Sunday, February 25, 2007

BUS STORY # 23 (Willa’s Bus Stories # 1 and 2)

Willa* is another Presbyterian nurse who rides the bus. She lives west of Tramway, so she doesn’t have the schedule issues Amy has. We share part of the inbound Lomas-Rapid Ride route a few times a month. She says her husband would rather she drive, but she’s never had any trouble riding the bus. I believe her. Willa is a pretty imposing woman. For one thing, she’s a big woman. For another, she has that old school old nurse style of laying down the law for God and doctors and no back talk. Anyone whose survival sensors are reasonably intact won’t even think about messing with Willa.

Like any veteran bus rider, Willa has her stories. Her first story is about a woman who boards the bus and then stands in the aisle scanning the passengers until she spots a male sitting by himself. She moves to the seat beside him and starts talking to him. Eventually, she works the conversation around to the question “Do you have a girl friend?” followed by “I could be your girl friend. If I were your girl friend, you could by me a Sony DVD player.” The woman goes on to explain they cost thousands of dollars and asking the prospective boyfriend what he knows about them, about how they work, and so forth. Willa confesses being tempted to tell her about the ads she sees on a regular basis advertising Sony DVDs at Wal-Mart for under fifty dollars. “But she’s as unlikely to have fifty dollars as a thousand.”

Her second story also involves a female rider, another regular, who sits in the back of the bus and has conversations with herself (or “her selves” as Willa explains it). Sometimes the woman gets rather “graphic” in her conversations, and the bus drivers have been known to stop the bus and go back and warn her they’ll have to put her off the bus if she doesn’t tone it down. One night, one of the drivers actually made her leave. Afterwards, Willa’s occasional seatmate, a professor at UNM, said to her, “I wonder what kind of drugs she’s on.”

“Oh, she’s not on drugs. She’s schizophrenic.”

“How do you know that?”

“Because I’m a nurse. That’s classic schizophrenia.”

She went on to explain how her very first job out of nursing school was in an outpatient behavioral health program for geriatric patients. “That’s the most enjoyable job I’ve ever had.” And it’s some of the folks on the bus rides that have her thinking about going back after she retires.


*Real name changed.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

BUS STORY # 22 (Hell, I Sleep With Him!)

After the schedule changes to the No. 11, I had to start taking an earlier bus. This was the first bus of the day, and its regulars included the folks who had always taken the first bus of the day and folks like me who now had to take it because the second bus no longer came to our neighborhood and the third bus, which did, was too late for our work schedules.

Still, given I’m one of the first stops on the route, there aren’t all that many riders when I board. I’d picked out a new regular who I would later learn is a teacher at Highland High, but one morning, somewhere in the first week or two, there was a second rider wearing the blue pants and white shirt with blue trim of a Presbyterian Hospital RN. Like us, she got off at Wyoming and caught the Rapid Ride.

On the Rapid Ride, I sat down next to her and asked her where she worked. Oncology. Wasn’t that a 12-hour shift? It was. And did she take the bus home after work? She did. But the last bus to cross Tramway is at 7:25 p.m. Tell me about it, she replied. She explained she’d always caught the first bus in and the last bus home (which used to arrive at Turner around 9:00 p.m.). So was she planning to walk the more than a mile home in the dark? Did I have a better idea? She was clearly unhappy with the changes. I asked her had she seen the signs urging us to write our city councilman to protest the changes? “Write him?” she replied testily, “Hell, I sleep with him!”

Her name is Amy, and it turns out she’s married to the city councilman in question. It also turns out pillow talk advocacy isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, at least not in this case. She said her husband wasn’t happy about the schedule change, either, but he had no real clout in the matter; the power lay in the director’s hands. In her opinion, Greg Payne “caved.” “It’s your neighbors who caused the problem with all their whining about the bus noise.” She spat out “your neighbors” the way a mother would spit out “your children” at her husband when their little dears had behaved in some way she’d found especially odious.

This was not the first time the Albuquerque city transit system had messed with her commuting life. She told me about another schedule change that left her high and dry when she was living in the Southeast Heights. Turns out we were neighbors back then, too. I was a confirmed car commuter in those days.

I got off at Yale; Amy continued her journey to Pres downtown. That’s been several weeks ago, and I haven’t seen her since. I sometimes wonder if the new schedule has left the hospital with one less nurse or the city streets with yet one more car.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

BUS STORY # 21 (Dennis)

I’d seen Dennis* only one other time since I first began taking the earlier No. 11 to work. Both he and Abel* showed up together one morning and we talked about a neighborhood incident involving the SWAT team, concussion grenades at 3:00 a.m., and piles of fast food trash in the neighborhood come daybreak. My wife and I had been awakened a little after midnight by bullhorns and sirens. Dennis had been hiking in the Sandias the day before and had slept through the whole thing. “So that’s what all the trash was about,” he mused. Abel had the whole story that lasted until it was time for me to get off at Wyoming.

