Sunday, March 22, 2015

BUS STORY # 437 (Go Catch It!)

Be Her Champ by busboy4
Be Her Champ, a photo by busboy4 on Flickr.

I watch them board. She’s a big woman with white hair and a walker. He’s a skinny guy in a baseball cap with “veteran” across the front, and he’s wearing those old aviator-style sunglasses.

She takes a seat in the front row on the driver’s side, then directs him to the bench seat in front of her. He has another idea, but she cuts him short and directs him to the bench seat. He takes it.

They don’t talk much, but when they do, she’s loud and emphatic, and he’s quiet.

We pull up behind the 5 in front of UNMH and she calls out to the driver, “Tell him to wait.” Then, to her companion, she says, “Go catch it! Go catch it!”

The driver doesn’t respond to the first direction, and the skinny old guy delays before getting up and wandering tentatively toward the front door.

The 5 pulls away.

He tells her they can just ride down to the ATC and catch the bus there. She tells him they could have saved a lot of time if they’d caught that bus.

We catch up to the 5 again a couple of stops later.

Again, she calls out to tell him to wait, and this time, the driver honks the horn a couple of times.

Again, she directs her companion to go catch it before it gets away, and he moves more quickly this time.

Outside, he turns as if to wait for her. She waves him on impatiently to go catch that bus.

He does, and they do.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

BUS STORY # 436 (Volunteer)

Reproduction of an untitled painting by Michael Christiana featured at an ABQ RIDE bus stop on Wyoming. Photo by Busboy

It’s just a short ride from Lomas to Central on the San Mateo southbound. I’ve picked up a prescription, and I’m planning to catch the Red Line to La Montanita for some grocery shopping.

I sit down beside a guy who turns to me and says “Good morning.” Close cut hair, glasses. He looks like the tall and lanky type. I’m guessing early 40s, but he could also be the older-than-he-looks type, too. He doesn’t have headphones or earbuds, isn’t scrolling through a smart phone, isn’t reading a book or a newspaper or a magazine.

“Good morning,” I reply. “Beautiful weather.”

“Yeah,” he says, and goes on to say they keep telling us cold weather is coming, but so far, we’ve dodged the bullet.

I tell him I don’t mind the cold as long as the wind isn’t blowing.

He agrees with that, and tells me the other day when he was volunteering down at the VA, that big flag was stretched straight out and popping in the wind.

“You’re a volunteer at the VA?” Then I ask, “What do you do?”

He troubleshoots computer problems. There are plenty of problems to keep him busy. Now that I think about it, yup, he look like an engineer.

I want to ask if he’s working on the VA’s computers or the patients’, but I don’t have a lot of time before we reach Central, so I ask him why he volunteers.

He tells me he’s a disabled veteran and he doesn’t have anything else to do. He says he’s also trying to set up an art therapy program. He corrects himself: “Art in therapy.” One of the other vets told him he has to be a licensed counselor to be an art therapist. “I just paint,” he explains.

I tell him it’s a good thing to be volunteering. He says it’s good for him, that’s for sure. He invites me to check out the program there. “There’s plenty to do,” he tells me.

We’re at the Central stop, so I wish him good luck and head out the back door. He’s on his way to the VA, at the end of the line.


Michael Christiana is one of six New Mexico artists who also served in the Armed Forces, and whose work is being featured by ABQ RIDE's "Art in Transit" series. Check out this week’s side link under This Week in Albuquerque.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

BUS STORY # 435 (Portrait # 27: Strange Bird)

A rare U.S. sighting of the Rufous-necked Wood-rail. Photo by Jeffrey Gordon, AP.

I’m so taken with her appearance that I don’t realize until later her boarding is a stage entrance. She takes care of the fare, then sits with a swirl of skirt on the bench seat opposite the driver, all the while talking on her cell phone.

The skirt is long, but open in front, the sides like curtains showcasing legs coming out of blue denim shorts and disappearing into cowboy boots. The boots are gorgeous, intricate patterns in a gray and brown exotic-looking leather. It’s probably not what she intended, but the skirt and boots steal the show.

