Sunday, October 28, 2007

BUS STORY # 56 (The Security Guard)

Two of us get off the Rapid Ride and walk around the corner to catch the Lomas outbound. Like me, he’s a regular rider. I know this not because I’ve seen him before – I haven’t – but because he’s got an umbrella. We both do, and they’re open against the light rain falling this late monsoon season afternoon.

We both pull up at the bench. He steps out into the pull-in and looks westward. Then he steps back up to the sidewalk.

“Sometimes it’s right here, and sometimes it’s a 20-minute wait,” he tells me.

“We must have just missed it,” I reply.

He asks me where I work. I tell him. I ask him where he works.

“PNM,” he says. That’s Public Service Company of New Mexico, our statewide power utility. “I’m a security guard there.”

He pulls up his polo shirt to reveal a chalk green uniform shirt with a gold badge. I notice the brown pants with the narrow stripe down one side.

“I wear this over my shirt because sometimes the drivers will see my uniform and ask me to go settle somebody down who’s gotten a little rowdy. I’ve done it once or twice, but, you know, it’s not my job. I’m off work, you know? They should hire someone to do that job.”

I agree. I tell him it’s not just wrong, but it’s potentially dangerous to him. I’m not just thinking of random provocation and the unforeseen violent backlash. I’m also thinking he does not look like a security guard. He looks like someone’s nice little brother. He’s all of five-six, compact but not exactly buff, and he has a pleasant, easy-going face. On his head is a cap – not with a PNM or security logo, but with, of all things, a smiling cartoon turtle.

Perhaps he’s reading my thoughts.

“The key to avoiding trouble is all in your approach, you know? I mean, usually you can approach someone and just explain that they’re bothering some older folks up front and would they mind just toning it down a little. They usually just don’t realize how loud they are, and you usually get a ‘Oh, right, that’s cool, man,’ and that’s it.”

He looks westward again, then continues.

“Some guards just have the wrong attitude. It’s like they’re actually looking for a confrontation. I tell ‘em, ‘You want to de-escalate, you want to bring it down.’ Sometimes that doesn’t work. I don’t go looking for trouble, but I don’t back off if someone wants to kick my ass, either. It’s all in your attitude. I kind of puff myself up and I tell ‘em, ‘Look, I was born and raised in St Louis in an Italian neighborhood, and we were surrounded by’ – here’s where you put in whatever your trouble maker is – black, Irish – I’m really Irish-French myself – whatever, ‘and we grew up fighting each other all the time, so I know how to take care of myself. You don’t really want to mess with me, and I don’t really want to mess with you. Besides, if you did mess with me, my neighborhood is all family, and if anything happened to me, they’d come looking for you, and they’d find you, and you really don’t want to be dealing with these people.'”

I find myself wondering how inserting “Native American” in his “surrounded by” in St. Louis would play.

“So did you learn this sort of thing in training school?”

“No, I picked it up here and there. I started in the military. But in the military, they don’t worry about the niceties and all the cultural sensitivity stuff. It’s a lot different out here.” He chuckles, shakes his head. “No sireee.”

The bus arrives. We board, choose separate seats. He immediately engages with his seatmate. You’d never take him for a security guard. I wonder if maybe this is the real secret of his success.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

BUS STORY # 55 (Take Me For A Ride In Your Bus Bus)

I’m homeward bound on the Rapid Ride one evening, and we are rolling. We roll till we hit a red light at Central and Louisiana. When the light turns green, we’ll cross the intersection and stop at the station by the Ta Lin grocery store. But when the light turns green, the bus turns south on Louisiana.

“Hey! What the -- ”

“Detour,” calls out the driver. “Been some kind of accident up by I-40 and Wyoming.”

“So where are we going?”

“We turnin’ left on Zuni and goin’ back to Wyoming.”

The passenger across the aisle looks at me and raises his eyebrows. He’s thinking what the rest of us are thinking. Someone in the back articulates the thought.

“That doesn’t make any sense if the accident was on I-40 and Wyoming.”

“It don’t matter if it makes sense or not. I ain’t gonna get myself fined for not followin’ directions. Maybe it was a accident on Central.”

“Maybe it was a roll-over.”

“Maybe it was a shooting.”

“Yeah, that’s the war zone.”

