Sunday, September 28, 2014

BUS STORY # 412 (Good Will Ambassador)

Photo by Busboy

I watch a couple my age board the bus. This is a couple of hours past the commuter run times, and so they stand out by the way they’re dressed and the way they conduct themselves.

He’s wearing a tasteful blue and gray and green tattersall shirt and gray Docker-style slacks. And a white bucket hat. Brown, well-tended oxfords.

She’s wearing a white peasant-style blouse that’s actually a bit more tailored, and a white, floral print, mid-calf skirt. Her gray hair is cut short and modestly styled. Discreet pearl drop earrings. Sensible white sneakers.

They look new to the bus, and they have that white, middle class, what-a-pleasant-new-adventure look on their faces that often masks whatever anxieties they might be harboring on the inside.


I’ve nailed them just as surely as I was nailed a few months after I started riding the bus.

They take their seats up front, on the bench seats just in front of my forward-facing seat, and confirm my observation when the woman pulls out the route map and schedule for this bus, and the multi-colored route map for all of ABQ RIDE.

Not just tourists; newbies, just off the car.

They lean in together, talking and looking and pointing at the map.

I lean forward and ask, “Are you making a connection?”

The woman tells me yes they are, the 766 at Louisiana.

She has an accent. British, I think, but with a peculiar regional dialect of some kind.

I explain the bus annunciator they can anticipate: “Next stop, Lomas and Louisiana. Near side, far side. Transfer. Routes 157, 766.” Then I ask where they’re going.

Old Town.

OK, then they need to get off on the far side of Louisiana, walk past the bus stop by the gas station -- that’s for another bus -- and to the green bus shelter to the stop for the 766.

They explain they are visiting their son, but he’s working today, and so they’re exploring on their own.

They really are tourists.

I ask where they’re from.


I know this is in Scotland, but I have to ask where. Now I know: on the east coast, between Aberdeen and Edinburgh.

“Edinburgh!” I say, and I tell them I used to read a finely-written bus blog, lamentably abandoned, by a rider from Edinburgh. The woman nods politely and repeats they’re from Dundee. The way she says this makes me think that maybe the 60-plus miles between the two might be farther than those 60-plus miles between us and Santa Fe

She then tells me our bus fares are quite reasonable. They had spent some time in Chicago, and the fares were higher, but still, very reasonable when one considered the cost of hiring a car.

She goes on to explain that bus service is free for seniors in the UK. She says this is a very good thing because otherwise, a lot of seniors would never be able to get out of the house and travel or go shopping.

I would have added to the conversation if we weren’t approaching Louisiana. I’ve read there have been suggestions for ending the free fare for seniors as part of a budget-cutting strategy for dealing with their version of the Great Recession.

Instead, I caution them to wait when we stop on the near side, and point out the Rapid Ride stop on the far side and a little past the gas station.

They both graciously express their thanks, and I answer, “Welcome to Albuquerque. Enjoy your day.”

Sunday, September 21, 2014

BUS STORY # 411 (Sound Transit)

Photo by Busboy

Mrs. Busboy and I were in Seattle visiting the grandkids and their families. This time, however, we were staying north of the city and did not have direct access to King County Metro as we did last year.  What we did have was Sound Transit, an excellent regional public transportation system that includes bus, light rail, and train.

This may be to our future advantage since King County Metro will be cutting its service starting next week; the state legislature declined to pass a funding bill this past legislative session. (A subsequent attempt to raise taxes in the county was controversial even among public transportation advocates, and while the city of Seattle supported the tax, the outlying areas of the county predictably did not. As of this writing, a new tax proposal is in the works.) Bus Chick has discussed some of the hardships commuters are suffering because of the cuts. As usual, those hardships fall largely on those members of the community with the least resources. Busboy is saddened to see one of the nation’s best public transportation systems being undone by political intransigence.

This time, we stayed in Edmonds, north of the city, and could walk to most places. But one morning, when the kids were in school and their parents were at work, Mrs. Busboy got a hankering for one of those bread pretzels made by the Three Girls Bakery in the Pike Street Market.

We’d had more than enough driving in Seattle when we arrived, coming across I-90 to I-5 and turning north on a late afternoon weekday. Generally speaking, Seattle drivers are still polite compared to most other places, but both of us agreed this was not the commuting environment either of us would tolerate well.

Thanks to last year’s good bus experiences and this years on-arrival traffic, Mrs. B needed no persuading. I used the Sound Transit trip planner  and came up with two options: walk to a bus stop three-quarters of a mile away and ride to the Lynnwood Transit Center, then transfer to an express run to a stop five blocks from the market. Or: drive to the transit center and park, then take the transit. That would save us some fifteen minutes each way plus wait times.

We drove to the transit center. And if we hadn’t, we would have missed the traffic-stopping parade of geese from a pond on one side of the road to a park on the other. And no one honked! Well, none of the humans honked...

We’re used to the Albuquerque park and ride lots being relatively small and empty. So the Lynwood park and ride, huge and almost completely full, came as a shock. Mrs. B was about to abandon all hope when I found an empty spot.

