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.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

BUS STORY # 400 (Shorts 36)

"Bus Ad,"  © All Rights Reserved, by Susie.


I board, and I notice the bowl of cereal in the driver’s lap. With milk in it, and a spoon. I swipe my badge, take a seat, and think, “My driver’s not texting.”


Sitting next to me on the Rapid heading for UNM this morning: a young woman going through homemade flash cards with diagrams of chemical reactions.


I watch the guy board, walk to the back, go up the steps to the rear platform, spot an empty bench seat between two other riders, walk up to that seat, stop, lean over and inspect it closely, then turn around and sit. New to Albuquerque, I think. But not to riding the bus in someplace like, say, San Francisco Spokane.


We’ve pulled up to the route turnaround. The driver opens the doors, takes the measure of the trash can sitting outside the doors beside the bus stop sign, then pulls a wad of gum out of his mouth. He shoots. He scores!


We get to the intersection of Central and Louisiana, and the articulated bus brakes abruptly in mid-bend. A pedestrian, on a cell, started across the street against the light, in front of the turning bus. He had the phone in his left hand, which put his left arm up in such a position that it may have blocked the turning bus out of his peripheral vision. Still, he was crossing against the light and the flow of traffic. Either a case of distracted pedestrian or the-world-stops-for-me jaywalker. Either way, the bus driver has just extended the temporary survival of one of Darwin’s less-than-fittest.


The photo at the top of this story is titled “Bus Ad,” © All Rights Reserved, and is posted with the permission of Susie. You can see Susie’s photostream on Flickr here.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

BUS STORY # 399 (Train Game)

ABQ RIDE commuter shuttle at the Rail Runner station at The Journal Center.  Downloaded from the New Mexico Rail Runner Express's Photos. by busboy4
ABQ RIDE commuter shuttle at the Rail Runner station at The Journal Center. Downloaded from the New Mexico Rail Runner Express's Facebook Timeline Photos.

We went up to Santa Fe at the end of January to support the Alzheimer’s Association’s lobbying effort to persuade the state legislature to fully fund the state plan for Alzheimer’s.

Neither of us had been to the state capitol building, never mind called on our particular senator and representative during a legislative session. Both were quite an experience.

We took the Rail Runner.

It’s a sweet deal. Our tickets were $7.00 apiece after the dollar discount for ordering online, and another dollar discount for being old guys -- excuse me, Senior Citizens. That ticket includes free bus fare in both Albuquerque and Santa Fe.

We took the 11 directly to the Albuquerque Transit Center where we caught the train north. In Santa Fe, in addition to the bus system, there is a free shuttle from the depot to different areas around the downtown. The capitol building is one of those stops.

After business was taken care of, we had lunch, then made the rounds of our favorite places before heading back to the Santa Fe Depot.

Once we were back on the train, we started playing cards to pass the time.

When the conductor came by to check our tickets, he asked us what we were playing. That got us into a discussion of card games and board games, then games played with grandchildren. We traded our experiences of playing a familiar game made unfamiliar by an alternate set of rules our grandchildren had devised all by themselves.

He told us he’s getting his grandchildren hooked on Mexican Train. He said the toughest part was getting them used to the idea that a game could be played by more than one person at a time, on a table and not on a screen, and unaccompanied by beeps and boops and bells and whistles. When they’re at Grampa’s house, they play Grampa’s games.

His real love is chess, he confided. The kids just aren’t ready for chess yet. But there is this passenger, an older woman, who does play chess. Somewhere along the line, she brought a magnetic travel chessboard with her one trip, and they began playing.

They developed a pattern. The game stopped when she reached her stop, and he kept the chessboard with the magnetized figures in place until her return trip home.

One night, there was an emergency on the train, and he hurriedly put the board in a compartment before attending to business. Long story short, he lost the board. He not only could not recall which compartment he’d put it in, he couldn’t even remember the number of the car.

Fortunately, one of the cleaning crews had saved it, and he got it back. But they had to start a new game, he laughed. He told us he expected to see her on one of the runs tonight.

