Monday, January 28, 2008

BUS STORY # 69 (Shorts 4)

I lost my pager on the bus. A few days later, a passenger asked me if I got it back. Turns out she’d seen it in my seat and turned it in to the driver. I called the ABQ RIDE lost and found. When I asked if they had any pagers, the young man laughed. “I know, I know,” I said, “you’ve got a million of ‘em.” “No,” he answered, still obviously amused, “I got a million cell phones. I haven’t seen a pager in, like, five years.”


It’s early afternoon, and a wet snow has been falling along with the temperature. The outbound Rapid Ride pulls into the left turn lane for Wyoming. Over in the right hand lane is the regular No. 66. A guy a few seats ahead of me says to his seatmate, “Just my luck. That’s my bus.” It’ll be a cold, wet wait for the next one. He gets up and walks up to the driver. “Any chance you can let me off here? That’s my bus.” The driver tells him it’s against policy. That makes sense because the door would be opening into two lanes of traffic which is now not moving because of the red light. The guy understands, and starts back for his seat. “Oh, c’mon, it’s almost Christmas,” says the driver, and opens the front door. “Hurry, before that light changes.” The guy bolts for the door. “Thanks, man.” A second, then a third rider do the same. The turn signal is on now, but the driver waits till all three get through the waiting cars and disappear behind the Central bus. They’re gonna make it! But we don’t make the turn signal. Nobody behind us is honking.


I'm reading a Thomas McGuane story in the New Yorker on the inbound No. 11. I come to the line, "I was twenty, but she treated me as if I were even younger -- a salute to my retarded behavior, I'm sure." Because it summons up some memories I’ve long ago made my peace with, I laugh out loud. It's an involuntary burst, an explosive "Huh!" My seatmate is startled. Up till now, he's been following bus rider etiquette to perfection: sitting quietly beside me staring straight ahead and making sure none of our body parts touch. Now he turns his face to me, clearly quizzical and probably just now processing the thought that he should have checked the impulse to become engaged. I feel the need to explain. "It's something I just read. It’s pretty funny . . . " He nods, turns his face back to the straight-ahead position, and inches closer to the aisle.


Overheard on the ride home: first rider: “You know the guy with the gray hair who always rides the five forty-eight home? He says he was sitting in the back of the bus and they got rear-ended by a truck.” Second rider: “Was anybody hurt?” First rider: “Well, he said a few people got taken to the hospital for observation.” Second rider: “Is he OK?” First rider: “Oh, he’s fine. He said the funny thing is his back had been bothering him for months now, but since the accident, it’s been fine.”

Sunday, January 20, 2008

BUS STORY # 68 (Special Birthday Of Martin Luther King, Jr., Edition: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., And The Woman Who Rode The Bus)

Monday is a holiday celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the universally acknowledged leader of the modern civil rights movement here in the United States. From this blog’s perspective, it is noteworthy that the universally acknowledged catalyst for that movement began on a bus. Here’s the story:

Most historians date the beginning of the modern civil rights movement in the United States to December 1, 1955. That was the day when an unknown seamstress in Montgomery, Alabama refused to give up her bus seat to a white passenger. This brave woman, Rosa Parks, was arrested and fined for violating a city ordinance, but her lonely act of defiance began a movement that ended legal segregation in America, and made her an inspiration to freedom-loving people everywhere . . .

The bus incident led to the formation of the Montgomery Improvement Association, led by the young pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The association called for a boycott of the city-owned bus company. The boycott lasted 382 days and brought Mrs. Parks, Dr. King, and their cause to the attention of the world. A Supreme Court Decision struck down the Montgomery ordinance under which Mrs. Parks had been fined, and outlawed racial segregation on public transportation.

(Excerpted from the website for the Academy of American Achievement: A Museum Of Living History. Read the entire article at:

The photograph at the beginning of this entry is also from the Academy of American Achievement website.)

