Sunday, June 24, 2007

BUS STORY # 38 (We’re Together)

June 18, 2007
News Release - ABQ RIDE Security Sweep Yields Results
Officers Arrest 14 in First Two Weeks
ALBUQUERQUE-Mayor Martin Chávez and ABQ RIDE Director Greg Payne are pleased to announce that the transit security sweep has been a success in its early stages. In a two-week period, ABQ RIDE’s heightened security measures have resulted in 14 arrests and numerous citations . . . With bus ridership continuing to rise, Mayor Chávez and Director Payne recently announced an increase in security measures both on the buses and at bus stops throughout the city. APD and ABQ RIDE’s in-house security department were charged with cracking down on any illegal or dangerous behavior. Officers are currently riding buses and patrolling bus stops, sometimes working undercover.

I’m coming back from downtown to the office one afternoon on an almost empty Yale bus. Somewhere in the vicinity of Yale and Coal, we make a stop. A large Indian woman gets on, hands the driver a transfer, moves slowly to one of the side benches and drops to the seat. She is followed by another Indian, an older guy in jeans, denim shirt, baseball cap. He stands at the till searching his pockets. Then he calls to the woman who just sat down, “You got my pass?”

“I don’t have your pass.”

“I don’t have it. You have it?”

“I don’t have your pass.”

He starts rummaging through his pockets, then says, “Let me have your purse.”

“I don’t have your pass.”

“C'mon, folks,” the driver interjects. “I need a pass or a fare.”

The woman gets up and opens her purse. She’s wearing a long brown skirt and a partly untucked white blouse. She shows her open purse to the man. “See, I don’t have your pass.” Then she moves around the old man to the driver and says, “He had a pass. We both got passes. He lost his.”

“Sorry, but I need a pass or a fare or he’s gonna have to get off the bus.”

“You can’t make him get off the bus. He has a pass.”

The man continues to stand in the aisle. He’s not searching his pockets anymore. He looks befuddled.

“Ma’am, I’m gonna have to have a pass or a fare right now.”

“We’re not getting off the bus. We need to get to – “ I couldn’t make out the destination. She then turns and guides the man to the bench seat. They both sit down. The driver doesn’t say anything more. He starts driving again.

Sitting across from the couple is another, younger Indian woman. Besides being Indian, the only things the two women have in common are long black hair and blocky, black-frame glasses. The older woman’s hair is past her shoulders and looks like it’s at the windblown end of a perm. The younger woman’s hair is pinned up. She’s reading a book.

The older woman says something to the man. Then she says something to the woman across the aisle. I can’t make any of it out, and the woman across the aisle doesn’t acknowledge her. The older woman repeats whatever it was. The young woman looks up at her. “Are you talking to me?”

“I’m talking to you. You’re one of us. Who do you think you are?”

“What are you talking about?”

“You aren’t any better than us.”

“I didn’t say anything to you.”

“You think you’re better than us.”

“Look, I don’t even know you.”

The older woman says something I can’t fully make out, and I realize her speech is slurred. The light comes on. There’s been some afternoon drinking going on here. The younger woman starts to respond again, but the driver interrupts. “Ma’am, just ignore it. She’s not making any sense.” He says something else after that, but I can’t make it out. The younger woman disengages, looks back down at her book, but her body language tells me she’s agitated. The woman across the aisle is talking, but I can’t make out any of it. It seems she’s talking half to the woman across the aisle, half to the man beside her who may or may not be paying attention.

Although there was no bell, the bus pulls into the stop in front of the Transit Department. The doors open. I see three security folks moving quickly toward the bus from the front entrance of the building. Two are in brown uniforms, one in blue. One of the browns goes to the front of the bus, the one in blue to the rear. The third stands on the sidewalk midway between the doors. I realize the driver must have initiated the action, but I have no idea how or when. If he used a phone, I missed it.

