Sunday, December 30, 2007



BUS STORY # 65 (Special New Year's Edition: Some Good News!)

From the ABQ RIDE website (including the photo above):

ABQ RIDE Customer Complaints Tumble by 35%
Complaints Drop as Ridership Grows to More Than 10.1 Million



http://www.cabq.gov/transit/newbus.html


Mayor Martin Chávez and ABQ RIDE Director Greg Payne are pleased to announce ABQ RIDE customer complaints for 2007 have dropped by 35% from the previous year.

The decrease in customer complaints comes at a time when transit ridership actually increased 11.5% to 10,127,358 passenger boardings in 2007, a record for ABQ RIDE. “Our commitment to improving ABQ RIDE is reflected in these numbers,” said Mayor Chávez.

Among ABQ RIDE’s findings:
· Overall complaints decreased 35%
· Complaints related to regular, fixed route bus service declined 21%
· Complaints related to the Paratransit, SunVan service declined 11%
· General complaints declined 57%

Chavez and Payne attributed the decrease to a concentrated efforts this past year to improve customer service and public safety at ABQ RIDE in 2007, such as:
· Improved driver training
· Increased numbers of security officers and APD in city buses and at bus stops.
· Introduction of the Automatic Vehicle Locator (AVL) system that tracks vehicle speeds and locations
· Faster response to customer service complaints


“We aren’t perfect, but there’s no question ABQ RIDE is heading in the right direction,” Payne said. Adding “To have complaints plummet like this while ridership is increasing is almost unheard of. It speaks volumes about the men and women of ABQ RIDE. They are among the very best employees in the City of Albuquerque.”

Read the full article at
http://www.abqjournal.com/news/metro/270715metro12-19-07.htm
__________

My personal thanks to Mayor Martin Chavez and ABQ Ride Director Greg Payne for their sincere commitment to improved and clean public transportation for the city of Albuquerque. And a special thanks to all those folks at ABQ RIDE who have made the most important change of all: a dedicated and conscientious effort to do their jobs not only as good employees, but as considerate and helpful fellow citizens. Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 23, 2007


BUS STORY # 64 (Special Christmas Edition: BUS by Joe Hoover)

My daughter sent me an email with the subject line “A bus story for you.” It contained a link to a fine and thought-provoking bus story. I thought it was perfect for this series and this season.

Bill Pierce of AGNI gave me the OK to post the entire piece as long as I noted it first appeared on AGNI online (see link below) and got Joe Hoover’s permission. Joe Hoover was equally generous with his permission.


AGNI Magazine :: published at Boston University :: page last updated October 13, 2006 (Online only)


https://www.bu.edu/agni/essays-reviews/online/2006/hoover.html




BUS

By Joe Hoover

At Christmas I took the bus home from Chicago, where I study philosophy en route to becoming a Jesuit priest. It was about ten-and-a-half hours on Greyhound to get to Omaha, where I’m from. It could have been an hour and ten minutes on the plane. But I flew in no plane. I rode the bus. I rode the bus because I wanted to be with the real people. To sit with them and eat with them and talk with them. But even more than that, I took the bus so other people would know I took the bus and was with the real people. When I got to Omaha, I wanted to inform everyone that I rode cheap, communal, overland transportation to arrive there. I found myself looking for ways to put it in conversations, walking away, voice trailing, unimportant, but still there, the fact of my bus trip. If I ran into, say, Daegas or McGill or Cripe or anyone else from my old high school, I was ready to have a conversation that went something like this:

Hey, Hoov. When’d you get in?

About an hour ago.

Parents pick you up at the airport?

They picked me up, yeah. Not at the airport, but yeah…hey, did you see “House of Flying—”

Where’d they pick you up?

Oh, uh, down on 16th and Jackson.

What’s down there? Sixteenth and...isn’t that the Greyhound station?

Yeah. The bus station, yeah.

Why’d you take the bus?

Ahh, you know. It gets you there. No, but seriously, awesome, awesome movie.

You took Greyhound. Damn. Vow of poverty, huh? That’s pretty…wow. That must’ve been a drag. I took Greyhound once. When I was fourteen. To Des Moines, see my grandma. It sucked. I don’t think I’d ever do that again. That was only three hours. Chicago must’ve been, what, twelve hours?

Something like that.

(Pause)

Then again, you must have been with the real people.

