Sunday, October 26, 2008

BUS STORY # 105 (Shorts 8)

Young couple on the aisle-facing bench seat up front. He’s got his arm around her, she’s leaning into him. They’re sharing an iPod. He’s got an earbud in his right ear, she’s got the other in her left. They’re both hunched forward, eyes closed, rocking in unison, and silently mouthing the lyrics. If it weren’t for the iPod, you’d think “prayer.”


I’m on the 6:31 a.m. Lomas inbound. We’re almost to Wyoming when I realize that, apart from the bus itself, the ride has been absolutely silent. It is almost full, with a pretty even mix of white collar, blue collar and student riders. At this hour, the absolute silence is not so remarkable. What’s remarkable is that no one, including any of the students, is wearing an earpiece of any kind.


The morning Rapid Ride stops for a red light at Louisiana. Bird movement catches my eye. First impression: one of the pigeons in the parking lot outside my window is trying to mount another pigeon. Second impression: it’s autumn; I shouldn’t be seeing mating behavior. I take a closer look. It’s not a pigeon trying to mount another pigeon, it’s a hawk! I can’t tell for sure, but I do know it's not a Kestrel. Maybe a Sharp-shinned migrating through town. He tries again, fluttering up and over the pigeon and coming down, talons extended. The pigeon skitters away again. The hawk looks confused and frustrated. I can almost hear the conversation: “Hey, hold still, dammit. I’m a hawk.” “I don’t care who you are, buddy. Go find a french fry and quit harassing me. Damn tourists.” The hawk tries one more time, but he looks like he’s lost his confidence. The pigeon eludes him with a little fancy footwork – he’s not even bothering with flying away. The hawk watches the pigeon dance away. He looks around at the other pigeons who seem unconcerned by what’s going on. He flies up and perches on the edge of the New Mexico Title Loans sign. He looks very hawk-like.


The woman is sitting in the last row talking to the man beside her. She is going on in a mix of English and Spanish about how good-looking she is and all the trouble it causes her. Even when she gets up at night to go to the bathroom, there’s always someone in the hallway staring at her. The two young guys in front of me are listening, too. One of them looks at the other, then makes the yak-yak-yak signal with his hand. The other guy grins and nods.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

BUS STORY # 104 (White Horse)

I’ve seen the guy sitting across from me once before. I remember we got off at the same stop at University Hospital. We both headed into the UNM campus, but a block in, he took a left and I a right.

Today, we're on the ride back home.

He’s got a Sam Elliott look, with finer features and a slighter build. Gray hair, a fine gray moustache, both full and neatly trimmed. He’s wearing a long-sleeve shirt patterned with small gray and green squares. He’s got on light gray slacks, brown dress shoes. On his head is a black baseball cap with the outline of a horse in white and some blue and white script on the front: White Horse Media. He’s reading a book whose cover is obscured by his hand.

There’s another rider sitting immediately to his right, facing forward. He’s wearing cut-off jeans, a black sleeveless sweatshirt, and a blue bandanna headband. He’s dreadlocked, and his skin is multicultural. He leans forward and says, “I was wondering about your hat. Are you in the media business?”

The first rider tells him White Horse Media is a Christian organization. The white horse comes from Revelations, and has to do with the Second Coming.

(Later, I will google “White Horse Media” and learn this is a fundamentalist Christian “media ministry” out of Fresno, California. The name does indeed come from one of the better known lines from Revelations, “ . . .behold, a white horse . . . ” For 15 bucks plus shipping, I can order myself one of those caps in either firm fit or soft. I think my co-rider was wearing the soft.)

The second rider makes a couple more inquiries, trying to draw the first rider out on the subject of his beliefs. Then he sits back a bit and says, “Well, I was raised a Catholic, but . . . ”

My ears perk up. Usually, when someone opens a discussion of his or her religious beliefs with “I was raised Catholic but,” the listener is in for an interesting ride.

He does not disappoint. He spins out a wonderful confabulation of fractured Catholicism, Neo-Buddhism, New Age gnosticism, UFO lore, and sub-atomic particle theory, all packed into one creatively rolled spiritual spliff.

Throughout, the first rider sits with an attentive, thoughtful expression, and doesn’t say more than a couple of words. The second rider wraps up his discourse standing in the unlikely pulpit of the rear exit stairwell while the driver waits for him to actually exit. He finally does, and the first rider wishes him good luck.

When the back doors close, he shifts his face to mine. I see the faintest trace of an amused smile before he looks back down at his book and resumes his reading.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

BUS STORY # 103 (The Bump)

I’d heard other riders’ random stories over the past two-plus years, but I didn’t have my very own bus accident story until one afternoon on the way home.

I’d just boarded the eastbound No. 11 at Lomas and Wyoming and had settled into my seat when I felt a bump and heard what I thought were the air brakes releasing. I had no sense at all of anything being amiss until I saw the driver get out of his seat and exit the bus. I tracked him through the windows as he walked all the way to the back, and I saw him give the rear end a good look.

All but one of the other boarders had gotten to their seats. The last guy was still at the till when the bump occurred. He wandered to the middle of the bus, then wandered back to the front and out the door, then back to where the driver was.

