Sunday, November 23, 2014

BUS STORY # 420 (The Other Side Of The Mountain)

Albuquerque and the Sandia Mts.  Downloaded from Retire in New Mexico.

It’s a pretty cool November morning when I take the front row seat on one of the new 600s. Sitting on the aisle-facing bench seat in front of me is a kid who looks like he’s in high school. He looks over at me and says he didn’t think it would be this cold this morning.

He’s wearing an orange T-shirt. I see a lot of kids wearing T-shirts in this kind of weather. I read somewhere it’s supposed to be a school kid’s I’m-a-tough-guy kind of thing. But a tough guy wouldn’t be telling me it’s cold this morning. He doesn’t look like he’s trying to look like a tough guy, either.

I tell him it’s been cool like this for a few mornings now.

He tells me he’s surprised. He’s from the other side of the mountain, and he didn’t think the city got this cold.

I ask him where on the other side of the mountain.


Moriarty is a town of some 2,000 folks forty miles east of Albuquerque. To get there, you take I-40 through Tijeras Pass -- “Scissors” Pass -- which cuts between the Sandia and Monzano Mountains.

“You really are from the other side of the mountain,” I tell him. I ask if he’s going to school here.

He’s out of school, and glad to be. He’s on his way to work at one of the sports stores in town. He says he told his his boss he ought to hire him given all the stuff he’s bought over the years. He laughs.

So he lives here now?

He does. Going on four months now. That makes me wonder how it is that this is the first morning he's noticed the cold.

I ask if he’s glad to be in the big city, or if he finds he’s missing home.

He misses home. Says this straight up. Says it may be country, but he just feels more comfortable there.

And that’s when I understand what’s going on. A city kid wouldn’t be likely to start up a conversation with an old guy on the bus, especially a conversation that showed some vulnerability, some loneliness.

I think about asking him if he has any plans beyond the sports store. But then I think better of it. Maybe he’s already having those thoughts himself. And, even if he isn’t, he doesn’t need any more second-guessing material from me this morning.

I give him a smile, he smiles back, and we lapse into silence. I get off before he does, and wish him luck. Surely he’ll be going home for Thanksgiving, but I didn’t think to ask at the time. Then I think better of asking that question, too. Anything other than a heartfelt yes would have been hard for both of us.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

BUS STORY # 419 (Shorts 38: Other People's Shorts 3)

Downloaded from Instagram:kam0372.


Emily Ackerman reports she was escorting her friends’ 3-year-old daughter on the NYC subway when the little girl sees a very large, very tattooed man -- and I mean very tattooed. Face tattoos. Teardrops and crosses. She points right at him and says loudly, “Look! Look! A pirate!” Embarrassed, I do the lame adult thing, haha no no shhh. She then says, “Right there! Look at him! A pirate is right there!” Large tattooed man says, “No sweetheart, I’m a construction worker.” She then gasps, “You mean pirates can be construction workers, too? Whoa!” Subway car cracks up. My week was made.

Posted on Facebook by Emily Ackerman, via my daughter.


A while ago I was on the 205, just riding home from work, like I do.
The bus driver was making a reasonable attempt to be friendly, bidding each passenger a good day as they got off the bus.
Until one woman got off the bus.  The bus driver said, "Have a good day!" as she got off, and she didn't say anything; she just stared straight ahead, ignoring him completely.
After she got off and the doors were closed, the bus driver muttered, ". . . or not."  Several of us had a good chuckle.
Fairness requires the observation that she might have actually been having a really bad day.

Have A Good Day... posted March 20, 2014, by BUSNINJA, on BUSNINJA.


Over and over, she tells him that she did exactly what he asked and she’s pissed that he doesn’t appreciate her. But he said he can’t rely on her, so she’s telling him, over the phone, for all of us to hear, exactly what transpired. She asks him, repeatedly, to confirm that she did indeed do what was expected of her. Their words hit and expend their force, like two fifth graders hurling water balloons at each other. It escalates and the entire bus can feel their relationship tearing at the seams. Humans have the capacity for great art, tremendous acts of courage, and love that triumphs over evil. But sometimes the tantrums suffuse all reason and we lose the ability to be our best. Or even just plain decent. Small scale on the 120 to downtown or large scale across the globe, it plays out and breaks my heart.

Vanishing Reason, posted July 22, 2014, by Richard Isherman, on Bus Stories: Observations on Life In Transit.


