Sunday, November 29, 2015

BUS STORY # 473 (Shorts 42: Other People’s Shorts 4)

"Knitting," by duluoz cats.


While I was riding a city bus a few mornings ago, an urgent announcement came from the bus driver’s cabin that made everyone jump. “Attention! Attention! All 101 bus drivers please be on the lookout for a …(pause) Dora the Explorer lunchbox containing one peanut butter sandwich and a box of milk.”

From “An Emergency Announcement” published December 12, 2014, by Andrew Leynse in The New York Times.


This morning, stepping off the 33 and crossing 16th, what do I see tucked away beside a concrete building column?
A gorgeous-looking chocolate cake with a smooth ganache, with sprinkles. On a plate, with toothpicks on top to help tent the plastic wrap on top of it (which was partially torn, leaving the cake exposed to the elements).
A cake left out in the rain, folks.*

From Bus Report #850 published December 18, 2014 by Rachel in Fog City Notes.


Tweeted January 12, 2014, by eddieharrison@theEddieH


In the 1990s, I was one of four drivers from our company taking students from two local high schools on a trip to New York City. We had a 3-day layover with no work required. The drivers stayed at a hotel on 46th St., Manhattan. While there, I took a city bus to the Trinity Church/Wall St. area. I sat at the front and chatted with the driver. I commented that he must have a stressful job, trying to drive safely amidst all the traffic. He smiled and replied, “This is the best job in the world. I love it!”

From an email from Bill Jarvis of Moncton, New Brunswick.


Tweeted February 16, 2015, by Matt Buckland @ El Satanico


“Take care,” I call out after a young family just stepping out. The teenage father picks up a coat that's slipping off their stroller. The toddler daughter responds brightly, “I take care a my daddy!”

From Multiple published May 19, 2015 by Nathan Vass in The View from Nathan’s Bus


Downloaded from Ginx Craft


The photo at the top of this story is titled “knitting” and is posted with the permission of duluoz cats. You can see all duluoz cat’s photos on Flickr here.


*If you’re too young to catch the reference, here's a YouTube recording of Jimmy Webb’s “MacArthur Park,” as sung by Richard Harris. It was a big hit in 1968.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

BUS STORY # 472 (Sabrina's Bus Story # 1: "All Is Lost")

Downloaded from makeuseof.

A friend of my daughter’s posted this story, a kind of Thanksgiving story, on Facebook. It is reposted here with her permission.

All Is Lost

Written by Sabrina Fonseca
Edited by Jimmy Wohl

My iPhone fell on the subway tracks from a moving train, between stations in Manhattan, while I walked, illegally, from one subway car to the next.

It was past midnight on Wednesday. I always hated the iPhone 6 because it's too big, and it flew from my hand many times before. Now I had it in a cheap yellow fake-leather case that also held my driver's license, debit card, several credit cards, my building pass for work, my Metrocard, and a discount card for the deli where I often eat an average salad.

It had been in my coat pocket, but it barely fit and was sticking out. It knocked into the car door and tumbled down into mass-transit oblivion. I watched it disappear into the abyss in very, very slow motion.

I think people saw it fall, but they stayed quiet. I was too stunned or tired to react, so I continued walking to the next car.

I thought I'd stop at a station and ask MTA people to retrieve it. But I didn't have a phone to let Jimmy know I'd be running late, and I couldn't call because I don't remember his cell phone number. I could probably recite all my friends' numbers from when I was a teenager, but the guy I’ve been dating for over 2 years and live with? No need to memorize it, it's saved on my phone.

I figured the phone was lost forever. The only life forms hanging around subway tracks between stations are rats and accompanying bacteria of the Bubonic Plague, not people interested in finding smartphones. I decided to go home, and deal with it later.

At the train station near my home in Queens, I approached an MTA worker, and he said I should've stopped right away at the station where it happened. But I was still too tired. The broken phone wasn't going anywhere either way.

I met Jimmy at home, he was already worried. I checked Apple’s Find My Phone service.

The phone was still alive, blinking, lying injured  around the 50th Street station on the E train, near where I dropped it. I imagined it was being used as a toilet for rodents, or laying on a rail like a damsel in distress waiting for a hero to rescue her in one of those old-timey Westerns. But I was too tired to save it.

I woke up much earlier than usual the next morning, which is what I do when something bad happens, like being at risk of getting deported, having a sick relative, or going through a breakup. I checked Find My Phone again, and it was still sitting in the same place, waiting for me--and only me.