She’s got the swirl down pat; no need to rearrange how it falls once she’s seated. She crosses her legs, and now I understand it is all part of the swirl.

The skirt is part of a jumper. The bodice is a dense display of brightly colored small dots, mostly blue and yellow. The dots give way to a larger pattern of irregularly-sided rectangles on a tie-dyed background of soft pink and pale yellow. The tie-dye fades into a linen-looking tan.

She moves her glasses -- black frames with gold accents, round, large, smokey lenses -- to the top of her head. Her hair is short and black, and gives the overall impression of slightly ruffled feathers. Black eyeliner, makeup that makes her freckled cheeks shiny. Large elongated hoop earrings, enamel inlays that flash green-gold with each emphatic shake of her head when she speaks to the phone.

She has rings on every finger except for her left pinky -- two on her left index finger. I try counting the bracelets on her left arm. Fourteen. No, sixteen. No --

“Thirty-nine and holding” comes to mind.

She has a small tattoo just above the webbing between her left thumb and index finger. It looks like it might be a turtle, the shell a square spiral pattern. She has another small tattoo behind her left ear, but I am too far away to make it out. Both are in the standard black ink, no ladylike color accents.

I cannot take my eyes off her.

I find myself thinking about the Rufous-necked Wood-rail, not exactly a pretty bird, but very colorful, and rare in these parts. Back in 2013, a hurricane blew it into the state for a couple of weeks. Folks flocked here from all over, couldn’t keep their eyes off the thing.

I’m not sure what kind of hurricane blew this woman onto the bus, but when I get to my stop, her voice rises. “I can’t believe you are _______ saying this to me.” I turn back and look, and she is wiping her eyes with her free hand.

Twenty minutes later, I’m done with my errand and waiting for the bus. When the door opens, I see it’s the same driver. Makes sense; I’m fairly close to the far end of this route. I board, and to my surprise, she’s still on the bus, still sitting in the same place, now off the phone. Her eyes don’t look smeary.

I sit pretty much in the same seat I was in before -- across the aisle and two rows back.

Sitting directly across from her, in a bench seat facing hers, is a guy in a black T-shirt and jeans. Looks somewhere in his 40s, with a mermaid tattoo on his right forearm. The tail extends to his upper arm, and it flexes when he bends his arm. He looks like a delinquent gone straight for a couple of decades now.

He’s looking at her like he doesn’t know what to make of her. He can’t keep his eyes off her either, although he tries. He looks at the front doors, than back over the rest of the bus, but his eyes always end up coming back around to the woman across the aisle and staying there.

She gets up and walks over to the driver. I can’t hear what she says, but I hear him reply, “Two more stops.” She remains standing, and at the second stop, she gets off the bus.

The guy sitting across from her follows her out the door, then turns to look at me. I give him a kind of smile-shrug, as if to say, “Yeah, strange bird.” But he doesn’t smile back. He looks like he’s embarrassed to have been caught looking at her. He gets off several stops later and doesn’t look back.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

BUS STORY # 434 (Mr. Monk)

He’s an old, skinny guy, with a porkpie hat and a chin beard, and he looks just like a skinny Thelonius Monk from the 1962 album cover for “Monk’s Dream.”

He’s got a cane and a bag of groceries which look heavy from the way he sets them down by the till. He braces himself and gets his pass through the slot. Then he lifts the bag by its cloth handles and starts for the bench seat behind the driver.

His gait is stiff and slow, and he’s using that cane for all it’s worth. I’m wondering if both feet hurt. He’s got them encased in big leather hiking boots like you used to see on outdoor types back in the early ‘70s.

He gets himself settled into the seat and rides awhile.

Several blocks later, he pulls himself up, half lifts, half drags the bag toward the door, then uses his cane as a hook to pull the stop requested cord. He misses, and almost loses his balance. All kinds of hands from all over the bus go to the pull cord.

At the stop, the driver kneels the bus for him, and he hobbles to the doorway. Before exiting, he looks back at us and says “Thank you for bein’ so kind, y’all.” Then he turns back to the open door. Then stops, and looks back on more time, grins, and says “Y’all need to smile more. Keep on smilin’.”

