Sunday, November 30, 2008

BUS STORY # 109 (That Poor Child!)

We're on the way to Central, and we're better than half full. We stop just past Santa Clara, at the southwest corner of the Fairview Cemetery, and pick up several more passengers. One of them is a tall woman with long black hair. She's wearing sunglasses, a faded red T-shirt and worn blue jeans, and she's carrying a kid.

The kid looks to be maybe a year old. She's holding him like a sack of groceries, arms wrapped around him just under the armpits, her belly to his back. She sits near the front, still maintaining the same hold. The kid seems OK. He's pretty placid, in fact.

I'm distracted by a commotion from the front of the bus. Another woman, also with long black hair, also in sunglasses, T-shirt and jeans, is arguing with the driver. She walks over to the woman holding the child and asks her to check for the transfer again. Ah, so they're together.

The woman sitting doesn't respond. She looks up at the second woman, and that's it. The second woman turns and tells the driver in a loud voice, "This one will have to do." She's waving a transfer in front of her.

"That transfer expired two hours ago. You're going to have to get off the bus."

"We're not getting off the bus. We need to go to Central."

"You're going to have to get off the bus, or I'm going to have to call security."

"Well, O high and mighty one," yells the woman as she makes a sweeping and artless curtsy, "you just call your security because we aren't getting off the bus."

If it wasn't clear before, it is now: the woman is intoxicated. She goes over and sits down next to the woman with the child.

The driver gets on the phone and calls it in. We can all hear her voice. "I've got a couple of folks who don't have valid transfers refusing to leave the bus." She is remarkably calm.

We sit and wait. Suddenly, the woman gets up and says to her friend, "Come on, get up. She's called the cops."

Her friend looks at her but doesn't move. The kid is as passive as can be.

"Come on, we don't need to go to jail. Let's get out of here."

She takes the kid and stands him up in front of her. I'm stunned to realize her friend is a male, not a female.

"C'mon, get up!"

She grabs his sleeve. He gets up unsteadily. They move toward the front door which is wide open.

"We're getting off your _______ bus, you _______ _____!"

The woman curses the driver relentlessly as the three of them exit the bus and stand out on the sidewalk. The driver waits till they're all outside, closes the door, radios in that the problem is resolved. As she is pulling back into the traffic, she exclaims, "Oh, my goodness!"

She stops at the next stop and radios back in. We can hear her voice sounding more urgent now. She's telling the dispatcher the folks who got off the bus are fighting, and they have a child. She tells them to call the police. "That poor child," she says.

When we get to Central, a couple of riders make a point of telling her how well she handled the situation. She thanks them, then says again, "That poor child."

Sunday, November 23, 2008

BUS STORY # 108 (Land Of Entrapment)

The guy in front of me is bending the ear of the guy sitting across the aisle. He’s telling the story of how hard it is for him to get out of New Mexico. He’s sprawled over both seats, and his feet are sticking out in the middle of the aisle. The guy across the aisle occasionally nods, occasionally says “uh-huh.”

Here’s the story: he’s trying to get from Albuquerque to Amarillo. The amazing thing is the bus fare is only six dollars. But when he goes to make a reservation, the bus is full. The next one doesn’t leave for another 33 hours.

He ain’t waitin’ around for no 33 hours. So he takes the Central bus down to Central and Tramway and walks on over to I-40. In less than 10 minutes, he catches a ride. It’s a great ride. They smoke the driver’s cigarettes and drink his beer all the way to Cline’s Corners.

He’s still got six hours of daylight at Clines Corners. He’s just gotten a haircut, got showered and shaved before he hit the road, and his clothes are neat and clean. And there’s a lot of traffic. Traffic is just streaming through there. But when the sun is low on the horizon, he’s still standing on the highway at Clines Corners.

A cop pulls up and tells him he’s not supposed to be hitching out on the highway. He tells the cop his story. The cop says he’ll give him a ride back to Moriarty where he can catch a bus back to Albuquerque.

Can you believe this cop? He wants to take him backward from where he’s trying to go. Man, they’re all the same.

He’s only got three dollars, and the bus ride back will take the three dollars. He’s gonna starve to death back in Albuquerque.

So here he is now, still trying to get out of here to Amarillo. It’s tough getting out of this state, he concludes.

