Sunday, September 24, 2006

BUS STORY # 6, Part 2 (Dan)

One morning I found my neighbor perched atop the bus stop bench as usual. Monsoon season had just started, so the mornings were cool. He was wearing jeans instead of shorts, and an anorak over his T-shirt. I thought, “That’s different.”

We exchanged good mornings, then I pulled something to read out of my bag and sat down. He looked over and said, “Can I ask you something?” The words were abrupt, clipped, a bit wired. I said “Sure” and wouldn’t have been surprised to hear “What are you doing at my bus stop?”

“Do you work at Sandia?”

“No,” I replied. “I work for one of the local HMOs.”

His face fell a bit.

“How about you?” I asked.

“At Kirtland.” Pause. “I thought you might be an engineer or analyst, something like that.”

“Funny thing. I am an analyst -- a systems analyst for a computerized clinical charting system.”

His face brightened. “That would fit.” Pause. “I can usually tell.”

“So how could you tell?”

He began describing Freud and Jung’s theories of human behavior and their consequent falling out; how Jung’s four archetypes were refined into sixteen variations by Myers and Briggs; how his own independent studies and observations had helped him to hone his abilities to first learn what to observe, then how to deduce from those observations.

“So are you a psychologist?”

He laughed. “I’m in lasers.” He then described his academic career – largely math and physics which were “pretty rote stuff” but gave him access to the university library and independent study courses. He learned German as part of his post-grad requirements – but also so he could read Goethe’s treatises on science unmuddied by English translations. He was sardonically amused by the reactions of most of his co-workers to various observations Goethe had made. Which led him to explain two ways he’d learned to analyze the research workplace: divided among: 1) scientists – playing, mostly; interested in something because how things work is intrinsically interesting; engineers – don’t care how or why something works, let’s just git-r-built; bureaucrats – getting a job in on time and within budget is the true meaning of life (“These are the guys who think if an experiment doesn’t support the thesis, it’s a failure.”); 2) the creative folks – restless and restricted by their job and itching to find a better environment; the vested – curiosity extinguished, comfortably unchallenged, and resistant to change; the retirees – just hanging on for dear life until that pension kicks in.

By this time we’d long since boarded the bus and were rolling down Lomas. We sat together in his usual seat, him with his rucksack in his lap and me with my bag under the seat.

He explained he was pretty much a scientist and creative soul which is why he’d never really found a place he was happy to be working in. But he had a plan. He explained how young men are predominantly given to their masculine side – math, physics; but as he’d gotten older, he could see his feminine side emerging – biology, biochemistry. He wanted to return to Indiana where his wife is from, buy a farm, grow grapes and make wine. He talked about viniculture, climate, and terroir.

By this point, I realized I’d missed my stop on Wyoming. I pulled the cord and ended up walking two blocks back to my intersection. As I was exiting, he stuck out his hand and said “Dan."*

We shook hands. “Later, Dan,” I said, heading for the back doors. I walked to the intersection, pressed the button for the crosswalk, and waited.

“Holy cow,” I said out loud.


*Real name changed.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

BUS STORY # 6 (New Neighbor)

After moving from the 6:48 a.m. to the 6:28 a.m. No. 11, I missed meeting my two neighbors. I had the stop all to myself, at least for a couple of weeks or so. But one morning, I noticed a new guy waiting at the stop. As I got closer, I realized he wasn’t really a new guy. He was a guy who sometimes got on at the stop just around the corner, about two blocks downstream. Funny how by moving up two blocks he became my neighbor.

Now this guy did look like he might be an environmentalist. He also looked like he might not have a car, by choice. He wore hiking shorts and T-shirts in subdued desert colors, hiking boots, and carried a rucksack. Solid rather than stocky. Gray, slightly shaggy crewcut; maybe a three-day growth of beard. Late 40s, I guessed. He sat on the bench - not on the seat, but perched on top of the backrest, feet on the bench.

I said "Good morning." He looked up at me, said "Morning," and looked back down at the bench seat. That was it. I thought about saying more, but I sensed he wasn’t interested. When the bus came, and the trip into town began, I remembered he always sits up front in a window seat with the rucksack in the aisle seat and either reads or writes in a notebook. And never joins in the banter with Gino and the other regulars.

Neither do I, come to think of it. But I listen. And I look around at the folks enjoying the party. And I smile, even laugh out loud, at some things. I’m an observer kind of guy, a passive participant, how’s that? I think my neighbor is a tune-out-the-white-noise kind of guy. I always sit behind him, so I really can’t see his face. But he keeps his head down, just like at the bus stop this morning.

I think he’s an irregular rider because I don’t see him at either stop every day I ride. And it hasn’t occurred to me until this morning to watch for a pattern in his ride days. Of course, I wonder what in the world he does. If those are his work clothes, it must be cool, whatever it is. But the unshaven face . . . maybe he’s a student. I get off before he does, so he could very well be taking the bus to the north side of the UNM campus, where all the medical facilities are. Med student? Hmmm. Or some kind of tech that changes out of his street clothes into scrubs. Hmmmm. I don’t know what else is on the north side of the campus. I noted a wedding ring this morning. That could explain how he came to be living in my neighborhood. I wonder what’s he reading? He keeps it in his rucksack until after he’s on the bus, and he keeps it low, out of my line of sight, head down. And I only know about the notebook because I caught the corner of the spiral binder and fat black lines of a felt-tip pen while he was shifting his gear around in the seat beside him. So why does he ride the bus? And where does he ride it to? And what does he do after that?