I put on long leather boots and a reflective rain jacket, in case I got the chance to go treasure hunting along the subterranean train tracks. Then I thought this might get me arrested, but does Indiana Jones care about the law? I brought a flashlight. And a camera. I'm loving this.

I was hopeful for success, so I bought a single-use Metrocard and rode to 50th Street station. At the MTA booth I explained the situation. I lied that I had been moving between cars because a guy was harassing me, not because I'm a law breaker who got what she deserved.

His reaction was not what I expected at all.

He asked me what the phone looked like, which direction I was going. And then he started making phone calls I couldn't listen to because the booth is sound-proof, and probably bullet-proof. Tourists started lining up behind me. I explained the situation so they wouldn't hate me. He got off the phone and told me to hold on a bit.

15 minutes later, he said I should come back later in the day. That kind of problem required MTA to stop the train traffic, and they wouldn't be able to do that during rush hour, though he made clear that MTA treated these issues as emergencies.

Really? This is an emergency for me, but for the MTA? I became cynical. They probably aren't even looking for my phone. If they stop the traffic to look, they won't find it, even in its bright yellow case. If they find it, they'll steal it, sell it, and pay for hookers with my credit cards.

I went to work. I must have checked my beloved on Find My Phone like 50 times, and the phone didn't move. Or maybe it moved a little, closer to the 50th street station booth? Maybe it wanted to go home.

I returned to the station that same day after 8pm, when I thought I might be able to ask them to please please please stop the train traffic to pick up my phone. It was another guy at the MTA booth, he asked: what color is your phone? Yellow. No, the phone itself. Black.

Then he slipped the yellow phone case through the little booth hole.

I opened the case. The phone was intact. Not a single scratch that wasn't already there. Yay cheap fake-leather bright yellow case.

As I jumped up and down, he asked me to check the contents.

It was all there. Credit cards, debit card, driver's license, building pass. MTA card. The deli card.

Along with some new, unidentified black stains. But cool.

I asked for details. I wanted to know how they did it. When did they stop the traffic? Was there a notice on about the E train being slow when it happened? Did they foil a terrorist plot that wasn’t expecting MTA workers to be on the tracks at that time? He didn't tell me much, and said they couldn't retrieve the phone when I arrived at the booth because they needed other MTA workers who specialize in something involving retrieving drunk people's phones from subway tracks. Protocol is that they had to do it right away. They also needed help from a different department to handle the train traffic, no one at the subway stations has authority to do it. So it happened at some point during the day, he didn’t know when, when all these people got in sync and saved me and my phone. All I know is that every phone case I ever get will be made of some bright color leather.

And it will have a strap.


After Sabrina posted her story, she told me someone sent her a link with all the details she’d wanted to know about “how they did it.” She passed that link on to me. And so, for the rest of the story: “Lost and Underground: Meet the People Who Retrieve the Stuff You Drop on the Tracks.” Happy Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

BUS STORY # 471 (Part Six: French Trains, And Some Train Stories)

Our train to Narbonne from the Gare de Lyon in Paris. Photo by Busboy.

This is the final post in this series. Since Friday night’s terrorist attacks on Parisians, we are stunned and terribly saddened. We pray, and know not what else to do.

Previous posts in this series:
Part One (Paris 2015)
Part Two (The Arrival)
Part Three (The Metro)
Part Four (Le Bus!)
Part Five: (More Buses)

French trains go everywhere. French trains go very fast. French trains are (mostly) on time.

There are special lines to get you into Paris from the metropolitan area outside Paris, and there are trains to get you all over France, not to mention Barcelona, Brussels, and even England by way of the Chunnel.

A commuter in the train next to ours at an RER stop. Photo by Busboy. 

We used the website Capitaine Train and found it relatively easy to use once we got the hang of it. We booked two trips, from Paris to Carcassonne, and from Agde to Charles de Gaulle Airport. Both involved transfers from the main line to a connecting regional line on the way south, and regional to main line on the return.

A trunk line train leaving the station at Agde. Photo by Busboy.

First class on French trains is comfortable, not much more expensive than second class, and you are, at least theoretically, guaranteed a seat. We have some stories.


