Sunday, January 28, 2007

BUS STORY # 19 (Snow Day)


We almost got a white Christmas. The big, slow-moving storm that whacked the Pacific Northwest a week earlier arrived with high winds and low temperatures. The next day, the snow began blowing. When the wind died down, the snow began accumulating.

Normally, snowfall here is pretty benign. We wake up to the fact, and the fact is somewhere between a quarter of an inch and an inch – just enough to turn the town into a postcard. The sun comes out, the streets roil with steam, and by the end of the day, the only evidence it ever snowed is in those places where the sun don’t shine.

This snowfall was not one of those. By the time I was ready to go home, we had over three inches with snow still falling and no promise of sunshine. I called ABQ RIDE and asked if the buses were still running. “Of course,” a young woman answered, sounding irritated by the question. I guessed the buses must be like the mailmen: Neither snow, nor rain, etc.

The ride home was uneventful. The buses were on schedule, the roads wet but passable, the flow of traffic close to normal. At home, I could see that we’d gotten a lot more than three inches. Home is near the foothills at around 6200 feet in a city that drops to some 4900 feet at the Rio Grande. We almost always get more snow up here. So I was grateful that tomorrow morning the bus driver would be dealing with the snow and ice.

The next morning, my car was buried. I made sure I left a few minutes earlier than usual; I knew it would take longer to walk down to the stop, and I really didn’t want to miss the bus on this particular morning. On the walk down, I discovered there was ice under all that snow. I was wondering if the buses were going to be able to stay on schedule when, to my amazement, here came the bus – neither early nor late, but right on time! It was going slow, and when it slowed even more and began pulling over to the stop, it began a slow-motion slide that ended when the front tire hit the curb. I boarded and saw a somewhat unnerved-looking driver I’d not seen before. “I can’t believe you’re on time,” I told her. She looked at me a little funny, then said, “I’m 20 minutes behind.” This was the first bus!

She pulled out and took the corner very slowly, and still we felt a brief instant when the bus slipped sideways on the ice. “I think that’s the road super behind me,” she said halfway down to Tramway. A minivan with ABQ RIDE on the door pulled up on the driver’s side. They stopped, and opened their windows to talk. They talked about the road and he told her the city crews had not gotten up here yet. He told her to keep it nice and slow, and he’d follow her for a while to make sure she was OK.

I was the first passenger on this morning – quite unusual, but I figured no one was going out if they could avoid it. A second passenger was waiting at the stop on the far side of Tramway. Once again, as she started pulling over, the bus went into a slide and stopped on the first bounce off the curb. The passenger boarded, told the driver she was glad it wasn’t her driving into work this morning, then sat down across the aisle from me. When the driver tried pulling out again, we were stuck.

The super parked and boarded the bus. He walked her through some maneuvers that got the bus freed up and ready to roll again. “If you see anyone waiting for the bus, just stop in the street and don’t pull over, and have them walk out to you,” he instructed. Then he turned to us and asked “How far you all going?” We were both going to Wyoming and the Rapid Ride. “C’mon, I’ll get you down there so you won’t miss your connections.”

The super’s name is Ray, and I called the Complaint/Compliment line that morning and told them they had a guy looking out for the roads, his drivers, and us passengers, and who was a wonderful emissary for ABQ RIDE. As it turned out, the other rider works in the same building I do. Small world. As for our connections, well, let’s just say it took us two hours to get from our stop to our job this morning. But we were impressed the city transit system was out there making the effort when everybody could just as easily have called it a Snow Day and gone back to bed.

There was nothing to do but laugh when, after finally getting to the office, I opened my email and read Administration had delayed the start of our business day until 10:00 a.m. due to the weather.

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