Sunday, March 01, 2009


BUS STORY # 122 (Rookie)


The driver looks like a kid. I show him my bus pass and take a seat.
A junior high kid boards and drops some change in the till.

“Hey, it’s a dollar, man,” says the driver.

The student looks at him, then starts digging for change.

The fares changed today, but I didn’t think the student fare had changed. On the other hand, the students are supposed to show a school or ABQ RIDE student ID. The kid hadn’t shown anything.

Another kid boards and drops change in the till. No pass.

“Hey, it’s a dollar,” says the driver.

The kid stops, stares at the driver.

“I’m a student,” he says.

“It’s still a dollar.”

“It’s thirty-five cents. Says right there.”

He’s pointing to signage on the till.

The driver leans over to look at the sign.

“See? Student, thirty-five cents.”

The driver sits back up and doesn’t say anything for a minute. Finally he says, “OK.” The kid moves to the back of the bus.

I’m wondering why the first kid who paid full fare hasn’t come back up front and gotten in the driver’s face about it. I’m wondering what the driver would do if he did.

I think the driver is having a hard time with all this. He’s young and inexperienced, still getting the basics of the job down. He may or may not know about the student ID, and he may or may not dread confrontation. And he may or may not have felt the sting of being successfully challenged by a kid. Maybe it’s his first day to solo.

I don’t know any of these things, but I can see his face in the mirror, and I can remember being young and insecure and in a position of authority. If you’re getting off on the power of that position, you’re gonna feel fine no matter how witless your decisions. You only feel uncomfortable when you’re trying to do the right thing under challenging circumstances. Our driver is trying to do the right thing.

Honking behind the bus pulls me out of my musing. We’re sitting at the intersection of Yale and Avenida Cesar Chavez. Cars are going around us, then turning right, right in front of us. Two of my fellow riders have leaned forward in their seats and are looking out through the front window.

A tractor-trailer rig is blocking both southbound lanes on Yale.

After a couple of traffic light rotations and more honking, the driver phones in. I hear him explain the situation. He sounds tentative on the phone. He explains the situation two more times before he hangs up and we wait some more. I’m assuming he’s been told to wait.

I’m watching his face in the mirror. He’s looking increasingly pressured and paralyzed. He doesn’t want to do the wrong thing, and he knows sitting here is the wrong thing even if he’s been told it’s the right thing. The riders are mercifully (and surprisingly) quiet.

Finally, he calls back to us.

“Anybody know this neighborhood?”

A chorus of yeahs comes back at him.

“So how can I go around?”

“Take a right, then turn left on Buena Vista. It’ll take you to Katherine, and you can turn right and get back on Yale.”

Murmer of assent from the riders.

He looks out ahead, takes a deep breath, then swings the bus to the right.

It works out fine. He’s about seven minutes behind on his schedule, but he can turn that around at the airport if he skips his break and his 400 cooperates.

By that time, he’ll be drier behind the ears.

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