Oh, I wouldn’t really…

Yes you were. Yes you were. I can feel it, your realness. It seeped into you from them.

You think?

Actually, no. I take that back. You’ve always been real, no matter who you’re with. You’re the guy who takes fourteen hours to go home because he wants to feel life go by. You don’t want to just fly over things. Skim the top, sustain only flesh wounds. You want to be troubled by every cell, every mote, every square inch of this harsh and beautiful journey we call human existence. That’s you. That is so you.

Gosh, I—

It’s wonderful. You’re wonderful. You’re with the people. And the thing is, the people? They see, clearly, that you are not of them—you with your smooth skin, your plaintive innocent eyes, your limpid brown and thinning hair, your boyish prep school looks. And yet, at the same time, they see that somehow, you are of them. By choice! That’s the difference! You are of them because you want to be of them! There in the mire of the bus stops, the loathsome restrooms and hopeless PA system. The noisy, ill-placed television, the slushy faux-brick floors, the brash, scared fourteen year old with pink streaks in her hair, on parole, waiting for her bus back to the Quad Cities. You are with them, and they know it, and secretly they love you. They are comforted, assuaged, lifted up. Just by you being with them. You have a dirty rucksack, they have a dirty rucksack, and there is redemption.

It’s cool, or whatever.

The bus.

Yeah.

We’re all brothers, aren’t we? I’m feeling...strangely...converted. To something. I want to give my life to something so grand, so dim, so remarkable and dirty and fetid. So bursting with wanton love. Why do I drive everywhere alone? Why am I so individualistic? Is there not deep within me, hidden behind mounds of distrust and fear and can-do American bullshit, a hidden ache for community, for sacrifice, for the cleansing healing bath salts of that stunning posture of the heart the Greeks call agape? What can I do to live these things out? Tell me.

Ah, we’ll see. Maybe I can help you. Maybe.

This is, I think, why I really took the bus. To have this kind of exchange. It didn’t pan out this way, though. No one I ran into went much further than: “The bus? Oh, well. (Pause) Did you want another reindeer cookie?”

So, I am still waiting for this epiphanal conversation to take place. Maybe I’ll be in the Jesuit infirmary before I have that conversation. Maybe I should just take the plane and not worry about it. The bus really is a drag. When I ride the bus I feel like I’ve left this country and I’m in another country. A country that has no name. A country that consists of a very narrow strip of land running east to west, or north to south. I don’t like this country. It makes me feel sad, feel alienated from everyone and everything. Except the other inhabitants of that country. The English literature grad student in a thin blue sweater; the Hispanic mother and her three children, glorious in Dallas Cowboys gear; the soldier in his pressed green uniform, alert and thin and quiet; the half-hearted scam artist tucked in the back, making weary shameless boasts to a teenager who is trying hard not to be impressed and failing.

In this country, I pass good chunks of the trip trying to sleep and usually settling for a half-conscious daze, like the twilight sleep used by dentists who “cater to cowards.” While I am under and not under we make a lot of ten-minute stops. We go straight for some distance, then we come into a town and make lots of turns. We pause for a while. I come out of my fog and rub my greasy face. We go and make more turns. We go straight again. I go back under, kind of. We make turns, we go straight, we go slower than every other driver in the universe, and I am helpless to do anything about any of it.

If we pull into a station and have to transfer buses, all of us have to hustle out and find the right door in the terminal where the next bus will be boarding. We have to drag our luggage across the floor and stand foursquare over it to secure our place in line, so we’ll be sure to get a seat. If it’s too crowded, we may not get one. No one is hovering around to make sure we do; or, if we don’t, to offer us any alternative methods of getting where we’re going or enticements to make sure we still love the bus company. If we miss our bus, people are there to say to us, You missed your bus. Next one is in six hours. But there is an A&W two blocks down.

Transfers are almost always unhappy. Once, at a stop in Toledo, a guy and girl in tie-dyed t-shirts and dred-locked hair—loving? giving? selfless? free?—casually slithered into line a few people ahead of me and then pretended like they’d been there all along. They ended up boarding the bus. I ended up getting shut out. I had to wait several hours more for the next bus. I had bitter scorn for this couple—for their peaceable tie-dye and their charming dirty hair—in the face of their deception. They made the world of bus that much more confusing and sad. It clung to me, this derision, for a long time. Such that color-swirled clothing came to represent in my mind not freedom and joy but a whole lot of crap.