The second grader stepped onto the bus with all the confidence and resolve of a modern day Meriwether Lewis.  He was dressed in cargo shorts with the standard one hundred and fifty pockets filled with the items needed for a grueling trek across the vast wilderness.  His t-shirt extended well below his waist line and he wore a black dress belt around his waist.  Not in the loops of his pants, just around his waist on top of the t-shirt.  On the belt there was a small nylon pouch.  He stepped beside me and with the sound of Velcro being parted he produced a compass from the small pouch.  He held it out for me to see and informed me, "I will be keeping us on track today."  He looked at the compass with a concentration that is only known by those who realize that the lives and safety of innocent people are in their hands.  He pointed down the road and said, "That direction is," there was a momentary pause as he found his bearings, "that direction is, that away."  So we went, that away.  He looked at me shrugged his shoulders and said, "Hey, I looked at the directions and they looked hard so I'm not exactly sure how this thing works yet."  Lucky for us the school was due, that away, from where we were.

Go West Young Man, posted April 15, 2014, by Tom Brandon, on Mr. Brandon’s School Bus


This morning on the 22 Fillmore:
Mr. Fantastic's outfit - dark purple skinny jeans and a black and white leopard print shirt. Neon yellow wristlet, flattop haircut, Clark Kent glasses.
Hot damn.
No one else could have pulled it off.

Bus Report #789, posted January 31, 2014, by Rachel in Fog City Notes.


The photo at the top of this story is downloaded from Instagram:kam0372.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

BUS STORY # 418 (“You Tell A Good Story, Too”)

Photo by Busboy

I’m heading for where the 157 stops south of Lomas, and I can see there are two people already waiting on the bench. I can also see they look like they might be homeless.

As I get closer to the bench, one of them stands up and moves in front of the near end of the bench. I’m expecting a request for money, but I only hear one word of what he says: “bathroom.”

I cup my ear and say, “Sorry?” I’m close enough to see the street patina that confirms my first impression.

I have a hard time understanding what he is saying, but I make out something to the effect that there is no bathroom here.

I ask if he’s looking for a bathroom. I’m thinking there’s a Shell station on the far side of the intersection I could point out. And then I see the other person still on the bench, a woman, has her jeans pulled halfway down her thighs. She is covered by her coat.

He is standing between us to give her privacy.

I look back up at him. He has a dark, weathered face, unkempt long hair straggling out from a baseball cap. He is looking right at me, and I look right back.

He asks me something with “marines” in it. His speech is not slurred, but it is thick and stolid, with a heavy Native accent. He speaks again, enunciating very carefully. Am I in the Marines.

I say no.

He says he thought maybe I was.

I ask if he was.


How long ago?

’85 to ’89.

Where was he stationed?

Camp Pendleton.

And then where?

Fort Benning.

The whole time?

“I been all around the world. I saw the sun rise in Japan. It doesn’t mean anything.”

The woman is calling out something, but I can’t understand her, and he is ignoring her.

At this point, I am thinking about the approximately ten minutes it will be before my bus comes. I ask more questions and sort out as best I can the answers.

It is difficult. Part of that is his speech. I do not think he is inebriated. But I wonder if I am hearing the cumulative damage of alcohol or drugs, or if he has mental issues, or is maybe simply street-stunned. Or all of the above.

Part of it is his story. His sentences may be hard to understand, but they’re coherent. His story is not. At one time, I hear he is Navajo. At another time, Apache.

He tells me the government quit paying him his veteran benefits. Later, he tells me he had the VA send all his benefits to his three children on the res.

He tells me he is waiting for his brother to come pick him up. When I ask, “Here?” he tells me nobody knows where he is, everybody thinks he’s back on the res.

At this point, the woman becomes agitated and wants to know why I’m asking all these questions. Am I with the government?

I explain I just want to hear his story.

His story then becomes he is a forgotten veteran. He went over to Afghanistan and killed a lot of people, and now that he’s back home and not killing, he’s of no use to them anymore. He’s already told me he was in from ’85 to ’89; we didn’t go into Afghanistan until 2001. That we know of, anyway.

The woman chimes in they’ve even cut off their food stamps.

He tells me he used to love America -- he thumps his heart with the palm of his right hand -- but he feels differently now. No one cares about veterans, he tells me.

The anger is quiet but unmistakable. It’s in his voice and his eyes.

After a long pause, he asks me if I have any spare change.

I admire the timing.

I do not and tell him so. I’m thinking if he tells me they are hungry, I will offer to take them back across the street to the Burger King and use my credit card to buy them something to eat. But he does not.

Instead, he holds my eyes for a second, then says quietly, “You tell a good story, too.”

A bus pulls up.

“Your bus is here.”

It’s the Red Line.

“Not my bus,” I tell him. I wish it were.

