Sunday, June 28, 2015

BUS STORY # 451 (Trouble Right Here In River City)

From an ABQ RIDE security camera and uploaded to YouTube by KRQE News August 15, 2011.

Your people, sir, is a great beast.
-- attributed to Alexander Hamilton (1792)

The first week of June opened with back-to-back assaults on ABQ RIDE bus drivers. (You can read about those here and here.)

These are not the first assaults on ABQ RIDE drivers. The phenomenon was already of enough concern that, in January, 2014, ABQ RIDE began experimenting with two driver protection shields. I’ve heard little since, other than rumors many of the drivers don’t like them.

Downloaded from the Albuquerque Transit Safety Committee website.

How bad is the problem?

I don’t have any stats to back this up, but my impression after many years of almost weekly scanning for bus news on the web has been that bus driver assaults are more frequent in other places our size or larger. Until the assaults in June, I thought of the problem as mostly belonging to other cities. Now I’m not so sure.

My doubts have less to do with the two-days-in-a-row attacks than with what triggered them: the fare. Specifically, one rider expected a free ride, the other expected the driver to give him change for the fare. Both were angered when they were told they couldn’t get what they wanted.

Back in 2012, I published a pair of stories about one such explosion over the fare. (I posted one, and then the sequel which I learned from another rider the next day. You can read those here and here.) Oddly enough, I witnessed another incident a couple of weeks before the pair of assaults. I wrote up the story which I titled “Mad Men” and scheduled it for today, following the conclusion of a four-part series. (Instead, you’re reading this story. You can read “Mad Men” next week.) It did not turn physical, although I thought it came close enough, and it was over the fare.

In a culture of instant gratification that has become “all about me” with a vengeance, it should come as no surprise that people become angry and act out when they don’t get what they want. We have a buzzword for this current cultural phenomenon: “entitlement.” We want, therefore we should have, and right now. (Our parents had another buzzword for it: “infantile.”) The problem becomes compounded when legal or illegal substance abuse is involved.

The bus isn’t the only area of transportation where the phenomenon plays out in bad behavior. Auto traffic is an ongoing parade of aggressive or rude or thoughtless driving. Flight delays, airport lines, and flying itself are providing their share of news stories and social media posts about angry and inappropriate passenger behavior.

It is my personal belief the culture at large has an anger management problem. But we also have another problem: a wide-spread population of the mentally and/or emotionally disturbed whose medical care leaves much to be desired. These people weren’t out on the street fifty years ago. They are now.

Having read those two news stories from last week, I’ve tried to put myself in the driver’s seat and imagine how I would feel and react. The truth is, my first instincts are anger; those irrational riders are just behaving like jerks. That anger triggers an impulse to react accordingly. It’s a poor, even dangerous, response, especially if you have a “crazy” on your hands.

For readers not familiar with Albuquerque, our police department was the recent subject of a blistering analysis by the Department of Justice because of a pattern of violent overreaction when dealing with problematic citizens. There has been an outlier quality, higher-than-normal rate of fatal police shootings, and a number of those killings have been of people suffering a mental crisis, including returning vets afflicted with PTSD. The city has lost millions in several civil rights violations verdicts and out of court settlements.

Part of the problem has been attributed to the absence of training in how to deal with the mentally ill. That makes sense to me. Without such training, why wouldn’t an officer’s first reaction be the same as mine: the guy is just being a jerk. And if the jerk becomes violent, a violent response is a very human impulse, partly in self-defense, but also partly because we feel the jerk has it coming.

I’m not sure what kind of training or guidelines drivers are given for handling an angry and potentially violent rider. I’ve seen drivers keep their cool, and I’ve seen drivers that I thought were aggravating the situation. There have been news reports over the years of drivers losing their cool with riders who are clearly behaving like jerks and ending up in court on assault charges themselves.

Given our culture of entitlement and instant gratification, our anger management deficiencies, and our carelessness with the mentally disturbed among us, it doesn’t seem likely that things are going to get better anytime soon.