“Yeah,” says the guy across the aisle. “That’s why they call it ‘the land of entrapment.’”

Sunday, November 16, 2008

BUS STORY # 107, Part 2 (Some Drivers)

Nick has just finished telling me his bus story. So now I tell him mine.

I was standing on the north side of Lomas and Wyoming, watching the eastbound No. 11 chugging up toward the intersection, and begging the light to change to red before he got to the intersection. It did.

There’s a stop about three car lengths before the intersection. The bus had already stopped there, then moved forward to the intersection. As I crossed Lomas in front of him, I flashed him my pass. He looked away from me, toward the northeast. I came around to the door. He kept looking away. I knocked on the door. He turned and looked at me. There was a very long pause, and it was just beginning to sink in he wasn’t going to let me on when the doors opened. I thanked him. He didn’t acknowledge the thanks -- or me, for that matter. But he’d opened the door. That’s what counted.

Later, at the stop just before Eubank, folks exited and entered the bus, and the doors closed. Just about then, an old, white-haired guy in a blue shirt suddenly realized this was his stop. He pulled the cord and stood up. The driver wouldn’t open the door. He told the old guy he’d have to wait until the next stop.

The next stop was on the other side of the intersection. The old guy got off the bus, then turned around and let the driver have it. It seemed to me the driver left the door open until the old guy was finished. Then he closed it with no comment and went on.

I made it a point to thank him again when I exited, but he looked straight ahead and just waved me away. I had the impression he didn’t want to be reminded he’d done something he wouldn’t make the mistake of doing again.

Nick and I were thinking the same thing: did we have the same driver? But Nick didn’t remember anything about what his driver looked like, and I didn't remember which day it was.

We wondered if our drivers had had a bad day. Collectively speaking, the drivers are nicer to us than we riders are to them. I’ve seen exchanges which would have left me in a black mood if I’d been the driver.

We wondered if there was a policy which stated drivers can only pick up riders at designated bus stops. My bus was at the intersection, not at the stop. Then we wondered if, once they made a stop and closed the doors, they weren’t supposed to reopen them again. That would cover Nick’s and the old man’s situation.

Whether or not such a policy exists, just about everyone accepts there’s always going to be some discrepancy between the actual bus schedule and the published one. Most drivers and riders cut one another some slack here.

Further, I think most drivers are sensitive to the fact that leaving a rider at a stop means more than just a few minutes wait for the next bus. They’re a remarkably service-oriented group of folks. We can only be grateful for that, and hope that our particular driver(s) get on the bus.

Post script: Neither Nick nor I have had another experience like this since. We’ve concluded this is “the exception that proves the rule.” In Nick's case, he’s allowing the possibility that the driver was operating under a condition like my driver’s at Skateboard Park. He can imagine what those riders waiting for a bus already 20 minutes late must have thought and felt – and said out loud – when our bus blew right by them. That’s the Nick I know, God bless him.

The photo at the top of this story is posted with the kind permission of Dr Feel. You can see the photo and links to all Dr. Feel’s photos on Flickr at:

Sunday, November 09, 2008

BUS STORY # 107, Part 1 (Some Drivers)

“I’ve got a bus story for you,” my friend Nick* tells me. We’re having dinner at the Siam Café. I’m all ears.

Nick had taken the bus to go see his doctor. In the doctor’s office, he got some discouraging news. When he left the office, he went to catch the bus back home.

He didn’t know the exact scheduled time the bus came by this stop, but he knew his bus ran every 20 minutes. Maybe it was a minute away. Or five. Certainly no more than 19. Good thing, too, because the stop wasn’t sheltered and it was hot, and after hearing the doctor’s news, all he wanted was to get home.

The No. 5 went by. Then 20 minutes went by, but no bus. After a long while, the No. 5 came by again. Nick took it because it would get him part of the way home and because he wanted to get moving and get out of the sun. He planned to get off at Carlisle where the routes quit sharing the same road and wait for the No. 11 there.

When he got off, he looked west. Nothing in sight. He walked a block north thinking he might just walk the rest of the way home. It was still hot, though. So he turned south and walked back to Lomas. He saw the No. 11 coming toward the stop on the south side of the street. He waited for the traffic, then crossed the street and walked up to the bus. The driver didn’t open the door. Nick rapped on the door, held up his transfer. The driver shook his head “no.”