He also told us she was planning to retire soon. We asked what he would do without his chess partner. He thought maybe, just maybe, she’d keep riding anyway, for the game.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

BUS STORY # 398 (What? Me Worry?)

Downloaded from Impact Lab

I learned this morning just how seasoned an ABQ RIDE veteran rider I am.

I was taking the 11 westbound to downtown when I noticed the bus wasn’t turning south on Second like it was supposed to.

Several of my co-riders noticed, too, and they called out to the driver she’d missed her turn.

I wasn’t one of them.

I knew this driver. I knew she’d done several tours on the 11 route, and that she was a good driver with common sense, a good personality, and a good rapport with her riders. I didn’t think she had missed her turn, or had decided to hijack the bus and drive us all to Arizona. She was detouring for what I was confident was a good reason. I felt no concern whatsoever.

Sure enough, she explained a water main had broken downtown, and all buses were being detoured around the Second Street approach to the ATC. End of story.

The incident did bring to mind my experience with another driver’s detour when I was still a greenhorn and too entertained by what was happening to be anxious. You can read that story here.

And then there’s the story of the driver who really did miss his turn, and whose correction made even the stone-faced security guard laugh out loud. You can read that story here.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

BUS STORY # 397 (Raising Baby)

Downloaded from the Yunnan-Guizhou Tourism Geography Network.

A couple boards the bus, the gal with a baby, the guy with a stroller. They sit on the bench seat up front.

He’s got big pants, a white T-shirt, a buzz cut, tattoos on both arms, and script tattooed along his left jugular. She’s got black jeans and a print, modestly scoop-necked blouse with an elaborate tattoo rising out of the scoop.

The kid is less than a year, cute as a button. He’s sitting on mom’s lap, looking happy and content.

The next thing I realize about the couple is that they’re talking to one another. I can’t hear what they’re saying, but what I mean is they’re talking to one another like they’re not married. There’s too much attentiveness, too much animation and balance.

The guy reaches over and puts his hand on the kid’s head, then covers the kid’s face with it and shakes it a little. He makes baby talk while he’s doing this, and I can see the kid trying to squirm out of the hand.

He quits, then does it again. Mom doesn’t look the least bit perturbed. She’s watching the baby the whole time, and appears to be enjoying all this.

Then the guy does a kind of polk-tickle-polk-tickle, pulling back with his hands in a fighting stance, then back to the polk-tickle. The kid flails both hands toward the guy’s. Both grown-ups laugh approvingly.

At first, I am uncomfortable with what I’m seeing. It feels like there’s a cruel, even violent edge to the play. I find myself thinking about how the guy himself was probably raised, about the environment they’ve grown up in, about how the kid is learning early it’s a tough life and you gotta be able to take care of yourself...

But then I see the kid is smiling. He doesn’t look upset, or like he wants to cry. I’ve seen him frown, as if to work out what’s happening here, then try and deal with it, first by evasion, and when that didn’t work, by meeting it head on. But I can see in his face this is a game, and he’s up for it.

The game stops, and he tries to stand up. He’s up for just a moment, then topples into mom. Both mom and the guy let him know how much they approve this effort, what a good kid he is. He smiles big. At both of them, so I know he isn’t just taking refuge in mom.

The guy pulls the cord and starts to get up. She says something to him, and he starts searching his voluminous pants pockets. He finally finds what he’s looking for and hands her a cigarette. As he’s walking toward the door, I hear her say, “Call me.” And then she takes the kid’s hand and waves it after the guy. “Goodbye, Gino.* Goodbye, Gino. Goodbye, Gino.”

Husband? Probably not. Brother? Cousin? Boyfriend? She wishes? I don’t know.

What I do know is the kid is loved. I know this from watching him the whole time, and when I think about it, from mom, too. And I’m surprised. It’s not the way I’d do it. But the bus never seems to get tired of showing me how much bigger the world is than mine.


* Real name changed.