But he has already turned around and headed back to the bench where the woman is seated. She’s moved from the end of the bench to the middle, and I see what I would have taken for a spilled soft drink pooled under and out front of the place where she’d been sitting with her jeans half-down.

The Red Line pulls out, and the 157 pulls in right behind it. I feel like telling the driver he got here just in the nick of time. But I keep it to myself. It isn’t until we’ve gotten to Coronado Mall that I hear Johnny Cash singing “The Ballad of Ira Hayes.”

Sunday, November 02, 2014

BUS STORY # 417 (Now Playing In The Duke City)

Downloaded from Theline by busboy4
Downloaded from Theline.

“What’re you reading?”

I’m surprised. My seat mate is a kid with a skateboard between his knees and what I take to be a graphic novel in his lap. We’ve been riding in silence since I got on at Carlisle. We’re somewhere past San Mateo now. He’s obviously taken note of the magazine rolled up tightly in both my hands.

I tell him I’m reading about Brazilian soccer. I tell him I did not really know what a rabid fan is until I started reading the article. People quit their jobs, sell their furniture, whatever it takes, to follow their teams to wherever they are playing a championship game.

He seems impressed, in the non-judgmental way we express our wonder when presented with human behaviors that are beyond rational understanding. I nod toward his book and ask him what he’s reading.

“Oh, it’s called Buddy Does Seattle.”

He explains it’s about this guy, Buddy and his friends who live in Seattle and are just getting by with whatever jobs they can get. He goes on to explain he spent eight days in Seattle, and the book captures a lot of his experience of the place.

He tells me he thinks it was a comic strip in one of the newspapers there, and now they’ve all been collected into this book.*

The Stranger?” I ask him.

He isn’t sure.

Because of the conversation, and because he’s an Asian kid, or much more likely, Asian-American, I ask him if he’s from Seattle. No, he’s from here. He went up to Seattle to get his Army discharge papers. He was in for four years.

I ask him what he’s doing now.

Skating. What he’d really like to do is get a sponsorship. He explains that would enable him to make film clips and movies of himself trick skating. A sponsorship would also mean stuff like free trucks and wheels and bearings and boards.


He points to the attachment where the wheels are. Then he shows me how the front truck rocks back and forth, and he describes some of the tricks you can do with that rocking truck.

How long has he been skating?

Just since he got out of the Army. He started when he was up in Seattle, waiting for his papers.

I ask if Buddy is a skater.

No. He tells me a little more about Buddy, then opens the book and shows me the continuous comic strip story line. He explains where he’s at in the book now: Buddy’s girl friend has taken a job in Paris, and Buddy thinks she’s left him, but she really hasn’t. Meanwhile, his first girlfriend shows up and she’s a mess, and he’s trying to help her get her head straight...

So how did he get interested in skating?

He just saw people skating in Seattle, and he wanted to try it. He tells me about the different boards -- shortboards, longboards, skaters -- and the differences a wide or narrow board can make.

He’s been skating a year now, and he says the important thing is to not be afraid to try anything. If you balk at any of the hard tricks, you aren’t sponsorship material.

He pulls his skateboard up to show me that, just past the rear wheels, the board has been broken off. Then he explains he mistimed his crossing on Central; a car took it off. His tone is completely casual; no big deal. I’d say he’s fearless enough for a sponsorship. Now all he has to do is be good enough and stay in one piece.

He tells me I should see a movie, "Lords of Dogtown," which he describes as a retelling of the early days of skateboarding in Florida where trick skating really got started.**

We get to his stop. I tell him I enjoyed talking with him, and wish him luck.


*Yes, I went home and googled. You can read the complete story of Buddy Does Seattle from the publisher, Fantagraphics, here.


**Yes, again. However, this synopsis of the film by Rotten Tomatoes puts the origin of trick skateboarding in Venice, California. Click on “More” in the link to read about the preceding documentary, "Dogtown and Z-Boys."


The photo at the top of this story is downloaded from Theline.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

BUS STORY # 416 (What Happened)

Detail from a photo of an El Metro bus (Laredo, Texas) downloaded from Que Fregados

I barely remember what she looked like. Brown hair, I think. Pulled back. Black frame glasses. White ear buds. Maybe a sweatshirt, skinny jeans, something like that.

I was reading, waiting for the bus. She wasn’t the only high school kid waiting there. I heard someone say “Sir? Sir?” It was her.

“Does this bus go to Wyoming?”

“Yes it does,” I answered.

She said, “Thank you.”

She had a foreign accent. French, maybe. European, anyway, I’m pretty sure.

I went back to my reading until the bus came.

I boarded behind her. She was at the till, then she turned around to exit the bus.

I asked her what happened.