The guy in blue enters the bus and says to the driver, “Which one?” He’s a tall, muscular guy with a crew cut and, I’m positive, also Native American. The woman stands up and says, “You can’t make us get off the bus. We paid our fare.” The man then stands up. The security guard takes the man by his shirt and half-lifts, half-walks him out the back door. I think of the wedding dance where a young girl stands on the shoes of her waltzing father. The woman stands in the aisle for a minute, then says, “OK, I’ll go. We’re together.” She gets off the bus through the rear door.

The bus driver stands up, steps into the aisle and faces the remaining three of us. He apologizes for the unpleasantness. Then he resumes the route. The young Indian woman exits two stops later. The driver apologizes to her once again. I think she’s still upset. I get off at my stop near the airport. I am, as they say, “processing.” My processors are grinding away.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

BUS STORY # 37 (A Bloody Mess and Rory’s Bus Story # 1)

“We coulda used a nurse here yesterday.”

This from an occasional fellow passenger waiting at my bus stop for the Yale bus. I don’t know his name, but I know he works with the state Medicaid administration. He’s told me if he can get his department organized well enough to function smoothly and competently, he’ll be able to write his own ticket.

“Why?” I ask. “What happened?”

Seems two days earlier, when I had carpooled with my wife, he was waiting at our stop and watching a fellow drag himself up the sidewalk toward Yale. This is a pretty good climb, but especially so for a guy who just finished a dialysis treatment and was heading uphill dragging a suitcase behind him. When my co-rider asked him why he was taking the bus, he answered it was the only way he could get to dialysis and back. What about a cab? Too much money. About this time, the dialysis patient started bleeding from his shunt. “He had on this white jacket, and the lower left sleeve just went red.” He also left a lot of blood on the sidewalk (“at least a pint, maybe more”). My fellow passenger instinctively clamped the arm above the red with both hands and after that seemed to stop the bleeding, wondered how to reach his cell phone to call 911. The dialysis patient emphatically rejected calling 911. He didn’t have money for an ambulance ride or an emergency room visit. He’d be fine if he just held pressure long enough. And, sure enough, the bleeding stopped before the bus arrived.

But before the bus got to Central, the dialysis patient became very woozy. My co-rider was feeling responsible and nervous, and got off the bus with him at Central where he saw the dialysis patient’s eyes roll back in his head before he slumped to the steps of the McDonald’s. The Medicaid guy promptly called 911. The patient recovered consciousness by the time the paramedics arrived, but he wasn’t too alert or oriented.

I told this story at the office the next day. One of my coworkers said, “Hey, at least the driver let him ride.” Rory* then told his own story. Several years ago, he was on his way down Pennsylvania to catch the 66 at Central. He’s less than half a block away when he sees the bus heading west. He takes off running, cuts across the Circle K parking lot toward the bus stop, looking back at the bus and waving to try and catch the driver’s attention. He doesn’t see the metal flange normally used to hold one of those swinging signs, but signless at this particular moment, protruding at forehead level from a pole near the corner of the lot. A few dazed seconds later, he realizes he hasn’t gone down, and the bus is stopping. He then realizes he is bleeding furiously from his forehead. He staggers to the open door of the bus. “I’ll never forget the expression on his face,” says Rory, “a cross between utter disgust and pure self-preservation.” The doors close in his bloody face, and the bus pulls away.

That wasn’t the end of Rory's story. He recounted going into the Circle K for some Kleenex to staunch the blood flow and try to clean up a little. “There’s these two cops waiting in line when I walk in. They both look at me, then back at the clerk. They don’t say a word, just get checked out and head for the car -- and they don’t look back.” But Rory, a former cop, tells me he understands. “In this neighborhood, someone staggering around and bleeding profusely is just part of the normal scenery.”


*Real name changed.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

BUS STORY # 36 (I’m Not Smoking!)

At The Central and San Mateo Rapid Ride station around three in the afternoon on a Wednesday, a long line of passengers was boarding the bus. Suddenly the driver yelled, “Hey, you, offa the bus, now!” One of the folks in the aisle yelled back, “I’m not smoking! I’m not smoking!” He kept moving to the back of the bus and didn’t look back. Big, beefy guy in a faded black baseball cap and faded red T-shirt.

