Sunday, August 23, 2015

BUS STORY # 459 (A Small Miracle)

Wait! Photo by Busboy.

I’m visiting a friend across town. He doesn’t get out much for a number of health reasons, one of them an old football injury to the hip which has left him slow and hobbled. I go over on occasion and we go to the Nature Center or the small park by the Paseo del Bosque trailhead and slowly stroll between sits for a couple of hours. He gets exercise, we get companionship, and our wives get some respite.

This time, we’re not going to the Nature Center. He’s a week past getting over the flu, and his wife doesn’t think he’s ready to tackle that walk. But she does think a walk to a nearby park would be good. We’re doing that.

It’s a lovely day, really, the sun ducking in and out of soft white clouds; no wind; not too warm or too chilly. We walk across the grass for a bit. He pokes at litter with his cane and I pick it up. We deposit it at the various trash receptacles along the fence line of the park.

Later, we sit on a bench beside a playground and watch the elementary school kids at recess across the street. Recess is more organized than in our day. The kids run a lap around the field, then break into organized groups, some involving soccer balls, some bats and what we think are whiffle balls.

We follow a patrol car to the end of the street where it turns around, then parks. We watch a woman power walking, another walking a dog.

“We’re gonna get wet,” he says. He points with his cane to the sky in the northwest. Sure enough, the clouds over that way are a large dark gray mass. We watch for a bit; they are moving our way.

I am not particularly worried. When it comes to rain, Albuquerque is often a tease. We average between roughly seven to 10 inches a year, depending on where in the city you’re measuring. We’re two months away from monsoon season, and even monsoon season’s rainclouds are often much ado about nothing more than a couple minutes’ worth of sprinkles, if that.

I don’t get worried until it starts to rain.

It starts as occasional drops. Then the wind comes up for a few minutes, then the drops start falling more frequently. We take refuge under a platform with a tube slide. I stand on the side where the rain slants in and worry not just about his getting wet, but about how his wife will feel about his getting wet, especially when he’s freshly recovered from the flu.

The rain slacks off in a few minutes.

“You think we ought to head for home now?” he asks.

It’s a risk. We might have seen the worst of it, or we might have seen the sparse advance. But I can tell he’s ready to make a go of it. We start home.

We’re just out from under our shelter when I see a city bus pull up where we entered the park. I am dumbfounded. I have no idea what bus this is, no idea any bus came down this particular street. I think it would be wonderful to catch that bus, but it will be long gone by the time it will take us to get there.

The raindrops remain occasional; the bus remains where it is. We keep walking.

Eventually, I can make out the signage on the side of the bus: the lights alternately spell out “Rio Grande” and “12th Street.” I’ve ridden this route exactly one time, back in 2006. We are several blocks off Rio Grande, so I’m guessing this is part of a loop turnaround for this bus. And that is when it occurs to me the driver might be sitting there waiting for the scheduled start time to come around.

I don’t say anything. Maybe it’s because I don’t want to get my friend’s hopes up. Or maybe I don’t want to jinx whatever outside chance we have of getting to the bus before it needs to leave.

We walk slowly. The rain sprinkles. The bus stays still.

As we get closer still, I can see the driver eating his lunch. I resist the urge to speed up; I’d leave my friend behind, and then make the bus wait. Neither of these options is good. If we make it, we make it. If we don’t, así es la vida.

It seems like a miracle, but we actually reach the bus stop before he pulls away. The driver has been watching us, and he opens the door. I recognize him; I wrote a bus story about him back in 2012, when he was driving the 50. (You can read that story here.)  I tell him he may have saved us from getting soaked.

He laughs and says it wasn’t supposed to rain today.

I ask him if he stops anywhere near the elementary school which is a very short walk from my friend’s home. He says he pulls right up in front of it. I tell him we’ll take it.

He kneels the bus for my friend. I help him up, then to the bench seat, then come back to pay the fare. I put in a dollar for my friend, then pull out my bus pass.

“You don’t need that,” he says. “You’ve already paid for the both of you.”

I am momentarily puzzled.

“It’s 35 cents,” he explains.

Of course! I’m tempted to kid with him: how’d you know we were seniors? But I don’t.

I take a seat beside my friend. The driver finishes his lunch. While we are waiting, the rain starts coming down harder. It’s a pretty good rain, but, characteristically, it peters out after a couple of minutes. Being on the bus instead of out in the street seems like an extension of the miracle of the bus being there in the first place.

Our stop is the next stop. The driver kneels the bus again. When we get out, it isn’t raining anymore. We both thank the driver and wait for him to drive off. I notice the bus stop sign for the first time.

When we get back to his house, we don’t mention the rain or the bus. We’ve already had our miracle; no sense pushing our luck.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

BUS STORY # 458 (Judging A Book By Its Cover)

Photo by Busboy

It’s not that I haven’t learned this lesson before.