When the bus started to pull out, Nick told me he just lost it. The heat, the bad news, the bus not showing up, and now this – it was too much. He banged on the windows of the bus as it was moving out and roundly cursed the driver.

This story is remarkable for three reasons. One is that I’ve known Nick for a long time and I’ve never seen him lose his temper. Another is that neither of us has experienced anything but consideration from our drivers, especially this year. And the last is that I have a bus story from this same week and same route that is remarkably similar.

*Real name changed.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

BUS STORY # 106 (You Need A Busload Of Faith To Get By)

I’ve just scored a seat on the Rapid Ride, up on the platform facing the aisle in front of the flex. The guy on my right turns and says, “I was talkin’ to this guy and I thought he was gonna beat me up.” He doesn’t wait to see if I’m gonna ask why. “I was telling him about God’s plan.”

It’s been over two years now, and one of the real surprises of riding or waiting for the bus has been the absence of street preachers and end times prophets. Now, for the second time in two weeks, God has appeared on my bus.

The first time, He let me just listen in. This time, He’s obviously decided to engage me directly. He’s speaking through a young man – 18, I find out later – who explains to me in a less than linear fashion how he came to be saved.

It seems he was hanging with a bad crowd in high school. He was doing drugs, and he ended up dropping out. But the drugs weren’t the worst of it, he explains. It seems they were dabbling in something darker. All I can think of is “the Dark Arts.” Whatever it was, he says God told him that he was in trouble here, and his companions meant to do him harm.

He says he first thought he was doing some kind of mind trick on himself. Gradually, he came to understand it really was God who was warning him. He found himself weighing “mind, spirit, mind, spirit.”

I ask if this revelation came out of the blue. Yes. Well, he had been going to church Sundays. Well, and after school some, too, but he wasn’t taking it seriously, wasn’t respecting God.

The spirit grew, and it outweighed his mind. He separated himself from his companions and began a new life. He started by moving out of his home.

How long ago was this, I ask. Last September – no, last November. And how did his parents feel about his moving out? He wasn’t living with his parents. His parents aren’t together. His mom lives here in town, but he wasn’t living with her.

“She can’t take care of herself. Well, she could, but she can’t. Know what I mean?” I think maybe I do.

He was living with his grandma. Was she a problem? No, not really. He offers no further explanation. Instead, he tells me he may not have any money, but one thing he knows for sure: his heavenly Father will take care of him.

Turns out his heavenly Father is helping take care of him by providing him with two jobs. He’s a door-to-door cutlery salesman by day and a dishwasher by night. The cutlery job isn’t going too well, although he thinks it will. He thinks this is something he might be good at. He wonders if we might set a time for him to show me his cutlery. I dodge that, and he lets me get away.

He lets me get away partly because he’s insecure. It’s not just about the selling of knives, either. This particular salvation has not come fully loaded with instant peace and joy and certitude. Right now, his faith is like a flashlight in the fog: The only thing he can see is the light itself.

He’s extending God an awful lot of trust here, and he reminds me a little of Peter standing out on the lake. He’s nervous, not quite sure what he’s doing here and struggling against the knowledge that he ought to be under water. Mind, spirit, mind, spirit. So far, his head is still above water. He tells me he knows all of this – being out on his own, the cutlery, the dishwashing -- it’s all part of God’s plan.

We talk a little about the frustrations of not being able to know what the plan is. He likes knowing how things work. Mushrooms got him interested in figuring things like this out. But mushrooms were just taking him deeper and deeper. “Know what I mean?” This time I don’t.

He tells me he knows he could be doing better. Like his dishwashing job. They’re on his case because he’s too slow. He thinks he could be faster. He thinks he might be lazy. He thinks maybe this is why God gave him this job. Makes sense, I tell him.

I ask him if he’s thought about going back to school. He really hasn’t, but he thinks he probably should go back to school, or at least get his G.E.D. “What do you think I should do?” he asks me. I tell him I can’t answer that for him. He is clearly uninspired by school. He says his real desire is to witness to others.

I leave him at Lomas and Wyoming, but I think about him afterwards for quite a while. He’s young, vulnerable, lost and – except for God – alone. I think about the two of them, and I hope neither one of them lets the other one down.