Sunday, July 27, 2008

BUS STORY # 93 (Lost)

The Rapid Ride pulls into the San Mateo station. Folks exit, folks board. From behind me, a man moves quickly, purposefully, down the aisle. He’s looking at each seat, under each seat. Near the front, he turns to the back and shrugs his shoulders. He walks to the back of the bus.

He’s wearing worn blue jeans and a blue plaid flannel shirt. He’s dark-skinned, short, solid. Thick black hair. I’m thinking Mexican.

He returns, this time with a woman. She is a female version of him, including the jeans and shirt. They are looking at each of the seats. Midway down, he leaves her in the aisle and goes to the front and speaks with the driver. Then he returns to the woman and resumes the search.

They are quick, efficient, unsuccessful. At the front of the bus, they look at each other. The sense of loss is palpable. They go to the first exit door. She turns and looks at him. He goes back up the aisle searching.

The driver and the rest of us are patient. Several of us are turning to look under seats around us. We don’t know what we’re looking for, but we’re looking anyway.

He returns to the woman empty-handed. He has to nudge her, gently, out the door.


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

Sunday, July 20, 2008

BUS STORY # 92 (Back Door Man)

The No. 140/141 is jammed this morning. I’m one of six riders at the stop north of San Mateo at Lomas. We join the group already standing in the aisle.

We’re riding bus 723 – one of the new 700 series buses. These new guys really move – no more taking half the distance between stops to get up to speed. A lot of riders think the performance of the new buses is why ABQ RIDE has been so much more on schedule than we’ve been used to. The argument makes sense. But the No. 11 route is a mix of 700s and 300s and they’ve all been pretty dead on, morning and afternoon. So has the No. 50 with its sometimes iffy 400s.

In any case, we’re moving right along to the next stop. There’s a boarding, an exit. The doors close, but the bus doesn’t move. The driver calls back, “Can somebody pull the back doors shut?’ I look back. The doors look closed, but the green light above them is on. A standing rider pulls on the handles. The light stays green. He rattles one of the handles. The light goes off. The bus pulls out.

Next stop, no problem.

The stop after that, problem. This time, pulling and rattling isn’t working. One of the riders standing at the front exits through the open front doors, walks back to the rear doors, and gives them a mighty slam. We shake our heads “no” to him – the green light is still on. He slams them again, then for good measure gives them a wallop with his fist. The green light goes out. He gets a hand when he re-enters the bus.

“I just fixed a hundred thousand dollar bus. Where’s my cut?” he calls out.

"Thanks, Mister Back Door Man!" someone calls from the back.

The stuck door problem seems to alternate with every other stop. Fortunately, rattling one of the door handles is now working.

When we get to Montgomery, a lot of riders exit, but there’s a pretty good influx, too. I’ve nabbed a seat now. A new rider, a woman, sits down next to me. “The bus is really late this morning,” she says. When the doors close, the back door light remains green. The area by the door is occupied by new riders who don’t yet know the routine. The driver calls back and asks if someone would rattle the door handle. It takes a few shakes before the new back door man gets the feel of it.

“Has it been doing this the whole way?” asks my seatmate.

“Seems like just every other stop,” I tell her.

“Well, that’s why it’s late.”

I look for the digital time stream at the front of the bus. I know I’m usually at work by 7:40 a.m. That’s just 10 minutes away, so, yes, we are running late. It takes me about 10 minutes to walk from the stop to my work area.

It’s hard to believe the doors have delayed us this much. I think maybe the construction between Candelaria and Comanche was part of it, too. Somewhere in the slowdown of the construction, a car had shot in front of the bus from a side street. We lurched and the driver gave her the horn.

Somebody in the front said “He shoulda just crashed that _____.”

“Then we’d be stuck here for a couple of hours,” said his seatmate.

We’re making fewer stops now, and the door seems to have settled down. Still, between Osuna and Academy, the bus running 20 minutes behind us passes us. I have to laugh: it’s one of the older 300s.

I get to work 30 minutes later than usual.


Thanks to Brenna in San Francisco and her blog, That Baby Is Cold, for this week’s Last Week In feature.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

BUS STORY # 91 (Twins)

I’m walking up to the bus stop when I see the No. 50 go by, heading for the airport. Both of us are right on time. It’ll be back around in 10 minutes. I’ll be across Yale and waiting.

When five after five comes, he’s not here yet. A cab pulls up for the red light. The passenger window comes down, and the driver leans over and shouts, “The bus broke down at the airport.”

It’s happened that way before, but I can’t help wonder if the driver is looking for a fare. I just wave a thank you. He pulls away when the light is green. I’ll give the bus another five minutes, then I’ll start walking north, towards Central.

At 5:08, the bus comes round the bend and is booking it down Yale. He lurches to an abrupt stop where I’m waiting. I show the driver my pass, then ask, “Did you have any problems up at the airport?”

“Yeah,” he replies. “This transmission is gonna go out any minute, but they’re gonna make me wait till it does before they do anything about it.”