One Seattle driver seems to have found his own effective way of dealing with a notoriously difficult route. I’ve been following the prolific Nathan Vass on his blog, “The View From Nathan’s Bus.” He exhibits a joy, compassion and grace rarely seen in a public servant dealing with the rest of us on the front lines on a daily basis. Coincidentally, during the same week of the ABQ RIDE driver assaults, he posted this remarkable explanation of why he intentionally drives the troubled routes that he does: “Ode to the 7 (Cascade of a Thousand Colors).”

Sunday, June 21, 2015

BUS STORY # 450 (Part 4: Born Again)

This photo was ubiquitous several years ago.  This particular image downloaded from

Previous posts in this series:
Part 1 (“You Smell Like Cigarettes!”)
Part 2 (A Portrait Of The Smoker As A Young Man)
Part 3 (Thou Shalt Not Smoke)

When I quit smoking, I made a vow I would not become a born-again non-smoker. There were few things more irritating to me than the tsk-tsk-tsk of busybodies telling me I was ruining my health, or those melodramatic displays of air hunger or fanning whenever I lit up.

So I took it as a personal failure the first time I found myself feeling physically revolted by the smell of cigarettes.

It happened years after I’d quit, on a weekend I’d taken off to visit my mother. Mom was a chain smoker and was subject to our teasing when we’d discover she had more than one cigarette going at a time. Over time, she became a militant smoker. Few things outraged her more than the anti-smoking movement. It was beyond the time she could have labeled it a communist conspiracy, but she knew it was some damn kind of conspiracy, and she was fighting it ceaselessly, cigarette by cigarette, pack by pack, carton by carton.

Bumper sticker seen in the parking lot of the Sandia Casino.  Photo by Busboy.

On this particular visit, we spent the better part of the day in her apartment talking, as we always did on these visits. Sometime during that visit, I became aware of the cigarette smell that saturated the room, followed by a progressive revulsion. I’d been sensitized, and there was no going back.

Now I understood.

I’d learned how to avoid prolonged contact with that smell until I began riding the bus. Most of the time, it’s not there, and when it is, it’s tolerably low grade. But I carry that second-hand reek in my clothes and into the house at the end of the workday.

My wife’s sense of smell is far more sensitive than mine, and she has a personal history that has conditioned her reaction to the smell of cigarettes. She taught me to put a new bar of soap in my laundry hamper to offset the old cigarette smell seeping from the growing pile of workweek clothes. Later, we moved my hamper to the guest room. Now I keep a pack of those incense matches (French Vanilla! Oriental Blossom!) on the dresser in the guest room and celebrate warm weather Thursdays with a ritual burning.

There are days, though, when the odor asserts itself as an oppressive, inescapable assault that neither nasal fatigue nor a good read can make go away.

One hot summer afternoon, I rode the No. 140/141 San Mateo bus -- one of the 300s -- home from work. It was standing room only from back to front, and the smell took me back to my mom’s apartment that weekend I became sensitized. I actually considered getting off the bus and waiting another 20 minutes for the next one, but I was in a window seat with my backpack piled on my lap and completely blocked in by riders. I knew there’d be movement at Lomas, and I elected to tough it out.

That was not the day my wife pulled away from me when I got home. She was the one working late this time. When I got home, I undressed, dropped my clothes in the hamper, and moved the hamper out into the garage till the weekend. Then I showered. The smell still lingered in my nose.

The next day, the thought of getting on that bus again induced a brief, mild wave of nausea. Mind over matter, I thought. But I worked late an extra hour before walking to the bus stop. The bus was only half full now, and I didn’t smell any cigarette smoke at all. Same for my Lomas connection.

My wife wanted to know why I was so late getting home, but this time, I got a kiss.

PSA on ABQ RIDE. Photo by Busboy.  Translation: One day your world will be a more beautiful place. Stop smoking and blossom.  Free help to quit tobacco [at] 1-855-DEJELOYA. (Sponsored by the New Mexico Department of Health).

Sunday, June 14, 2015

BUS STORY # 449 (Part 3: Thou Shalt Not Smoke)

"nosmoke," © All Rights Reserved, by the3robbers.

Previous posts in this series:
Part 1 (“You Smell Like Cigarettes!”)
Part 2 (A Portrait Of The Smoker As A Young Man)

My daughter began smoking a little earlier in her life that I did, in high school. Unlike me, she had two non-smoking parents. I suspect that might be part of the reason why she took it up.