And yet not even this could keep me from my appointed hours with Greyhound. On the bus I take going home for Christmas, as on all buses, it is cramped and quiet and lonely. There is the lingering smell of exhaust or body or bathroom. There is the warm can of pop, and a still warmer sandwich crushed beneath a Dostoyevsky novel I will never read. There is stale air and weak light. There is a slow, shuddering move into the long yellow lines of a buses-only space in the far acreage of a parking lot. The Hardees at Walcott Junction, whose smiling yellow star feels like a terrible joke when haloed over the memory of cold, waxy French fries and pale, sad hash browns. We file off the bus groggy and somehow diminished. We wander through the aisles of the adjoining store, looking for something, some snack, some travel game, a $5.99 cassette tape of Classic Country Comedians, that will make this bus ride bearable, and yet we know it is hopeless. Even if we find something, we really find nothing. It is afternoon or it is night, but no matter the time or the distance we’ve gone it is never close enough to the end. We are vaguely convinced we will never, ever get home.

Now, I could become tremendously prayerful when I ride the bus. Sit there and say the Jesus Prayer over and over to myself. Turn the whole thing into some meaningful pilgrim experience. And, now that I think about it, I did do that some on this trip home. Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me, I whispered. Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me. Maybe the trip was meaningful because of that. Maybe it was spiritual and deep and a thing of God. But the thing is, I really didn’t feel any meaningfulness. I felt more like someone trying to have a meaningful pilgrim experience on a bus. A forced, mystic-among-the-everyday thing. I felt like a guy saying the same words over and over. Granted, I was probably a bit calmer for having prayed. And yes, I did try to talk to some people, to reach out and be ministerial in a quiet, non-denominational way. But it wasn’t some glorious tearing down of walls or anything. I said hello. I said how are you? Other than that I read magazines and twilight slept. Finally I got home. I had Christmas. I came back on the bus. I started philosophy again. So, what was that all about?

Jesus, they tell me, should be part of my life all the time. The official name of my religious order is the Society of Jesus, and one who is in this order should have Christ ever in his heart. But I don’t always know what that means. Does that mean, say, taking Greyhound and riding, however anonymously, with the poor, supposedly favorite children of Christ? Or does it mean just going ahead and flying because the Society has the money anyway, and you’ll get home to family quicker, and you’ll be a little happier in your travels, so why not just let yourself relax and actually enjoy life for a minute or two? Does it mean giving your bus ticket away and just hitchhiking? Does it mean not going anywhere at all but just praying day and night and night and day? I wonder a lot about how to be with Jesus, to whom I have supposedly given my entire life. Because I don’t know that I always do things out of that fact. That notion that I’ve totally thrown in with the Lord. I think I do things just as much out of, I don’t know, the way I am. Or so I won’t feel bad later. Or from stubborn habit. I entered religious life, I told myself, to follow Christ more intensely. But sometimes I wonder if I was less drawn to the Christ part than to the “intensely.” There’s no guarantee I’m still not living parts of my life for some strange kind of poverty thrill. Out of a life-long custom of seeking out the broken edges of things. Taking apartments in violent neighborhoods and tagging inventory in sweaty warehouses and doing all sorts of other things that, as a son of the upper-middle class and a product of excellent schools, I never really “had to do.” Entering the gloomy, unwashed spaces that get little traffic outside those permanently assigned there. And doing so not to lift anyone up or serve the people or anything like that. Just out of a proud longing to be able to tell myself that, yeah, I’m the guy who does those things: the one who rides lonely buses and waits in eternal lines and walks the dark alleys and wills himself into conditions of sheer unhappiness and just deals with it. Maybe I’ve been inclined to ride the bus neither so I could be with the proletariat nor so I could evangelize bus-riding to the world, (nor meekly protest oil wars, nor finish The Idiot nor anything else.) Maybe I take on the rigors of Greyhound over the plane simply out of a fear—as if I’ve been all this time some distance-learning student of Bear Bryant—a plain, nagging, heartland fear of getting soft.