The cabbie wasn’t trying to hustle me after all.

The next stop is down by the Village Inn. The bus lurches to a stop, and we jolt forward and brace ourselves for balance. A woman stands in the front door and asks the driver if this bus can get her to Rio Bravo.

“You need to catch the Rail Runner bus up at the airport,” he tells her.

“Wait a minute,” calls out a passenger. “She can take this bus downtown and catch the Isleta bus.”

The driver asks the passenger if he’s sure. He is. The driver tells the woman to board and transfer downtown.

“This bus goes downtown?” she asks.

When the driver says it does, she goes back to the bench. I’m expecting bags, but she boards instead with two little girls. They’re twins, maybe three years old, and cute as they can be. They board smiling and looking around and walk down the aisle holding hands. Looks like the bus is one great, new adventure for them. They’re ready to claim the empty bench seats in front, but the woman herds them to the back and up on the platform. She gets them seated, and tells them she’ll be right back. She goes back up to the driver to pay the fare. The twins get up and kneel on the seats and look out the window. Then they look over to the front of the bus where the woman is, then back out the window. They do this several times, always in synch with one another.

The woman returns to the back, stumbles on the stairs up to the platform, and lands heavily on the seat next to one of the twins. She gets herself settled, then pulls a stubbed out cigarette from her purse and keeps it between the fingers of her right hand.

She looks old before her time, whatever that time might be. I can’t really tell. She’s got on jeans and a baggy sweatshirt, but I can see she’s thin. Her hair is long and stringy and is dyed a bad blonde orange. I think she must be the grandmother, not the mother.

After a while, she puts her head in her hands and leans forward. She slumps further and further forward, until her head is below her knees and she looks like she’s gonna pitch forward onto the floor. I look at the rider who advised the driver about the Isleta bus. He’s been watching her, too, and we catch each other’s eyes. He gets up and walks to the back.

“Are you all right?”

No response.

“Are you sick or something?”

She comes shooting back up into a sitting position. Her face looks startled.

“I’m fine,” she finally says. There is another pause. “I’ve been in the hospital for two straight weeks and I haven’t gotten a lot of sleep. I’m just tired.”

“Well, you take care of yourself, mihita. And take care of your girls.”

There is another pause. Then she answers, “I’m taking them to their aunt now. Our car broke down.”

The rider returns to his seat. Maybe a full minute passes before she calls out, “I’m not high.”

From the time I saw her tilting further and further floorward, I’ve been thinking maybe heroin. From the way the rider said “And take care of your girls,” I know he’s thinking something similar. After her affirmation, I find myself looking at the twins. They aren’t smiling anymore, but they don’t look apprehensive, either. It’s like they’ve been distracted from the amusement of the bus ride by an impelling curiosity about this mysterious exchange between the woman and the stranger. I think about my own twin granddaughters, three years old in January. When I get off at Central, I feel like some kind of deserter.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

BUS STORY # 90 (Shorts 6)

So: Is it OK for ABQ RIDE to promote “Dump the Pump” and “Strive Not To Drive” campaigns in order to decrease pollution and traffic gridlock, but to accept advertising from dealerships promoting the purchase of personal vehicles which contribute to pollution, traffic gridlock, and a bypassing of public transportation? Inquiring minds want to know . . .


On the homebound Rapid Ride, at the Louisiana station, a group of riders boards. As the driver is about to close the doors, a guy boards and holds up one finger to the driver. “Un momento.” He’s wearing oversized jeans, an oversized Chicago Bulls jersey, and a red baseball cap sideways. He moves quickly down the aisle to where one of the young women who just boarded is talking on a cell phone. There is an exchange which suggests a domestic dispute. His Spanish doesn’t sound local. The driver calls back, “Let’s go.” El vato raises his index finger once again, then turns to another young woman across the aisle. “What’s going on?” calls out the driver. “He wants to borrow my cell phone,” the first girl answers. “Let’s go, driver, I don’t want to miss my connection,” calls out another passenger, echoing my concern. “Hey, buddy, get off now or we’re leaving,” calls out the driver. El vato continues importuning the other young woman who I can now see was also on her phone. The driver closes the doors and starts to pull out. El vato moves to the doors. The bus stops, the doors open. El vato turns back to the passengers. The doors close, the bus starts again. El vato runs to the doors and starts rattling them. The bus stops, the doors open. El vato gets off. I make my connection at Lomas and Wyoming.


Overheard on the inbound Rapid Ride between Nob Hill and UNM: First rider: “So my grandfather calls me and says, ‘Don’t do it, bro. Everybody knows you’re coming and you’re gonna end up doing time.’ So I lay low, you know, and he comes round and pays up. Just like that. So how about you, bro?” Second rider: “I had heart surgery.” First rider: “Heart surgery? What for? Second rider: “I dunno. I just got out last week.” First rider: “You look good, bro. You look really happy.”


Thanks to John in the DukeCityFix ABQ Bus Riders Forum for this week's This Week In feature.