My generation has been somewhat successful at converting our parents’ traditional religious values to a more secular framework. It is still centered around the concept of not doing harm, but there are some places where the change is more striking than others. Yahweh sometimes looks more like Gaia, for example, and large corporations tend to look more like the false gods we shouldn’t be putting in front of Her.

But, like our parents, we have a bewildering and often incompatible assortment of ways to be followed, and a large number of the “unchurched.”

And, of course, to one degree or another, we are all Pharisees.

In my generation’s households, one of the new Ten Commandments is surely Thou Shalt Not Smoke -- the secular conversion of our smoking parents’ belief that the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit.

That alone tells me why all those adolescents are smoking at the bus stop across from the high school. And I suspect it partly accounts for why my daughter, who otherwise has always had the good sense to know exactly where the line is, took up smoking.

It’s still touching that she took pains to hide her smoking from me. She was inadvertently betrayed by a girlfriend. I gave her leave to smoke freely in my presence (really, to be herself), but wrestled with a parental sense of responsibility for advising one’s children. She was still under 21.

Eventually, I wrote her an epic, Paul-sized epistle. I covered all the ways I knew smoking was corrosive to one’s physical health, mental health, and finances, then promised never to say another word on the subject.

PSA on ABQ RIDE. Photo by Busboy.

I kept my promise. A few years later, she quit smoking.

I have no idea what, if any, correlation there might be between her stopping, and my long letter and subsequent silence. Probably none. Except for taking up smoking, she has always had uncommonly good sense.

(To be continued.)


The photo at the top of this story is titled “nosmoke,” © All Rights Reserved, and is posted with the permission of the3robbers. You can see all the3robbers’ photos on Flickr here.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

BUS STORY # 448 (Part 2: A Portrait Of The Smoker As A Young Man)

grayky by Kynan Tait.  Posted with permission.

Previous posts in this series: Part 1 (“You Smell Like Cigarettes!”

I am a white male, with two degrees and an income comfortably above the defined poverty level. Demographically speaking, the only way I’d be even less likely to be a smoker is if I were female.

I am, in fact, a non-smoker.

I have not always been a non-smoker.

I came from a two-smoking-parent home, but neither of my parents was pleased when they realized I was smoking, too. That, of course, is part of why I started smoking.

The culture I grew up in was a smoking culture, but I believe only a small part of that culture was influential. That would be the James Dean and Bob Dylan part.

Later, there would be others, but that’s where it started. There, plus the place of callow, insecure, far-away-from-home youth wanting desperately to be -- but willing to settle for appearing -- competent, confident, and above all, cool.

That’s as common a portrait of the smoker as a young man as you are likely to find. A rebellion of conformity, I’d call it now.

I smoked two to three packs a day for 11 years.

I started when I was a freshman in college and couldn’t really afford it. (Sometimes, when I find myself wondering how poor people can afford to continue smoking, I remind myself of my student days. I had precious little discretionary cash, but always enough for cigarettes. I married before finishing school, and after classes, my wife and I would scrounge glass soda bottles and redeem them at the corner grocery for the makings of that night’s dinner. My first wife didn’t smoke, but she bore the financial burden of my smoking with me. Perhaps right there one can see the beginning of our end.)

I continued smoking after I learned the physiological effects of smoking and could see my statistical future. I continued smoking despite the examples all around me. The most vivid of these was an emaciated old vet in a wheelchair with his lower jaw and all his neck muscles surgically removed and a metal breathing tube inserted into what was left of his neck and into which he’d stuck a cigarette.

PSA on ABQ RIDE. Photo by Busboy.

I quit a year to the month after my dad died of a heart attack.

I quit then, and another half dozen times after that.

I quit the final time by publicly engaging in a quitting contest with a co-worker, another male. We contributed a buck to a third co-worker each workday with the understanding whoever caved first, the other got the pot.

It was a combination of the desire to quit, fear of personal shame and public humiliation, testosterone, and greed that worked. After three months, we split the pot and went on to the rest of our non-smoking lives.

(To be continued.)


The photo at the top of this story is titled “Photo” and is posted with the permission of Kynan Tait.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

BUS STORY # 447 (Part 1: “You Smell Like Cigarettes!”)

