Sunday, October 04, 2015

BUS STORY # 465 (Portrait # 30: Humpty Dumpty)

Humpty Dumpty, by Barry Moser, from his Alice in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass series; downloaded from the website for R. Michelson Galleries

He’s sitting on the bench seat behind the driver, wearing a gray homburg. You don’t see homburgs much these days. It’s an old man’s hat. He’s an old man, somewhere in his 70s. Gray hair curls out from under the back of the hat.

He’s also wearing oxygen, something more commonly seen than the homburg. The tubing is attached to a cylinder which is attached to a walker. It’s a four-wheel walker, with a bench seat and a basket. The oxygen tank sits in the basket, and is secured by an orange wire attached to the frame.

He’s wearing a bright orange, roomy sweatshirt, no logo, and a pair of dark blue slacks. Gray sneakers, white tennis socks, hairless splotchy ankles between the tops of the socks and the cuffs of his slacks.

He’s egg-shaped, the egg evenly divided between the orange on top and the dark blue of those high-waisted slacks on the bottom. Humpty Dumpty. I see how fragile he really is when, at a stop, he struggles to get up. He succeeds, but he isn’t exiting, He shuffles over to the bench seat opposite him, on the passenger side. He sits back down and twists forward, so he can see out the front window.

He’s taken his right hand off the walker handle to grasp the pole by his seat, but when the bus starts up, the walker starts to roll. He grabs it in time, but you can see his whole being go into panic mode. I watch his hands now, and they are fidgety, positioning and repositioning themselves on the handles while he struggles to keep watch out the window. A few stops later, he calls out to the driver the next stop is his.

The driver kneels the bus. But at the doorway, when the old man starts pushing the walker out onto the sidewalk, the angle is still too much for the weight of the tank, and the walker starts to tip over. He pulls back on it while several of us jump up to help. The driver is right there. He keeps the walker upright and gets all four wheels onto the sidewalk. The old man stands there for a minute, catching his breath.

The driver takes his seat, but he waits until the old man starts moving before he puts the bus back in gear. The winds outside are whipping and snapping the legs of his slacks, but the homburg stays on.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

BUS STORY # 464 (The Evangelist)

Downloaded from Pinterist

A couple boards somewhere on Menaul. She’s not especially remarkable -- blondish hair, turquoise shirt, 30s. Her partner is: reddish long hair, stubble, and a wife-beater which shows off his many dragon wing tattoos.

They take an empty row and pull out smart phones.

There’s a guy sitting in the bench seat in front of the couple. I hadn’t really noticed him until he started talking to them. Big guy, corpulent. Blue satin basketball shorts with black on white stripes. White T-shirt. Baseball cap with “I love Jesus” along the brim.

What catches my attention is the word “Jesus” in whatever he is saying to them.

The woman looks back down at her phone. The man just stares at him.

He starts up again.

“Yeah, a lot of people think they’ll find happiness in sex or drugs or alcohol.” A pause. “Or a big fancy car.”

“This is my big fancy car right here,” says the tattooed guy.

His partner nudges him. It is not a “Good one” nudge; it’s a “Quit encouraging him” nudge. He looks back down at his phone.

The guy on the bench seat is silent for a while. Then he asks them, “Is there anyone in your family I can pray for?”

The man looks up. He stares for a few seconds, then replies, “No, I don’t think so.”

The guy takes this in and rides silently for a while. Then he pulls out a smart phone and starts working it for the rest of his ride.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

BUS STORY # 463 (It’s Not Easy Living On Your Own)

Downloaded from Hark.

There is a stream of boarders at the San Mateo and Menaul stop. One of them, a little abuelita in a black coat, swings into the seat beside me. She overshoots, a soft banging into my shoulder and thigh, apologizes, and settles in.

Then she leans in and apologizes again. She knows some people wouldn’t like being crashed into, and she understands why this is. It’s just that she has this hangover which is giving her no peace, and she’s trying to avoid taking another drink because she’s an alcoholic and is trying to kick the habit, so she called her sister to meet her at the Albertson’s over on Coors, but her sister hasn’t called her back and she’s wondering if she should turn around and go back home if her sister hasn’t called her back by the time she reaches Central.

She doesn’t want to go back home because there’s nothing to do there but look at the four walls or at television which is the same thing and which only makes her want to take a drink. So she decided it would be better to go cruising. She thinks she could make the ride last longer if she catches the 66 rather than the Rapid down at Central.

She doesn’t know why her sister hasn’t called her back. They used to live together, but now her sister has her own place. Sometimes she just goes to the library nearby and reads. That takes her mind off drinking.

She also volunteers at her church. Every Tuesday, she goes in and helps sort through and organize donations -- sorting the clothes by size, rolling the socks -- and then stuffing the bags according to the list: two of this, three of that, one of those... It’s a good deal because when they are finished, they get to take home for themselves stuff like dish soap and toothpaste and shampoo, so she never finds herself running out of stuff.

I pull the cord for the Lomas stop. She swings her legs out into the aisle to let me by, but she keeps talking. She interrupts herself when I’m out in the aisle and wish her luck. “Good luck to you, too,” she replies. I kinda wish I wasn’t leaving her all by herself.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

BUS STORY # 462 (Too Late)

Photo by Busboy

I see them through the window when we pull into the stop. She is facing him with her back toward me. He is facing her, and me. There is a large black purse between them on the bench.

Somewhere in their 40s is my impression. She is wearing a head scarf. He is balding, dark-skinned, but a gray rather than brown dark. He looks... determined? Anxious?

When the doors open, he reaches an open hand toward the woman. She hands him a bill. He takes it, then turns and stands in the doorway and says something to the driver.

I can’t hear what he says, but the driver says very clearly that he needs to have a laminated pass with a photo ID.

