Sunday, September 30, 2007

BUS STORY # 52 (The State Fair: Ralph’s Bus Story # 1)

Ralph* is a numbers guy working for one of the local health plans. We both work in the same office building. He usually boards the Lomas bus somewhere between Manzano High School and Juan Tabo. He introduced me to an alternative to taking the Rapid Ride to Yale back in July. If we hit Wyoming before 6:50 a.m., we stay on the Lomas bus, get off in front of UNM Hospital, and walk across the UNM campus to Central and Yale where we only have to wait a few minutes for the Yale bus. When Ralph rides, I follow his lead. Otherwise, I take the Rapid Ride.

The walk across campus is like walking through a park. Much of the architecture is Pueblo Revival-style, the sidewalks meander among the buildings, the landscaping is lovely, and trees make the walk shady and cool. We even pass the legendary Duck Pond before entering the broad Chaco-like concourse that eventually lets us out into the abrupt rudeness of Central.

“I’ve only missed the Yale bus twice,” Ralph tells me. Sometimes, he explains, there are more stops than usual, or traffic snarls, or even the occasional flash flood. This morning, on the approach to Wyoming, Ralph studies his watch. “Hmmm. I think we ought to take the Rapid Ride this morning.” The RR is turning onto Wyoming from I-40 as the Lomas bus passes through the intersection. We exit the Lomas, hustle across the street, and get to the RR stop the same time as it does.

“We’ve missed you all week,” Ralph tells the driver. He’s referring to the fact that the Lomas bus has been running on time and he hasn’t needed to catch the RR.

“It’s the State Fair,” the driver answers.

“You mean the traffic?” I ask, skeptically. The traffic is a mess there, but not at this hour.

“No. I mean the city deciding to pull a bunch of buses off their regular schedules to service the fair and not telling anyone and just leaving them hanging out on the street wondering what happened to their bus. They didn’t post it on the website or nothin’ – just this little bitty notice in the back of the paper one day.”

The driver is obviously feeling hot about the matter. I tell Ralph this is the first I’ve heard this story.

“It’s true,” he replies, and he tells me his story.

Just last week, he was waiting for the outbound Lomas home. It didn’t come. He waited over 30 minutes for the next one. When it arrived, one of his fellow boarders asked the driver what had happened to the earlier bus. The driver replied it had broken down.

Ralph had heard rumors, and he decided he’d run a bluff. He told the driver he’d called ABQ RIDE on his cell, and they told him the bus had been pulled for State Fair duty. The driver looked surprised. He asked Ralph if they really told him that. When Ralph said, “Yup,” he replied they weren’t supposed to be telling riders that.

Later that morning, I checked the ABQ RIDE website. There was a fine, fully informative entry on the State Fair Park and Ride program, but not one word about where the buses and drivers were coming from or the impact it would have on regular bus service. What else can a mere mortal do when confronted with the multitudes and all he’s got is five loaves and two buses? Why, get them to the State Fair pronto where they can get their chile relleno corn dogs and deep-fried pickles! The appearance of a miracle, of course.


*Real name changed.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

BUS STORY # 51 (Ambush At Skateboard Park and Willa’s Bus Story # 3)

Skateboard Park is what it sounds like: a skateboarding facility built and maintained by the city with all sorts of skateboard-challenging terrain like stairs and handrails, ramps, trick boxes, pyramids, variations on sectioned pipes, and other trick-oriented constructs. It’s a popular place. I usually keep my eye on it when the Lomas bus passes it by on the way home because someone will probably be trying some sort of acrobatics – either on a skateboard or one of those BMX bikes.

And I do have my eye on it one evening on the way home when there is a sudden CRACK! and we all see the curbside window at the front of the bus granulate into a million little opaque diamonds. “Awww, maaaaaaaan!” from the bus driver, and he pulls over just past the park. The woman and her child sitting by the window move quickly to the other side of the bus. “Y’all ok?” the bus driver asked them. The mother shakes her head yes. There is a small dot marking the point of impact. I’m thinking BB or pellet gun. Everybody else says “rock.” How can they tell?

“Anybody see anything?” asks the driver. The guy across the aisle and one seat up from me answers, “Same thing happened two weeks ago at this same spot. It was the eight pm bus.” The driver makes a phone call to his dispatcher. “They’ll catch him,” the guy continues. “Those guys can’t help bragging how they nailed a bus.” When the driver finishes his call, he announces we’ll have to disembark and catch the next bus. He has to wait for the police. We disembark and wait another twenty minutes for the next bus. It beats out the police.

A few days later, I meet Willa* on the inbound Lomas and tell her my story. “Same thing happened to me on the Rapid Ride a few months back,” she says. She tells me how she heard this loud report about the same time the front window to the right of the bus driver sort of exploded. She was sitting in one of the seats facing the aisle, and the guy beside her dove for the floor and took her with him. “Sorry,” he apologized. “Reflex.” She asked him what happened. “Gunshot,” he replied. “There was a hole in the windshield this big,” she explains, making a circle with her thumb and forefinger.