Google maps told us the next bus to Pike Street was the 512, leaving in less than 10 minutes. A woman overhearing us talk quickly deduced we were out-of-towners, and after telling us about the fares, told us a little about herself. She was on her way to work. There were close to a dozen boarders, all of them looking either like students or employees.

We were at our downtown stop in an hour. Five blocks later, we were in the market. The fare? The senior rate was $1.50 for each of us. Total round trip cost: $6.00, compared with the roughly $3.00 per hour parking rates in downtown -- if you can find an opening anywhere close to where you’re going in the middle of a work day. What a deal!

Mrs. B got her pretzel at the Three Girls Bakery. Then she persuaded me to ride the Seattle Great Wheel.  I am not a ferris wheel kind of guy, so I got big points with Mrs. B here. And also some pictures.

Afterwards, we wandered around several shops, then headed to Japonesse, a sushi restaurant a couple of blocks away, for our fresh fish fix.

Highly recommended!

The only trouble we had getting home was Google Maps’ instruction to catch our bus at the corner of Fourth and Pike. It was actually closer to Fourth and Pine, between Pike and Pine. So while we missed our first bus, we saw where it stopped. The next one was there in less than fifteen minutes.

We were home in time for a quick nap before joining one set of grandkids and their parents for dinner at Evviva’s Woodfired Pizza -- within sight of the Transit Sound buses coming and going from Edmonds Station.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

BUS STORY # 410 (Shorts 37)

Downloaded from Instagram > alespm05 #muni #sanfrancisco


Overheard on a Monday morning:
“How was your weekend?”
“I’m glad to have it off my plate and be getting back to work.”


One of the riders boarding is a young woman. She sits in the empty row in front of me and begins scrolling through her smart phone. After a few minutes, she realizes we haven’t moved. She looks up and sees we’re still at the stop. She calls out to the driver, “Is there something wrong with the bus?” The driver answers, “No.” She waits for more, but there isn’t any more. The driver isn’t going to explain that she’s either waiting to get back on schedule, or for riders from a connecting bus that may be running just a tad behind. I start to lean forward and tell her the driver is from New England, but I stop. She might not get it, and that would be awkward. Anyway, she’s OK; she’s scrolling again.


I look up when I hear “Card not valid” repeating like a stuck record. A guy is dipping his pass into the slot over and over, then stops and yells at the till, “Shut up!” The driver takes the pass out of his hand, slides it through the slot, gets the acceptance ping, hands it back to him. He doesn’t reach out to take it, just stands there looking at her with a “How-come-it-worked-for-you-and-not-me” expression on his face. Finally, he takes his pass back, then turns and walks up the aisle. No “thank you” for the driver.


It’s about 10:00 a.m. on a Friday. The bus pulls over for the three young women waiting at the stop across from Monzano High. Two of them have paid their fares and gone to the back of the bus when the driver says to the third, “Looks like you’re all having an adventure today and cutting school.” The young woman relies, “Oh, we’re out of high school. But thanks for the compliment.”

Sunday, September 07, 2014

BUS STORY # 409 (Mom?)

The light is on... by busboy4
The light is on..., a photo by busboy4 on Flickr.

A cell phone tone goes off in the back of the bus. A girl’s voice answers. Nothing unusual.  What makes me look up a minute or so later is the sound of quiet adolescent male laughter – insider laughter, the kind that makes a grown-up wonder “What are those boys up to?”

It takes a minute to figure out they are laughing at a female classmate who is on the cell phone that must be the one I heard a couple of minutes ago.  I can’t see her from where I’m sitting. But I can see what I presume are her classmates, all guys, sniggering at her from across the aisle.

It must be something about the call.

I’m running through a list of possible sources of embarrassment – a prank call, an unwanted suitor, a parent – when I hear her say, “Yes, mom.”  The embarrassed exasperation in her voice is timeless.

While I am thinking this has got to be one of those “Don’t forget” conversations between mom and daughter, I become aware someone else is talking on her phone at the front of the bus, and that her conversation seems to fall into a call-and-response pattern with the girl in the back of the bus.

I look forward and see an older woman sitting on the bench seat behind the driver, talking on her phone and looking toward the back of the bus.

Like one of those compact florescent light bulbs, nothing happens in the first split second.  Then, in the few seconds it takes to go from dim to bright, a connection is made...

And now the kids are all exiting at the Monzano stop, and I see a girl among four boys. She isn’t holding anything up to her ear, and I can’t see if there’s a cell in her hand or not.

I look back at the woman in the front of the bus. She’s not looking at the back door. She’s looking at her purse where she is putting her phone back.


Sunday, August 31, 2014

BUS STORY # 408 (My Daughter’s Kinda Sorta Albuquerque Bus Story # 1)

Downloaded from Pinterest.

A few weeks ago, my daughter called me from her home in Brooklyn to tell me about a party she’d attended the evening before. She told me she’d been conversing in a group when she overheard someone in a nearby group say the words “Albuquerque” and “ride the bus.” Intrigued, she extricated herself from her companions and joined the other group, four twenty-somethings who grew up in Albuquerque but were now living in New York.