He responds, again out of my earshot. The driver responds: no. She shakes her head no.

I see him step out of the doorway and turn back toward the woman who is still waiting on the other side of the purse on the bench. His hand is still tentatively outstretched, with the bill in his hand. He looks... disappointed? Angry? No, not angry.

The doors close, the driver pulls away from the stop.

I am familiar with the driver. She’s no soft touch, but she is generous. She likes her riders and we like her. I am struck by the hard line of the tone she took this morning, no “I’m sorry, but...” I wonder if she’s dealt with him before and knows he’s trying to scam a ride. Or if one of the other drivers on the route has warned her about him. Or maybe she’s just having a bad morning.

He didn’t strike me as a scammer. There was nothing in his face or body language that betrayed “caught” when she told him he needed an ID. I thought of the unusual coloring of his skin, wondered if he were new to Albuquerque, maybe new to America. Maybe he didn’t understand what he needed, or didn’t understand how to get what he needed. Maybe he needed to get to the place where he could get what he needed. He just didn’t look like a scammer to me. He looked... “Defeated” is the word. Utterly defeated.

For a moment, I saw this small-to-me defeat as of a piece with a life gone utterly defeated. I saw myself too slow and too late to gamble on my impression and offer to pay his fare. Who knows? If I’d’ve been quicker, maybe the driver would have told me the story. Maybe he would have told me the story. Dear God, maybe I might have saved a life...

I’m just way too late this morning.

Sunday, September 06, 2015

BUS STORY # 461 (Patricia Just Left Chicago)

Chicago Transit Authority bus; downloaded from the U.S. Dept. of Transportation, Federal Transit Administration.

I’m sitting in the shelter, just waiting for the bus. A woman walks to the stop, turns around and looks back up the street, then stands in front of the other end of the bench.

She says normally, she’d walk, but it’s really hot and she thinks she’ll just wait for the bus right here.

She’s trim, with a short Afro and wraparound sunglasses. Modest tank top, shorts and sandals. A tattoo of the pink breast cancer awareness ribbon above her left breast. A script tattoo along her right neck.

She doesn’t sit. She tells me she would sure appreciate the kind of summer breeze that comes off the lake in Chicago right about now.

That’s where she’s from. She’s been here five months now, making up for lost time. She tells me it was the fear of losing her daughter that galvanized her into getting herself together and back into her daughter’s life. Her daughter’s 16 now, and she moved here with her mom. Mom is getting back into her son’s life now, and determined to be a real grandmother.

Her son has two jobs -- one for each of his girls, she says. The first girl is his from his first marriage; the second is a step-daughter from his second marriage.

She tells me how the 6-year-old just had two birthdays, because the family of the ex can’t stand the family of the second wife. So each family throws the older grandchild separate birthday parties.

She shakes her head. It’s just like Cain and Abel, in the Bible, she tells me. I’m not sure about the analogy, but I get the idea that the two families don’t get along even though the older daughter is part of both families.

She tells me that between the two families and her, those girls are well looked after. And she’s glad she’s a young grandmother -- she’s only 54 -- because she can get right down on the ground and play with them.

A car rolls by, and a kid leans out the window and yells, “Hey!” The car starts to slow.

“That’s my son!” she exclaims. She starts off toward the car, then turns back and sticks out her hand.

“My name’s Patricia,”* she says. “What’s yours?”

I tell her, and she says “I enjoyed talking with you.” Then she heads over to her son’s car.


*Real name changed.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

BUS STORY # 460 (Shorts 41)

Seen among the PSAs on an ABQ RIDE bus. Photo by Busboy.


These days, a lot of girls are wearing jeans with worn-out areas on both thighs. But you can tell they’re fake. The areas are symmetrical, the edges aren’t raggedy, the mesh is nice and tight, and the jeans are dark blue. But this morning, there’s an old guy wearing the genuine article: faded out jeans with a pair of holes with ragged edges and the web of threads irregular and gapped. And the holes aren’t over his thighs, either. They’re under his back pockets.


A girl on crutches takes the bench seat in the front. She looks like a college kid. The guy across the aisle looks like he’s rounded 60. Full head of curly gray hair. Nicely dressed. He points to her scar, visible when her crop jeans rode above her knee when she sat down, and asks her how long since her surgery. A month. He tells her he had a replacement seven years ago. The guy sitting in the first row tells him he had both his knees done 12 years ago. They start trading stories: the 12-years guy had his done two weeks apart at UNMH; the seven-year guy at Pres, and both at the same time. They move on to share other surgical milestones. The girl, meanwhile, has pulled out a paper and pulled it close to her face. But I can see her face behind the paper, and she is grinning like she’s amused by these two old guys matching their surgeries with one another, and delighted to have been displaced from the conversation so early on.


Driver to the kids getting off at the stop for Cesar Chavez Community School:
“No fighting. No talking back. Straight A’s. And let the little guys in first, OK?”
Rider, after the kids have exited: “You think they’re gonna listen?”
Driver: “Well, somebody’s got to tell them. They’re not getting this at home, or else they wouldn’t be going to school here.”
Pause. Driver continues:
“I didn’t listen when I was their age. But I didn’t get in any serious trouble. I guess I did listen to my Mom some.”
“My mom was the best, easy going…I was a rough kid.  But I didn’t kill anybody, never spent any time in jail.  I only got one ticket, when I was 18.”


The bus has taken on some passengers and is starting to pull away from the stop when a rider from the back calls out, “Someone is running!”  The driver stops.  Sure enough, a woman in a uniform of some kind goes running past our windows to the front door.  Two of us look at the rider who called out and say at the same time, “Nice catch.”  We all laugh, and the other rider adds, “We’ve all been there.

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.