Sunday, June 29, 2008

BUS STORY # 89 (Paul’s Bus Story # 2)

Paul tells me he’s taken to walking to the gym some days instead of riding his bike. He usually takes the bus home afterwards. He catches the Lomas outbound across the street from University Hospital. He doesn’t know the schedule yet, but he has figured out it runs every 20 minutes.

He tells me there’s a schedule posted at this stop, and he was standing there trying to make sense of it when another guys tells him if he’s waiting for the No. 11, it’ll be there in 10 minutes. The Rapid Ride Blue Line runs every 15 minutes or so.

Paul notes he’s a large, rotund man in a tropical shirt and shorts. He's maybe 65 years old or so. He’s wearing a cap that suggests he’s a veteran. Paul thanks him for the info, and the man answers that “they” told him his appointment was at 1:30 p.m., but when he got here, they told him it was at 11:30 a.m. He says he doesn’t know when they’ll be able to get him in again.

He’s worried. He knows something is wrong with his heart. He tells Paul how they tell you to exercise, but his legs hurt. He says they told him he didn’t need the veins in his legs, but ever since they took them for his heart, his legs hurt when he tries to walk. He explains again how they told him his appointment was at 1:30 p.m., but when he got here, they told him it was at 11:30 a.m.

Paul doesn’t know whether he should engage the man in conversation or not. He considers telling him about his own impending surgery, but decides the guy doesn’t really want to hear someone else’s story. He’s still working through his own. Paul imagines the guy as living alone, with limited resources.

He’s cycling through “they-told-me-my-appointment-was-at-1:30” again. Paul wonders did the old guy get it wrong? Or did someone at the clinic make a mistake? And why couldn’t they fit him in, anyway?

The old man is clearly concerned. He knows there’s something wrong with his heart. He doesn’t know how long he’ll have to wait before a doctor can see him. He’s concerned about what could happen between now and whenever then is.

I listen to Paul tell his story, and I can tell the old man isn’t the only one concerned.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

BUS STORY # 88 (Rash Judgment)

I’m waiting at Lomas west of Wyoming for the inbound No. 11. I watch a young guy ambling down the sidewalk toward me. He’s got his sweatshirt hood up, a rucksack slung over his left shoulder, and carries a cup in his right hand. He stops on the east side of the bench. I’m on the west side. He faces east, toward the mountains where the sun has not yet risen. We’re watching the traffic streaming toward us, and no bus in sight. When he turns and looks west, I see a young, unshaven face looking out through the cowl.

The cup is Styrofoam, and when he finishes with it, he walks toward the lot behind us and plants the cup upside down on top of a pole. He returns to his end of the bench and lights a cigarette.

From all of this, without being especially conscious of it, I’ve formed an impression: young person as thoughtless about where he puts his trash as he is about his health and his grooming. Was I really any different at his age? Well, grooming, maybe.

I’m tempering this with the thought that what passes for age-appropriate grooming 40 years ago may have changed when I realize he’s speaking to me. I can’t hear over the traffic. I move toward him, cupping my hand to my ear.


“I said, do you know if that bus is gonna stop here?”

I look west where the Rapid Ride is waiting on Wyoming for the light to turn red.

“No, that’s the Rapid Ride. It’ll stop just around the corner, then it’ll go on to Uptown.”

“Thanks,” he says, and smiles. He’s got a good smile.

“You new to the bus?” I ask.

"Yeah, kinda. I’m not used to waiting this long for a bus.”

“Where’re you from?”

“San Francisco.”

“Ah, that explains it,” I say, remembering my rides on the BART last summer. I tell him all about it, then ask what brought him to Albuquerque.

“My dad. He’s got Polycystic Kidney Disease, and I came out here to help him out.”

It turns out he left a job and school a couple of months ago to do this. He’s working nights and taking care of his father by day. He’s on his way home from work, I realize, and I’m chagrinned at my initial “thoughtless youth” impressions.

