Sunday, July 26, 2015

BUS STORY # 455 (Portrait # 29: A Mystery For Sure)

"Bus Stop Legs," by Dave King of IdeaJoy.

Well, he pushed his old straw hat back and he grinned
And he said, “Ain’t they all a mystery? Sonny, it’s a sin
They’re all sittin’ on the world we’re tryin’ to win
Ah, but you know I love a mystery
So let’s drink another round, you and me, to them.”
-- Ed Bruce, from “Girls, Women, and Ladies”

She’s a sight.

She’s gotta be in her 50s. Dyed red-brown hair, long, but pulled up in back, then free-falling down the left side of her head.

Black plastic sunglasses, not the big-lensed movie star kind.

The rest of her face is deeply lined, like a chronic smoker’s.

Turquoise tank top with skinny, old lady arms, and reddened, leathery neck and chest.

Blue plaid shorts.

Not short shorts.

But short.

And tight.

Poking out from underneath the shorts on each leg is a band of black lace.

Yes, that's black lace.

Further down, knee-high black support hose.

White, old fashioned Adidas sports shoes with the diagonal stripes. I haven’t seen those in decades.

But here’s the deal: between the tops of those socks and the edge of the black lace, she’s got somebody else’s legs. That somebody has to be half her age, and is gonna have to be a knockout if she’s gonna belong to those legs.

But she doesn’t engage in any of the gestures that would tell you, as ZZ Top puts it, she knows how to use them.

I assume she’s consciously dressed to feature her best-looking self --at least that self between the lace and the knee-highs. But there is no accounting for the rest of her.

She’s not just a sight. Like Ed Bruce knows, she’s a mystery.


The photo at the top of this story is titled “Bus Stop Legs,” and is posted with the permission of Dave King. You can see all Dave King’s photos on Flickr here.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

BUS STORY # 454 (One Classy Bag Lady)

Downloaded from the Daily Mail

We took the 11 to the ATC where we caught the Rail Runner to Santa Fe. We planned to go to an evening concert, stay the night, then take the early afternoon train back to Albuquerque.

While waiting on the platform, huddled under the shade cast by a kiosk, we got to talking -- or rather, listening -- to a woman who had just overnighted here in Albuquerque.

She was probably in her early seventies. Her face reminded me a lot of my maternal grandmother, although her hair was tailored and we think she had some eye work done. She was dressed simply but elegantly in a sage green sleeveless blouse and above-the-knee loose shorts. Understated silver earrings and bracelet. In short, “classy.” So it was amusingly incongruous that her carry-on was a grocery bag full of clothes and shoes!

While we were waiting, she pulled out a pair of cowboy boot clogs and told us she’d found them in a very nice second-hand shop -- a real bargain, she explained.

We were also amused by her stories, so much so that we invited her to sit with us when the train came. That allowed for enough time to hear her more interesting life story unfold.

She was visiting old friends in Santa Fe, but had come to Albuquerque to visit an old girl friend from school. She’d flown in from Atlanta -- she described the wonderful MARTA train that rockets you directly into the airport -- but she told us she’d lived in Albuquerque before moving to Atlanta.

We asked what she’d done here.

She practiced law. She explained she’d been a bit of a gypsy in her youth, moving around from place to place and job to job until someone suggested she go to law school. She said it was like a little bell going off in her head -- “ding-ding-ding-ding-ding.”

We asked what she specialized in.

Family law. She told us she’d sworn she would never practice family law, but she saw an opportunity to make a real difference in real people’s lives. But it ruined her chances for remarriage. “Once they hear you’re a divorce attorney, they’re gone.”

So was she practicing law in Atlanta?

No, she was not. She’d looked into it, but there were so many little county courthouses she’d have to get to in her everyday practice, she’d be spending more time in her car than in her office or in the courtroom. Here in Albuquerque, there was just the one courthouse, which made so much more sense to her.

What she was doing in Atlanta was teaching math, an early first love. She told us it was the next best thing to a permanent vacation. Her other job in Atlanta was protecting her “good-looking wonderful grandson” from “those gold-digging” southern sorority girls. His choosing to go to college there was why she’d moved.

She explained she’d raised him from early childhood, fallout from the ill-advised marriage of her troubled daughter. She told us it was the best thing she’d ever done, and that raising him has been “a joy.” Watching her expression while she showed my wife his picture on her iPhone, I had no doubt he truly is her pride and joy.

She left us at the South Capitol stop. A fellow attorney who’d “retired” to Santa Fe “but still goes into the office every day” was meeting her. They were joining a group of friends who were heading out for Abiquiú. They are all gourmet cooks, she explained, and they like to drink. She just eats what they cook and does the driving.

It was hard to tell if her heart was still here or back in Atlanta. I think it’s probably wherever her grandson is, wherever that may be.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

BUS STORY # 453 (Will’s Bus Story # 2)

The 257 express to Horseshoe Bay. Photo by Busboy.

