Sunday, September 28, 2008

BUS STORY # 101 (The Annunciator And The Driver)

I sent a suggestion to ABQRide a few weeks ago asking if they could announce other bus routes when at intersections, and when the hours of service were and approximate fr[e]quency. So, for example, when the Lomas bus came to San Mateo, instead of just saying the street it would also say "Transfer to the 140/141 lines service 6am to 9pm every 15 minutes".— Dave in the September 3, 2008, ABQ Bus Riders Discussions group in DukeCityFix.

Dave was commenting in a discussion about "the annunciator," an automated voice announcing coming bus stops.

Several weeks before this posting, I boarded a Rapid Ride at Wyoming. Sure enough, the driver had turned off the annunciator and was making exactly the kind of announcements Dave was hoping could be programmed into the annunciator.

“Coming up, Central at San Mateo. Connecting routes are 140-141 and 66.”

He didn’t give the schedule frequencies for these routes, and he didn’t tell us what the annunciator would have told us: this stop was “Magic Bus Station at Central and San Mateo.” (No, it is not the station for the Magic Bus. “Magic” refers to “99.5 Magic FM,” the branding for a local radio station with a “contemporary adult” format. Many of the Rapid Ride stops have sponsors, and, lately, most of those sponsors have been local radio stations.)

But our driver didn’t limit himself to the stops or the intersecting routes.

Each time he’d finished taking on a load of passengers, as he was getting ready to pull away from the curb, he asked riders to “please” hold onto the railing if we were not in our seats. “Thank you.”

I doubt there’s a regular rider anywhere that doesn’t have his or her special story about the time the bus pitched them forward or backward or across the aisle when pulling away from a stop with boarders still in the aisles looking for seats.

My story happened out of state. I’d just let go of the overhead rail to take a seat when an abrupt turn spun me across the aisle and slammed me into a compartment wall behind the driver. My ribs were sore for months. So I was probably predisposed to both note and appreciate my ABQ RIDE driver’s solicitousness here.

He had an accent. Maybe Texas, maybe Oklahoma, maybe southeastern New Mexico, for that matter. It was some kind of southern, and I figured that’s where the “please” came from. The word itself, that is. I believe the emphasis he put on that word was uniquely his own.

He made other announcements as well. When pulling into a stop, he’d rotate a reminder to “please” check to be sure we had all our belongings and have a good day with “please” watch our step when exiting the bus and have a good day.

I did everything he advised me to do and, sure enough, I had a good day.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

BUS STORY # 100 (State Fair 2008)

My wife wants me to stop off at the State Fair and pick up a salsa maker. She knows the Rapid Ride goes right by the fair grounds on Central. I could easily stop off one night on my way home.

Normally, my wife would not be asking me to do this. She’d do it herself. She’d do it herself because she truly loves going to the State Fair, and she loves the tradition of buying one of the manual food processors there every year just like she did a decade ago after watching the demo.

My wife loves salsa. She watched the salesman make salsa with the processor, and when he was done, she stepped right up and bought one. When she got it home, it lived up to its demonstration. By the time the next State Fair rolled around, we’d dulled the blades making salsa and chopping onions. She’s bought a new one every year since.

But she’s out of town this State Fair season, so she’s asked me to go get one for her. I have suggested maybe we could find one elsewhere – Target, Now We’re Cooking, Sears. She’s looked. They’re not the same, she tells me. I consider shopping on line. She considers that would mean not getting it at the fair. There’s no arguing with that logic. So I keep to myself the observation that the State Fair admission price will effectively add $9.00 to the cost of the processor.

I decide to go early Saturday morning rather than after work. I check the ABQ RIDE website to see if the Park and Ride is the way to go. It isn’t. It costs $4.00 round trip.

But I can take the Lomas bus using my bus pass, and there’s a bonus for doing so. The last sentence on the page reads: Passengers who use regular ABQ RIDE fixed routes to the Fair can get $1.00 off regular Fair admission by presenting a transfer at the gate. Well, all right!

Saturday morning, I catch the Lomas bus. I ask the driver for a transfer.

“You don’t need a transfer. Just show the driver your pass like you just did with me.”

“Ah,” I reply, “but the ABQ RIDE website says if I take one of the fixed routes to the fair, I can present a transfer slip at the gate and get a dollar off my admission.”

“All you have to do is show them your pass. I can’t give out transfers to riders with bus passes.”