The police arrived and interviewed each passenger. Willa missed a meeting at the hospital that morning, but she considered that a positive consequence. Plus, she was amused by the interview one of her fellow passengers gave the police. Willa describes this woman as rather mean-spirited and having a loud mouth. “Not a pleasant person,” she concludes. The woman told the cops she was sure whoever had shot out the bus window was gunning for her. “And why is that, ma’am?” asked the officer. “Not many people like me,” she explained. Willa laughs. “She sure got that right,” she tells me.


*Real name changed.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

BUS STORY # 50 (The Bogeyman)

School is in session and the morning buses are crowded with students. Sitting in the back of the Yale bus, there are several of them, an older guy with a backwards driving cap and oversized shorts whose hems come to tattooed mid-calf, and me.

Sitting across from me is a small kid, short but not buzzed hair, no visible tattoos or piercings unless you count all the safety pins randomly placed in his sweatshirt and jeans. The sweatshirt is gray, hooded, and the front is hand-printed with “Hated By All.” The kid looks more like he could be loved by all.

The kids are talking school trash; the older guy and I are silent. We’re sitting at a red light when the safety-pin kid shouts, “That guy is a liar!” He’s pointing somewhere just a few inches past my left ear. I turn, expecting to see a campaign poster. Instead, I see the spray-painted hieroglyphics of gang writing on a wall.

“He’s a lying liar,” the kid repeats.

“Who?” asks the kid sitting next to him.

“Him.” Pointing. “The Bogeyman. He’s just trying to scare people, that’s all. But I ain’t scared of him.”

“He’s been in the pen, bro.”

“He’s a liar. I ain’t scared of no bogeyman.”

The conversation drifts away. At the next stop, the older guy gets up to leave. As he passes in front of the kid and me, he says, looking straight ahead, under his breath but loud enough for the kid and me to hear, “You been in the pen, you don’t need to advertise.” And he steps off the bus.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

BUS STORY # 49 (It Takes A Village)

Two young junior high-sized kids board the bus. They’re on their way to school. They’ve affected the “gangbanger” style the way so many of us guys adopted whatever passed for street cool in our generation. I see the same swagger and bravado, the same need to let everybody know, that betrays just how insecure we really are in that phase of our lives.

On this particular morning, I’m calling on this particular exercise to help me see and accept my connectedness to these students – to “reframe” (as we are saying this season) my immediate registration of two hormonally compromised inepts who are commandeering the peace and quiet and civility of this morning’s ride. I’ve made considerable progress when the conversation starts to fly.

“I see white people,” a third student calls to them from the back of the bus. “I see a faggot,” retorts one of the boarders. I see the guy sitting across from me stiffen.

I’ve seen this guy both coming and going on this route. He’s quiet in the morning, but on the way home, he’s exuberant. He chats easily with several other riders, and it’s obvious he’s part of another little long-established community of commuters. I’d long ago surmised he is probably gay. When he stiffens at the student’s “faggot,” so do I.

The pair passes us on the way to the back of the bus, and I watch my neighbor track them. His face is rigid and his eyes are terrible with anger and fear and impotence. The palpability of these primary emotions unravels my tidy paradigm. I can no longer entertain the memory that the put-down greeting is what passes for affection at this age; I’m no longer checked by the memories of my own prolonged adolescence – “young, dumb, and full of” etc. I’ve taken on my neighbor’s anger and fear and – not yet noteworthy – impotence.

Up on the platform at the rear of the bus, another rider accosts them. He’s dressed in the street uniform of the Vietnam vet. “Hey,” he says to them, “it’s not cool to be bashing gays.” His voice manages to be firm without being angry or blaming. (Imagine that!) The kids mumble something and appear momentarily confused at the collision of feeling chastened and the sense they’re not supposed to be taking nothing off of nobody here. They eventually resume their role, but their voices are quieter now.

I’m still uncomfortable, but now it’s because of the way the vet’s intervention is reframing my “impotence.” Like my neighbor, I fear for my own comfort and safety. Maybe like my neighbor, and maybe not, I also fear my own anger and the judgmentalism from which it comes. I fear if I had tried intervening like the vet, I would have caused more anger, not less unkindness. And so I made a choice: sit still, keep my mouth shut, keep my neighbors out of the business I’m minding.

Here’s the story: regardless of what the vet may or may not have planted in the minds and hearts of these kids, he’s planted in me the discomforting thought that keeping quiet out of fear is cowardice, not impotence. He’s also got me thinking that, if I believe there are times one ought to speak out because something’s just not right, then there are going to be times I’m gonna have to talk the talk as well as walk the walk. More: I’m gonna have to learn how to talk the talk so I don’t make things worse. ¡Hijole! Driving would have been a whole lot easier than taking the bus this morning.

Monday, September 03, 2007

BUS STORY # 48 (Special Edition: Paul’s Bus Story # 1: “We Can’t Make It Here Anymore”)

Paul is a long time friend from here in Albuquerque. He and I rode the bus together back in Bus Story # 46. A few weeks later, he went out to San Diego and got a bus story of his own. He got a good one.

