Sunday, July 01, 2007












BUS STORY # 39 (If You’re Going To San Francisco)


My wife and I were in Oakland a couple of weekends ago where we took the opportunity to ride the BART into San Francisco. BART is the Bay Area Rapid Transport, a high-speed train system that links several communities in three counties surrounding San Francisco Bay. It is comparable to our Rapid Ride – if you can imagine the rest of Albuquerque as three counties, buses that can reach 80 mph, Central Avenue as train tracks, and the underpass east of First Street as a tunnel under a bay. If you can do that, we’ll work on making Albuquerque comparable to Manhattan next time.

We had purposefully chosen to use the BART rather than rent a car – more out of curiosity and (I confess) with the hope of snagging an out-of-town bus story. Our hotel was a block away from a station, and, as it turned out, all our destinations in San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley were no more than a couple of blocks from a BART station. We didn’t have the need for a bus.

In San Francisco, that was a bummer. The city public transportation system is called the Muni, and in addition to the ordinary garden–variety buses and articulated Rapid Ride-style buses, they have electric trolleybuses, the famous cable cars, of course, but best of all, a wonderful collection of antique Italian electric trams which, I was told, had been picked up from other cities’ discards, and refurbished and installed in the Muni. A clear case of “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” and a fine recommendation for recycling.

I got my story on the ride back to Oakland. On the BART, seating is in clusters of four, two facing fore, two aft, so that two passengers sit next to one another and face the two passengers opposite them. It’s like a little living room without a coffee table.

A man boarded the BART and sat in the empty seat opposite me. I’d guess he was in his early 50s. He might have been a “person of color” (a phrase used in the bay area without any sense of priggishness or irony). It was hard to tell. Here in New Mexico, we have a relatively limited palette of familiar colors and physiotypes. (It is not for nothing we are called “tricultural.”) This gentleman’s coloring was unfamiliar to me, but it was warm and exotic and had a glow which set off beautifully the silver in his thick hair and neatly trimmed beard. Add the large, dark, and -- really, this is the way they looked -- kind eyes, and he was truly arresting. He wore jeans, white athletic shoes, and a powder blue, V-neck windbreaker. He had a plastic Target bag which he set carefully on his lap.

Once he was settled and the train got on its way, he pulled two record albums out of the bag. He took one and held it up and began examining it carefully, front and back. It was Meet The Beatles, Capitol Records’ first Beatles album release. It was worn, and I could see fissures along the edges. He studied both sides carefully, then pulled the inner sleeve partway out of the album. I saw ads for other Capitol artists at the time: Al Martino is the one I remember. Then he carefully extracted the vinyl partway out of the inner sleeve and studied it carefully. From what I could see, it was in excellent condition.

About this time, I noticed the man across the aisle was looking at the album with the same degree of attention we were. He was with his wife (who was looking out the window). They were my age, maybe a decade older than our record collector, and they looked like they had managed to make money without forfeiting their ‘60s countercultural sense of style. No matter what our actual origins, all of us belonged to a generation that knew about not just the Beatles, but about album covers, and how they were as much a part of the experience as the music on the enclosed vinyl.

He gently pushed the record back into its sleeve, the sleeve back into the jacket, then put it beneath the second album. He picked up the second album and began examining it as he had the first. It was The Beatles’ Second Album. He was intently studying the cover of the album when he must have sensed I was staring at him. He suddenly moved the album down a bit and looked directly at me. And then he smiled. It was the Summer of Love all over again.

That smile told me he knew I knew what he had there, and wasn't it amazing? And while it’s also true I didn’t know exactly what he had there (a particular pressing of one of the several of this particular album cover? The original inner sleeve? The excellent condition of the vinyl?), and that I didn’t know whether this was a finding of pure chance or the culmination of a quest, he was right: I did know exactly what he had there, and, yes, it was amazing. More amazing was the rare beauty of such innocent joy in the smile of a man our age.

3 Comments:

Blogger ZS said...

I think objects will always possess more magic than their more practical digital replacements, and now that the era of objects is over, many people are rediscovering their charm.

You can have a whole relationship -a whole rich history of associations - with a certain record. You can't ever go goey over an MP3 in the same way.

I have those albums, too, by the way. I'm feeling the urge to go and stroke them now and get all geeky and fetishistic about vinyl.

11:10 AM  
Blogger Busboy said...

I’m not sure it was the vinyl for me (although I swear the sound has a depth a CD doesn’t capture). But I remember being somewhat spellbound by certain album covers. Just a few that come to mind: Bringing It All Back Home, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Some Girls, Death Of A Ladie’s Man, Smells Like Teen Spirit, and, of course, Sgt. Pepper’s.

9:02 PM  
Blogger Busboy said...

I can't believe I forgot the wonderful album cover for Manitas de Plata's Juerga!

4:47 AM  

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