The next time I saw Dennis, I was waiting alone for the earlier bus. Dennis, I recalled, had been here less than a year, was a lawyer, and his wife was a student at UNM. All true, except there was more to the story. Turns out Dennis had given up the practice of law some 10 years ago. I asked why, of course. He told me the incessant adversarial nature of the job had corroded his spirit. He told a straw-that-broke-the-camel’s-back story about a young woman who’d come in to see about getting a divorce. After the information-gathering interview was concluded, she asked him, “Are you mean?” He asked what she meant. She explained she wanted a lawyer who would “go after” her husband. He told her he thought divorce was trauma enough for both parties, and his focus would be on getting her a fair settlement. “If you’re looking for a mean lawyer,” he told her, “I’m not your man.” She thanked him, then got up and walked out of his office.

So where was he going these mornings if not to work? To St. Martin’s Hospitality Center where he was helping serve breakfast to the homeless three days a week. More questioning brought out the story that he spent afternoons sitting with hospice patients sometimes in institutional settings, sometimes in their homes. He made a “lawyer-trying-to-get-to-heaven” joke I’d heard a few years earlier from a brand new graduate nurse in his 50s, another retired lawyer looking for a new career in hospice. He’d confided he “lacked the killer instinct” to be a truly effective attorney. I’d sensed a dual regret: that he had not changed careers early in his work life, and that by not doing so, he’d short-changed his clients.

Both stories are, to me, extraordinary stories, and extraordinarily personal stories at that, from two good people with gentle souls. I also think of them as cautionary tales about the culture we live in. Those who know me might attribute such thoughts to my inner child-of-the-‘60s, but I’d like to think they have a lot more to do with my grandmother’s mantra about the Golden Rule, and with my hand-in-glove religious upbringing which regarded the material world and its pursuits and rewards with deep suspicion.

I figured Dennis was not working, no longer had a lawyer’s income, and had a student wife, and that explained why he was taking the bus. “No, we have a car,” he replied. He used to have a truck, but it got 14 miles to the gallon and was costing him over four dollars a day to drive. So he sold it. Sometimes he takes the car, sometimes the bus. “It all depends on how the spirit moves me,” he said, and laughed.

I got off the bus that morning with the idea that giving up the car was the next thing on his to-do list for getting into heaven. And I freely admit that sounds like a story my inner hippie-child might tell.


*Real name changed.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

BUS STORY # 20 (Waiting For No. 11)

I get off the homebound Rapid Ride and walk around the corner to the No. 11 bus stop. Normally, I stop and look westward to see if my connection is in sight, but I see a guy out in the pull-in lane doing just that. I can tell by the way he’s holding himself it’s nowhere in sight. The usual 20-minute wait, but on a cold, snowy night.

I stop at the near end of the bench and stand on an inexplicably clear spot on the sidewalk. At the other end of the bench are the fellow I first saw looking westward and a second guy. They are a scruffy-looking pair. The first guy has a knit watch cap, red sateen baseball jacket, sweatpants and athletic shoes. He’s hopping and bobbing and trying out all the different ways he can think of to say it’s really cold. His friend is hatless. A great greasy gob of just-got-out-of-bed hair is stuck to his head. He’s wearing a black leather jacket, open, with just a T-shirt beneath. I can’t make out the graphics, but they’re some sort of big drawing with big letters. He calls to me, “Got a match?” “Not since Clark Gable” flashes through my mind, but I let that one go. “Sure don’t.” I can see a half-smoked dead cigarette in his hand, and I’m thinking it’s salvage.

“When’s the bus come?” the other one asks me. “They run every 20 minutes or so,” I answer. They huddle and discuss this for a minute. “We must have just missed it,” he calls to me. He returns to hopping and bobbing, then walks back out in the street and looks westward. He returns and the two of them have a discussion. The second guy walks out into the street and looks westward. He returns and there is more discussion. They both walk out into the street and look westward. Then the second guy takes off across the street in a funny little duck run. He disappears amid the cars in the auto sales lot across the street. I figure he’s gone for a light.

His friend keeps going back and forth from the curb to the street. I take this as concern that his friend won’t get back before the next bus comes. After a while, we see his friend across the street. He looks eastward, starts his funny little run to the other side. I can see he’s scored not only a light, but – a pair of socks! He hands the lit cigarette to his friend, then sits down on the snow-covered bench, pulls up one pants leg. That’s when I see he’s barefooted and wearing sandals. He pulls the sandal off, puts on the sock, puts the sandal back on. Same for the other foot. Then he stands up, brushes the snow off his butt, and asks his friend for the cigarette. They trade inhalations until there’s nothing left. Meanwhile, I try to imagine some plausible scenario that explains how he’s come by this pair of socks. The story of one of the car salesman across the street being talked out of his own socks is the best I can do.

The next time I look over, the guy in the red jacket is standing between me and his friend who, back to the street, is relieving himself against the retaining wall. I see steam rising from the snow and look away. I see there is notably little traffic at this particular moment, and I conclude, probably from the screening gesture, the timing is not merely coincidental.

The No. 11 arrives. I board ahead of them, then watch as they pause in the aisle twice to discuss the merits of the seats they are considering before moving on. They end up in the back of the bus. They’re still back there when I get off.