Sunday, November 26, 2006

BUS STORY # 12 (Ticket To Ride)

Elliott’s story about the bus driver who waited at the stop until a regular rider could complete her coffee purchase at the McDonalds across the street reminded me of other stories. You never know what a driver will do. I’ve seen drivers wait on folks running from half a block away for the bus stop, and I’ve seen buses shut the doors and pull away. I’ve seen drivers make unscheduled stops for someone flagging down the bus somewhere between the official bus stops, and I’ve seen buses zoom by flaggers like they were hitchhikers. I’ve had bus drivers wait for me when I myself had decided waiting another 11 minutes for the next Rapid Ride was better than running. Here’s a story along these lines that happened on a bus line I’ve taken only once.

I was scheduled to attend a conference that began at 8:00 a.m. at the Old Town Hotel several miles west of downtown. I wondered could I get there by bus, and, if so, could I get there in time? At first, it was more a matter of curiosity, or maybe a challenge. But some on-line checking of routes and schedules suggested if I caught the very first Lomas bus (the 6:08 a.m.), it would take me straight downtown to the Alvarado Transportation Center where I would have five minutes to pick up the very first 12th Street/Rio Grande which would take me way north on 12th, then drop me on the backside across the street from my hotel at approximately 7:45 a.m. By that time, I knew had to try it.

It worked out perfectly. I got downtown with five minutes to spare, and the transfer got me there around 7:40 a.m. Of course, this bus had its regulars, too, but from a different neighborhood: all Latino, all folks in uniforms and work clothes suggesting a concentration in the hospitality/housekeeping service areas or construction work, all speaking mostly Spanish. I felt dressed up and very white.

Somewhere going north on 12th Street, the driver stopped for a young man waving a transfer form. When the doors opened, the young man approached the doorway but didn’t climb on board. The exchange was in Spanish, but in effect there was something wrong with the transfer. He showed the driver some coins in the palm of his hand, which I interpreted as his not having enough money for the ride. The driver then motioned him to come on board, waved away the transfer and the coins, and continued on his way. But not before the young man put forward his fist, and the driver reciprocated, touching knuckles.

I’m not sure how the driver’s supervisor or any of the suits downtown would have reacted to this dispensation of a free ride. But it seemed to me then, and still does now, that this was one of those times when not doing the right thing was the right thing to do. I had the sense that this was not a scam, but a young man caught short and in need of some help on this particular day. And I had the sense that the bus driver was being a good neighbor, or a fellow Latino, or the father of a son somewhere else and in questionable economic circumstances, or someone who himself had once been in the young man’s shoes, or a city employee who considered being a goodwill ambassador as part of his job description, or, or, or.

I also know it is entirely possible such speculations could only come from the imagination of a well-dressed, very white tourist from the Northeast Heights. But that’s one of the great things about bus stories: you see what you see, and then you get to tell yourself the story.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

BUS STORY # 11 (Elliott’s Bus Story # 1)

One of my co-workers started riding the bus a few weeks after I did. He and his wife saw Al Gore’s documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, and he came out of the theater Born Again. When it came to changing his driving habits, he didn’t even wait to get a free bus pass before starting out. He spent a weekend preparing the same way I did: learning to interpret the data on the bus route schedules so he could figure out which bus to catch when.

If I started using the bus before he did, he surpassed me in bus usage. For example, he began commuting among the facilities we have around town during his workday using the bus. Meeting in the Northeast Heights at 2:00 p.m.? Grab the Yale at 12:30 p.m. to the Rapid Ride to the Wyoming and arrive with enough time to get a cup of coffee from the cafeteria and maybe catch up with some old co-workers. He began using the bus on Saturdays to do his grocery shopping. And last week, he took his bike with him, using the rack on the front of the bus. That way, he could ride to a store he wanted to go to which was seven blocks from the nearest bus stop. I’ve tried commuting between the office and our downtown facility following his example, but I’m balking on Saturday grocery shopping. But he’s got me thinking . . .

Elliott* catches the Yale bus at the same place I do when I transfer from the Rapid Ride. Elliott, however, catches the first bus of the day; I get the second. He describes the same sort of commuter community I have on my inbound No. 11. And Elliott has a bus story here.

It seems one of the women in this group often goes to the McDonald’s across the street to get coffee, and many of the riders will hand her a bill and say, “Hey, as long as you’re going to get coffee, would you mind . . . ?” She doesn’t. One morning, the bus arrived, and this woman was still in McDonald’s. You have probably guessed the rest: this group of commuters had a raucous old time haranguing the bus driver (the regular bus driver, you understand) to wait until she had gotten back with their coffee. One of the riders even offered the driver his coming coffee if he would wait for her.

