Sunday, December 31, 2006

BUS STORY # 17, Part 1 (Now Is The Winter Of Our Discontent)





I used to mark the transition of summer to winter by the golding of the cottonwood leaves, the smell of green chiles roasting, the clearest and bluest skies, the appearance of the clever, comical, slightly sinister crows, the first dusting of snow on the Sandias – powdered sugar on gingerbread. Riding the bus has taught me the real marker is Daylight Savings Time. Whether I’m going to work or heading out of the office for home, it’s suddenly dark out there. Unless Dan or Abel or Dennis or someone else is at the stop, I stand alone waiting with nothing more than my own morning thoughts, unable to read, unable to see anything more than porch lights, street lamps, and the headlights of car commuters. Same thing leaving work except my head is full of the turmoil of work.

The coming of the cold soon displaced my regrets about the dark. I remember the first morning I realized a jacket wasn’t quite enough. And the morning I realized I should add a sweater to my jacket and hat. And the morning I wished I’d worn my muffler and gloves . . . I still marvel at the blessings of dry heat and cold. It helps that I’ve been to Seattle this November, where the low 40’s become a damp, chilling, penetrating, inescapable presence. On the other hand, we have wind here, and when the wind blows, it cuts like a knife.

By December, the mornings are below freezing. I’m monitoring the feeling in my toes and clapping my gloved hands and guessing how many minutes before the bus gets here. I’ve already planned to start packing my hat and gloves and muffler next year when the time changes, and this proactive frame of mind gets me to thinking about what it will be like when rain gets added to the dark and cold and wind. Such are the times that try the bus rider’s soul. Pitted against the contemplation of the comforts of the car is the ideological contempt for the summer environmentalist and the sunshine commuter. I wouldn’t want to be one of them, now, would I.

I remember camping trips when I woke up in the back of my truck and my water jugs were frozen solid; or being on an early morning river casting into a mist rising off the waters with the feeling almost gone from my fingers, or simply pulling a poncho hood over my head during a hike as my only concession to the rain. Patrick F. McManus got it exactly right when he described these outdoor experiences as “a fine and pleasant misery.” So, I ask myself, how is waiting for the bus in bad weather any different? (I know, I know: “A bad day fishing is better than a good day working.” I’ve seen that on the back bumpers of the vehicles that are not buses being used by other commuters.)

So as Christmas approaches, I’ve reviewed all the reasons for switching to the bus – supporting public transportation, free bus pass, saving money for things other than gasoline, reducing my contribution to greenhouse gases pollution and to the Saudi funding of Islamic terrorist groups (Hmmm. I’ve covered the entire political spectrum here, from the tree-hugging left to the hard-line right. Could cutting gasoline consumption be the common ground we all say we’re looking for?) and, of course, my supply of bus stories. I’ve firmed my resolve, renewed my commitment. And then ABQ RIDE drops a Christmas present in my inbox:

“The City of Albuquerque’s Transit Department, ABQ RIDE, will be adjusting several bus schedules effective Saturday, December 23. Please check your bus route to see if any changes have been made. View the new bus schedules at www.cabq.gov/transit.”

There are changes to the No. 11 route. Big changes where I’m concerned. With the exception of two commuter runs in the morning and evening, they are cutting off my neighborhood altogether. They’ve given reasons for the change: 1) the need to allocate resources based on greatest need during a time of rapidly escalating demand; 2) the poor utilization of the buses in my neighborhood outside the commute times; 3) complaints from my neighborhood about the noise the bus makes.

It is this last reason that brings to mind the very first sentence of the very first bus story I wrote: “I suppose I had stereotyped my own neighborhood.” Perhaps I’ve just stumbled upon the counter-argument for dismissing stereotypes outright: behind each is an element of truth. My neighborhood seems to have no problem with the much more intrusive (though less frequent) transportation noise made by our neighbor, Kirtland Air Force Base – never mind that we are also beneath an occasional flight path from the Albuquerque International Airport. Somewhere in the neighborhood is another bumper sticker: “Jet Noise: The Sound Of Freedom.”

We also seem to have no problem with the insidiously pervasive rumble of generators recharging those 10 mpg motor homes, or with the melodies of power tools, chain saws, leaf blowers and lawn mowers, or with the pronounced roar of the diesel engines of big pickups being driven out of the neighborhood early every morning by hardworking independent small-businessmen. All of which pretty much suggests a not-so-subtle exclusivity in these complaints about the sound of the bus driving through our streets: “Our kind doesn’t ride the bus. We don’t want the bus and it’s kind in our neighborhood.”

In my more charitable moments, I remember when I used to smoke, and continued to smoke long after I knew better. The one thing that really irritated the dickens out of me was listening to someone else tell me how bad smoking was for me. Who really likes being nagged to do what they already know is the right thing? Perhaps hearing the bus is that same sort of nagging reminder that we ought to be doing something about that oil addiction of ours, and that we have an easy access alternative to driving our cars. Much easier to relocate the messenger. Out of earshot, out of mind. I can’t hear you, nanny-nanny boo-boo. Maybe we need a bumper sticker of our own: "Bus Noise: The Sound Of Energy Independence, Cleaner Air, Fighting Terrorism, Unclogging Our City Streets, And Making More Of Our Hard-Earned Money Available For Our Bodily Needs And Hearts’ Desires." Catchy, ain’t it?

I was discussing these conjectures with a co-worker who, in a previous life, was a New York City cop and so knows a thing or two about how things work in city politics. He suggested the possibility that some local satrap or otherwise connected citizen lives in my neighborhood and is the source of the “neighborhood” complaint.

But this is all speculation. Idle speculation given the fact of the new schedule. That is what I really need to attend to here. Looking at the new schedule, I see the earliest morning bus is late enough to put my connection with the 7:15 a.m. Yale bus at risk. But the real problem is the evening schedule: the latest bus hits my home stop nine minutes after I’ve boarded the Yale bus from work on the other side of town. Even if the a.m. bus runs right on schedule and I actually get to work on time, I cannot get home. It is time to consider my options.

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