Mrs. B and I stayed in Vancouver’s West End for a few days visiting our old friends, Will and Carol. Will has been reading my bus stories from before there was a blog. He also contributed a fine bus story of his own early in the series that you can read here.

We have visited them in Vancouver many times since, but we’d never used TransLink, the Vancouver public transit system. Will rectified the unfortunate omission with a bus trip from the West End to Horseshoe Bay, where we took a ferry to Bowen Island.

What a ride! The 257 express crosses Lion’s Gate bridge, travels a roadway lined with trees, the occasional gap giving us glimpses of the bay beyond, then leaves the roadway for a street winding through a heavily-shaded, lushly landscaped residential area down to the ferry docks. This route has to be one of most beautiful municipal bus routes in the northern hemisphere.

View through the windows of the 257 from Lions Gate Bridge. Photo by Busboy.

A glimpse of the bay along the roadway. Photo by Busboy.

Leaving the roadway for the scenic route down to the ferry dock. Photo by Busboy.

Before boarding, Will handed us our tickets (pre-purchased!) and a “loonie” (A Canadian dollar coin) to cover the zone change. We boarded a standing-room-only articulated bus full of folks, some tourists, some locals, but the majority of whom were also taking advantage of the weather to visit the bay area.

When a seat became open beside a woman who looked to be our ages, Will took the seat and got his bus story, which he shared with us while we waited for the ferry.

The woman was on her way to Nanaimo, a town on Vancouver Island, to pay taxes on her house there. She bought the house way back when for $17,000 Canadian, and no one had a clue what would happen to real estate values in the Vancouver area.

She was a retired marriage counselor, that career a second one after having been a human development researcher. But, she told Will, neither of these was her first calling.

She had a horse when she was a young girl, and decided then that she wanted to be a stock breeder. She was taking piano lessons at the time, and one day, her teacher told her she was gifted, and that diligent practice would likely lead to a career as a concert pianist. The girl then confided her real desire. The teacher dismissed the confidence as a silly idea. She told Will she considered the teacher’s response, then got up and walked out, never to return.

If she ever pursued her original calling, Will didn’t hear the story. But she did tell him she still plays the piano, and performs with a group of local musicians.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

BUS STORY # 452 (Mad Men)

Mad Men The End of an Era Bus AD mini Billboard 9148,” © All Rights Reserved, by Brecht Bug.  Posted with permission.

Somewhere between Wyoming and Eubank, a guy boards the bus, swipes his card, and walks toward the back. The electronic fare box voice announces “Card not valid.” He keeps walking.

“Sir. Sir!”

The guy stops.

“Your card is expired.”

He walks back up to the front and starts searching his pockets. He’s early 30s, old jeans, red T-shirt, baseball cap. He quits searching just before we get to Eubank and just stands there. The driver pulls up to the stop and opens the door.

The guy wheels around and launches a stream of obscenity-laced insults at the driver. It is a violent outburst, and becomes more so as the tirade continues. The driver probably doesn’t help; he smiles cheerfully at the guy and invites him to have a good day. Gasoline on fire.

The guy fakes blitz at the driver. The driver invites him to go ahead. The guy’s explosive oral incontinence continues. There is no imagination, no creativity in the obscenities at all, just a witless brown spew of the same old same old. Then he storms off the bus.


I look at the young woman sitting next to me, the same young woman who got on the bus at Louisiana with me. She is staring wide-eyed and straight ahead, silently mouthing words to herself. I wonder if she’s praying or has just been shocked into some kind of schizophrenic state.

The guy sitting on her other side is talking with the driver.

“Crazy, huh?”

The driver is chuckling.

“And he was calling me a ________.”

I’m wondering what the driver would have done had the rider’s assault turned physical. He’s also in his thirties, and a big guy. But I’m thinking madness and rage often generate a superhuman strength. The driver might have gotten himself in real trouble.

So, pray tell, what would Busboy the driver have done?

The truth is, I don’t know. I would like to think I would have been able to balance the fight or flight reflex with the awareness that I would be no match at all for this guy. There would be no fight, only a pounding, possibly into a pulp.

I would like to think I would have the grace and sense to know this rider is deeply disturbed, and find some way to compassionately defuse the situation, although whatever that compassionate strategy might be alludes me.

Instead, I’m dealing with a momentary fantasy of coming to the driver’s aid and throwing the guy off the bus. Fantasy indeed! Once I’m aware of this absurd little day dream, I'm trying to recall where I recently heard or read a woman saying something very close to “It’s not your fault. You’re a guy. All you guys are jerks.”

She might just as well have said “mad.” That, I understand, includes Busboy, old as he is, and still struggling for reason and wisdom before push comes to shove.


The photo at the top of this story is titled “Mad Men The End of an Era Bus AD mini Billboard 9148,” © all rights reserved, and is posted with the permission of Brecht Bug. You can see Brecht Bug's photostream on Flickr here.

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.