When it comes down to it, and I think about the bus and its ridership, its helpless community of go and stop and wait and wait, I hope it’s all heading somewhere. I mean the whole thing. I hope we’re going someplace where no one ever has to take Greyhound again. Where either that, or everyone does and they make it more enjoyable. Which makes me think, maybe I should be the one to make it that way. Maybe I should do more. I did on the ride back offer one of my mom’s sugar cookies to the guy next to me. He turned it down. Maybe someday I’ll be a better pitchman of my mother’s food, and he’ll look at me and say, Sure, I’ll have one, sure.
__________

Joe Hoover is in his sixth year with the Jesuits. He is currently working on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota where he teaches religion and runs the campus ministry at Red Cloud High School. He also drives a school bus.

Sunday, December 16, 2007


BUS STORY # 63 (Santa Claus Comes To Town)


I’m going into work later than usual this morning and find I’ve missed the commuter rush. The Lomas bus is almost empty, and the Rapid Ride is less than half full when we pull up in front of UNM. I cross Central to the Yale bus stop and there’s no one else there. I sit down and pull out something to read.

A few minutes later, an old guy, late 60s or maybe a hardy early 70s, approaches the bench. He’s wearing blue jeans and a denim jacket, under the jacket a thick-textured sweater. I note big black shoes like steel-toe Red Wings, and a baseball cap, bill curled like a baseball player’s. His hair is white and it curls up from beneath his cap. He has a white beard and red cheeks and round metal-rimmed glasses, and he reminds me of none other than Santa Claus himself. Santa is pulling a suitcase on wheels. He looks around as if trying to figure out where he is, then begins the process of sitting down on the bench. He starts to sit in the slot next to me, then stops, look, turns around, then moves to the end of the bench. He fusses a little more with sitting down, and once down, begins fussing with the arrangement of his suitcase. The suitcase makes me wonder if he’s on the street, but his clothes are clean and unrumpled, his hands and fingers are clean and neat, his hair and beard not overgrown.

The bus shows up and we both board. We’re the only passengers. He asks the driver does the bus stop at Gibson. Yes, it does, and the driver will let him know when we get there.

This exchange reminds me of another guy I’d seen a couple of weeks earlier who’d also asked the driver about getting off at Gibson. This guy was in his 50s, both neat and slightly seedy at the same time. His long hair was combed straight back, and he was wearing Birkenstocks – the Arizona – and they looked totally out of place with the rest of him. He was quite polite, and also concerned about not missing Gibson.

I wondered where he was going since nothing at the intersection seemed a likely destination. He got off just north of Gibson, and I could see he was walking very gingerly. Sore feet – and suddenly the sandals made sense. But where was he going? My best guess was a bus stop where he could catch the No. 16/18 to the VA. “Vet” is what I concluded. A guy just getting by. I saw an efficiency apartment with dingy wallpaper and a hot plate. I thought if I’d been driving, I would have offered him a ride. No. No I wouldn’t have, I quickly realized. I wouldn’t have because if I’d been driving, I wouldn’t have seen him or his polite ways or his sore feet or his apartment.

I wonder if Santa Claus is a vet, too. Going to the VA to be admitted for a procedure. That would account for the suitcase. Going in for surgery all alone.

I’m sitting on the east side of the bus. He’s sitting on the west side, three seats up from me. We’re riding a 400, with bench seating all around its perimeter, so we’re just three seats apart from directly facing one another. He looks around a bit as if to get his bearings, then looks at me. I resist the impulse to look away and, instead, acknowledge him with a smile. He holds my look, but for the life of me, I cannot get a read on what he’s thinking or feeling. If anything, it might be a “what-have-we-here” look. My smile is beginning to go stiff when he gets up and moves directly across the aisle. No fussing around about it, either. Oops, I think. I must have made him uncomfortable enough to move out of my line of vision. I fix my gaze on where he’d been sitting before he moved. But I stay aware of him in my peripheral vision.

Now he starts fussing with his suitcase, then sits back, then reaches into, and pulls something out of, the pocket of his jacket. It’s a small, green box. He holds it in his left hand, then slowly brings it around in front of him, a slow motion underhanded softball pitch, so that the green box is lying in his open palm now facing toward me. It’s a camera – one of those disposable ones in a cardboard box. Pointing at me. He gives me a good look, repositions the camera, gives me another good look, presses the button. He pulls his arm back in, puts the camera back in his pocket, then gives an emphatic headshake, half to me, half to the universe, as if to say “There!”

The driver lets him off just south of Gibson. He sets his suitcase down on the sidewalk and starts looking around as he’d done up at the Yale stop and on the bus, getting his bearings. Then he looks at me through the window. He holds my gaze with an absolutely undecipherable expression until the bus carries me out of sight.

