Sunday, August 24, 2014

BUS STORY # 407 (Yes, We Have New Buses)

New Flyer Xcelsior®, one of the new 600 series on the streets of Albuquerque.  Photo by busboy. 

This past Wednesday, I finally caught my first ride on one of the new buses. They are sweet.

Back in May, three months after I’d heard the rumor, ABQ RIDE announced we were getting 21 new buses to replace some of the aging 300 series. The 300s have been workhorses, but they lumber and wheeze, the air conditioning leaves a lot to be desired, and I’m guessing their breakdown rate has made them increasingly unreliable.

The new buses are made by New Flyer, the same company that made our current 700 and 900 series, as well as our 60-foot articulated Rapid Ride buses. But ABQ RIDE opted for a newer model, the Xcelsior. Our new 600 series uses compressed natural gas rather than the hybrid diesel-electric system. One of the first things I noticed was that the new bus is quieter; no more high-pitched conversation-obliterating hybrid whine.

The seats are more comfortable, too; best back support ever. There are 39 of them, 3 less than on the 300 series buses. (On the other hand, there is no room to put your bags down in front of you.)

I rode # 605, with the image of one of the gondolas of the Sandia Peak Tramway on it. There are seven other images of scenes that have made Albuquerque famous, none of which reference “Breaking Bad.” The image on # 607 in the photo above is one of the towers on the 321-year-old San Felipe de Neri Church on the north side of Old Town Plaza.

There is also the new livery seen on the bus above, and the new logo. These are fun, but a bus you can count on arriving on time, which has good air-conditioning and also happens to be quieter and more comfortable, is the real star of this show. Speaking as a rider, of course.

Old livery and logo (rear window) on one of the 700 series.

New logo; downloaded from Mass Transit.


Here is a link for gearheads interested in the specs: Xcelsior® Specifications

Sunday, August 17, 2014

BUS STORY # 406 (An Exchange)

Downloaded from FemSide.

He’s a regular, although I don’t see him regularly. But I’ve seen him enough times over the years to know which route he takes and where he gets off.

Today, I see him get on the Green Line downtown at the ATC. He’s a pretty big guy, with long hair and a long beard, and an enormous backpack that’s seen a lot of wear and tear. Gray baseball cap, and today, a denim work shirt and gray jeans. Boots. Always the boots.

I’ve heard rumors he hikes into the foothills where he camps out. Something about him suggests he has a regular job. It’s an interesting combination.

Today he’s sitting in a seat in front of an exit door, reading. I’m sitting across the aisle from him when I see in my peripheral vision a thin, black-sleeved arm reach down over his shoulder. At the end of the arm is a girl’s hand, and inside the hand is a folded bill.

He looks surprised, and turns to look back at her. It is possible the girl says something to him, but the bus is too loud (or her voice is too soft) to tell. Then he takes the bill, puts it into his shirt pocket, and resumes his reading.

A few minutes later, he puts the book down, reaches over into his backpack, and pulls out a small, thin, brown book which suggests either a collection of Bible verses or else a pocket-sized copy of the Constitution. He turns in his seat and hands it to the girl.

They exchange a couple of sentences I cannot make out, and he returns once again to his book.

When she exits later, there are no goodbyes, no acknowledgments of any kind.

“Drug deal?” asks my wife, when I tell her the story.

“I thought about that, but It just didn’t feel like it,” I tell her. I tell her that, after the girl got off, I really wanted to lean over and ask him what that exchange was all about.

Maybe my wife is right. Maybe I’m just naive. Or maybe I just want a more interesting story than a drug deal on the city bus.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

BUS STORY # 405 (Portrait # 27: Time Traveler)

Principal R. E. Jacobs of Sabine Normal and Industrial Institute.  Downloaded from Documenting the American South: History of Louisiana Negro Baptists From 1804 to 1914

I don’t see him until he’s coming down the aisle to exit the rear door. I register “black male” before I see his hair. Combed back flat against his head with a high part, pomade shiny, the kinks not entirely suppressed. (Think young Duke Ellington.)