My gut tells me showing my pass isn't going to work, but I can see arguing the point isn't going to work, either. I get off at Lomas and San Pedro and walk south to the San Pedro entrance. I wait my turn in line, then show them my bus pass and ask for my dollar discount. The woman doesn’t know what I’m talking about. I explain about the transfer ticket and the driver. She says just a minute and goes into another room.

I know how this is gonna end, but while she’s gone, I see a sign that says seniors get a discounted admission ticket for $5.00. Well, all right! I pull out my driver’s license and exchange my ten for a five. When she comes back, she says nobody knows anything about any bus pass discount. I give her my driver’s license and my five, and she gives me a ticket, and a buck, back. My ticket says “$4.00.” I’m thinking how cool it is she gave me the bus pass discount after all – and on top of the senior discount. That evening, a friend tells me the governor has reduced State Fair admission prices across the board by a dollar.

I go to Expo Hall and find the demo booth where I catch two salesmen taking a break between demos. I see the processor disassembled on the display counter. It’s ours, all right. I walk up and ask for one. They’re taken aback. Had I seen the demo earlier? "Yes," I answer, not bothering to explain it was a few years ago. I whip out my credit card, they run the charge, and my mission is now accomplished.

On the bus home, I look at the box. It’s a Gourmet Quick Chopper 2000 “As seen on TV.” We will never, ever refer to it as “the Quick Chopper.” It will always be “the salsa maker.”

Later, I google Quick Chopper and get 139,000 results. Same price as at the State Fair, minus the tax. I figure my bus pass and senior discount probably cancel out shipping charges.

That evening I call my wife. “Did you get the salsa maker?” she asks me. I tell her I did. “You went to the fair?” “Yes,” I tell her. “Oh, good. What else did you do?” I tell her I stopped by the Moriarty sweet corn stand for a roasted ear, watched the slingshot ride, and finished at the Asbury Café with some homemade apple-raisin-nut pie. She’s pleased. I don’t tell her about the bus. I’m saving that for Bus Stories.

I’m also saving the tomatoes and tomatillos and jalapeños from the garden for when she gets home and unpacks the salsa maker. It’ll be a hot time in the old town that night.

Thanks to Paul Ingles for this week’s This Week In feature: an NPR story about the selling of, among other things, the Quick Chopper 2000 at the 2002 New Mexico State Fair.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

BUS STORY # 99 (Teach Your Children Well)

I’m sitting in the seats facing the aisle in the back of the homebound No. 11. I’m watching a mother and her daughter playing patty cake in the back of the bus. Mom must be in her early 20s. She’s wearing shorts and she has sturdy, smooth brown legs. Her daughter is snugged between those strong legs, facing her mom, her back to the back of the seat in the next row. She might be four. She’s wearing shorts and a frilly, sleeveless blouse, and she’s got those little-girl ponytails swinging from each side of her head.

As they get toward the end of the routine, the little girl tries to speed things up and loses her coordination. They both laugh, and the little girl says, “Again, mommy!” And they do it again, and again, and again, until she gets it right. They both dissolve in laughter, and Mom gives her a big hug. Their joy is infectious.

Mom suggests a new game. The patter goes like this:

Double, double, ice, ice,
Double, double, cream, cream,
Double ice, double cream,
Double, double, ice cream.

Mom shows us how to touch fists, little finger side to little finger side, with each “double.” She shows us how to touch palms with each “ice.” Then she shows us how to touch the backs of the hand with each “cream.”

This one is new to the little girl and to me, too. The little girl struggles, but she makes progress. There is that same laughter throughout, but the little girl seems to plateau right at the end, and her laughter starts sliding toward frustration.

Mom moves quickly, switching to a game they obviously know well. She points toward the front of the bus. “Look! It’s a -- ”

The little girl giggles and shouts “Window!” Then the little girl points out the window and shouts, “Look! It’s a -- ”


“Nooooo, mommy.”


The little girl giggles.

¡Mira! ¡Mira! ¡Mira!” Mom sits bolt upright and points out the window. “It’s an unmarked police car!”

“Where, mommy?” The little girl pushes past her mother’s left knee and peers down through the window.

“Right there. The white car.”

“That one, mommy?” She’s pointing out toward the far lane.

“No, right there.”

“In that white car?”

I’m pretty sure the car is in the next lane and a little behind us. I can’t see it from where I’m sitting. I can see the white car in the turn lane the little girl is pointing to. The light turns and our lanes start moving.

“Right there. Follow my finger. It’s an undercover cop.”