And you have also probably guessed the driver’s response to his riders’ request. Well, you’re right!


*Real name changed.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

BUS STORY # 10 (There Ain’t No Cure)

Folks make and take calls on their cell phones on the bus. Sometimes their conversations are discreet, and sometimes they’re not. One afternoon coming home on the Lomas bus, a guy sitting behind me and across the aisle made a call. His conversation, audible to everyone on the bus, went something like this:

“Hey, Mark. This is David. I just called to let you know I won’t be hanging out with you guys tonight. It’s nothing personal, it’s just that I got a lot of things going on in my head right now, and I need to chill out. I don’t want to end up shouting at you or Lisa or Ray because then you won’t want to hang with me, so I’m just gonna go home and think tonight. It’s nothing personal. And tell Lisa I’m sorry for whatever it was I did, and ask her if she’ll tell me Monday what it is that she would like me to change, and I will. Just ask her to tell me Monday, OK? Tell her I’ll do whatever she wants. I just need to go home and think tonight, OK? OK. Yeah. It’s nothing personal, I just don’t want to end up shouting at you guys, and then you won’t want to hang out with me anymore, OK? OK. And don’t forget to tell Lisa, OK? To tell me what it is she wants me to do. I’ll do whatever she wants me to. Yeah. OK. I’ll see you later.”

I didn’t turn around, and I found myself imagining David based on the conversation and his voice. His voice sounded young. It sounded really sad and really lost. There was something determined and stolid in the articulation. I wondered about his IQ. I was conjuring up an image - tall, skinny, long dirty-blond hair coming out from beneath a baseball cap, faded black T-shirt, beat-up jeans – when I heard his voice again:

“Hey, Ray. This is David . . . ” The conversation replayed itself.

I wondered if he was going to call Lisa next. He didn’t. When he finished talking to Ray, it was quiet until he got off. I watched him crossing a parking lot as we began pulling away. Young, beefy guy with a shaggy burr, brown hair. He was wearing an untucked short-sleeve sports shirt and cargo shorts. I could see his voice in his walk.

Here’s the story: David was in love with Lisa. Hopelessly, of course. I knew this as surely as I knew what he looked like from the sound of his voice. It brought back some uncomfortable memories, and I felt myself wanting to make it better for both of us. But there’s nothing to be done for hopeless love except ride it out. And then, if we’re blessed or cursed with a certain level of awareness, there is the inevitable, crushing embarrassment to be gotten through. The bus rocked on up Lomas, and I felt grateful I was an old guy and contentedly married.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

BUS STORY # 9 (It’s A Big City, Ma’am)

The Yale bus runs every 30 minutes on the hour. So if I start closing up work 15 minutes earlier, I usually have only a five-minute wait for the bus. I ride the Yale to Central, catch the Rapid Ride, then get off at the corner of Wyoming and Lomas. But no matter which Yale bus I catch, I always end up waiting 20 minutes for the outbound Lomas bus. It’s just how the schedules interconnect.

One week, it occurred to me that if I stopped at the Coop on my way home from work Fridays, I could cut out a significant portion of my weekend car-tour grocery shopping. The Coop is in Nob Hill, right on Central, and the Rapid Ride, God bless it, stops a block away.

After shopping, while waiting for the next Rapid Ride, it occurred to me I might not have to wait the full 20 minutes for the Lomas bus. After all, I’d broken the Yale-Rapid Ride-Lomas chain by stopping at the Coop.

At the Lomas stop, there was quite a large group of riders waiting. Folks were standing on the edge of the sidewalk looking west. A few stepped into the street when it was clear to get a better look. I guessed the bus must be running late. It arrived -- what else? -- 20 minutes later. Near home, the bus stopped for a single wiry, elderly woman who climbed slowly aboard, then stood by the fare box scowling at the driver, then spat out “How come you’re so late?” The driver calmly replied, “It’s a big city, ma’am.” She gave him a broiler of a glare before sitting down.

Two stops later, she rang the bell to get off. At her stop, the front doors wouldn’t open. The driver worked levers, pulled knobs, pressed buttons, squealed the air brakes. She turned around to the rest of us and said, “See what I mean?” The driver forced the doors open with his shoulder and held them open for her to exit. “Have a good day,” he called after her, not a trace of irony in his voice.

The front doors worked fine the rest of the ride home.