The word that surfaces is “Colored.”

Now I see a black man, maybe in his 40s, maybe five nine, a hundred and fifty. Just a blip on the radar were it not for the hair. And the suit coat. And the latter not just because it’s August in Albuquerque.

It’s black, with pinstripes. When he gets to the back door, I see he’s got the trousers as well. The suit fits, but is old and worn. The jacket is double-vented.

His shirt is dark purple, open-collared. My memory gets confused. Would I have seen that shirt under a suit coat some 50-plus years ago on a bus in Dallas?

I go straight to his feet, and immediately hear Bo Diddley exclaim “Them’s brogans.” They are dress shoes, appropriate for the suit, and every bit as worn and rundown.

He is carrying something in his left hand, and I have already seen in my mind’s eye a carpet bag. In paisley. An elaborate but tired orange paisley... But when my real eye moves from the shoes to the bag, it is a gray duffel with blue ends, faded and frayed.

He is standing at the back door now, and I can see his face in profile. Lots of small, long-healed nicks scattered across his face. Not expressionless, but nothing I can read, either.

All of this has happened in approximately 60 seconds.

The doors open, and he steps out onto the sidewalk. I watch him look around, and at this point, I’ve superimposed my story on him. He’s looking around because he’s not sure which way he’s supposed to go. He just got here, of course, and by “here” I don’t just mean Albuquerque. I also mean the twenty-first century, no matter where he’s come from. He’s in Albuquerque because he’s already figured out the Great Migration north is long over, and the future is out west.

Maybe he’s got family here. I think about folks from New Orleans displaced by Katrina, and I wonder if he’s got an address for a cousin, an uncle, a nephew... As the bus starts to pull away, he turns south and begins walking.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

BUS STORY # 404 (Let's Be Careful Out There)

We’ve pulled up to the intersection of Lomas and Louisiana. Two people get off and head into the crosswalk parallel with the bus. The signal light shows they have the right of way.

Suddenly, a car speeds around the driver's side of the bus, then cuts sharply right, through the intersection and right in front of our driver, and almost takes out the lead pedestrian. The car, a flashy yellow number, swerves just enough to miss the pedestrian. The bus driver, meanwhile, is really laying into the horn.

Those of us on the left side saw what the car did; those on the right what the car almost did. Everyone is talking, and we put together what happened.

“California plates,” says one rider, in a tone that implies “Wouldn’t you know?

What I know is I’ve seen auto drivers pull this same maneuver two times before since I began riding the bus. I can’t tell you what the plates were, but the odds are slim all three were California.

I still remember the first time, several years back. The bus was rolling down Copper toward Tramway when a car shot past on the left and then across the front of the moving bus and on up north on Tramway. Our driver was rattled. She stopped the bus, shot out of her seat and stood in the aisle facing us with her arms extended, crying out, “Did you see that? Did you see that?

Meanwhile, back at the Lomas-Louisiana intersection, I’m getting off on the far side along with another rider. We both walk over to the Rapid stop where the other two rider-pedestrians who crossed the intersection are already waiting.

“That guy almost took you out.”

“Yeah, I guess. I didn’t really know what was happening.”

“Did you see the look the driver gave our driver? Like ‘What’s your problem?’ ”

Heads shake in wonder.

The Rapid shows up a few minutes later, and we all board, still talking about our co-rider’s close call.

I’d gotten off on the far side intentionally, to avoid crossing the intersection on foot. It’s a tactic I picked up during my first year of using the bus: never cross an intersection if you can avoid it; if you can’t, cross only in one place if you can. Those L-shape crossings double your risk of being taken out by a car or truck.

And it’s not because all those drivers are from California.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

BUS STORY # 403 (You Know My Name)

Hello Kitty Rides the Bus.  Downloaded from

But you don’t have to call me “Darlin’,” Darlin’
You never even called me by my name

-- Steve Goodman and John Prine, from “You Never Even Call Me By My Name”

He’s a big dude.