Sunday, December 09, 2007


BUS STORY # 62 (At Yale And Silver)


It’s one of those days. I’m heading back to the office after a meeting on the UNM campus. Out on University, I see I’ve just missed a southbound run. No problem; it’s just a few blocks to Central.

At Central, I’m standing on the north side of the intersection waiting for the light to turn. Across the street, the Central bus is stopped and letting out passengers. If the light changes to red before the bus finishes emptying out and boarding, I’ll be able to cross the street and catch it. But the light stays green. No problem; it’s just a few blocks to Yale.

On Central, I’m by Bandido Hideout when the southbound Yale bus crosses Central. Close, but he’ll be pulling away from the stop when I round the corner. I’ve got 30 minutes till the next bus.

The stop is catching the full afternoon sun, so I walk south a couple of blocks to where I know there’s a bus stop bench in the shade. A block away and I can see someone is already sitting on the bench. An elaborate calculus begins working out whether I will sit here or move on. Older guy; work clothes; panhandler? drunk? drunk panhandler? guy waiting for the bus two blocks off a connecting route; judgmental; no data on the next bus stop; I’ve been doing a lot of walking . . . He looks up at me as I approach the bench. I swing over and sit down beside him.

“You just missed the bus,” he says. I detect a faint whiff of alcohol.

He tells he’s just walked from Alameda where he went to work only to be told the workday had been cancelled because supplies hadn’t arrived. I don’t know how far Alameda is from here, but I figure it’s gotta be a good 10 miles. I ask him why he walked, halfway knowing the answer. He didn’t have any money. He was planning on getting paid for today’s job. How did he get to work this morning? He walked. Left at four in the morning.

So where does he live? I’m thinking he’s pretty far south as it is. He’s staying in town with one of his daughters right now. He actually lives in Los Lunas. He has a vehicle – that’s what he calls it, a “vehicle” – but he doesn’t drive it. I ask why. Because he has a DUI. His license has been suspended for ten years – “for a first offense!” he says, shaking his head. When did this happen? Ten years ago. So his suspension is up this year, which is almost over. Yes, but then he’s gotta pay to get his license back. He shakes his head again. He used to have a regular job, but he quit because GMC was taking all his money.

Why was GMC taking all his money? Because he bought a vehicle but the engine quit working. He took it back. They said they’d have to replace the engine for a lot of money he didn’t have. He told them that wasn’t right, they should fix what they sold him. They didn’t see it that way. He quit making payments. Later, he bought another vehicle, but his wife crashed it. “She almost died.” The insurance wouldn’t pay. So he quit making payments on the second vehicle, too. Pretty soon, GMC was calling him telling him he owed them money. “I don’t think so,” he told them. They garnished his wages. “Cleaned me out.” So he quit work to cut them off.

How’s your wife now, I ask him. “She divorced me.” He pauses before going on. He’s in his house and there’s a knock on his door and there’s a sheriff and a lady with a paper. A divorce paper. “It was hard. I started drinking after that.” He tells me he built the house and raised nine children in it, always provided for his family, and this is what happens. He shakes his head. “Now I’m kicked out of my own house.” Is this in Los Lunas? Is that why he’s staying with his daughter? No, this is in Arizona. Three of his children moved here to be with him after the divorce.

“I belong to the Diné tribe,” he tells me. I already know this by the unmistakable cadence of his speech. But I also notice he does something unusual for a Navajo: he often looks directly into my eyes when he’s talking to me. His eyes are bloodshot, but his speech is clear. His head has the slightest tremor, but I don’t see it in his hands. His face has an openness that I find I like a lot. He’s wearing a baseball-style cap with sunglasses perched above the bill. His hair outside the cap is short and gray. He’s got a black jacket, blue jeans, and yellow-brown work boots, all of which have seen a lot of days.

He talks about growing up poor and hard. He doesn’t know whether it was discipline or abuse, he says. He was raised by the whip. Your father, I ask. Everybody, he replies, father, mother, grandmother. They sent him to boarding school, and that was hard, too. He shakes his head. I know boarding school is a common experience among older Navajo, and I think of the gentle humor of the song “Rita” by another Navajo, Vincent Craig. But I can see his memories are made of grimmer stuff.

