Sunday, July 26, 2009

BUS STORY # 143 (¿Que Pasa?)

I’ve caught the early bus this morning. I have plans for getting a jump on the workday.

The bus moves right along. As it pulls to a stop on the east side of Wyoming, I get my gear together. I’m going to get off on the other side. That way, I avoid having to cross the intersection twice to get to my Rapid Ride stop.

A guy gets on the bus and says something to the driver, then takes a step down the aisle. He calls out to someone in the back.

Sure enough, a guy from the back comes down the aisle and meets him at the front. A discussion ensues. The traffic noise pouring in through the open front door drowns them out. All I can tell is that there’s a give-and-take.

The boarder has a gray sweatshirt and a white baseball cap. He’s smooth-shaven. The rider has on jeans and a black T-shirt. Moustache, no hat.

I catch the driver’s face in his rearview mirror. He looks like I’m feeling: amused in a half “C’mon now,” half “What the – ?” kind of way.

The rider turns and starts back toward the rear. The boarder turns toward the door, stops, then calls something out. The rider turns back toward the door.

That’s when I see the Rapid Ride rolling in from the north. Even if I exited the rear door now, I’d never make it through both lights on time. But today, this just means I’m gonna get to work 11 minutes less early, and for compensation, I’m getting to watch this bus story. So, this morning, I’m OK with all this.

The next thing I notice is that the rider has reached in his pocket and pulled out some change. He pours it into the open hand of the boarder, then once again turns and starts toward the back of the bus.

The boarder turns to go, and this time he really does. The driver closes the door, then pulls up to the intersection and waits for the red light.

I watch the Rapid Ride pull away from its stop and head south.

Later that morning, at work, I regale my co-workers with the story. They get into it. Everybody takes a shot at a bus story here:

– The boarder knew the rider would be on this bus and was waiting for him;

– No, the boarder and the rider had prearranged the meeting;

– No, it was entirely accidental. It’s just when the boarder saw he was getting some money, he figured he didn’t need to take the bus to wherever he was going;

– Or maybe it wasn’t enough change to ride the bus, so he still had to walk;

-- It was a drug deal (no it wasn’t, no drugs were exchanged; yes, it was, it was a payment on a delivery already made; no it wasn’t, not for a handful of change – and besides, nobody delivers drugs on credit; etc);

My favorite comes from Roz.* She suggests it’s one of those behavioral studies somebody has set up to see what the reaction of the driver and/or the riders will be.

If she’s right, I can’t vouch for people’s thoughts and feelings, but I can say our behavior shows us to be a mighty tolerant bunch of folks. Those of us riding this particular bus on this particular morning, anyway.

*Real name changed

The photo above features last year’s Poetry On The Bus third place winner in the youth category. The poem is Night-swimming [as ABQ RIDE lists it; "nightswimming" as the poster displays it], by Madelyn Stroik. Click on the photo to enlarge.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

BUS STORY # 142 (The Rapid After Dark)

It’s a fine summer evening here in Albuquerque. The temperature has taken its high-desert-after-sundown fall, and a slight breeze actually feels cool. I’m downtown, waiting for the Rapid Ride in front of the Alvarado Transportation Center. It’s Friday and the joint is jumping. I myself have just come from a concert (Arvo Pärt’s Magnificat and Josquin de Prez’ Missa Pange Lingua -- back to back! Right here in River City!)

I’m using R.A.D. – Rapid After Dark . This is a summer weekend program which runs the Rapid Ride Red Line every 30 minutes until 2:30 a.m. Fortunately, the Red Line is my line. I’ve parked my car at the eastern end of the line, the Uptown Center, because, even though it’s a happenin’ Friday night, the Lomas bus has already gone to bed.

There’s a lot of cruising in front of the ATC. Sometimes a car or truck will stop, the doors will open, and a bunch of kids will come tumbling out. But mostly, it’s a slow crawl to an amplified base beat which you feel as much as hear.

A white convertible rolls slowly along the curb. Inside are three girls, all painted up and dressed to kill. The one in the front seat passenger side looks me up and down, then says, “Hi, sweetie.” I just laugh and shake my head. As she rolls on past toward Central, I think it’s probably a good thing she’s not the driver.