When we booked our tickets for the trip south, we clicked on the option “side-by-side.” Capitaine Train gave us seats 34 and 36. Unfortunately, we did not realize until the morning we boarded the train for Narbonne that seat 34 was in Car 2, and 36 in Car 3! We think there may have been a mix-up. Mrs. B told me that the gentleman she ended up sitting next to in car 2 said he and his wife had also been separated in the same way. It is possible I spent the four-hour trip sitting next to his wife! Her seat mate had a theory that this is the French train system’s contribution to marital harmony: an hour or two of spousal respite...


As I was finding my seat on the other car, Mrs. B found her seat. There was a woman sitting in it, with a friend in what would have been my seat. She showed the woman her ticket, but the woman did not seem persuaded. The gentleman in the row behind looked at Mrs. B’s ticket, then explained to the woman in French that she was in the wrong seat. She told him she was fine where she was. He asked her to show him her ticket. She didn’t feel that was necessary. He then invited Mrs. B to sit with him. This is when she learned he and his wife had suffered the same fate we had.


On our return to Paris, after transferring to the main line at Nîmes, we saw a conductor point out to a young woman that she should be in second class. She had been talking non-stop with a young man in the seat behind her, and she launched into an elaborate response.  We have no idea what she said to monsieur le conductor, but he moved on and she stayed put until her stop.


At the next stop, a British couple entered our car and became frustrated trying to find their seats. They exited the car, then returned a short while later and stopped at our seats. The woman told us in French that we were in their seats and she was not happy. While we were reaching for our tickets, the husband pointed out their seats were actually the ones in front of us. She didn’t apologize, but turned her displeasure on the woman occupying one of the correct seats. She chewed the woman out in French. The woman remained unruffled and, without being the least bit apologetic, explained in halting English that the seat was unoccupied, so she took it. She gathered up her things while explaining, and simply moved up one row.


The best (or worst) story of all, however, came from our hosts, Mrs. B’s sister and brother-in-law. They had reserved seats in which they found two women sitting who refused to move. They found the conductor who accompanied them back to the seats, examined everyone’s tickets, then explained to the women that they were in the wrong seats. One of the women then asked the conductor if he was really going to make them move. He replied that was up to the couple holding the tickets!

Sunday, November 08, 2015

BUS STORY # 470 (Part Five: More Buses)

A citibus in Narbonne. Photo by Busboy.

Previous posts in this series:
Part One (Paris 2015)
Part Two (The Arrival)
Part Three (The Metro)
Part Four (Le Bus!)

Albuquerque is engaged in a debate over whether or not a BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) system along our most heavily used route is a wise investment or not. One of BRT’s features is a dedicated bus lane, and Paris has a lot of them.

Photo by Busboy

As far as I could tell, dedicated lanes mean auto traffic does’t stop when the bus does, and the bus doesn’t stop when auto traffic does, especially during rush hour.

Later, in the south of France, we saw dedicated bus stop lanes in Narbonne, a city of around 50,000. The buses share the streets until they approach a stop, when they divert themselves into a dedicated lane that brings them into the stop. The principal is not unlike the recessed pull-ins at a few of the stops here in Albuquerque. (The bus stop at the southeast corner of the Lomas-Wyoming intersection is an example.)

Narbonne’s bus transportation system is called “citibus.”  It has six routes plus a “navette gratuite” which is the equivalent of our ride-for-free D-Ride.

Photo by Busboy

The free shuttle takes an oval-shaped route covering both sides of the Canal du Midi that comprise the “centre-ville.” We made the complete loop. Later, we went back to two of the stops: the impressive Cathedral of Saint Just and Saint Pasteur, and the following morning, the wonderful market at Les Halles.

The cathedral of St. Just and St. Pasteur in Narbonne. Photo by Busboy.

A couple of days later, we were some 20 miles south in Port la Nouvelle, on the Mediterranean. While walking along the main street, I saw a citibus with the same livery as the Narbonne buses make a stop. As near as I can tell from Google, citibus belongs to a regional group called the Grand Narbonne which links together “39 towns of [605 miles] between land and sea.”

The surprising appearance of a Narbonne citibus in Port la Nouvelle. Photo by Busboy.

About 40 miles west of Narbonne lies the almost same-sized city of Carsassone. It has a bus system with at least four routes that run every hour or so during the day. One of those routes includes the stop at Le Cité, the medieval “old town” enclosed within a remarkable set of double walls and castle-like towers.