His manner is open and pleasant, and he has the eyes, voice, and vocal cadence of a coworker of mine. There’s no sense of an age gap, a generational divide, between us. We’re just two guys at the bus stop. I ask if this is his first time in Albuquerque.

“No. I spent six months out here just after high school. I bought a car then. I drove it back to San Francisco, but I ended up selling it. I didn’t need it to get around, and it cost me 400 dollars a month just to park it somewhere.”

He tells me he’s looking into school out here, maybe just a class a semester, to keep him in the routine. He’s not yet sure if he’s going to be able to manage all three commitments.

When the bus does come, we don’t sit together, but we end up getting off at the same stop. We laugh about the coincidence, and part with a handshake – he reaches out his hand and says, “I’m Mike.”

Was I really any different when I was his age? Well, yes. Yes I was. I could have used a lot more of my young co-rider’s character.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

BUS STORY # 87 (Poetry In Motion)

Four dollars a gallon?
That’s what the fuss is.
What’s the solution?
That’s what the bus is.

Roses are red
Violets are blue
When the bus is on time
I’m not a violet.

You’re probably wondering right about now what this is all about. Here’s the story. The ABQ RIDE website has announced a poetry contest. You can submit up to two poems. If they’re as good as mine, they’ll not only end up on the bus, but you could win the second prize iPod Nano, the third prize fifty dollar gift card, or the fourth prize twenty dollar gift card. I, of course, with any of the fine poems featured here, will win the first prize Acer laptop computer.

Traffic make you hopping mad?
Make you want to scream and cuss?
We’ve got the cure and it ain’t no fad
Just hop on the bus, Gus.

Candy is dandy
But the Rapid Ride’s quicker.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

BUS STORY # 86 (What Is Wrong With This Picture?)

"ge·stalt or Ge·stalt (gə-shtält', -shtôlt', -stält', -stôlt') n. pl. ge·stalts or Ge·stalts or ge·stalt·en or Ge·stalt·en (-shtält'n, -shtôlt'n, -stält'n, -stôlt'n) A physical, biological, psychological, or symbolic configuration or pattern of elements so unified as a whole that its properties cannot be derived from a simple summation of its parts." – The American Heritage Dictionary

I’m on my way to work, but on a later bus than usual. Like my regular bus, it’s crowded, but we’re all sitting today. I found a spot up on the platform at the back. I’m at one end of the U-shape seating filled by four other guys. They’re in the middle of a conversation.

The guy in the middle is dressed in a patterned jacket, khakis, and yellow-brown work boots. He’s got one leg crossed over the other knee, both arms spread out over the back of the seating, and he’s holding forth. It’s a simple yet eloquent account of how he’d spent last evening just sitting on his front porch and listening to the sounds of his neighborhood. He says he went to bed around eleven and slept like a baby. The others remark on the unusual lateness of his bedtime. They seem to know one another well.

Another says he read last night. He starts to summarize an article about some sort of behavioral conditioning experiment, but the details of the test and its significance get lost in the banter and laughter that interrupt the story.

One of the guys responds he just needs television to put him to sleep. More laughter and banter about the poverty of weeknight television programming.

I’m watching and listening, but I’m distracted, too. This particular stream of conversation doesn’t seem to belong to the four guys I see sitting here with me. It’s the classic “What is wrong with this picture?”

All four guys are middle-aged. They look clean and neat, combed and shaved.

I look at their clothes. The guy sitting beside me is wearing a black nylon windbreaker and new jeans. The two guys sitting across from us look more nondescript. Dark trousers, long-sleeve sports shirts. Not wrinkled, but not crisp, either. I look for fraying at the collars and cuffs and don’t find anything. Still, there’s a tiredness to their clothes I can’t quite put my finger on. One guy’s shoes look a bit worse for the wear.

