Sunday, May 25, 2008

BUS STORY # 85, Part 1 (The DVD)

It’s an early morning workday. I’m waiting for the bus at my home stop when a car pulls up. There’s a couple in the car. They’re talking. I’m thinking they can’t possibly be lost, and I’m just starting to run through the possibilities of where they might be getting ready to ask me directions to when I realize the woman is in the driver’s seat. Sure enough, the passenger door opens and the man gets out. His wife is dropping him off at the bus stop.

He's wearing a black polo shirt and blue jeans, and he's carrying a clipboard. I catch the red ABQ RIDE logo on his shirt.

"You work for ABQ RIDE?"

He does. He's a data specialist. His regular job is gathering rider stats and feeding them to the Department of Transportation. But today, he's evaluating a new DVD that premiers this morning on the new 700 series buses.

That DVD screen suspended from the ceiling behind the driver is one of the first things we'd noticed about the interior of the new buses. The drivers weren't sure what the deal was, and the riders had moments of fun making suggestions. By now, we'd quit thinking about it.

"So," I say, "what's the DVD all about?"

Turns out he's not sure. He's heard several things, but nothing definite. Like it runs for 90 minutes. Like it might have advertising on it -- "more badly needed revenue" for the municipal transportation system.

He's also heard it might feature local candidates for office talking about the issues.

"You're kidding," I respond.

"Just what I've heard."

"You mean like public transportation, or water management -- stuff like that?"

He speculates it may be something along the line of voter education on the issues facing the city.

"Wrong approach," I tell him. He looks at me with slightly raised eyebrows.

"You need to be telling us who wears a flag pin and who doesn’t. And who their pastors are – maybe some juicy sound bites from some sermons.”

He's grinning now. He thinks the city will probably leave that to the news media.

When the bus arrives, he boards and sits in the front seat opposite the driver. The screen is dark. He asks the driver why the DVD isn't playing. The driver says it was already playing when he boarded the bus this morning.

"It ran the whole time I was on I-40," he continues. "It ran till I got to Tramway, then it quit."

"It's supposed to loop. You have a key?" he asks the driver.


The data guy pulls out his cell phone and punches in some numbers.

It’s beginning to dawn on me that it doesn’t really matter what’s on the DVD. Whatever it is, it’s going to be an intrusion. I’m thinking of those blaring screens at airport terminals and certain eating establishments. And I'm thinking of how many conversations I'm not going to overhear, how many conversations I'm not going to be a part of, how many bus stories are going to be lost. Even reading is going to be a challenge.

Maybe there won’t be any sound. Maybe it’ll just be a stream of silent advertisements like I’ve also seen at the airport above the escalators and in the baggage claim areas. That wouldn’t be so bad. But I’m not counting on anything. I'm waiting just like you to see what happens in Part 2.

Meanwhile, I’m happy for this particular first technological glitch of the day. Those usually work against us.


Thanks to BB in Marshfield, MA, for this week's This Month In feature.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

BUS STORY # 84 (Dependable Hickory Strongheart, Part 1)

Back in February, I wrote about another rider’s story about participating in the peyote ceremonies of the Native American Church. That story included a reference to someone with the remarkable name of Dependable Hickory Strongheart.

He tells me there’s a “white guy” from Santa Fe that’s been coming to the ceremonies. Of course, I think to myself, of course he’s from Santa Fe. Apparently he wants to film a documentary about the ceremony, but he’s been told it won’t make any sense to him unless he understands it from the inside first. So he’s coming to the ceremonies without his camera.

“His name is Dependable Hickory Strongheart.”

“That’s quite a name for a white guy,” I reply. I say the name over and over because I want to remember it long enough to write it down when I get the opportunity.

“He got that name when he made a walking stick and the wood was no good, so he made another one out of hickory.” And then he adds, “It’s on his birth certificate, too.”

I will also google that name after my peyote harvest search and come up blank.

BUS STORY # 72, Part 2

A couple of weeks later, I received an anonymous comment on the blog.

So here's something random. I'm sitting here wasting time googling people from years ago. In 1987 I worked in a toy store in Santa Fe and remember a young brother and sister that used to come in a hang out. I'll never forget their names: Dependable Hickory Strongheart and his sister, Hallelujah Misty Mountain Strongheart (Lu Lu for short) Really unique kids, I always wondered where they ended up. BTW, I'm not buying the story of how he got his name. He had it when he was a kid. I think there were other sibs too. Wonder what their names were.

I had my own doubts, not only about the origin of the name (especially in light of my co-rider’s addendum to his story, “It’s on his birth certificate, too”), but also about the existence of the person so-named himself.

Even more amazing than the confirmation is the fact it happened at all. What are the odds, I wonder, that someone would sit down and google “Dependable Hickory Strongheart?” Or that anonymous would wait until after I posted my story before googling? What if he (or she) hadn’t taken the time to post his (or her) comment? I’d still be treating New Mexico’s Dependable Hickory Strongheart like Arkansas’ Ivory-billed Woodpecker or California’s Big Foot.