There are a million stories in the Big Town. I’ve already got a dozen going on my new neighbor.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

BUS STORY # 5 (Rapid Ride)

$2.99 a gallon gas is what drove me to try the bus. Rapid Ride is why I keep riding.

Rapid Ride is the bus line that runs mostly down Central Avenue (the original Route 66) from one end of Albuquerque to the other. More importantly, it has a limited number of strategic stops and transfer points, and a “signal priority system” – meaning the driver can manipulate the traffic lights so he or she always has a green light at any given intersection (How cool is that?!). In addition to the minimal stops, no matter when you arrive at a Rapid Ride station, you won’t have to wait for longer than 11 minutes for the next bus. In practical terms, Rapid Ride enables me to get to work and back home without my having to give up sleep or seeing my wife during the work week. And since ecology has been a factor in my decision-making, I can also take comfort in the fact that these special “accordion” buses run on a hybrid diesel-electric engine.

This amazing innovation was the brainchild of our current mayor, Martin Chavez, and a handful of administrative suits. For reasons I cannot fathom, this provincial mayor of a backwater berg came to the conclusion that efficient and useful public transportation needed to be part of Albuquerque’s growth plan. Like John the Baptist, he was a voice crying out in the wilderness. Selling public transportation here in the west is, to borrow an analogy from my son-in-law, like trying to sell forest preservation to the folks in Maine. But, like John the Baptist, he got the attention of someone greater than himself – namely, the Federal Transit Administration. Lo and behold, the Feds agreed to pony up eight of the 10 million bucks needed to get this system off the ground.

Nobody really came out and said it, but a lot of us understood this was a boondoggle. But we also understood public transportation was the politically correct thing to do (not that we planned on using it ourselves). Plus, Marty’s a likeable, charming guy, and I think folks were willing to indulge this little folly of his since his political career had suffered a couple of painful setbacks: losing the governor’s race to a Republican, and then getting caught in a campaign donation/slush-fund/pay-to-play scandal. So with a minimum of grumbling, we let him play with two million of our easy-come easy-go dollars.

Rapid Ride was launched around Christmas of 2004. The response was tremendous – from the current ridership. But it didn’t lead to any significant conversions among us automobile drivers. So growth wasn’t turning out to be what Marty and the public transportation lobby were hoping for. Then came the gasoline price hikes.

I began riding in May. So, apparently, did a lot of other folks. Jay Faught, the Acting Marketing Manager for ABQ Ride, reports partial data suggests May's ridership was up some 22% over April's. This May’s Rapid Ride passenger numbers increased by 41.5% from May ’05.

Meanwhile, I’ve read the Rapid Ride is a first step toward an intra-Albuquerque light rail system. And our governor (running for President) has launched a rail initiative of his own: a bullet train to run on bio-diesel between Albuquerque and Santa Fe (with commuter stops at Isleta Pueblo and Los Lunas to the south, Bernalillo to the north) to alleviate the truly congested commuter traffic on I-25. It kicked off in April.

Here’s the story: I have a mayor who was farsighted enough to anticipate my needs for May of 2006 and was committed enough to create the infrastructure to meet those needs when they came barging into my life. I’ve been thinking I oughta spring for a thank-you bus pass for him one of these days.

Monday, September 04, 2006


I didn’t really want to switch from the 6:48 a.m. to the 6:28 a.m. No. 11. I’d come to enjoy meeting my neighbors at the bus stop and the camaraderie on the ride into town. But the first day I climbed on board the new bus, the driver stuck out his hand and said “Hi, I’m Gene, but folks call me Gino.”

Gino likes to talk, and he talks to all his regulars and knows all their stories. He’s an integral part of the conversation and banter that also occur on this particular schedule of the Lomas bus. Spirits always run high with this group of folks, but Fridays are usually notched up a bit higher.

One recent Friday, Gino was driving – which was unexpected because he’d told us the day before that he was going fishing on Friday. So each regular boarding the bus said “Hey, Gino, I thought you were goin’ fishin’ today.” Gino had a different answer for each one of them.

At one stop, the back door wouldn’t close. Gino had to get up and go back to deal with it. The conversation went something like this:

”What’s wrong? They give you a bum bus this morning?”

“Nah. I promised the bus I’d take it fishing with me today, and now it’s all cranky because it’s gotta work.”

“Where are you goin’ fishin’ that you could drive a bus to?”

“Hey, driving the bus to a good fishing spot is easy. It’s getting out that’s tough. We lost 3 buses like that last month up in the Pecos.”

“Yeah, but those trout are still talkin’ about the one that got away.”

And so forth.

At one stop where two regulars were waiting, he pretended not to see them and showed no signs of slowing down. One of the guys at the bus stop promptly hitched up one pants leg and showed Gino some leg.

At another stop where a regular was waiting, Gino slowed down, almost stopped, then started to pull out again. The regular beat on the side of the bus. When he climbed on board, he asked Gino “How’d you know I didn’t have my pass today?”

Then there’s the woman I’ve never met and probably never will because she boards somewhere downstream from my exit at Lomas and Wyoming. On this particular Friday one of the regular guys boarded the bus and was greeted with “Oh, he’s wearing green today. She’s gonna like that.” Someone else said, “Are you wearing that for her? We kinda thought you weren’t really interested.” “Yeah,” chimed in another, “here we were being pretty vague and all when she asked if any of us knew where you lived.” And so forth.

Here’s the story: Until we get around to adopting the anomie of the faceless, alienated crowd, Albuquerque is doomed to remain a town, a cultural backwater, a thorn in the side of comfortable isolation. At least on the No. 11 workday inbound.