I’m trying to imagine where they might work. The guy sitting across from me smiles, revealing a jumble of misaligned and discolored teeth. He’s wearing old-style black plastic frame glasses, and his hair is combed like the 1950s without the ducktails.

I’m having trouble getting a reading here. I sense an underlying seediness but I can’t get past the conflicting signals.

The guy in the khakis suggests what this morning needs is a round of Mimosas. The guy across from me wrinkles his face.

“Why not?”

“Too early,” he replies.

This provokes a discussion in which the rules of etiquette for having a Mimosa are hammered out: it is a brunch drink rather than a breakfast drink (meaning it is indeed too early). Further, it is agreed that brunch is a weekend meal. (An argument for brunch being an exclusively Sunday meal does not prevail.) Meaning: not only is it too early, it’s also the wrong day.

We stop just past the intersection with Avenida Cesar Chavez and three of the guys get up to leave. No one says anything to the fourth guy, and he doesn’t say anything, either. After the doors close, he says to me, “Those guys are gonna spend the rest of the day drinking. Must be nice.”

“How do you know?”

“I ride with them every morning. It’s their routine. They eat breakfast at the shelter, then they head out for the cemetery. One of those guys actually works for the shelter.”

“Which shelter?” I ask.

“I don’t know. It’s downtown somewhere.”

The guy I’m talking with is the guy in the windbreaker and new jeans. Now that I think about it, I don’t remember him taking part in the conversations. He’s been sitting right next to me, too. Maybe I’m retrofitting my memory based on the discovery he isn’t part of the group.

I’m also thinking how his clothes look different from the others’ – sharper, newer, something – it’s hard to describe, exactly. But again, I’m wondering if I picked up on this before or after the stop.

But there’s still something wrong with this picture. All the pieces don't fit the way I expect them to. Maybe there’s something wrong with my picture.

Through the window, I can see the three guys crossing the street behind the bus toward the southwest corner of the cemetery. The real stories here are beyond my grasp.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

BUS STORY # 85, Part 2 (The DVD)

So: the next day I ride the bus, I board, then stop under the screen and look up. The screen is still black. I ask the driver what the story is. What story, he wants to know. I tell him I’ve heard the city was supposed to have started running a DVD on the 700s. He says it’s the first he’s heard of it.

I plan to ask again on the way home, but my bus is one of the 300s this time. I wait for the next day.

The next day I go down and wait for the bus. It’s a 300 again. So is the one going home.

The following Monday, a 700 arrives. I board, stop, look up. The screen is black. I ask the driver if he knows anything about the DVD. He’s heard about it, but not when it’s supposed to start running.

I ask him what’s on it. He doesn’t know for sure, but he’s heard it’s mostly ABQ RIDE material – promotions, schedule changes, the jingles, and so forth.

“So there’s gonna be sound?

“I think so, yeah.”

“So it’s just gonna be ABQ RIDE stuff, then?

“Well, it’s gonna be pretty much whatever the mayor wants to run on it.” He says this with a good-natured grin.

I try again on the ride home. “Don’t know nothin’ about it,” the driver tells me.

The screens stay dark for the rest of the week. Friday evening, I check the ABQ RIDE website when I get home. Nada.


700s and 300s: the scoop

The top photo features one of the new 700 series buses. These are manufactured by New Flyer. This particular model is the DE40LFR. (DE = hyrid diesel-electric; 40 = 40 footer; LFR = low floor. This is a “kneeling bus” which can lower itself to sidewalk level for wheelchair access.) ABQ RIDE began deploying this bus last autumn.

The second photo features one of the 300 series buses. These were manufactured by now-defunct Neoplan USA. This particular model is a Transliner AN440A (powered by compressed natural gas, also a 40 footer, and a high floor bus equipped with a wheelchair lift). As near as I can determine, this series was introduced to the Albuquerque fleet in 2001. [Correction: the year was 1996. Correction provided by New Flyer DE40LFR -- see comments below.]

Comments/additions/corrections welcome.