Sunday, July 08, 2007

BUS STORY # 40 (We Have A Trolley, Too!)

I was planning a Fun Day when ABQ RIDE dropped an email in my inbox announcing the return of the Albuquerque Old Town Trolley for the summer.

“Fun Day” is a surprise date. One of us gets an idea, then asks the other if we can have a particular day and time for a Fun Day. That’s all the information the other gets, except for appropriate dress recommendations. We’re careful not to take advantage – no “Surprise! We’re bungee-jumping the Grand Canyon!” We’re trying to enhance the relationship here.

So I was making plans when the trolley came along. It was a perfect fit.

One Saturday afternoon, I drove us to the Park And Ride south of Coronado Mall. “I should have suspected this would involve the bus,” my wife said, but she was up for it.

We took the Rapid Ride downtown. This was her first Rapid Ride experience. We were the only two passengers boarding at the Park And Ride.

“Is it always this empty?” she asked.

“I’ve never seen an empty Rapid Ride,” I told her.

“Take my picture,” she directed. I raised the camera. “No, I mean from the front of the bus.”

She sat in the center seat at the back of the bus and I took her picture from down by the fare box. Then I took pictures of the advertisements on the overhead panels that featured Rapid Ride as part of the advertisement. The bus driver asked us where we were from.

We picked up passengers all along the way, and a good handful of us got off downtown at the Alvarado Transportation Center. This is the site of the legendary and former Alvarado Hotel. The hotel was demolished over the protests of preservationists in the ‘70s. Here’s a link to a good story in the Santa Fe New Mexican by Marc Simmons, noted local New Mexico historian.

The Alvarado Hotel

The site is no longer a gravel parking lot. The city built the ABQ RIDE depot using an Alvarado Hotel façade. We walked around, visited the waiting room and information desk, checked out the big fountain in the main pedestrian entranceway, then went searching for the bay where the trolley would dock. “The trolley!” my wife exclaimed. I was getting points for this Fun Day.

The Albuquerque trolley has a history. We had mule-powered trolleys pulled along tracks back in the 1880s. We got our first electric trolleys back in 1904. Those were replaced by buses in 1927. Trolleys reappeared as four motorized, trackless trolley cars in the 1980s under the auspices of the Albuquerque Trolley Company, an independent touring company. These I remember, in large part because of their names: Molly, TaMolly, GuacaMolly, and Pasqualé. This endeavor came to an end sometime in the ‘90s. ABQ RIDE (known then as Sun Tran) restored the trolleys once again, although with slightly different trolley cars and without cutesy names and tour guides.

It may not be San Francisco, but, as you can see, our little trolley is charming and quaint. Inside, it has brass handrails and leather hand straps and old-fashioned wood benches that are surprisingly uncomfortable and slippery. But not enough to put a dent in the fun. A family boarded along with us, two parents and two small, excited children. We passed several buses, and the drivers all waved to our driver. The kids waved back.

We got off at the Albuquerque Museum where we saw a fine exhibit on Billy The Kid. Among other things, we learned one of Garrett’s two deputies, J.W. Poe, wrote his own eyewitness account of the events that night in Ft. Sumner. Not only does he contradict much of Garrett’s story, but he also says Garrett shot the wrong man. Pretty cool stuff.

There was also a wonderful collection of movie posters for the some 60 movies that have been made about The Kid. My favorite was Rompiendo Las Reglas (literally, “Breaking The Rules,” an interesting rendition of the original title in English, “The Outlaws Is Coming”). It starred none other than Los Tres Chiflados (The Three Stooges!).

There was even an iPod station where we listened to the Top Ten songs about Billy. Wonderful discovery here: “Me and Billy The Kid, we never got along” written by Joe Ely and sung by Pat Green (live at Liberty Lunch, a legendary music venue in the legendary live music city of Austin).

We left at closing time. My plan was to take the trolley back to the Alvarado, then the 66 to the Standard Diner for dinner. When we’d gone into the museum around 2:00 p.m. or so, it was a hot summer afternoon with clear blue skies. When we walked back outside three hours later, the skies were a restless gray, we could smell rain, and I could have used a light jacket.

I decided getting us rained on would take the fun out of “Fun Day,” so we headed for an Old Town restaurant, Ambrozia, just a short walk away. We got there a little after five, but the place was closed. We looked for a schedule, thinking maybe it didn’t open until 5:30 p.m., but there was nothing on the door. We caught sight of a young woman inside. She looked at us, then disappeared and never returned.

It had begun to sprinkle. Standing on the front porch, we spotted a Rapid Ride -- and it stopped across the street! I suggested we switch gears again and head for Nob Hill and Scalo. Shortly after boarding the next Rapid Ride, it began to pour. We saw lightning, heard thunder. The mountains were partly grayed out. By the time we got to the Nob Hill stop, the traffic was spewing rooster tails onto the sidewalks. “We’re going on to the car,” I told my wife. That was OK by her.

The rain had stopped when we got to the car. We settled for Pei Wei, a raucous and somewhat frenzied Asian-style chain salvaged by what my wife described as the best Vietnamese spring rolls ever. Then we walked next door to The Satellite, got two coffees and a Flying Star pear torte with two forks, and had a long, leisurely dessert. We noted one of the baristas was movie-star handsome, but in an old-fashioned way, like a young James Dean. We watched a small midway light up across the street in the Coronado Mall parking lot. My wife put her head on my shoulder and said, “You did good.” I felt good. “We don’t do enough of these,” she said. She’s right.


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