He tells me he used to be a bull rider. He traveled to rodeos all over the country. Rode for 28 years. Sent his money home. “Twenty-eight years?” I ask. Long time, he answers. I’m thinking an awfully long time to be a bull rider. He motions me to look across the street. There’s a young couple holding hands. He shakes his head as if to tell me this will come to a bad end.

A bicycle whizzes by and distracts us both. “I had a good bike, but I sold it.” He thinks now maybe he shouldn’t have. I think I know why he sold his bike, then immediately take myself to task. I don’t really know why he sold his bike. Then, despite checking my thoughts, I find myself sniffing for alcohol. Nothing. I’ve only caught a hint of it a couple of times now, when I wasn’t thinking about it.

So where does your daughter live, I ask. Just past Smith’s here, he answers. I’m surprised. That’s just a couple of blocks away. So he’s not waiting for the bus. I think about this and decide maybe she’s not home from work yet and he doesn’t have a key, or maybe he doesn’t want her to know he’s been drinking and is airing out. Or maybe it’s exactly like he explains it: he’s been walking all day and he just got tired and needed to sit down and rest.

Then he tells me his grandfather told him when he was a young boy to never forget the Great Spirit. The words “Great Spirit” throw me a little. It sounds like something a bilagáana would put in the mouth of an Indian. Or something an Indian might fold into a pitch to a white man. I’m on alert.

His grandfather told him no matter how far down you are, if you ask the Great Spirit for help, he’ll be there. Maybe he’ll come as a horse. He’ll come as something. And then he tells me how good it is to be able to talk to someone who listens. He’s looking right at me. I’m not sure if he’s referring to the Great Spirit or me, or if he’s decided I’m what the Great Spirit has sent. The red flag is up the pole now, and I brace myself for the pitch for money. I say something lame, something like we all have our bad times, knowing full well I’ve never come close to walking in his moccasins.

We sit quietly for a bit. “Looks like your bus is here,” he says. I look north, and sure enough, it is. The 30 minutes have flown by. “Good luck,” he tells me. Nothing more. “Good luck to you,” I reply before boarding. Once again, I’m taking myself to task for making assumptions. He never did ask me for money, or even hint at it. Then I wonder if maybe I’m just too white to have recognized the gentleness of the pitch. And then I think about a friend of mine who told me about an angelic encounter, and I spend the rest of my ride wondering if I’d just been given a test.

Sunday, December 02, 2007


BUS STORY # 61 (Him Again)


I board the Rapid Ride and settle in near the front. There’s a guy sitting in the side bench behind the driver and he looks familiar. He’s talking in a loud voice to the passengers all around him. They’re all women. I finally remember where I’ve seen him before: on the Park and Ride platform at Uptown in an altercation with another passenger. It was the afternoon my friend Paul and I were going downtown to Summerfest to see Rosanne Cash perform.

His hair is a little different: short and orange-colored. But the glasses are the same. He’s wearing a polo shirt, and it looks like he’s holding court. He’s animated and loud, and he’s explaining how he took an old cell phone apart and repaired it. Well, almost repaired it. There’s this one screw he needs for the flip top.

He explains he’s got this talent. He’s never been to school, never worked with anyone else, it just comes to him. He can take any non-working cell phone apart and repair it. He launches into a technical discussion of a memorable repair, of the bartering it took to get the right pieces, of all the experiments he’d done to learn how to unlock a phone and reprogram it for use again.

The women are nodding their heads, interjecting an occasional “uh-huh” or “that’s amazing,” and asking him what he does with the phones after he repairs them. He uses them or sells them, or swaps them for other phone parts he needs to fix other phones. Where does he get all these phones? He finds them.

He tells how his son is amazed he can remember all the little details about how to fix these phones, but it’s a talent he has. He’s never been to school, never worked with anyone else . . . The story goes into a loop, and I hear the loop a couple more times. I am fascinated by the observation that the women don’t seem to lose interest.

There are four of them: one facing him across the aisle, another woman to her left and facing forward, and two in the first forward-facing seat to his right. When he gets off the bus, they all say goodbye to him. As the bus pulls away, a fifth female – the driver – says, “There’s something wrong with that boy.”

“Oh, no,” replies one of the other women, “he’s a nice boy.”

“He’s just simple, that’s all,” says another.

“He’s so polite.”

I’m wondering if this was a random encounter or a group of regulars. I’m wondering where those cell phones come from. I’m wondering about his son. Once again with this rider, I have the sense I’m on the outside of the real story here.