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.


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