Anonymous’ comment is like the tip of some fantastic iceberg. Which is why this story is Part 1. I sense there is more to come. Not that I plan to go stalking, just that I have my radar set because the story of Dependable Hickory Strongheart, like the truth, is out there.

Thank you, anonymous. Thank you very much.


Thanks to JM in Brooklyn for this week's This Week In feature.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

BUS STORY # 83 (The Teacher)

School’s been back in session for a while now, and I’m missing one of the regular inbound riders in the morning. She’s a high school teacher, and the last time I saw her was just before spring break. She’d been looking for a new place to live, and I suspect she found someplace off the route. I miss her stories.

Public school teachers have a lot in common with bus drivers: a lot of the folks in their charge don’t really want to be there, and they don’t all look upon being where they are as something to be grateful for. Among the more troubled of their charges, there can be some difficult and unpleasant acting out, and physical assaults are not unheard of. Neither salary seems compensation enough for working in these environments.

I’m impressed because I haven’t seen anything that suggests she is jaded or burned out by her job. Maybe its because she went into teaching later in life after having run her own business. Maybe it’s because she raised a son on her own. Maybe it’s just her personality. Whatever the reason, she strikes me as having an engaged, down-to-earth take on her job and her students.

She’s taught in three distinct socio-economic environments here in town, and I’m fascinated by her observations. She doesn’t see any fundamental differences among all her students – they’re all “hormone-addled.” She says this with some compassion. She says it takes some kids longer to “get it” than others, but that’s mostly because of home and cultural environment, not IQ. What strikes me most is her perception that the immigrant kids are the most respectful and studious.

Like the rest of us, her relationship with her boss determines a commanding degree of her job satisfaction. Her feelings about which schools she liked teaching at the best depended largely on how much monitored autonomy she had. She doesn’t like being micromanaged.

She worries about her girls. She’s had several of them become pregnant over the last two semesters, and she shakes her head because, she tells me, they have no idea what they have done to their lives. She says a lot of them don’t even know who the father is, or so they say. As far as she’s concerned, this is the big problem in high school today.

Several months ago, the media was alive with stories about teachers and sexual abuse of students. I asked her what she thought about it, and she told me she’s never seen anything even remotely suggesting inappropriate sexual relationships between teachers and students. She said there are some very strict rules in place about teacher conduct, and one of the hardest places to hold the line is with the special ed students. Some of them are an affectionate lot, given to hugging. She says they are confused and hurt when pushed back to arm’s length and told this is not acceptable behavior here in school. She says it’s hard, but she doesn’t think hugging is worth the risk.

She has a car. So why does she ride the bus? Because of the price of gas, because the bus picks her up at her front door and drops her at her campus, because she doesn’t have to worry about her car being vandalized or stolen from the school parking lot, because she used to ride the bus all the time back east. She’s quite vocal about the differences between bus service back east and here in Albuquerque: “They don’t change drivers and schedules every three months, the buses don’t break down every other week, and they show up on time.” I’m guessing she’s a pretty strict grader.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

BUS STORY # 82 (Milestone)

May is a marker of sorts. I began riding the bus two years ago this month. I wrote my first bus story three months later. You can read the story of how it all began here.

As my earliest stories reflect, I was a naïf in a foreign land. Now it’s just another part of my workweek.

I haven’t kept records, but I figure I take the bus to and from work about 60 percent of the time. The other 40 percent I carpool with my wife, or I drive because work or personal business requires a transportation schedule the bus cannot meet.

Early on, I experienced regret on those days I took the car. Or, rather, on those days I couldn’t take the bus. That’s the way it feels.

I like letting the bus driver assume the stress of driving. There are other reasons I like taking the bus, too: the reading I get in, the virtuous feeling I get for “doing the right thing,” the money I save on gas (up from $2.40 to $2.88 per day and rising). And, of course, the people I meet, the stories they tell, and all the other bus stories I watch play out.

Time remains the biggest expense. It still takes twice the time to get back and forth by bus. The good news is that, for whatever reasons, the bus schedules have been remarkably dependable since 2008 began. Please, everyone, join me in knocking on wood!

There’s been a proposal at work to allow us to work from home on those days we have no meetings scheduled. Working from home would save me two or three hours of commuting time a day. It would also decrease the opportunities for collecting bus stories.

The greatest selling point for this proposal is the purported fact that letting folks work at home saves the employer money. I have no idea how that works. No word on how well employers are buying how it also saves the environment from those commuting carbon emissions.

On weekends, bus service is restricted, and so I take the car (with rare exceptions: see bus stories 40 and 46). This choice is driven entirely by time. On Saturday mornings, I have a round of chores which takes me about two hours. By my calculations with a number of bus schedules in front of me, it would take six hours to get those same chores done using the bus – provided both the bus and I could stay on schedule.

Friday and Saturday evenings, the buses quit running too early to make going out by bus possible. The Rapid Ride summer schedule is the exception – but I am limited to the Rapid Ride route, and I have to drive to the Park and Ride.

It’s noteworthy that my wish list doesn’t contain a pollution-free car or working at home, but rather buses that run earlier, later, and more often than they do now. Now that I think about it, that’s another marker of sorts.

And now, a word from ABQ RIDE