Sunday, February 22, 2009

BUS STORY # 121 (Dependable Hickory Strongheart, Part 2: Contact)

A year ago this March, a rider told me about a “white guy” from Santa Fe who was attending Native American Church peyote ceremonies with the intention of eventually filming the ceremony. His name, I was told, was “Dependable Hickory Strongheart.”

I was skeptical. You hear a lot of stories on the bus. Besides the improbable name, a couple of details in my co-rider’s story didn’t quite fit.

I posted the story.

That post was eventually googled by “Anonymous” who commented in May of 2008 saying he’d known Dependable Hickory Strongheart and his sister, “Hallelujah Misty Mountain Strongheart,” when they were kids in Santa Fe.

That comment inspired a second bus story which concluded:

Anonymous’ comment is like the tip of some fantastic iceberg. Which is why this story is Part 1. I sense there is more to come. Not that I plan to go stalking, just that I have my radar set because the story of Dependable Hickory Strongheart, like the truth, is out there.
This posting drew yet a second comment from another “Anonymous” who had heard a boyfriend speak of these two siblings plus another sister, “Faith Brings Out The Wild.”

And then, a couple of weeks ago, a comment from “hickman” was posted that began:

“Hello. I am Dependable Hickory Strongheart. I have 5 sisters and live in Santa Fe. I just completed my Bachelor's Degree in Documentary Studies at the College of Santa Fe, and my final film thesis was on the Native American Church. I thought I'd google myself to see what was out there, and I find this blog...D.H.S.
I responded with an invitation to share his story.

What that story might be has been the matter of some personal speculation for a while now. At first glance, the unusual names of the siblings seem to be the focus. But that really leads one to the parents who named them, doesn’t it?

I’ve imagined a young couple from the countercultural ‘60s, maybe from here, maybe migrating to northern New Mexico from the east coast, maybe spending some time in one of the communes that dotted the landscape from Arroyo Hondo to Placitas.

I’ve imagined them as a “nation of two” who kept the faith after the countercultural movement ran out of gas, leaving behind its legacy of getting long hair on television and Richard Nixon in the White House.

I’ve imagined a secular fundamentalist family living in a culture that runs contrary to its every value, and the struggle it must have been to raise their children, to protect them and strengthen them against the seductively corrosive influences of that culture.

That is what names like “Dependable Hickory Strongheart” and “Hallelujah Misty Mountain” and “Faith Brings Out the Wild” summon up in my admittedly romantic imagination. Bold, strong names for the children of bold, strong parents. Names that would encourage strength, boldness, and imagination in the children who bore them.

Such a conjuring suggests that maybe D.H.S.’s family would be an exceptionally fine subject for a documentary.

But this is my pipe dream, not Dependable Hickory Strongheart’s story. If past experience is any guide, the real story is something else, and more interesting. As my friend, Bob, says, “And you want me to read a book with a story that someone made up?”

I haven’t heard from hickman since posting my response. But my invitation to share his story stands. Thank you, Dependable Hickory Strongheart, for writing.

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

Sunday, February 15, 2009

BUS STORY # 120 (Shorts 9)

Oh, boy! ABQ RIDE has found a new advertising surface! I may sound amused, but the news is full of stories about struggling public transportation systems despite record high ridership. So I’m happy that ABQ RIDE is happy that Fuddruckers is happy to put its brand on the bottom of the bicycle racks. Who knows? Maybe next time, Fuddruckers will supersize to a full wrap.


It’s a cold, breezy morning at the Yale stop. I watch a guy come out of McDonald’s and shuffle across the street. He’s wearing some kind of balaclava against the wind. As he gets closer, I can see it is an outlandish knitted skull face in orange and brown and white, with a row of white teeth – a calaveras caricature, more like a Mexican wrestler’s mask. It’s pulled over a brown watchcap. An untucked white shirt hem sticks out from the bottom of his light jacket. As he gets closer, I can hear him humming. He comes straight toward me, and I can hear the humming is actually a shivery moaning. He steps up on the curb and stands to my immediate left, looking at me and moaning. His arms are crossed and his hands are tucked into the armpits of his jacket. I can see his eyes through the eyeholes. He’s young. Maybe high school young. It occurs to me he’s spoofing. I make a quizzical face at him. He moans a minute or so longer, then shuffles on toward Central. Maybe he’s not spoofing. He disappears around the corner without looking back.


I’ve already noticed the time scrolling across the front of the bus is exactly one hour ahead. So I’m thinking “yeah, yeah, yeah” when I hear the guy behind me say to his seatmate, “Dude, the clock is an hour ahead.” To which his seatmate replies, “Dude, that’s nothing. We’re like 20 years behind.” A bunch of us look up, but the date and time have scrolled out of sight. We have to wait for “Lomas and Eubank,” the next intersection, to scroll past before the date and time appear once again. Sure enough, it’s 6:08 p.m. on April 28, 1989 on this particular December 12, 2008, at 5:08 p.m. Amazing how we all picked up on the time and completely missed the date. Even more amazing: Not one person makes a joke about how late the bus is.


A few days later, I caught this date on the outbound No. 50:


Thanks to BB in Marshfield, MA, for This Week's Feature story: Two Months Ago In Boston.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

BUS STORY # 119 (Pretzel Love)

I’m sitting square in the middle of the back row of seats in the bus. Just ahead of me, on the aisle-facing bench to my right, a young couple is entangled in a love knot.