A final bus note: Although Federal, New Mexico and Albuquerque/Bernalillo County government entities observe the holiday, it will be work as usual for a number of employees in the private sector. Which means the reduced holiday bus schedule will have many bus riders driving to work as part of their celebration.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

BUS STORY # 67 (Reindeer Man Is Not Alone!)

A few weeks after my encounter with Reindeer Man, the inbound Rapid Ride stops at Louisiana and Antenna Boy bounces on board. He’s a roly-poly kid with black plastic glasses and a demeanor so good-natured he can’t possibly be in high school yet. He zooms into the seat facing the aisle and starts chatting with the two older women facing him to his immediate left. They could be his aunts. Heck, maybe they are his aunts. He’s animated, and all the while, his antennae are waving around on top of his head.

The back and sides of his head are close-cropped. The antennae all come from the hair left long on the top. But there is not the randomness I saw with Reindeer Man. Antenna Boy’s hair is neatly sectioned into four rows of squares, two squares across the front of his head, followed by two rows of three squares, and ending in a row of two squares across the crown. Ten neatly arranged squares of hair with an antenna rising out of the middle of each.

For all the similarity, there are a number of differences between Reindeer Man’s antlers and Antenna Boy’s antennae. The antennae are all the same length. They all point straight up. They end in a tuft rather than a point. They are straight rather than segmented. They are tightly wrapped in some kind of black and white cloth, not dyed green. They bounce, merrily, where Reindeer Man’s antlers were rigid.

I feel inexplicably happy seeing this boy and his hair arrangement. It is later that I start wondering why. For starters, the kid himself is an enthusiastic bundle of joy. I don’t see much of that in kids his age.

He also seems utterly unselfconscious about his hair. That takes me back to the ‘60s, when I grew my own hair long and discovered the not-so-polite underbelly of my conventionally middle class neighborhood. It was impossible not to feel self-conscious then. I think how we’ve all grown: we no longer really hassle one another over hairstyles or clothes. We’ve moved on to the much more important things: politics or religion or country of origin . . .

Perhaps it’s as simple as a children’s rhyme from even further back in my life: “The world is so full of a number of things/I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.” That’s from Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden Of Verses, a book that enriched my imagination from a time before I could even read, when my father read to me at bedtime. Like all the things he read to my brother and me, these quaint verses with their quaint vocabulary introduced me to an even stranger and more wondrous world than the one I was discovering in my day-to-day. Now I’m thinking I’d better get my grandchildren this book so they won’t be left with just the world of Walter the Farting Dog.

But I digress. The nursery rhyme explanation means I’ve found extreme hairstyles like Reindeer Man’s and Antenna Boy’s fascinating and fun, and perhaps that is why I feel happy: I’m still young at heart!

Here’s the story: my current Garden is none other than the bus. I would be ignorant of the existence of either of these folks and their hairstyles had it not been for the bus. What else can I say? We riders should all be as happy as kings.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

BUS STORY # 66 (Connections)

“Commuting makes people unhappy . . . When you are commuting by car, you are not hanging out with the kids, sleeping with your spouse (or anyone else), playing soccer, watching soccer, coaching soccer, arguing about politics, praying in a church, or drinking in a bar. In short, you are not spending time with other people.” – Nick Paumgarten, “There And Back Again”, The New Yorker, April 16, 2007

I’m taking the early No. 11 to work this morning. I’m surprised by how full it is these days. When we get to Wyoming, I can see the Rapid Ride heading for the stop on Wyoming. I long ago made the decision not to run for the bus or risk cutting through the traffic. I’ll let this one go and catch the next one.

One of the riders feels differently. She gets off on the northeast side of the intersection and broken-field runs through the Lomas, then Wyoming, traffic and across the intersection. She’s looking good until a green light bolus from I-40 stalls her on the median just three lanes away from the Rapid Ride. The bus seems to be waiting for her. The traffic breaks, she starts running – and the bus pulls away! I groan aloud. My groan joins a chorus of groans. “Damn,” somebody says softly behind me. We were all watching, and we’ve all been there.