I’m watching a young couple with two children board the bus. He looks like a gang-banger -- big clothes, oversized flat-billed baseball cap, and a lot of tough-looking tattoos.

She has a tattoo herself, something that looks like an elaborate roseate cathedral window filling the space between the open scoopneck of her blouse and her throat.

The older kid is maybe five, with a military haircut -- shaved sides, close-cropped on top -- but with a small shock of long hair at the back of his neck.

The other kid is an infant, brought on board in a large baby buggy.

Mom and the older kid take the forward-facing seat behind the driver. Dad is looking for a lever that will raise up the bench seat on the passenger side. He’s clearly planning to park the buggy in the spot used by wheelchair riders.

But he can’t figure out the seat, so he asks the bus driver for help.

The driver turns to look at him, at the seat, and you can see from his expression that he doesn’t want to be dealing with this. “This” being what we both anticipate will be Dad’s reaction when he explains to Dad that raising the seat is for wheelchair riders, and ABQ RIDE policy is that all strollers must be vacated and folded up during the ride. A policy which is sometimes cited, and sometimes not, the latter possibly because the driver isn’t interested in a fight or in being the heavy by making the difficult situation of traveling with children even more so.

That anticipated reaction doesn’t come. Instead, Dad turns back to the buggy and lifts the infant out of it, holds it in front of him -- I think it’s a boy -- and smiles, gives him a big kiss, then hands him to mom. It’s a gentle exchange.

Then he tries to collapse the stroller. Tries and tries and tries. He doesn’t lose his temper, or even show any outward sign of irritation. But he has no luck.

His wife asks him to take the infant and she’ll try to make the stroller collapse. I’m thinking she is essentially offering to succeed where he has failed, in front of him and the rest of us. I am thinking this is a machismo minefield, and that either she’s not thinking or else she knows her man well.

I can see the red button on the handle that she presses over and over and over while pushing down on the frame. She has no more success than her husband. She sits back down.

I expect them to give up, but dad hands the infant back to his wife, then goes after the stroller again. I’m thinking they’re gonna reach their stop before they get the thing collapsed.

He moves his hand down one of the wheel supports and just like that, the stroller folds up. He stacks it in front of the window seat on the passenger side, and takes the aisle seat.

The older boy wants his mom’s attention, and he gets it. I can see her bend down to his level, face to face, both of them smiling and talking. Dad suggests he hold the infant, and she hands it off, then resumes her interactions with her son.

Dad holds the infant high in the air, brings him down and kisses him with a loud “mwumph.” He does this several times. The infant’s face looks happy.

A little later, I see Mom and Dad talking across the aisle to one another. They are quiet, respectful of one another.

They’re still on board when I get to my stop. I head down the cross street for where my transfer will be pulling up. When I sit down on the bench, I think about what I saw, about how surprised I was, and why.

What I saw was a considerate, well-behaved, attentive family. I was surprised because I saw the gang-banger clothes and tattoos.

I don’t know that I’ll ever get past this business of “judging a book by its cover.” That’s what my grandmother called jumping to conclusions about a person based on his or her appearance.

On the other hand, she also used to say “Birds of a feather flock together.” If I’ve bought into the stereotype of thuggish menace modeled in hip hop video and cop show television, so have millions of not-inner-city and not-black youngsters who’ve adopted “gangsta style.” Couple that with a steady news stream of gang violence and it is difficult not to make the association between the style and the behaviors -- at least as a first impression.

But my experience is these behaviors are the exception. Most of the time, I see the style in kids who are, at worst, thoughtless -- that is, normal teenagers. Half a century ago, someone my age might have looked at a kid with long hair and seen an anti-American bomb-throwing radical hippie Communist.

I don’t want to be that kind of old man.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

BUS STORY # 457 (Cathy’s Bus Story # 1: In Italy, You Can Get There From Here -- On The Bus)

Downloaded from *Logged*: Cinque Terre -- Day 17

My two cousins took a trip to Italy together, and recently, one of them described their adventures which happened to include a charming bus story.

They had taken the train to the town of Cinque Terre with the name and a picture of the hotel they had booked back in the States. When they got off the train, they didn’t see any bus stops, but they did see a long row of taxis. They had hoped to avoid the taxis because they understood the fare would be expensive. But with no alternate transportation in sight, they decided to bite the bullet.

However, when they went over to the taxi stand, there was no one around. Cathy figured it must be siesta time. She had her sister go back into the train station to ask about other transportation. When her sister came back, Cathy asked her what she had found out.

“I couldn’t understand a word she said.”

