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.”


Blogger John said...

The real estate prices in San Diego are awful. I remember when I was a little kid I lived in San Diego, my mom and dad felt like they were trapped there until we were kicked out of the apartment (a blessing in disguise?) and we decided to move to New Mexico.

And this was back in 1999. I can't imagine what it's like now.

12:07 AM  
Blogger Busboy said...

Hi, John. Nice to hear from you again. I'll make sure Paul sees your comment. It's especially nice in the sense of confirming the context of the driver's story and Paul's sense of his situation. Why did your parents chooose New Mexico?

6:02 AM  
Blogger John said...

At the time my mom wanted to become a weaver, it had long been an interest of hers, and the Northern New Mexico Community College (up in Espanola and El Rito) is regarded as a really great weaving school. We've been in New Mexico ever since, but now we're in Albuquerque and I'm going to UNM. :-)

4:45 PM  

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