“Right there, mommy?”

I’m pretty sure the little girl never saw the car her mother was pointing out. But as she did with “Double, double,” she got part of the lesson: “Is that one the undercover cop?”

Sunday, September 07, 2008


Not So Good



BUS STORY # 98 (We Take Care Of Our Riders, Don’t We?)

When I get to the Rapid Ride stop, the clock says “5:47.” This is a bad sign. The bus tracking system estimates via the LED display at the station how many minutes out the next bus is. On the Red Line, if everything is running smoothly, it should be 11 minutes or less. The longest I’ve seen display is 23 minutes. When just the time displays, it usually means the closest bus is out of range, or else isn’t moving. As it turns out, I wait almost 30 minutes for the next bus to arrive. During that period, I see three Rapid Rides arrive at the station across the street.

The driver honks when he pulls in. We board, and he says to me, “Caught you sleeping, didn’t I?” I laugh and say, “You sure did.” I’d gotten lost in my reading and the horn had made me jump. He’d noted that.

The bus is full, and I find a place to stand near the rear door. The driver’s voice booms over the speaker, “All right, folks, we’re running a little late today. Two Rapid Rides broke down. But we’re here now, and we’re on our way. Let’s everyone make room for folks to sit. We take care of our riders, don’t we?” The guy I’m standing by picks up his backpack from the seat beside him and motions me to sit down. I do, piling my own backpack on my lap to keep the aisle clear.

As we pass the intersection of Central and University, the voice booms out again. “Next stop: The Frontier. Do we have a winner?” There’s a pause, and then he announces, “OK, folks, we have a winner!”

There’s a large exchange of passengers, but we have a net gain. The aisles are full to the flex part of the bus.

Somewhere around the old Hiland Theatre, the driver again announces, “San Mateo coming up on our right. Do we have a winner?” Again a pause, and again, “We have a winner!”

There’s a guy in a motorized wheelchair among the throng waiting to get on. The bus “kneels” to let down the ramp at sidewalk level. It feels like all the tires on the right side have just gone flat. The two women and their small children sitting on the fold-up seats in the front have to move to make room for the wheelchair. They pick up their children and start moving down the aisle toward the back.

A few rows back, a young man gets out of his seat and motions to the first woman to take his seat. He’s wearing a black and white “LA” baseball cap with the bill turned southeast, a long-sleeved white T-shirt with a gray hooded sweatshirt thrown over his left shoulder, and faded jeans riding somewhere between his waist and his kneecaps.

When he sees the second woman behind the first, he motions to his seatmate to get up, get up, make room. His seatmate joins him in the aisle, and the two women take the seats. Then he sees an old woman boarding. He turns to a young male rider in the row of elevated seats facing the aisle and gestures for him to give his seat to the old woman. He helps the woman into the vacated seat. He looks over the rest of the boarders and, apparently satisfied his work is done, moves to the group standing in the aisle at the back of the bus.

“All right, folks, next stop is Louisiana. Thank you for making room for everyone on the bus. We take care of our riders, don’t we?”

In line at the red light west of Louisiana, he opens the doors. This is only the third time I’ve seen a Rapid Ride allow a boarding or disembarking at a location other than the station [#61, #63]. Maybe the driver sees the southbound Louisiana bus coming and is giving his riders a chance to catch it. For whatever reasons, a good half-dozen riders take the opportunity to leave.

At the Louisiana stop, the wheelchair exits and the bus empties out. This time, there are no announcements from the driver. We pull into the Wyoming stop where several more riders leave the bus. There are seven of us left.

As we pull into the turn lane for Lomas, I pull the cord. Nothing happens, and I suddenly understand the “Do we have a winner” business. I laugh out loud.

“Folks, if you’re heading into town on Lomas, there’s the bus.” Sure enough, the inbound No. 11 is waiting at the stoplight to our right. We get the arrow before it gets the green. That gives our riders the opportunity to catch the Lomas bus if they need to. Three of us get off, and I watch to see if any of us are transferring to that bus. Nope. We all need the one going east.

Here’s the story: everyone was trying to get home from work, the bus was 30 minutes late, was packed, and we had a good 8-minutes of time-consuming wheelchair boarding and exiting. Our driver managed to defuse all the grumpiness and irritation that might have found expression under these circumstances. He even got us to join him in taking care of our riders.

I regret not thinking about getting his name or the bus number so I could call in a compliment. After all, we need to take care of our drivers, too, don’t we?