He exits, and I look around. We are all grinning away, basking in this abrupt feel-good vibe Mr. Monk has left hanging in the air like a sustained, final chord.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

BUS STORY # 433 (Broken Bad)

Wendy, played by Julia Minesci in "Breaking Bad." Downloaded from wikja.

I’ve just taken the middle seat on the side bench in the back of the bus. There are four of us: a woman to my left, a woman sitting across from me -- Whoa. She’s nodding off, and she leans her forehead into one of the poles supporting the overhead rails, then jerks back and grimaces.

She is a frightful vision. Shoulder-length, unkempt hair that starts out gray and turns reddish-blonde halfway down. Eyeliner, lipsticked red lips. She’s wearing two coats, or rather, half-wearing the outer one, a long, Army-green coat. She’s gotten the left sleeve off, but the right one is still collapsed between her elbow and wrist. The rest of the coat is crumpled up behind her right arm.

The inner jacket is a quilted black number, open to reveal a red card hanging from a lanyard around her neck that reads “Visitor” on top and “Presbyterian” below. Her shirt, a multicolored, horizontally striped number, is either cropped or not pulled down, revealing a distended belly that makes me think “Visitor” ought to read “Patient.” Her jeans are worn, and she has a pair of high-topped men’s shoes, the left without laces.

There’s a stubbed-out cigarette clamped between two fingers of her right hand. On the seat beside her is a plastic bag of groceries. I can see a bottle of something neon blue and a pack of Marlboros.

I look away quickly when her eyes catch mine.

I’m thinking she must know she looks a sight, and I feel bad that I might have made her feel worse than she already does. I will later realize I was, if she even noticed me, the least of what was making her feel bad.

She goes back to closing her eyes and grimacing, then yawning, then leaning so far forward that her face is on her thighs. When she jerks back upright and opens her eyes wide, I feel a shock of recognition: Wendy, the hooker in “Breaking Bad!”

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a rider on the bus I suspected might be on heroin. Of course, thinking of her as Wendy makes me shift from heroin to methamphetamine, and the next time she yawns, I check out her teeth. I get a good view of exactly two teeth standing side by side, left of center and all by themselves in that curving lower gum.

She looks miserable. I remember times I got sick with some kind of fast-moving bug while I was at work or out somewhere, and how terrible I felt trying to get home so I could just lie down, and if dying was part of the equation, well, it would at least bring relief. That is what she looks like she feels like.

There is a fourth person back on the platform, a black guy sitting in the middle seat of the back row. He’s an older guy, grizzled, with a dark baseball cap with no letters or insignia, dark jacket, dark blue jeans. He’s looking straight ahead, expression in stone, not looking at her, not looking at me looking at her. I imagine him taking one look at her early on and harrumphing to himself, “white folks.” Or maybe he’s just seen too much of this already wherever he grew up.

Someone pulls the cord, and the old guy says, “This is the stop.” I wonder for a minute who he’s talking to, then see a guy half-sitting, half-standing in front of the bench seat by the back door. I’m trying to figure out how he knew this was the kid’s stop when he gets up and starts for the back door. The kid sits back down, and as the old man passes the woman, he says, “C’mon, now.”

Another shock of recognition: they are together!

He’s already off the bus when she starts to get up, too. I see him on the sidewalk outside. He’s walking down the sidewalk, but then he stops, turns, and looks for her. When she’s off the bus, he turns back around and continues walking. She follows after him.

As the bus pulls away, I see her throw her head back and stagger. The side of her face is wracked with misery. It’s really overwhelming, for the both of us.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

BUS STORY # 432 (Grade School Reunion)

"Feel the beat," by Lester

If I’ve got to remember, that’s a fine memory.
-- Leonard Cohen, from “Tonight Will Be Fine.”

My eighth grade girlfriend and first true love of my life got on the bus this morning and took the seat right in front of me. Well, not the same girl, but a girl who looked so much like her that my heart did a single beat double-take. It used to just run away with itself every time I saw her back in the day. She was the first girl I ever kissed -- on the cheek, but I was left stunned senseless after succumbing to the impulse.