Photo by Busboy

Here at the end of summer, we found the bus full of tourists, many of them English-speaking. But the locals ride, too, to the other stops. The morning we boarded, the driver was exchanging euros for tickets (and giving change if he had it). After everyone had boarded, the driver left his seat for a backward-facing passenger seat across from an old couple who had boarded earlier and began a jovial conversation in French. They obviously knew one another, and this happy crossing of paths called for the good manners and great pleasure of a short visit before resuming work.

Photo by Busboy

(If you look carefully, you can see the top of the driver's face over the old man's gray hair just in front of the door. Behind him, a passenger waits with arm akimbo for the driver to return to work.)

Sunday, November 01, 2015

BUS STORY # 469 (Part Four: Le Bus!)

The soixante-trois. Photo by Busboy.

Previous posts in this series:
Part One (Paris 2015)
Part Two (The Arrival)
Part Three (The Metro)

I’d used Google Maps to plot all our destinations. We were already in Paris when I realized that selecting the bus icon gave only the metro routes. I had to go to the RAPT website to find a trip planner using the buses and trams.

The RAPT Group is the Paris public transportation system. (The initials, translated into English, stand for Autonomous Operators of Parisian Transports.) It includes the Metro, the buses and trams, part of the regional railroad system (RER -- the train we took from the airport into Paris), and a curious little operation called the Montmartre Funicular which, had time permitted, would have been fun to check out. (It reminds me of Pittsburg’s Duquesne and Monongahela Inclines. A good friend took us on the Monongahela climb back in 2013 -- and has probably been waiting for a bus story featuring this unique and historical bit of public transportation ever since.)

The Monongahela Incline. Photo by Busboy.

One soggy Saturday, we took the bus to three different locations. We made a total of eight transfers, and I don’t believe we waited for more than ten minutes for any of them. (Yes, the metro is even more frequent, and faster, and on a wet day, drier, but your destinations often require a much longer walk from your arrival point. Moreover, the bus runs above ground. We saw more of Paris on the bus.)

The good news is there are a lot of bus routes and a lot of buses on each route, and the stops put us very close to all our destinations. More good news: if you know your stop, the signage is excellent. Not only is the current stop displayed, but the name of your current stop alternates with the name of the next stop. Since we knew the stops we wanted, the system worked perfectly for us.

Photo by Busboy.

The bad news is that, although RAPT has a good route planner,* it proved difficult to know exactly where the bus stop for the transfer bus was. On two occasions, it was a good half-block away from our stop. I finally learned to ask the driver where the stop for the transfer bus number was -- when I knew how to say the number in French. (I should have put more time in on numbers.) Most of the drivers spoke a little English. All were good at pointing.

I knew enough to ask before boarding if this was the bus to the [insert-name-of-stop-here]. This saved us from going the wrong direction twice.

The buses were crowded! Standing room only everywhere we went, although we usually got a seat after the next or second-next stop.

Mid-morning, the rain turned from picturesque to oppressive. We ended up sodden to the skin despite umbrella and hooded rain jacket. During one transfer, I inserted my soggy ticket into the machine and “broke the bus.” All the electrical system went out. The driver restored most of the signage, but the ticket machine stayed down. It wasn’t until we transferred to the next bus that we realized it wasn’t me; either the rain or wet tickets or some central system malfunction had shut down the ticket machines on the other buses as well. The driver was letting anyone with a stub in hand board the bus and ride.


* The RAPT trip planer does not have a scheduling option using arrival time. If you need to be somewhere by a certain time, you have to play with the departure times to get what you need. It’s a curious omission.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

BUS STORY # 468 (Part Three: The Metro)

Even when they're coming to a stop, they come in fast! Photo by Busboy.

Previous posts in this series:
Part One (Paris 2015)
Part Two (The Arrival)

The Metro is a wonder. Construction began in 1898, and the system now has 133 miles of track and 303 stations, 62 of which have transfers among 16 lines. It is the second-busiest subway system in the world. (You might be thinking NYC is the busiest, but, no; the busiest is Moscow.)

For about $1.33 (at the exchange rate during our visit), you can ride to anywhere in the city, you can get there fast, and there’s very little waiting.

Wonder aside, there are also a couple of problems.

The first is the stations have absolutely no accommodations for the handicapped. (This is true for just about everywhere we went in Paris. It is a city for the able-bodied only.) Forget about a wheel chair! For anyone on crutches or a walker or just plain old -- or who are old and lugging a suitcase -- negotiating the extensive stairways is at best an ordeal. It was a problem for Mrs. B who had injured her knee a week before we were scheduled to fly out.

