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?

Sunday, May 10, 2015

BUS STORY # 444 (A Foolish Thing)

Photo by Busboy

It’s just past noon when my bus comes. I board, and there’s only one other person on the bus. And he’s sitting in -- I laugh to myself -- “my seat.” I take the seat across the aisle.

He looks over, smiles, then asks if I’m just starting my day.

I tell him I’ve been up a good while.

“I’ve been up since six,” he says.

I ask where he’s been.

He points to the collar of his white dress shirt. “Court.”

There’s a pause, then:

“I did something foolish back in January. I got a DUI.”

He has a public defender, but until this morning, he didn’t think the PD was doing anything for him. He was ready to plead guilty when his lawyer starts firing off petitions for this, petitions for that... Nine of ‘em. He’s glad he kept his mouth shut.

So what’s next, I ask.

He doesn’t really know. But he’s got a plan when he does. “I figure I plead guilty to the first charge. That way, they drop the reckless and the aggravated.”

Then he’s gonna buy a car, put an interlock on it, and not drive it for a year. That way, when he’s ready to drive again, he can get rid of the interlock.

I’m thinking he means to take the bus for a year while the interlock does its time in the new car. But then I wonder what happened to the old car. Did he total it in that January DUI? Or does he mean to drive it instead of the new car and not get caught? I think about how getting the DUI, not driving drunk, was the “something foolish” he’d done. His stop comes before I can ask more questions.

“Wish me luck,” he says in the aisle.

“Good luck,” I say back, but inside, I’m shaking my head. It seems to me it’s the rest of us on the road that’ll need good luck.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

BUS STORY # 443 (Clueless)

Downloaded from Leaving Tracks

We pull up to a stop, and I see a not-all-that-old guy with a walker and a large plastic bag of groceries.

There are three people in the front of the bus: a woman sitting in the first forward-facing bench seat on the passenger side, right in front of me; a young woman, in a black velvet hat with a large scarf hatband, short hair curling up from beneath the brim, sitting in the bench seat behind the driver; a young guy, T-shirt and jeans, white earbud in his left ear, holding a large black case the size of a big, three-ring binder on his lap, sitting in the bench seat opposite the woman in the hat.

The woman sitting in front of me sees the guy with the walker and gets up and heads further back.

The woman in the hat also sees the guy with the walker, and after the woman in front of me goes to the back, she also gets up and moves to the back.

The guy, who cannot see the guy with the walker unless he turns around to see why the women are moving -- and he doesn’t -- watches the two women leave. He remains where he is.

The driver kneels the bus, and the guy with the walker struggles aboard with his walker and groceries.

He is grimacing with the effort, and when he gets past the till, the aisle is partially blocked by the legs of the man on the bench seat.

Who is watching but doesn’t move.

The man with the walker manages to negotiate the obstruction, but almost loses his balance when he tries putting his groceries on the bench seat with his walker turned at an odd angle to accommodate the legs of the guy on the bench seat.

He recovers, reorients himself, maneuvers the walker as close as he can given the room he has to a position that will help him sit down.

The walker is partially collapsable, and, after sitting down, he does something I don’t recall having seen someone with a walker do before. He folds it up, then pulls it up on top of his lap and holds it with both hands so that it does not form an obstruction in the aisle.

He grimaces with the effort, smiles in between the grimaces.

The guy across the aisle watches, as do I.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

BUS STORY # 442 (Bill Jarvis’s Bus Story # 4)

Nova LFX articulated bus, on trial with Codiac Transpo, Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada; photo by Bill Jarvis

Bill Jarvis drove a bus for 25 years in Moncton, New Brunswick. He’s shared several fine bus stories with me which have been featured in my side link, This Week’s Featured Story. I’ve saved my favorite for right here.

I stopped my bus at the United States Customs office at Houlton, Maine. After I showed my passport to the officer, he told me where to park, then came on board to instruct the passengers to go to the counter in the office. There they would show their passports and answer the routine questions one expects when crossing the border.

While the passengers were in the office, two officers with a dog searched the bus. After going through the luggage compartments, they searched the interior as I sat in the driver’s seat. One officer commented to the other, “We’re not finding any liquor or tobacco on this bus.”

“I don’t think you will,” I said. “My passengers are members of a Christian group who are going to a Gaither Brothers concert in Worcester, Massachusetts. They say grace before meals, and even say a prayer when the bus starts to move.” One officer looked me straight in the eye. “They must know who is driving!” he replied with a smile.


Bill Jarvis. Photo provided by Mr. Jarvis.


You can read Bill Jarvis’s other bus stories here, here, and here.

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!