She looked like her old self, same round, sweet face, and she looked like herself in this day and age, her face now with make-up, lightly applied, really, but which made her look slightly removed from the girl I remembered. She was still wearing the the same blonde-brown ponytail, except the ponytail now fell in permed waves, and her hair was color-streaked with blonde.

Her ears were now pierced, too, the right three times, two in the lobe and one in the upper ear. That was a surprise. I could see the loops in her lower ears, but could only see the backing for what must have been a stud in the upper right ear.

Her left ear held a white earbud, attached by a white cord to a black smart phone which she scrolled through and paused, scrolled through and paused, throughout her ride. I’m trying to think if she would have been allowed to have a smart phone back then, and I think maybe not. And I think she wouldn’t have argued or pouted about it, even if she were disappointed.

Her blouse was white, with a scalloped collar, something she would have worn back then if not for the school uniform. I didn’t notice her black pants or white athletic shoes until she got off at UNMH and walked south toward the UNM campus. I liked her better in her skirt and her bobby sox and saddle oxfords. But she was a college coed now, and all that grade school uniform stuff was history.

Before we got to her stop, she grabbed a backpack and stuffed her phone and earpiece into it. There may or may not have been books in there; I couldn’t tell. But I have a distinct memory of the way she and all the other girls carried their books on top of a blue, three-ring note binder, stacked in the crook of the left arm. We boys carried the same books and binders, but we carried them differently, down by our sides. I remember when we were younger, we carried them in old army surplus back packs, but somewhere along the line, backpacks became uncool and not big kid.

She was not at our fiftieth class reunion. I was quietly disappointed, but I had a great time, maybe because I wasn’t distracted. So it was good to see her this morning, looking like those fifty years hadn’t happened, and for a heartbeat, making me feel again what it was like to see her when we were both young and had no idea where it would all end up. I’m glad neither of us decided to take the car this morning.


The photo at the top of this story is titled “Feel the beat,” and is posted with the permission of Lester. You can see all Lester’s photos on Flickr here.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

BUS STORY # 431 (Making Out 21st Century Style)

"Kiss and Ride," © All Rights Reserved, by rudi_valtiner.

At first, I think it’s a mother and son sitting up front on the bench seat across from the driver.

They seem awfully close for a kid his age which looks to me like junior high. But when he leans in and kisses her on the mouth, I take a closer look.

He’s got one leg thrown over hers, and she’s running her fingers over his knee.

Not mom.

Not mom, but definitely more physically developed than him. But at that stage of life, they could very well be classmates.

He leans in for another kiss. They don’t get all twisted up with it, and half a minute later they’re apart and he’s scrolling through his smart phone.

A few minutes later, he puts the phone in his lap and leans in for another long kiss, then back to his phone. I watch this pattern repeat itself until a wheelchair boarder displaces them to the back of the bus.

Kids making out on the bus. I dispense with the socially calibrated conventions of “inappropriate PDA” and “babies making babies” before getting down to what I am really thinking.

I couldn’t have kissed a girl like that when I was that age. Of course, maybe if there had been any girls who had invited me to kiss them like that... But even if I got up the nerve, I certainly wouldn’t have been kissing anyone right there in public, on a city bus, up front where everyone was watching! Although I do recall the common sense-obliterating confluence of young desire and opportunity...

But if by some miracle I’d been granted the opportunity and seized it, I know I wouldn’t have interrupted things to scroll through my smart phone!

OK, yes, there weren’t any smart phones in my day. And I know there are a million stories offering testimony for just how incredibly attached people are to their phones despite whatever is going on right in front of them. But, c’mon! Kissing?! At that age? Somebody could’ve stolen that smart phone right out of my hands and there’s no telling how long it would’ve taken before I realized it was missing.

I am old, I am old. I cannot imagine a smart phone distracting me away from kissing a girl, especially when kissing girls is new. I am from another time.


The photo at the top of this story is titled “Kiss and Ride,” © All Rights Reserved, and is posted with the permission of rudi_valtiner. You can see all rudi_valtiner’s photos on Flickr here.