The second problem is the stations are a popular haunt for pickpockets. (This is also true of all the tourist hot spots -- the Eiffel Tower, the Cathedral of Notre Dame, and so forth.) I’d read three or four long articles and numerous personal accounts about the danger, how to recognize the various strategies most often used, and how best to protect yourself from being victimized. I confess other people’s stories made me uneasy about the threat.

Our second morning in Paris, we were changing Metro lines to go to the Montparnasse Tower. Mrs. B was climbing the stairs ahead of me when I saw a young guy appear just off her left shoulder. It quickly became obvious to me he was shadowing her. I was getting ready to call out to her when I felt a hand in my right pants pocket. I whirled around, and another guy moved quickly away from me. “Ce n’est pas bon!” -- “That is not good” -- just popped out of my mouth from some almost half-a-century-old college French class! He looked at me, gave the classic Gallic shrug, and quickly scampered ahead, joined by the guy who’d been shadowing Kathleen. They were a team! And I’d been successfully distracted by the guy in front of me!

I checked my pocket: still there were my hotel key and the old, dead iPhone I’d put there as my own distraction tactic. I was feeling pretty good about not losing anything until we got up to the street and I reached for my typed-out directions to the Montparnasse Tower and the Crêperie Josselin. The thief had lifted my directions!

Google maps on Mrs. B’s smart phone saved the day, but we also decided to experiment with the bus system. As a result, we abandoned the Metro for the remainder of our stay and used the bus. It was a good call; we would not otherwise have realized just how good the bus system in Paris really is.

A less-blurred photo from Wikipedia. The stations are not usually as empty as this photo suggests, but, as in Albuquerque, the crowds thin out considerably between rush hours.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

BUS STORY # 467 (Part Two: The Arrival)

Downloaded from Bianoti

Previous posts in this series: Part One (Paris 2015)

The photo at the top of the page is a good view of what our train from the airport -- the RER -- looked like. To see what it looked like the morning we boarded the RER B, see the photo below:

Downloaded from îledeFrance. When the doors open, people move quickly to get a seat! 

It was relatively easy to figure out how we were going to get from Charles de Gaulle airport to our hotel: take the RER B train to the stop for Saint-Michel--Notre-Dame, switch to the Metro line 10, get off at the stop for Cardinal Lemoine, and walk 200 yards.

I will spare you the details of exactly how I figured out which train to take and where to transfer to the Metro and which direction to take and when to get off at the right stop. I will tell you it took a lot of time, but it gave me a very reassuring sense of knowing what to look for and when.

As it turned out, the ride from the airport to the stop by our hotel could not have gone any smoother.

Right after having our passports stamped, I saw a tourist information booth. I had a small cache of French phrases for finding out where we could buy tickets, catch the train, and so forth. (This amused Mrs. B to no end. “What are you going to do if they answer you?” Her point being they would assume I spoke French and therefore answer me in French, and then what would I do?) As it turned out, the young man at the information booth spoke very good English, was happy to be of service, and was able to sell us the train ticket plus two “carnets” -- ten-packs of discounted tickets good for any bus, tram, or metro line in the city. (The cost converted to around $1.33 per ticket.)

We walked to the train station where a young woman asked us in English where we were going, then pointed to one of the waiting trains. We left the station five minutes later.

I had the number of stops to our metro transfer written down, with the names of the station and the one preceding it. As it turned out, the train had an electronic map of the line and all its stations over the three doors of the car. When we began, each stop was lit up from the airport to the end of the line. Our stop was about midway, and we simply watched the lights go out for each station upon arrival. No counting in my head, no struggling to see the name of the stop outside somewhere, no trying to make sense of a garbled announcement. Brilliant!

A regrettably fuzzy detail of the electronic tracking system of the progress of our train from the airport into Paris.  Photo by Busboy.  Below is a much better detail from the blog Travelling With Nikki:

From the blog Travelling With Nikki.  The next stop is Châtalet-Les Halles.

The transfer from the train to the Metro went smoothly. (I should point out that the price for our train ticket included the transfer.) We simply followed the signs to the Metro line and the direction it was going. We caught our line about four minutes later, and got off at the second stop. Our biggest challenge was figuring out which direction to take from our stop to the hotel. It had taken us just over ninety minutes from landing to the hotel’s front door.