I watch him slide his bus pass through the slot, then take a bench seat right in front of me.

Shaved head, part of a solid black tattoo coming out of his faded black T-shirt and covering his left jugular. Blue jeans with knee pads strapped on.

Big, and in good shape.

We come to a stop where two of the boarders are women, one young with a stroller, one old with a walker. He gets up and heads for the back, leaving the bench seat empty.

The young woman takes the just-emptied bench seat in front of me; the older woman takes the bench directly across the aisle.

The older woman looks like a character. She’s got a wrist full of colorful red rubber bracelets, and she’s wearing red sunglasses with “Hello Kitty” stamped in white on the temples.

Shortly afterwards, I hear “How’re you doin’ this morning, beautiful?”

It is a funny little high-pitched voice, like a daddy talking to his little girl.

I figure someone is on his cell, but he keeps repeating the greeting.

Next thing I know, the big guy has come back up to the front. He sits down next to me and leans out toward the old woman with the walker.

“Aren’t you gonna say good morning to me, beautiful?”

The old woman looks over as if she is dealing with a maniac, then breaks out in a big smile. She says she didn’t recognize him.

They exchange a few words, then he tells her he’s sorry, but he doesn’t remember her name.

She says he knows her name.

No, he doesn’t.

Yes he does.

Really, he doesn’t.

“You know my name. We go to the same church.”

He shrugs his shoulders and returns to the back of the bus.

Later, when she is getting off at her stop, he calls out, “Have a good day, beautiful.” She waves back, then maneuvers the walker off the bus and onto the sidewalk.


The photo at the top of this page was downloaded from

Sunday, July 20, 2014

BUS STORY # 402 (Quitting Stories)

“Quit-it,” © All Rights Reserved, a photograph by Alan Cottam.

“Did I miss the bus?”

The woman is jaywalking across Lomas, holding a plastic cup of water which I’m assuming she got from the Burger King across the street.

She’s wearing a black leotard under blue denim overalls shorts. 50-something, skinny and wrinkled the way a hard life of drinking and smoking tends to make people. She has the chronic smoker’s voice.

I tell her I just got here, and I didn’t see our bus either going or coming.

She says there was a woman sitting where I am now when she went to get water. The bus must have come when she was inside the Burger King.

She sits down. Her long brown hair is tied in a ponytail and, along with her chattiness, makes her seem younger than she probably is. I think of one of my granddaughters, actually. Then I hope I’m not looking into the future.

She tells me she’s been on the wagon for five months now. Doesn’t miss it at all. She pulls a cigarette stump out of her pocket, lights it with a red plastic lighter that misfires a couple of times.

It’s just having to have that glass in your hand, she says. Although every once in a while she’ll take a sip of an ice cold beer. Tastes so good! But that’s it, no more than a sip. It was the seizures that got her to stop. She didn’t even know she had one.

She gets up and looks westward. She thinks the bus must have come early.

I tell her that means we probably have about 20 more minutes to wait.

She talks about the drivers. She says there’s good ones and bad ones, just like the riders. We have to put up with them, but they have to put up with us, too. She tells me about the time she was trying to catch the last 157 of the night. It was at the stop when her connection arrived, and the driver waited to see if anyone was trying to make that connection. God bless you, she told the 157 driver.

And then she told me the story of how she saw another driver quit on the job.

He was on his cell phone and a rider objected to his driving and being on the phone. The driver told him it was an emergency. The rider said he didn’t want to become another emergency because the driver was driving and on the phone. Then the rider called 911. She tells me the cops came, and the driver pulled over by the Albertson’s, announced he quit, and just walked off the bus.

About that time, our bus pulls up to the light at our intersection. It couldn’t have been more than ten minutes now.

I wait for her to board first, but she waives me on; she hasn’t gotten her pass or her money out of her change purse. I take an empty seat by the back door. She takes an empty seat at the front.

