eyes off her either, although he tries. He looks at the front doors, than back over the rest of the bus, but his eyes always end up coming back around to the woman across the aisle and staying there.

She gets up and walks over to the driver. I can’t hear what she says, but I hear him reply, “Two more stops.” She remains standing, and at the second stop, she gets off the bus.

The guy sitting across from her follows her out the door, then turns to look at me. I give him a kind of smile-shrug, as if to say, “Yeah, strange bird.” But he doesn’t smile back. He looks like he’s embarrassed to have been caught looking at her. He gets off several stops later and doesn’t look back.