"No Fish," © all rights reserved, by Rose Mercado

This is the first of a four-part series. I wrote these stories several years ago, when I was still working and riding the bus, after my wife wouldn’t kiss me one evening when I got home from work. I knew these were more memoir than bus story, and I always seemed to have a bus story about someone else in the here and now that I wanted to tell instead. But after last week's post, this seems a good time to go ahead and finally post them. Besides, there are some good bus-themed photos to go along with the stories.

“Phew! You smell like cigarettes!”

This from my wife who pulled back just as I was about to collect a welcome home kiss at the end of my workday. She knows I’m not sneaking smokes or hanging out in bars. She knows I’ve been riding the bus again.

This has been a small issue between us since I began riding, some six years now. Like another bus-related issue between us – getting home later than I would if I drove a car – it’s only a problem on the ride home.

Smoking is not permitted on the bus. That smell of stale cigarette smoke is seeping from the clothes and hair and pores of the riders who smoke elsewhere. Or from riders who spend their workdays in the close company of smoking co-workers.

Fortunately, it is a relatively infrequent occurrence. I’ve come to the conclusion that, like the “perfect storm,” there has to be a convergence of several conditions for anything to happen.

First, there’s the time of day. This is almost always an afternoon, not a morning, problem.

I think this is because most smoking riders haven’t had time to undo the effects of showering, teeth brushing, and changing into clean clothes. By the commute home, they’ve managed to re-saturate themselves, and we non-smokers end up experiencing the stink.

Then there’s the time of year. The warmer the weather, the more likely the problem.

This isn’t ironclad. I remember a cold winter evening standing in the aisle behind a man in a black greatcoat that reeked of old cigarette smoke. But there’s something about warm weather that brings out the odor of just about everything.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that a packed bus offers a far greater opportunity for experiencing second-hand stench than a half-empty bus.

Finally, and really the most interesting of the conditions, there is the route itself. I encounter the problem much less often on the 11 than I do on the Rapid or on the 140/141. And neither of the latter can hold a candle to the dependably crowded and noxious 66.

I find myself generalizing a correlation between the ridership and the level of noxious air, and smoking demographics studies.

There may be a fifth factor: whether or not the bus is one of the older 300s or the newer 700s and 900s. More field study is required.

Although I consider this a minor problem, I do think it is overlooked by those promoting public transportation to those of us who don’t smoke and who have the luxury of an option. And, short of smoking and non-smoking buses, with smokers voluntarily refraining from boarding the non-smoking buses (like that is ever gonna happen), I don’t think there’s a solution.

Nor do I foresee folks starting to make healthy choices anytime soon about tobacco based purely on reason. I didn’t.

(To be continued.)


The photo at the top of this story is titled “No Fish,” © all rights reserved, and is posted with the permission of Rose Mercado. You can see Rose Mercado's photostream on Flickr here.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

BUS STORY # 446 (It’s The Little Things)

Downloaded from The Daily Mail

I’m downtown at the ATC, sitting on a bench reading and waiting for the 8 to pull into its bay.

I see an old guy picking up trash in the long waiting area between the docks. Blue and orange stocking cap, black jacket, dark blue jeans, a back pack... It’s the backpack that catches my attention.

Then I see he’s putting the trash into a plastic grocery sack. The trash is mostly cigarette butts, with the occasional candy wrapper. He isn’t wearing a yellow safety vest. I can’t see from my angle if he has an ID badge or not, but I’ve already decided he’s not a city employee.

When he works his way over by my bench, I ask him if he’s with the city or just being a good citizen.

He tells me his bus only comes every 45 minutes, so he kills time by picking up the trash. He says he was inspired by a guy he always saw picking up the trash when he arrived at work. He’d get to work at six, and there’d be this guy picking up the trash. One day he asked the guy why he picked up the trash.

“He told me he was retired, and he didn’t have anything else to do. Now I’m retired, and I don’t have anything else to do.”

He tells me he also picks up the trash on his morning walk, from Central to Bridge. The ATC is only when he’s waiting for the bus. But he’s hoping the folks who are littering will see him picking up their trash, and maybe it’ll plant a seed.