Speculation rippled through the bus. “I think we’ve been rear-ended.”

The driver returned and we heard him call in that we’d been hit from behind. After he got off the phone, he turned to us and asked if anyone had been hurt by “that little bump.”

There was a rider a few rows in front of me -- young guy, maybe late 20s or early 30s. Hair in a short ponytail. Black T-shirt. He told the driver he wouldn’t know until tomorrow – maybe he’d end up with whiplash.

We laughed along with the driver. We thought he was kidding. Then he asked if the other driver was insured.

Our driver didn’t know. All he wanted to know right now was if anybody was hurt.

The rider persisted with wanting to know about the other driver’s insurance. He’d been through this drill before, and the driver who’d hit the bus was uninsured and ABQ RIDE assumed no responsibility.

The driver explained he needed to get information from the other driver. He told the rest of us we should probably exit his bus and wait for the next one.

Except for our would-be litigant, we exited the bus. We all did the same thing: walked to the back of the bus to see what we could see before reversing course and crossing the street to the stop east of Wyoming.

I saw a red Lincoln Navigator, empty, very close to, but not touching, the back of the bus. I couldn’t see any damage to either the back end of the bus or the front end of the Navigator.

Apparently, there was a second collision as well. Parked behind the Navigator, also empty, was a white Eagle. Again, I saw no damage to either the back end of the Navigator or the front end of the Eagle.

I saw a young kid sitting by the sidewalk and looking very discouraged. I didn’t see anyone else who might be the second driver, and I couldn’t tell which car the kid belonged to.

I also saw the last boarder, standing just off the sidewalk and writing on a piece of paper. Maybe he was taking license plate numbers. Or maybe he was writing his own bus story.

We shuffled on over toward the Wyoming intersection. A couple of girls getting off the bus in front of me were saying, Can you believe that guy? All he wants is the money.

“That guy” was the rider who was wanting to know if the driver of the Navigator was insured. Apparently he was, the girls told us. So our co-rider was wanting to file a claim and get his name on the police report. What a jerk, they concluded. The discussion persisted as we crossed the street, mostly about how there was hardly any impact at all.

At the east side stop, I saw a rider who’d been on the bus with me the previous week when we’d been hit by a rock near Skateboard Park.

“It’s always interesting on this ride home, isn’t it?”

He laughed and nodded, and we wondered what adventure lay in store for us the coming week.

There must have been 20 people at the stop when the next bus arrived. Amazingly, no one had to stand. I was wondering why it was so empty when one of the riders said he thought this bus should only be at Louisiana by now. Then I wondered if ABQ RIDE had sent out a bus to replace our old one. Made sense then, and makes sense now.

Before we reached Juan Tabo, a red city ambulance went screaming past us. It stopped several blocks ahead of us, and we saw other lights flashing. The bus slowed and entered the single file going around the accident. I saw the ambulance, then a fire truck, and between them, a police car. Then I saw a motorcycle over on its side and two cars pulled over ahead of it.

A murmer ran through the bus. Ooooh, a motorcycle . . .

I imagined the rider roaring past our parked, rear-ended bus some 20 minutes earlier, seeing us milling around outside, and thinking how glad he was not to be stuck on the bus this glorious autumn afternoon.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

BUS STORY # 102 (Ambush At Skateboard Park II)

We’re flat out moving up Lomas toward home on one of the new 700 series buses when CRACK! Something hits the side of the bus. I can feel the impact.

We’re passing right by Skateboard Park, and I know immediately someone has pegged us with a rock like they did at this same spot around this same time last year. The big difference is, the rock didn’t hit a window.

The driver pulls over quickly, then is out of the bus like a shot, cell phone in hand. He’s a young guy, stocky and solid, with black-framed glasses and shorts revealing tattoos on both muscular calves. We don’t see him for quite a while.

One of the riders finally disembarks, lights a cigarette, then walks back down the sidewalk where our driver had gone. When he returns, he boards the bus and tells us the driver saw who threw the rock, and he’s called it in and is keeping an eye on the guy. Apparently, the guy hasn’t taken off. He also tells us the driver is really pissed.

There is some division of opinion about what we are doing. One group is happy our driver is making sure the perp isn’t gonna get away with it. The other is unhappy our driver isn't getting them to where they want to be on time.

Eventually, the driver comes back to our bus and tells us we should exit and walk up to the next stop to wait for the next bus. We do. Most of us know the next bus will be here before the cops arrive.

No sooner do we get to the stop than a car pulls in front of the bus. A civilian with a clipboard gets out and walks over to the driver. Bus supervisor, we all know.

We are too far away to hear anything, but we can tell from the animated arm gestures of the driver that he isn’t too happy about whatever he’s hearing.

Pretty soon, the driver walks over to us and tells us we can reboard our bus. He’s gonna drop us at our stops, and those will be the only stops he makes.

It’s pretty easy to figure out what happened. The Schedule card has trumped the Law & Order card. I’m wondering if it would have been different if the bus had been damaged.

We are boarding our bus when we see the next bus coming up Lomas behind us. But our driver soon leaves it way behind. He stops only when a rider pulls the cord. We watch stop after stop of open-mouthed would-be riders as we sail right past them as if they didn’t exist.