As if on cue, a bus pulled up in front of them. Cathy went to the front door and showed the driver the picture of their hotel. The driver shook his head “no.” Unfortunately, Cathy spoke no Italian and the driver no English. Once they both realized further efforts to communicate were hopeless, the driver closed the door and pulled away.

And then stopped.

The driver was waving them back to the bus. After a brief debate between the sisters (“It doesn’t go there.” “He wants us to come.”), they went to the front door. He motioned them aboard, and they boarded. They eventually ended up at a place with a well-marked bus stop and the driver indicated they should get out here.

Cathy remembers their bus had a letter rather than a number, and that the bus stop had a list of the buses that stopped there. Their driver’s bus letter was not on that list.

When the next bus came, they again showed the picture of the hotel to the driver, and he motioned them aboard. A co-rider who spoke some English directed them to stay on the bus when they got to the stop where everyone got off.

This they did.

And, sure enough, when the bus finally resumed it’s route, a long and winding uphill climb brought them to the front door of their hotel.

Cathy says she is sure the first driver left his regular route to get them to the bus stop where they could get to where they were going.

She loves Italy.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

BUS STORY # 456 (There’s Ladies And There’s Maybe’s)

Cloud Strife, from Final Fantasy VII; downloaded from Giant Bomb

The doors have just shut, and the bus starts pulling away from the stop when we catch sight of the girl running past our windows toward the front door. Several of us call out to the driver who starts to stop, then realizes he’s out into the intersection. He reaccelerates and there is a kind of collective groan. She was so close!

But once he clears the intersection, he pulls over to the curb and waits. We wait till she crosses the street and runs to the door. She trips over a raised concrete block in the sidewalk, but she stays upright and moving.

Once inside, we can see her thanking the driver, then paying her fare. When she walks down the aisle, it’s as if she senses we were pulling for her. Or maybe the driver told her we’d raised the alarm for her. In any case, she does the figurative wiping of the sweat from her brow: “That was close!”

When I reach my stop, I go forward rather than exit through the rear door. I thank the driver for waiting for the girl. He starts chuckling, then says, “It wasn’t anything.” I head out the door.

As luck would have it, I catch the same driver on the return trip. He laughs when he sees me and says, “Hello, again.” After I swipe my card, he says, “You know that girl that almost missed the bus?”

Sure I do.

“Well, she wasn’t a girl.”

“You’re kidding.”

He says he thought it was a girl, too, until “she” stayed by the till after paying the fare to thank him. “It was obvious then,” he said.

He chuckles. It’s a good guy’s chuckle.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

BUS STORY # 455 (Portrait # 29: A Mystery For Sure)

"Bus Stop Legs," by Dave King of IdeaJoy.

Well, he pushed his old straw hat back and he grinned
And he said, “Ain’t they all a mystery? Sonny, it’s a sin
They’re all sittin’ on the world we’re tryin’ to win
Ah, but you know I love a mystery
So let’s drink another round, you and me, to them.”
-- Ed Bruce, from “Girls, Women, and Ladies”

She’s a sight.

She’s gotta be in her 50s. Dyed red-brown hair, long, but pulled up in back, then free-falling down the left side of her head.

Black plastic sunglasses, not the big-lensed movie star kind.

The rest of her face is deeply lined, like a chronic smoker’s.

Turquoise tank top with skinny, old lady arms, and reddened, leathery neck and chest.

Blue plaid shorts.

Not short shorts.

But short.

And tight.

Poking out from underneath the shorts on each leg is a band of black lace.

Yes, that's black lace.

Further down, knee-high black support hose.

White, old fashioned Adidas sports shoes with the diagonal stripes. I haven’t seen those in decades.

But here’s the deal: between the tops of those socks and the edge of the black lace, she’s got somebody else’s legs. That somebody has to be half her age, and is gonna have to be a knockout if she’s gonna belong to those legs.

But she doesn’t engage in any of the gestures that would tell you, as ZZ Top puts it, she knows how to use them.

I assume she’s consciously dressed to feature her best-looking self --at least that self between the lace and the knee-highs. But there is no accounting for the rest of her.

She’s not just a sight. Like Ed Bruce knows, she’s a mystery.


The photo at the top of this story is titled “Bus Stop Legs,” and is posted with the permission of Dave King. You can see all Dave King’s photos on Flickr here.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

BUS STORY # 454 (One Classy Bag Lady)

Downloaded from the Daily Mail

We took the 11 to the ATC where we caught the Rail Runner to Santa Fe. We planned to go to an evening concert, stay the night, then take the early afternoon train back to Albuquerque.

While waiting on the platform, huddled under the shade cast by a kiosk, we got to talking -- or rather, listening -- to a woman who had just overnighted here in Albuquerque.