They were swapping Albuquerque stories, including stories about riding the bus. One of them lived in the Bronx and was commuting to NYU, a one-hour commute. Someone else said they couldn’t believe anyone could tolerate a one-hour public transit commute, but he replied he’d been well conditioned by using ABQ RIDE.

One of the four confessed she’d never ridden ABQ RIDE because she’d heard stories. They teased her for being a “bourgeois” (which I learned is now pronounced “BOO-zhee” by folks much younger and much further away from Albuquerque than I am). They told her the stories were among the best reasons for riding the bus. And then they started telling bus stories. That is when my daughter told them her father wrote a blog featuring bus stories he collected while riding the bus in Albuquerque.

She told me all four transplants still love Albuquerque and New Mexico. One of them showed off a zia tattoo. The reluctant Albuquerque bus rider said she wanted to get a tattoo of crisscrossing red and green chiles. All of them explained that New Mexico was cool, Colorado was meh, Arizona sucked, and Texas really sucked. My daughter kept her native-born Texan status to herself.

I’m not a native New Mexican. I love New Mexico, too, but I spent most of my growing up years in Texas. I have family and friends in all three neighboring states. I’ve driven through and spent time in much of all of them, and they each have their own unique geographical and cultural charms. I don’t mind confessing I wish we had a light rail and integrated regional transportation like Dallas does. I’m hoping for future public transportation experiences in Denver and Phoenix. (Mrs. Busboy and I did ride the trolley in Tucson back in 2008.)

Getting a call from my darlin’ daughter is always special, but to get an Albuquerque bus story from her all the way from Brooklyn... Well, that’s all sick, huh? (Local not-bourgeois kid slang for “priceless.”)

Sunday, August 24, 2014

BUS STORY # 407 (Yes, We Have New Buses)

New Flyer Xcelsior®, one of the new 600 series on the streets of Albuquerque.  Photo by busboy. 

This past Wednesday, I finally caught my first ride on one of the new buses. They are sweet.

Back in May, three months after I’d heard the rumor, ABQ RIDE announced we were getting 21 new buses to replace some of the aging 300 series. The 300s have been workhorses, but they lumber and wheeze, the air conditioning leaves a lot to be desired, and I’m guessing their breakdown rate has made them increasingly unreliable.

The new buses are made by New Flyer, the same company that made our current 700 and 900 series, as well as our 60-foot articulated Rapid Ride buses. But ABQ RIDE opted for a newer model, the Xcelsior. Our new 600 series uses compressed natural gas rather than the hybrid diesel-electric system. One of the first things I noticed was that the new bus is quieter; no more high-pitched conversation-obliterating hybrid whine.

The seats are more comfortable, too; best back support ever. There are 39 of them, 3 less than on the 300 series buses. (On the other hand, there is no room to put your bags down in front of you.)

I rode # 605, with the image of one of the gondolas of the Sandia Peak Tramway on it. There are seven other images of scenes that have made Albuquerque famous, none of which reference “Breaking Bad.” The image on # 607 in the photo above is one of the towers on the 321-year-old San Felipe de Neri Church on the north side of Old Town Plaza.

There is also the new livery seen on the bus above, and the new logo. These are fun, but a bus you can count on arriving on time, which has good air-conditioning and also happens to be quieter and more comfortable, is the real star of this show. Speaking as a rider, of course.

Old livery and logo (rear window) on one of the 700 series.

New logo; downloaded from Mass Transit.


Here is a link for gearheads interested in the specs: Xcelsior® Specifications

Sunday, August 17, 2014

BUS STORY # 406 (An Exchange)

Downloaded from FemSide.

He’s a regular, although I don’t see him regularly. But I’ve seen him enough times over the years to know which route he takes and where he gets off.

Today, I see him get on the Green Line downtown at the ATC. He’s a pretty big guy, with long hair and a long beard, and an enormous backpack that’s seen a lot of wear and tear. Gray baseball cap, and today, a denim work shirt and gray jeans. Boots. Always the boots.

I’ve heard rumors he hikes into the foothills where he camps out. Something about him suggests he has a regular job. It’s an interesting combination.

Today he’s sitting in a seat in front of an exit door, reading. I’m sitting across the aisle from him when I see in my peripheral vision a thin, black-sleeved arm reach down over his shoulder. At the end of the arm is a girl’s hand, and inside the hand is a folded bill.

He looks surprised, and turns to look back at her. It is possible the girl says something to him, but the bus is too loud (or her voice is too soft) to tell. Then he takes the bill, puts it into his shirt pocket, and resumes his reading.

A few minutes later, he puts the book down, reaches over into his backpack, and pulls out a small, thin, brown book which suggests either a collection of Bible verses or else a pocket-sized copy of the Constitution. He turns in his seat and hands it to the girl.

They exchange a couple of sentences I cannot make out, and he returns once again to his book.

When she exits later, there are no goodbyes, no acknowledgments of any kind.

“Drug deal?” asks my wife, when I tell her the story.

“I thought about that, but It just didn’t feel like it,” I tell her. I tell her that, after the girl got off, I really wanted to lean over and ask him what that exchange was all about.

Maybe my wife is right. Maybe I’m just naive. Or maybe I just want a more interesting story than a drug deal on the city bus.