She didn’t have the correct change. She showed me a five.

Wait, I told her. I reached for my wallet, pulled out a buck, handed it to her.

I don’t remember if she said thank you this time or not. I remember after she put the dollar in the fare box, she turned and offered me the five.

“No, no,” I replied, shaking my head. Foreigner for sure, I registered, offering me the five for that one. Or else open-heartedly grateful, the way we can be when we’re young, feeling vulnerable, and somebody does something to help that’s no big deal to them but is to us. Young and naive. A sweetheart.

I’m telling this story to a friend when he asks me if I thought I might have been played. The question surprises me. No, I don’t think so, I tell him. We move on.

A few days later, I’m reading an article by Patricia Marx which begins:

What a wonderful time it is for the scammer, the conniver, and the cheat: the underage drinkers who flash fake I.D.s, the able-bodied adults who drive cars with handicapped license plates, the parents who use a phony address so that their child can attend a more desirable public school, the customers with eleven items who stand in the express lane.

My friend’s question returns, and this time, it lingers. Was I played?

Why would I think such a thing?

Well, for one thing, Lomas crosses Wyoming just a mile east of where we were. Was she really just off the boat?

Maybe she was. Maybe she didn’t know the neighborhood yet. Or maybe she just wasn’t sure about the bus route.

She obviously knew enough to be at the right bus stop. But why did she ask me, and not one of her schoolmates?

Maybe she was new enough her schoolmates still intimidated her. Or maybe she felt misplaced among a rougher, less well-rounded community of high schoolers. Maybe none of them were classmates. Maybe I looked safer, like I wouldn’t prank her or something. Or maybe she was pranking me. Maybe she was showing her friends how she could get someone to pay her fare. Maybe there was a bet going on. Maybe she needed to be sure I heard the foreign accent.

Maybe she was faking the accent. I remember this kid waiting for the bus in downtown Houston, trying to cadge a cigarette and telling everyone he was from “Dun Loghair” in an awful approximation of an Irish accent.

Anyway, if I was being played, she would have had to maneuver her place in the line so she would be right in front of me. Could she have done that without my noticing?

Well, yes. Easily.

The rest played as I remembered it. And now I recall she had a Big Gulp in her hand. I remember the awkwardness of her holding that giant cup and her open wallet, the five poking out. I remember now how she turned back around after paying the fare and tending the open wallet to me, either her face or her words or both asking me if I wanted to take the five.

That would have been her very confident gamble if this was a play.

Smooth operator for sure, I registered, offering me the five for that one. Damsel in distress, foreign a nice touch. Worked like a beaded Hare’s Ear on a rainbow trout. Old and still naive. A safe gamble on her part for sure.

I’ve seen my share of cons, successful and failed, while using the bus. Some of those have turned up here in Bus Stories. I’m sure I’ve missed some, too, being too slow or too inexperienced to realize what was going on at the time.

But it’s not the bus that makes me second-guess what happened in this particular story. As Ms. Marks points out, we live in a culture where the con is on. But she doesn’t include the most sophisticated, most appealing, most invisible con of all: modern advertising. It’s as ubiquitous as the air we breathe, and daily we are expertly played in the choices we make for everything from personal hygiene products to political candidates.

I’d hate to have to defend against P.T. Barnum’s assertion there’s a fool born every minute. But I’d argue for another way of looking at the fools. I’d argue the real reason we remain susceptible to the con is because we are, most of us, most of the time, sweethearts. We have good hearts and good intentions. But we’ve all been burned. And so we inevitably either suspect the con or spot it where, in fact, it’s not.

I don’t know whether I was played or not that afternoon at the bus stop. My gut still tells me this was a kid who, for whatever reason, was going to give up taking the bus after school because she didn’t have the correct change. Which makes me a nice guy. Which makes me feel better about myself, and her, too. A dollar was, for me, at this place in my life, a small price to pay for possibly being wrong. And if it was a con, we both got my dollar’s worth.


The photo at the top of this story is posted with the permission of Que Fregados.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

BUS STORY # 415 (Portrait # 28: Good Lookin’)

Photo by Busboy

She’s in her 40s, probably the near side of 45. Plain white sleeveless blouse, denim clamdiggers, flip-flops. Brown hair, and long for her age -- past her shoulders. It looks good.

She recognized the driver when she boarded, and she’s standing in the front and having a conversation. About barbecue.

It’s an animated discussion, and there is friendly disagreement.

The animation comes from the tone of her voice. And, I realize, from the way her hair moves with her vocal cadence.

And then I realize it’s just not her hair that looks good. She looks good.

That’s when I really start looking.

