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.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home