Given my age-appropriate range of motion, I am fascinated by this teen flexibility. They are side by side, after a fashion. He is closest to me. He’s circled her waist with both arms, but has also managed a torso twist that puts the right side of his head just under her chin and resting against her. She has her right hand on top of his clasped hands. Her left arm encircles his waist. Her right leg is pulled up so that her foot rests on the edge of the seat. Her torso, thigh and lower leg are three tight, horizontal lines.

They don’t move for a long time. That’s as impressive as getting into the position in the first place.

He’s wearing a black hooded sweatshirt with a stylized green face on the left sleeve, green pants with the cargo pockets neatly ripped open down the middle, and black high-topped sneakers. A skateboard is wedged between his knees. He has a long hank of black hair hanging down like a curtain over the left side of his face .

She’s teen thin in tight jeans with some really cool-looking black boots. Her jacket is white and has fringed seams on the outside. Beneath the jacket is a maroon shirt, and just above his left forearm, I can see the leather-looking knob buttons of a short vest. A soft, fuzzy gray cap with a short bill perches atop a fall of copper hair.

From what I see of his face, I recognize a restrained, patient earnestness (although I was a few years older when I wore that expression). Her face is impassive, a fashion page look of boredom.

When I see movement, my first impression is he’s trying to kiss her. But he ends up speaking into her ear. He swings his head forward and she speaks into his ear. They converse like this for a while. I hear her laugh softly once. She may look bored, but it’s all part of the picture.

He finally does kiss her. It takes an awkward double twist of his torso and neck, but I can still remember the inspiration that will drive a young man into a desperately uncomfortable position. She kisses him back.

I realize that in all my years, I’ve never really seen two people kiss this close up. It’s not like in the movies. All I can see of him is the back of his head and that curtain of hair to the left. All I can see of her is the underside of her chin. It’s moving rhythmically, like fish gills.

His right hand has moved up and is fingering the knobby buttons of her vest. Her shirt has ridden up a bit in front and is showing skin. She senses this and with her right hand pulls it back down, kiss uninterrupted.


There are three other people back here with me, and two of them are not fascinated. They are either oblivious, or, more likely, practicing standard bus rider etiquette. Both of them are guys, early 30s. The guy on my right, directly in line with the couple, has shifted himself so he’s looking out the window at the apparently far more interesting sights of everyday Albuquerque. The guy on my left is looking straight ahead, bobbing his head to whatever is playing on his earphones.

The other interested party is a girl, maybe 10, maybe a bit older. She is sitting on the bench seat directly across from the couple, and she has been watching them with unabashed, unabated interest.

She’s plain and pudgy, and I find myself wondering what is going through her head. I watch her expression, and I wonder if she’s thinking she’ll never look like this girl, will never have boys wanting to sit with her like this on the bus, or anywhere else.

If she is, she’s too young to have developed all the protective filters. There’s no “ewwww” expression, no look of huffy disapproval. But I don’t see any look of sadness or envy or wistfulness, either. She’ just taking it all in.

By the time I reach my stop, I understand the real story here is inside this little girl’s head. There are some places you just can’t get to on the bus.


This remarkable photo is posted with the kind permission of digitalShe. You can see this photo and all of digitalShe's work at

Sunday, February 01, 2009

BUS STORY # 118 (Out Of Control)

Someone in the back of the bus has taken a phone call, and he is not happy.

“What the ____! Who the ____ does he think he _______is? You better _______ straighten him out before I get home or I’ll put my _______foot up his _______ ___!”

He has a loud, booming voice. Folks sitting in the seats facing the aisles – even the ones in the front of the bus -- turn and look back. I’d like to look myself.

“No _______way! I’m the head of this _______ house, not him! I’m the head of the house! If he doesn’t straighten up, I’m gonna make that call, y’understand? I’m _______ gonna make that _______ call!”

I’ve conjured up a picture of him from his voice: lean and tall, clean-shaven, baseball cap, T-shirt with something written on it, and jeans. Probably boots of some kind.

A few more exchanges like the preceding ones set the scenario: the “head of the house” here on the bus has been called by his wife about her son by a previous marriage who, besides, misbehaving, is using his father as leverage. It’s easy to see the level of anger here is pretty much proportional to the amount of control our rider doesn’t have.

The bus has pulled away from the Wyoming at Central stop when the driver pulls over again. He looks back, gets out of his seat, starts walking toward the back.

“Oh great! Now I’m about to get kicked off the _______ bus! I’ll call you back.”

I can hear the driver when he gets to the back of the bus.

“I’m not gonna kick you off the bus, but you’ve gotta tone it down and clean it up.”

“I’m sorry, driver, but I’ve got some insane people on the other end of this line, and I’m -- ”

“I don’t want to hear it. Just keep it to yourself.”

He walks back to the driver’s seat. There is silence all the way to the next stop, my stop, at Lomas. I exit the middle door. A rider exits the rear door, cell phone to his ear. I recognize the voice. Then I see that I got the jeans and boots right. The T-shirt, too, except it is brown, and I suspect it doesn’t have any writing on the front. He’s maybe five-seven – a banty rooster. He’s got a Fidel Castro cap and beard.

“I’d like to report an out of control 12-year-old.”

We’re both walking fast to the corner.

“Well, can you connect me, then? I’m on a cell phone.”

He reaches the corner and hits the crosswalk button for crossing Wyoming.

“No, sir, we’re not married, but -- ”

I hit the crosswalk button for crossing Lomas. The light turns and my co-rider moves out quickly. I watch him cross, cell phone pushed to his ear, oblivious to the traffic which, fortunately, is paying attention to the lights and the pedestrians.