We get to her stop first. As she’s leaving, she looks back my way. I smile and wave. She smiles and waves back. God bless you, sweetheart, I think, half about her, half about my granddaughter. Magical thinking, I tell myself, but this doesn’t feel like the time to quit.


The photo at the top of this story is titled “Quit-it,” © All Rights Reserved, and is posted with the permission of Alan Cottam. You can see all Alan Cottam's photos on Flickr here.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

BUS STORY # 401 (Plan Your Ride)

I still remember the time I planned a one-day “in and out” trip to Seattle using only the public transportation system. Since there would be no time lost or saved, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to experiment, and also to save myself the expense (and headache) of renting a car. Why not try taking the bus?

I remember bringing up the King County Metro website and being flabbergasted they had a trip planning program; just type in where you were coming from and where you were going to, and the website told you what bus to catch when and where. Amazing!

Even more amazing: it worked!

I returned to Albuquerque thinking how much more likely a trip planner would make using the bus here.

At the time I started riding, ABQ RIDE was not as new-rider friendly as it is now. I’d been using the system almost exclusively for getting to work in the various areas around town, and by now I knew my routes by heart. But learning and initially using those routes was something different.

I recalled how difficult and anxiety-laced my experience had been figuring out those routes, first in planning the route from the different schedules (which, on line, could not be placed next to one another to match arrival and departure times), and then actually using the bus the first few times on an unfamiliar route. Keep in mind that our annunciator system was not as advanced as it is now. You had to keep a sharp eye on the street signs and have some idea of where your stop was.

And then, we got a trip planner.

I’m sure I was one of the first users because of the great experience I’d had with Seattle’s Metro. Unfortunately, our new trip planner was a good deal clunkier than Seattle’s. And there were bugs.

On the positive side, ABQ RIDE invited people to point out the problems. I did mine, and they were fixed. And I got a thank you from ABQ RIDE for taking the time to point out the problems. There was no question ABQ RIDE wanted the system to work.

Last summer, in San Francisco, I learned the marvelous smart phone resource of Google Maps for using public transportation wherever you found yourself. San Francisco was a great place to discover the app: we had options for rides just minutes apart. MUNI and Google Maps were magic!

Today, ABQ RIDE has three trip planning resources: it’s own trip planner,  Google Maps,  and HopStop.

Of the three, the ABQ RIDE app is the clunkiest, but now that I know its idiosyncrasies, and also that it is reliable, it is my go-to app for planning a trip from home. Google Maps is for everywhere else. And HopStop I would have considered superfluous until I discovered it has capacities the other two don’t.

I was meeting a former co-worker and fellow retiree for lunch one Wednesday at O’Neill’s Pub on Central, where there is a good selection of beers on tap and one of the best green chile cheeseburgers in the city.

We were meeting at 11:30, and I already knew my route: take the 11 to Louisiana, then the Red Line to Nob Hill, then the 66 back to O’Neill’s. All I needed was the time I should catch the 11.

To my great surprise, neither the ABQ RIDE trip planner nor Google Maps had a route using the Rapid Ride. HopStop did. And they even had a second option where I could take the 157 instead of the Red Line.

Who knew?

There’s something else HopStop does. It provides a detailed stop-by-stop route. This is useful if your stop is not one of the major intersections. Using HopStop, you can count the number of stops between the last major intersection and your middle-of-the-route stop, then just count off the stops as they roll by. Or you can get the name of the street at the stop before yours and watch for it.

Detail from the HopStop route planner. by busboy4
Detail from the HopStop route planner., a screenshot by busboy4 on Flickr.

Google Maps does something similar in that it shows blue icons for the bus stops themselves. You can manipulate the map to see the same things HopStop shows you on a list, and calculate your stop accordingly.

All in all, these apps have made using public transportation in Albuquerque pretty easy. I use them for almost every trip I make that isn’t one of my same-time-same-station runs.

Thank you, ABQ RIDE.