And at first, I can’t figure it out.

It’s not her clothes. They couldn’t be more nondescript.

She’s trim, but everywhere I look -- the backside of her clamdiggers, her upper arms, her ankles, -- there is undisguised middle-age thickness.

Her elbows look roughened. And I can see wrinkles on the side of her face.

And, yes, she still looks good...

(I can also see the face of the driver in his rearview mirror. He’s obviously enjoying the conversation and the company, but I never see him take his eyes off the road.)

After a while, she moves to the bench seat behind the driver. I’m near the front on the passenger side of the bus, and have a good view of her face now. It’s a middle-aged woman’s face, pleasant enough, and you can see the attractive girl that used to be where the woman is now. She isn’t wearing any makeup that I can see.

And then she smiles, to herself.

That’s when I figure it out. There’s an unguarded joy in that smile you just don’t see everyday. It’s the smile of someone who is comfortable with who she is, and who is enjoying herself in the ordinary everyday.

She looks terrific.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

BUS STORY # 414 (A Driver, Part 2)

Photo by Busboy

You can read Part 1 here.

The driver stands outside the bus, by the bus stop sign, smoking a pipe.

His hair is gray, or rather, silver, streaked with lighter and darker silver lines. He’s got it pulled straight back into a small knot. I’m thinking prematurely gray; his face suggests he’s somewhere in his 30s, and his hairline has only just begun to retreat.

He’s wearing rimless sunglasses, lightly tinted, the tint fading as it descends. Prominent nose, large but ennobling, actually. His face is right for it. And perhaps this is what draws me to realize he’s actually a pretty big guy. Over six feet, but not so tall it’s the first thing you notice.

He’s not thin, and not thick or going to fat, either. Except for his hair, and maybe his nose, I’m not sure what it is that calls my attention.

He says something to me -- I don’t recall what -- and a conversation begins. He talks, I ask questions, he answers, talks some more, and I have a story.

He is from Argentina. (The ponytail knot made me think “tango.” But he doesn’t have the face for it. Too easy going, too content.) He met an American, they got married. They went to Cancun and ended up living there for three years. Then she told him she’d been cruising through her life for too long now, and she needed to go back home and do something real. They moved to Philadelphia, she got something real, they got divorced. He had to get away to someplace far away.

That “had to get away” is the only clue I have that this was a troubled time for him. He’s telling his story with a mild smile and an easygoing inflection, not too animated but not flat, either.

“Far away” was Texas. I ask where in Texas. San Antonio. Ah, best place in Texas, I tell him. Austin, he counters, Austin. And I understand why he’s right, too.

He was working as a tour guide, leading tours to South America. Between tours, he took motorcycle trips out west, partly because he wanted to expand his scope for tours, partly because he wanted to see the country, and a lot because he loves riding motorcycles.

Those trips took him through New Mexico and Colorado. He knew California and the Pacific Coast, too. I don’t know whether he just toured these places, or whether he lived there for a while. I suspect the latter, at least where Los Angeles is concerned.

He loves the Rockies, but Albuquerque turns out to be “the sweet spot.” Great weather, great roads for biking, like the back way up the Sandias. He likes to hike, too; climbs Cabezon once a year.

He’d lived here before, in Santa Fe. He had a job at a high end car dealership. He left after some kind of dispute, but returned when his boss asked him to reconsider. He says he got to town only to discover his boss was out of town -- in South America -- and, anyway, it’s an employer’s market these days when it comes to wages. He went to work for ABQ RIDE.

Turns out he drove a bus in the Philadelphia area as well, so this isn’t a new career move. And my sense is ABQ RIDE is not really a career move, either. It’s what he can do now.

And he seems to be just fine with that. In fact, I sense he is just fine with wherever he is and with whatever he is doing, and when he’s not, he’ll change that.

I ask him if he ever misses Argentina.

He hates Argentina. The whiniest people on the planet. Well, next to the Angelenos, anyway. Which is why I suspect he lived in, maybe even drove a bus in, LA.

I’m not watching the clock, but if we’ve spent only eight minutes at the rest stop, I’ve learned a busload of things about my driver.

I cannot get over how relaxed and easygoing he is. I see a final little portrait later on during the trip when a rider boards with a lit cigarette in his mouth. He swipes his bus pass, starts up the aisle, then suddenly realizes the cigarette. He whirls around, throws the cigarette out the still-open doors.

“Why didn’t you say anything?” he asks the driver.

The driver is smiling. It is the smile of someone who has been watching this roll out and is amused.

“I was waiting for you,” he answers, laughing

He is having a good time on the job. That, perhaps, is what makes him stand out.