She was probably in her early seventies. Her face reminded me a lot of my maternal grandmother, although her hair was tailored and we think she had some eye work done. She was dressed simply but elegantly in a sage green sleeveless blouse and above-the-knee loose shorts. Understated silver earrings and bracelet. In short, “classy.” So it was amusingly incongruous that her carry-on was a grocery bag full of clothes and shoes!

While we were waiting, she pulled out a pair of cowboy boot clogs and told us she’d found them in a very nice second-hand shop -- a real bargain, she explained.

We were also amused by her stories, so much so that we invited her to sit with us when the train came. That allowed for enough time to hear her more interesting life story unfold.

She was visiting old friends in Santa Fe, but had come to Albuquerque to visit an old girl friend from school. She’d flown in from Atlanta -- she described the wonderful MARTA train that rockets you directly into the airport -- but she told us she’d lived in Albuquerque before moving to Atlanta.

We asked what she’d done here.

She practiced law. She explained she’d been a bit of a gypsy in her youth, moving around from place to place and job to job until someone suggested she go to law school. She said it was like a little bell going off in her head -- “ding-ding-ding-ding-ding.”

We asked what she specialized in.

Family law. She told us she’d sworn she would never practice family law, but she saw an opportunity to make a real difference in real people’s lives. But it ruined her chances for remarriage. “Once they hear you’re a divorce attorney, they’re gone.”

So was she practicing law in Atlanta?

No, she was not. She’d looked into it, but there were so many little county courthouses she’d have to get to in her everyday practice, she’d be spending more time in her car than in her office or in the courtroom. Here in Albuquerque, there was just the one courthouse, which made so much more sense to her.

What she was doing in Atlanta was teaching math, an early first love. She told us it was the next best thing to a permanent vacation. Her other job in Atlanta was protecting her “good-looking wonderful grandson” from “those gold-digging” southern sorority girls. His choosing to go to college there was why she’d moved.

She explained she’d raised him from early childhood, fallout from the ill-advised marriage of her troubled daughter. She told us it was the best thing she’d ever done, and that raising him has been “a joy.” Watching her expression while she showed my wife his picture on her iPhone, I had no doubt he truly is her pride and joy.

She left us at the South Capitol stop. A fellow attorney who’d “retired” to Santa Fe “but still goes into the office every day” was meeting her. They were joining a group of friends who were heading out for Abiquiú. They are all gourmet cooks, she explained, and they like to drink. She just eats what they cook and does the driving.

It was hard to tell if her heart was still here or back in Atlanta. I think it’s probably wherever her grandson is, wherever that may be.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

BUS STORY # 453 (Will’s Bus Story # 2)

The 257 express to Horseshoe Bay. Photo by Busboy.

Mrs. B and I stayed in Vancouver’s West End for a few days visiting our old friends, Will and Carol. Will has been reading my bus stories from before there was a blog. He also contributed a fine bus story of his own early in the series that you can read here.

We have visited them in Vancouver many times since, but we’d never used TransLink, the Vancouver public transit system. Will rectified the unfortunate omission with a bus trip from the West End to Horseshoe Bay, where we took a ferry to Bowen Island.

What a ride! The 257 express crosses Lion’s Gate bridge, travels a roadway lined with trees, the occasional gap giving us glimpses of the bay beyond, then leaves the roadway for a street winding through a heavily-shaded, lushly landscaped residential area down to the ferry docks. This route has to be one of most beautiful municipal bus routes in the northern hemisphere.

View through the windows of the 257 from Lions Gate Bridge. Photo by Busboy.

A glimpse of the bay along the roadway. Photo by Busboy.

Leaving the roadway for the scenic route down to the ferry dock. Photo by Busboy.

Before boarding, Will handed us our tickets (pre-purchased!) and a “loonie” (A Canadian dollar coin) to cover the zone change. We boarded a standing-room-only articulated bus full of folks, some tourists, some locals, but the majority of whom were also taking advantage of the weather to visit the bay area.

When a seat became open beside a woman who looked to be our ages, Will took the seat and got his bus story, which he shared with us while we waited for the ferry.

The woman was on her way to Nanaimo, a town on Vancouver Island, to pay taxes on her house there. She bought the house way back when for $17,000 Canadian, and no one had a clue what would happen to real estate values in the Vancouver area.

She was a retired marriage counselor, that career a second one after having been a human development researcher. But, she told Will, neither of these was her first calling.

She had a horse when she was a young girl, and decided then that she wanted to be a stock breeder. She was taking piano lessons at the time, and one day, her teacher told her she was gifted, and that diligent practice would likely lead to a career as a concert pianist. The girl then confided her real desire. The teacher dismissed the confidence as a silly idea. She told Will she considered the teacher’s response, then got up and walked out, never to return.

If she ever pursued her original calling, Will didn’t hear the story. But she did tell him she still plays the piano, and performs with a group of local musicians.