Sunday, May 20, 2007

BUS STORY # 33 (Mother’s Day)

Ralph* and I were sitting at the Frontier Rapid Ride stop. Ralph is an accountant who works in the same building I do. We met riding the bus, of course. The Frontier, a restaurant across the street from the main entrance to the University of New Mexico, is legendary for being open 24/7, for good and cheap food, for perennially topping the town’s various “Best” lists for its homemade sweet rolls and green chile, and for making possibly the best flour tortillas in the known universe. I worked for the owner, Larry Rainosek, in Austin back in the ‘60s. A fine experience, but that’s another story.

So Ralph and I were sitting on the metal bench talking when this guy walks up carrying a big, rectangular, heavy-duty black plastic bin, complete with lid. “I found this at work,” he told us. “They were gonna throw it away. It was full of greasy old engine parts, so I dumped ‘em out and scrubbed it up real good.”

“What are you gonna use it for?” Ralph asked him.

“For storing clothes in. I’ve got a dog run I can put it in.”

He sat down on one of the cement ledges at either end of the metal benches. He was tall, with a scrawny blond ponytail. Black faded cap with an indeterminate logo, black jacket, blue jeans, brown work boots. I never got a fix on his age. He was an old young man.

A motorcycle roared by and we all followed it.

“I had a bike for about four years,” he said. “It was the last thing my parents gave me. They sent me $650 so I could buy it, and they told me that was it, I was on my own after that. Then last month, somebody stole it. On a Sunday right around noon.”

“Sounds like you saw it happen,” I said.

“Heard it,” he told me. “They must have been waiting. I drove down to get a Sunday paper. Then I drove back home, parked it right by the front door, thought about locking it, then thought no, I’m just gonna use the bathroom, then drive over to Wal-Mart. I was sitting on the toilet when I heard the engine rev.”

He abruptly changed subjects. “I heard it was supposed to get cold and rainy today, so I wore this jacket.”

It wasn’t a particularly heavy jacket, but more than he really needed. It had been overcast all day, but no rain. It’s an old Albuquerque tease. He propped the bin on one end in front of him. I figured if he was six feet, the bin was four. We talked weather for a bit, and somehow the conversation wandered back to the bin and how he needed a place to store things since he’d had to downsize his living quarters recently.

“I been living in the same place for 10 years, $400 a month. Never once raised my rent. Then I come home from burying my mom to an eviction notice. Developers,” he explained. Seems like they’d discovered “the war zone,” another local legend for an area roughly between Louisiana and Wyoming, and Central and Zuni. “If I were an investor in property, that’s where I’d buy now,” he told us.

Now he had a place a quarter of the size of his old place. For $650 a month. He felt lucky to have it. “I was this close to being homeless,” he said, holding up a thumb and forefinger an inch or so apart. “I had to take off work to bury my mom. My brother sent me plane fare. Then I come back and have to take off more work to find a place to live. My boss was hot, but what can you do?”

He told us how he found his new place walking around this past Sunday afternoon. He was feeling the pressure of having to be out of his old place by the next day. “I saw this little ‘For Rent’ sign over on Utah. I headed to the Circle K and called right away. Took it right there on the phone. Y’know, I kinda wonder if my mom had something to do with it.” He looked skyward. “I was this close,” he repeated, showing us again that thumb and forefinger.


*Real name changed.


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