“People just don’t be treatin’ other people right,” the driver adds, jumping back into the conversation. She editorializes on this subject right on past Wyoming.

“Hey! You just passed Wyoming!”

“That was Wyoming? Oh, well, we gonna get there.”

She laughs and drives on. Zuni merges into Central well east of Wyoming. We are in uncharted waters as far as Rapid Ride goes. She comes to a stop light at Moon and makes a left turn. Moon quickly turns into a little residential street with cars and trucks parked on both sides of the street. She’s threading the needle, taking the Rapid Ride boldly where no Rapid Ride has gone before.

“Bet folks round here never seen a big ol’ bus on their street before,” she laughs. I’m laughing myself, but mostly because I’ve just been hit by the sheer goofiness of everything that’s happened since the stoplight at Louisiana.

Moon dead-ends at a right-turn only. “We ain’t gonna be gettin’ to Lomas this way,” she says. She negotiates a pretty tight turn for a Rapid Ride. I’ve gotta hand it to her: she can drive a bus. She makes another right turn at the next intersection.

“We goin’ back to Central. We gonna get there.”

And we do. A couple of passengers have moved up to the front of the bus and are standing just behind the driver and the fare box. They aim to make sure she doesn’t miss Wyoming again. She doesn’t. She swings the bus around and slows but doesn’t quite stop at the station. She’s already pulling out again when an irate voice calls out from the back, “Hey! Back door! Back door!”

She slows a bit, then resumes full speed.

“Hon, you didn’t pull the cord.”

“The hell I didn’t! That was a stop. Now I’m gonna miss my bus. That’s the last bus! You’re gonna make me miss my last bus!”

He’s picking up steam just like the bus. When he’s finished blowing off, she calls back, “I cain’t be stoppin’ just anywhere to let folks on and off. This is the Rapid Ride.”

We come to a full stop at the Wyoming-Lomas station.

“Thanks a lot for making me miss my bus,” the guy in the back calls out as he exits the rear door.

I exit the front. “Thanks for the ride,” I say with a grin.

“You’re welcome, hon,” she sasses right back. And she gives me a wink.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

One photo features a Rapid Ride New Flyer, series 6400, 12 of which arrived in Albuquerque in 2004. The other features a Rapid Ride New Flyer, series 6600, 6 of which were added to the ABQ RIDE fleet this past spring. Can you tell which is which?

BUS STORY # 54 (Bus Spotting)

Many years ago, my wife gave me a birding guidebook. At the time, most of my outdoor activities were confined to hiking and stream fishing, so I didn’t really use it or the binoculars that came as part of the present. This bothered my wife, and so I finally got around to doing my husbandly duty and took the book and the binocs with us on an outing to the southwestern part of the state.

One of the first spottings I made was a California Quail. Only it wasn’t a California Quail. This was made clear to me by a woman with her own binoculars who was standing nearby when I foolishly announced my spot aloud. The woman – a stereotypically hardy-lean lady with short gray hair and serious boots – took my guidebook and, with a rudimentary patience, showed me how the California Quail and the Gambel’s Quail are really quite different from one another if you know what to look for – never mind the fact there wasn’t a California Quail within 700 miles of where we were standing.

What does this have to do with buses? The city is getting ready to add 60 new buses to its fleet. These will be the 500 series of buses, and they will be replacing the older 100 and 200 series of buses now in service.

Bus Story # 43 is the first time I first referred to a bus by other than its route: “The Yale bus is now often one of the larger ‘300s.’ No more standing on this particular run.” I knew there were different style ABQ RIDE buses – I’d noted four different types, in fact. But for a long time, I had no idea which was a 200, which a 400, or how the regular riders knew which was which.

The answer was almost as embarrassing as the quail incident. Each bus is numbered, and each number begins with the number of the series. “302" is bus 302 of the 300 series. And where are these numbers located? On the outside of the bus: front, side and back; on the inside, over the windshield. Like the birder woman said, you just have to know what to look for.

Birding, of course, gets much more complicated than distinguishing one species from another. There are males and females and juveniles and immatures, and breeding and winter and first and second year plumages, and light and dark phases and sub varieties and hybrids . . . and then there are the geographical ranges and all their seasonal variations, the habitat, and, oh, yes, the calls.