I get off on the west side stop, cross with the lights, and meet up with my fellow rider at the Rapid Ride stop. I tell her how the riders reacted when they saw her bus pull out. She laughs appreciatively, then tells me she’s used to the vagaries of the drivers. She says the guy who drives Thursdays and Fridays always waits. Today is Tuesday.

In the 11 minutes between Rapid Rides, I learn she works as a nurse tech at Pres but will be quitting soon when her nursing classes begin. She’ll be able to do this because the kids are out of the house now, and she and her husband have been planning this for years.

When the Rapid Ride comes, I sit next to her in the front seats behind the driver and facing the aisle because I’m enjoying the conversation. I ask her how long she’s been in Albuquerque, and where she’s from. Eight years and Manhattan. “Manhattan?” from the girl sitting across from me. “I’m from Staten Island.” She looks like a high school kid, and she also looks utterly comfortable here on the bus. I attribute this to a lifelong New York commuter life-style. She points to my backpack, then to hers. They’re identical. Well, almost. “Mine’s prettier,” she says, pointing to the purple mesh side pockets. Mine are black.

The student and the nurse tech talk about New York and Albuquerque. The tech took three years to quit hating Albuquerque. “They were very prejudiced against New Yorkers when we were looking for jobs,” she explains. My internal eyebrows go up. I’d always thought Albuquerque prejudices were reserved for Texans, although Californians have threatened to displace them in recent years.

The student is a captive of her parents, of course. She loves New York and she doesn’t have to explain how Albuquerque is not New York. But she does express her disappointment that our mountains are not like the mountains in Germany which she remembers vividly from a pre-school visit.

The woman to my immediate right and facing forward jumps in. She’s seen those mountains in Germany and in Switzerland, too, but her favorite mountains are in Michigan. There is a town, on a lake . . . she recounts the surprise discovery of this gem and her eyes look misty and far-away.

She turns out to be from southern California. The nurse tech turns out to be originally from Puerto Rico. She tells how she spoke Spanish as a child, but switched to English when her family moved to New York. “I thought I’d totally lost my Spanish till I moved out here. But it was there, all the time.”

She tells the student she seems to have lost her accent. The student laughs, and so do I because I recognized that accent as soon as she opened her mouth. “I get it back when I go back home,” she says. “But the hardest part about coming back here is losing ‘the F-word.’ I mean, that’s the way everybody talks back there. My uncle Guido, he calls me up and says, ‘How you effin doin, kid?’”

The nurse tech laughs and says she knows exactly what she’s talking about. “I won’t lie. That’s the way I used to talk, too, back there on the street. And when I go back home, my best girl friend, who’s the sweetest, most warm-hearted person in the world, she still uses that word all the time. But I quit using that language when I had my kids. I know my kids talk that way when I’m not around, but they respect me.”

The California woman says she just doesn’t understand why that word has gotten so popular. “I suppose my daughter probably talks like that, too, when she’s with her friends, but I’ve tried to tell her there are so many other expressive words that using that word all the time is a sign of a poor vocabulary.”

Spoken like a true mother, I think, and about a million thoughts and memories go coursing through my brain. But I keep those to myself and concentrate on listening to what the others are saying.

The student explains just how versatile the word really is. “I mean, you can use it as an adverb or an adjective or a noun or a verb . . .” I’m happily surprised a student in today’s post-literate world knows this kind of language. The California woman asks about parental example. The tech laughs. “My parents swore like sailors,” she says, “but we couldn’t!”

The Rapid Ride reaches Yale, and the student and I disembark together. I realize she is not a high school student as I watch her hoist her backpack and head onto the UNM campus. A few of the other riders cross the street from behind the bus, but I walk to the intersection and wait for the light. It occurs to me that some day, I’ll probably be the one rider hit by a car running a red light because I waited for the signal to cross at the intersection. While I’m waiting, I can see two small knots of commuters already assembled at the Yale stop and talking.


Nick Paumgarten’s essay is an interesting, thoughtful, well-written examination of “the soul of the commuter” in contemporary American culture.