It was warm and breezy in San Diego at the corner of Broadway and Pacific Highway. I was waiting under a bus stop sign for the arrival of the 923 which, according to a transit map, promised to get me from the downtown Santa Fe Amtrak Depot to the airport for my flight back to Albuquerque.

As I waited for the 923, I used my cell phone to call my bus-riding friend in Albuquerque. As I expected, he didn’t pick up. I left a message citing his in-depth knowledge of bus schedules and asking him to confirm for me that the 923 here in San Diego would, in fact, get me to the airport. I could imagine his burst of laughter when he got this message at the end of his workday. I closed by saying I’d keep my eyes and ears open for a good bus story.

A red city bus labeled “Airport Express” rolled across the adjacent intersection. “D’oh! I’ll bet I was supposed to be on that one,” I thought to myself. I recalled the “Airport Express” which picked up passengers closer to the Amtrak station. While I was stewing about this, the 923 rolled up to me right on time and opened its door.

I asked the driver if this was the best bus to take to the airport. He was wearing wire-rim glasses and had a pleasant round face. Think Radar from M*A*S*H without the quirky voice.

“Well . . .” His hesitation answered my question. “There is the Airport Line that takes you right to the terminal, but I drop off just a short block away so you’ll be all right here. It’s not far from the terminal but if people have a lot of bags, they want to be closer than my stop.”

“As long as it’s not too long a schlep,” I said, stepping on with my one small bag.

“No, you’ll be fine.”

I showed him the one-way trolley ticket I bought to get downtown, not expecting it to also get me to the airport. “That’s fine,” he smiled. Somehow I think I got a free ride.

I sat on the bench seat across from him, normally reserved for the elderly. The bus was all but empty so I figured I was all right there and I didn’t want to miss the airport stop.

San Diego’s airport is somewhat infamous for being right in the city. The planes seem like they glide right between the downtown buildings as they land. In my infrequent visits to San Diego over the years, I’ve noticed how people’s conversation routinely and patiently stops for the noise and vibration to pass. I forget why, but the driver gave me a quick history of the local debate over moving the airport out of town because people are tired of it.

“The only land they’ve been able to find large enough to hold an airport,” he said, “is so far away that it would be the furthest distance between a major city and it’s municipal airport in the U.S. I don’t think it’ll ever happen.”

I imagined it might happen if enough developers wanted to build high-priced downtown housing - if the airport moved. They probably can’t sell condos with windows that shake every eight minutes with each plane’s arrival.

“Where are you heading?” the driver asked back over his shoulder.

“Albuquerque,” I replied.

“Yeah?” His face lit up. “I like Albuquerque. I was stationed at Kirtland for five years. We really liked it there.”

“Oh yeah? Did you live down on Gibson?” Gibson is where the base housing is.

“Yeah we had a little house. It was great. I was in military transport but after the first Gulf War they eliminated a bunch of positions so I lost out. I would have rather tried to find a job in Albuquerque and stay there but my wife had family out here so we came out here about 15 years ago.”

Even though there were only four other passengers, all likely locals who knew exactly where they were going, the driver dutifully leaned into his microphone and called out each stop with exacting diction. “Maritime Museum,” he announced. We rolled passed an impressive old schooner with huge sails in the bay, part of the museum I guessed.

“So, how’s it going out for you out here?” I asked him.

“Oh it’s all right. We’re still in the trailer we got when we moved out here. We’ve tried to get a house a couple of times but the real estate is ridiculous here. You know how they talk about the jobs and sunshine benefit to get you out here? Well, there’s just as much sunshine in a lot of other places and there just aren’t that many jobs. So close to Tijuana here, there are lots of legal immigrants who go back and forth across the border and take a lot of the jobs. So it’s kind of tough.”

He kind of shrugged, smiled and leaned in earnestly to his microphone to announce another stop.

“Yeah, I’d really like to move back to Albuquerque,” he said again, wistfully. He said it like someone who didn't really believe he'd ever get out of his San Diego trailer.

The airport was coming into view.

“Do you know which terminal you’re going out of?” he asked me.

I looked at the signs which said “Southwest Airlines.” One said “Southwest- Terminal One.” Another said “Southwest- Terminal Two.”

“I really don’t,” I said, fumbling for my reservation sheet to see if there was a clue. “It’s Southwest.”

“Then it’s Terminal One,” said the driver. I guessed he knew exactly where all the Southwest flights to Albuquerque took off from.

As we prepared to stop, I said, “Well, tell your wife you ran into an angel on your bus today who invited you to move back to Albuquerque.”

He laughed. “Okay, I will. Just use the crosswalk on the right back there, then curl around to the left to the terminal. You can’t miss it.”

“Thanks,” I said. “Good luck to you.” I meant it.

“Thanks,” said the driver with the sweet smile.

Moments later, I thought of the recent James McMurtry song, “We Can’t Make It Here Anymore.”

“Some have maxed out all their credit cards,
Some are working two jobs and living in cars.
Minimum wage won’t pay for a roof,
Won’t pay for a drink. If you gotta have proof,
Just try it yourself, Mr. CEO.
See how far 5.15 an hour will go.
Take a part time job at one of your stores.
Bet you can’t make it here anymore.”