But how complicated could differentiating one bus from another be, really? Here’s a March, 2007, Wikipedia post by someone from Albuquerque named “Andros”: “Hey, today I saw two of ABQ RIDE's new DE60LFs. The new buses are the 6600 series, I saw 6604 and 6605 today. They look similar to the current fleet, but with different-looking windows. They still feature the front multicolor destination signs, and do NOT feature New Flyer's restyled front end.” Andros is referring to the Rapid Ride series, and we did indeed get a second shipment of these in the spring of 2007. To the untrained eye, they look exactly the same, don’t they? Personally, I can’t wait to get into bus calls.


The top photo features the 6400(the 6408, to be exact). 6602 is on bottom.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

BUS STORY # 53 (Ain’t That America)

In this month’s KUNM public radio newsletter, General Manager Richard S. Towne grouses about the rapidly expanding phenomenon of product placement. “There’s that bottle of Heinz ketchup on the table during the dinner scene of your favorite movie. Then there’s the long, lovely, lingering shot of the shiny new Lexus during your favorite, weekly crime drama on cable. You love the great new song on the radio by the singer Akon about his Lamborghini Gallardo.”

Towne goes on to reference a blog that reports Fergie (a “mega-popstar chanteuse with the best-selling band Black-Eyed Peas”) has signed a lucrative deal with a “hip” clothing company to feature its brand name in future songs. Those of us of a certain age and countercultural sensibility might deplore this new evidence of the corporate corruption of all that is sacred -- but then we'd have to laboriously (and probably futilely) explain why it’s not the same thing when Janis Joplin sings “O Lord, won’t you buy me/A Mercedes-Benz.”

So what does any of this have to do with ABQ RIDE? Note the two photos connected with this story. I’d originally planned to title them “It used to go like that, but now it goes like this” -- a line Bob Dylan used in concert back in 1966 when introducing a rocked-up version of his earlier folk version of “Baby, Let Me Follow You Down.” The first photo features one of the “400” series buses carrying the familiar side-of-bus advertising. The second photo also features a “400” – but what a difference! The first photo features an ABQ RIDE bus; the second, what we riders refer to as “the Allstate bus” or, more simply, “the blue bus.”

So what’s going on? Well, yes, of course: a new frontier for advertising. But why is the city allowing its buses to be converted from a symbol of municipal public transportation to rolling corporate advertisements?

The first thing to keep in mind is that public transportation does not pay for itself. It has to be subsidized (at least until there is no other alternative). Subsidies come from city taxes, fares, federal funding, and advertising.

According to the ABQ RIDE website, when the current director, Greg Payne, took over at the end of 2005, ABQ RIDE “was projected to be 6% over budget.” Payne “brought busboard advertising in-house . . . and continues to generate at least $30,000 per month in revenue. This is a 50% increase compared to past years when working with an outside contractor.” (So much for the vaunted theory that free enterprise and/or outsourcing is more efficient than government.) And, finally, “ . . . by June 30, 2006, ABQ RIDE’s actual financial status was 1.4% under budget.”

To return to the music analogy, the Rolling Stones were the first band to adopt corporate sponsorship for their concert tours. They explained this was how they kept the cost of tickets down for folks like you and me. Most folks I know would not prefer raising the cost of bus trips in order to keep ABQ RIDE’s current paint job.

Full vehicle advertising isn’t a brand new phenomenon. We’ve all seen cars and trucks with custom paint jobs or vinyl wraps advertising both national and local products (VW Bugs and PT Cruisers seem especially popular). Bus size advertising seems a pretty natural jump from here. I don’t know this for sure, but I’d bet a bus pass ABQ RIDE is not the first municipal bus system to rent out its buses as giant billboards.

As far as I can tell, this is a non-issue here in Albuquerque. For one thing, we’re a lot more preoccupied with the buses running on time than we are with how they look. For another, as Towne noted, product placement is an increasingly common and thus increasingly accepted phenomenon.

There is also the fact that local culture includes the low-rider subculture which has long featured extensive and strikingly unusual custom paint jobs. Maybe this has laid the groundwork for our ho-hum reaction to the new bus make-overs which are pretty tame in comparison.

Meanwhile, I’m waiting for the day when one of my fellow riders watches our bus pull up and says, “You all go on ahead. I’m waiting to ride the AT&T bus.”


October 9, 2007

From Chip in Seattle:

It happens here in Seattle with everything covered – how do you like this ad?