You know, he tells me, there’s a sign saying nobody’s supposed to be smoking out here. I laugh. I’m remembering the old toilet paper commercials on TV: Mr. Whipple puts up a sign that reads “Don’t squeeze the Charmin.” These days, the best way to get people to do something is to put up a sign telling them not to do it.

Still, there is something to be said for this old retired guy’s fighting the good fight against the tide. I’m an old retired guy, too, and our sensibilities are going the way of the dinosaur. I don’t think picking up the trash is going to plant any seeds or make anyone stop littering. But it’s not hurting anyone, and he’s found a way to make his small place in the world a nicer place, even if only for a few minutes.

I remember when my generation was going to do more than pick up the trash. We were going to stop war and end racism. We were young, and we had no idea that the way to make God laugh is to tell him your plans. We’ve many of us struggled since to bring integrity and grace and peace to just our own lives.

Watching the old guy picking up the trash reminds me of Theresa of Liseaux, a young woman whose story was told to me during my impressionable childhood as an example of how to become a saint without all the fireworks. We were told she’d gained sainthood despite living a short life in an out-of-the-way cloistered convent by quietly doing little things. Things like picking up the pins dropped and left by her fellow sisters. Her spiritual practice was called “the little way.”

There’s no way of knowing if the old guy picking up the trash has ever heard of Theresa of Liseaux. I figure the odds are slim. Nevertheless, he seems to have discovered her secret for himself: it’s the little things.


Remembering the old Charmin commercial prompted me to go looking for it with Google. Sure enough, here’s the “Honey, there’s a sign” commercial: Vintage Old 1960's P&G Mr Whipple Don't Squeeze The Charmin Bath Tissue Commercial 3.

And that prompted another memory, of Charlie Walker’s country western hit, “Please Don’t Squeeze My Charmin,” inspired, of course, by the commercials. Enjoy.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

BUS STORY # 445 (Portrait # 28: Honeymoon)

Photo by Busboy

The bus is pretty empty for this hour, but up front are two kids on the way to school with their dad.

The kids are little, maybe two years apart, maybe kindergarden and second grade. They’re in T-shirts and shorts, carrying skateboards and wearing helmets. The younger boy’s helmet has a friendly shark’s face on it, with a dorsal fin on top.

I’d put dad in his twenties. He looks like a kid, too, even with his mustache and chin beard. Black Rain T-shirt, olive green cargo shorts, and a skateboard of his own. No helmet.

The boys are sitting together on the bench seat facing the aisle. Dad’s in the aisle seat of the first row, leaning in toward them. He’s talking to them, and they’re listening and and talking back. He reaches out and gives the older boy a quick nose squeeze between two knuckles. The kid giggles with delight.

When we’re getting near the elementary school, dad stands up and peers through the front windshield. He surprises me when he pulls the cord himself; I was expecting him to tell the boys to pull it.

When the bus is stopped, the littler one runs and hugs his dad, and dad wraps him up tight and tells him to be good.

The older boy takes his turn. I can see his face and it says he’s loving having his dad to hug on. And then before letting go, he puts his mouth to dad’s head, just above the ear, then he’s off to the front door.

Dad follows them to the door. He tells them to be good, and he’ll see them right here after school’s out. Then he walks back down the aisle, following them as they walk along the sidewalk toward the crosswalk. He doesn’t sit back down until they are out of sight.

It’s heartwarming. I love how special this moment is to all three of them, and that is when I realize this is not a routine seeing-the-kids-off-to-school experience. This is more like being in love.

I look for a wedding ring and see no rings at all, except for an earring in the left ear I missed earlier.

A story begins to take shape: a daddy who’s just come back home and it’s the honeymoon... But is it just a visit or is he gonna stay? Other stories suggest themselves: an idolized big brother also back home, or maybe a favorite uncle. Or a new daddy audition.

But I see again the kid’s face when they’re hugging, and then the kiss.


He’s moved across the aisle now, sitting two rows ahead of me, his back against the window and his feet up on the aisle seat, scrolling through his smart phone. I feel the honeymoon wilting like a midmorning moon flower.

Mine and his. Mine because I have romantic tendencies, his because the kids are gone now. What else is left but prosaic real life?