The driver finished with the remaining boarders, then got out of his seat and walked past me toward the back of the bus.

“I said get off the bus.”

“I’m not smoking, I told you.”

“Get off the bus right now.”

“____ you!”

“Whoa!” This last under the breath of the guy who’d just sat down next to me.

The driver returned to his seat. Behind us we heard a more subdued, more petulant, “I’m not smoking.” I watched the driver in the rear view mirror. I didn’t see anything that suggested he might be calling someone – say ABQ RIDE security, for example. The bus proceeded as if it were a normal day. Which it probably was.

I got off at the next stop. I really didn’t want to. I wanted to stay on board to see how this was going to play out. I was feeling a bit like Woody Allen’s character in Annie Hall: frustrated I’d missed the beginning. I thought maybe I could figure it out if I saw the ending. I imagined riding as far west as it took, then getting off and catching the next eastbound back to Yale, where I was headed in the first place. But it was still a workday, and I had to get back to it.

There are a million stories in the Big Town. Here’s one that got away.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

BUS STORY # 35 (Shorts)

A fellow passenger is telling me how the Yale bus broke down at the airport a few days earlier. “I saw it go up the hill and it never came back down.” He ended up waiting another thirty minutes for the next bus. A few stops later, he said, a woman boarded and lit into the driver for being so late. “It wasn't the driver's fault, but she just wouldn’t let up.” He and another rider used their cell phones to call Customer Service. They told the representative what was happening and why, and to disregard any call that might come in from an irate woman complaining about the driver of this route being so late.
One early weekday morning, I find a family of six waiting at my bus stop for my bus. A family of six! Two parents going to work at different jobs, four children going to school at two different schools. They’ve never used the bus before. Their car is in the shop. They downloaded the bus schedules, spent hours working out the schedules and connections. Mom drills the kids in the predawn dark. It becomes 6:13 a.m. and no sign of the bus. By 6:20, he’s still not here. I tell them how unusual this is, especially for this driver by whom you can set your watch. Mom calls ABQ RIDE. She listens to music for seven minutes, then hangs up. At 6:30 I tell them this is the first time for me the bus has not come. Mom and one of the kids are going to be late. Abel comes down around 6:40 to catch the 6:45. He tells them he’s been riding the bus for eight years and this is the first time this bus has not shown up. The family is pretty deflated by now. We all board the 6:45. Sorry, but the driver has no idea what happened to the earlier bus. The next morning, no one shows up at the bus stop except me.
We are rolling down Lomas one morning when we pass one of the regulars who is running to make the stop. She’s a student. She’s wearing a backpack and running stolidly, as if to make the effort and hope for the best while simultaneously knowing she can’t possibly make the stop on time. We pass her handily on our way to her stop. Will the driver wait? Bless his heart, he does. She climbs on board, breathlessly thanks him, flashes her pass. “You know your pass expired yesterday,” he tells her. She stands at the till, dumbstruck and panting, then slaps her forehead. Yes, it’s the first of the month. Another regular calls out, “Mary, you need some change?” The driver says, “Don’t worry. I know you always have a pass. Show it to me tomorrow.” He waves her toward the back of the bus and pulls out.
At the bus stop in front of the Sunrise Apartments. While passengers are exiting and boarding, I see a small child up the street, standing at the corner. She’s watching the bus. I think of my granddaughters and guess three, maybe four. She’s a real blondie. Electric blue pants, bright yellow long-sleeve top. The bus starts up. When the front of the bus reaches her corner, she whips around, bends over, and shakes her little booty at us, yellow arms working like pistons. Then she bolts down the sidewalk. Even though the windows are closed, the motor’s too loud, and she’s too far away, I can hear her squealing laughter. I’m momentarily astonished, then laugh out loud – a single, short, explosive “Ha!” No one looks back.