Waiting with me is an older woman with a bicycle and a backpack. She’s got a bike helmet on over a baseball cap. She looks a bit out of place and a little nervous about it, what with all the activity down here. I wonder what she’s doing down here at this time on a Friday night.

She’s probably wondering the same thing about me.

When the bus comes, she loads her bike on the front rack. She knows what she’s doing.

I recognize the driver. He’s taciturn, always unflappable, and has a perpetually bemused smile. It’s the kind of smile that makes me think if I could sit down with him over a beer, I’d get a year’s worth of absolutely amazing bus stories.

Inside, I see there’re not many folks riding tonight. The air conditioning feels cold and the lights are harsh. I hadn’t noticed the lighting before. We roll on up Central in silence.

Two guys get on at Nob Hill. They sit across from one another over the wheel well seats in front of the flex. They’re young, obviously at loose ends. One of them leans forward and says, “Well, it’s Friday night.” The other laughs and says, “Yeah, it’s Friday night, all right.” They lean forward, forearms on knees, hands clasped, alternately looking at each other and out the front windshield.

There are only three riders when we arrive at Uptown Center. I exit and head for my car. There are only two cars in the lot at this hour, mine and another parked a space away.

I see one of the riders head for the other car, and that’s when I notice he’s a security officer. A light goes on inside the car, and I can see a woman in the driver’s seat. He walks over to her side of the car and leans on the open window. They talk for a few minutes, then he gives her a quick kiss. She hands him something, and when he steps away, I can see it’s a cup of coffee. He waves as she starts to pull out, then heads back for the bus.

I start my car and head for home.

The photo above features last year’s Poetry On The Bus third place winner in the adult category. The poem is Breath, by Elaine Schwartz. Click on the photo to enlarge. Deadline for the 2009 submissions is this Friday, July 24.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

BUS STORY # 141 (Frank’s Bus Story # 1)

One recent afternoon, one of the regulars has a story he tells me on the ride home.

He and his partner were out walking with their dogs. It was a cool, early summer’s evening, and a fine time for a walk. They were in the vicinity of Lomas and Tramway when they saw a pickup truck pull out of the Circle K at the northeast quadrant of the intersection. A woman was driving the truck, and a German Shepherd was riding in the open bed. The Shepherd spotted the walkers, bolted out of the back of the truck, and went straight for them.

I’m halfway expecting to hear how the Shepherd got hit by oncoming traffic, but instead, I hear how it went straight for his partner’s dog. “She’s a terrible fighter,” he tells me. His partner tried picking her up and shielding her.

Frank* had separated himself as much as possible from the attack. He had a Dachshund which he knew would be no match at all for the Shepherd. I imagined him grabbing the Dachshund, and saw a German Shepherd frankfurter wrapped in a co-rider bun.

In the midst of all this mayhem, he says he heard a terrible squeal of brakes and looked up just in time to see a white minivan do a roll, after which a convertible crashed into a pole.

That seems to have taken the fight out of everybody, the German Shepherd included. He says he has no idea if anyone was hurt – the cops and ambulances and fire trucks were there very quickly, and he understands he was overwhelmed by all the events and was in what I would call a mild state of shock. His account leaves me a little unclear on exactly where the vehicles were, or what the relationship between the two was. I’m pretty sure the minivan must have been hurtling up or down Tramway to get a roll going. I’m wondering if the dogfight distracted one of the drivers and caused the crash.

He tells me he spotted the driver of the truck standing on the side of the road a good bit away from them. He says he was angry at first that she would have just stood there while her dog was attacking them. But then he thought she was probably apprehensive about approaching two men and their smaller dogs who’d just been attacked by her unsecured German Shepherd.

Back home, his partner’s clothes were somewhat chewed, and he had some abrasions, but no real skin punctures either of them could make out. Later, they googled the local news looking for a story about the crash. Nothing.

And that, he tells me, is his story about a nice relaxing walk after work one cool summer evening.

I can’t help reflecting on all the ways pets enrich our lives, and when I get home, I refresh the hummingbird feeder.

*Real name changed.

The photo above features last year’s Poetry On The Bus second place winner in the youth category. The poem is Tumble Weed Flats, by Gerardo Ramos. Click on photo to enlarge.

Thanks to MG in Irving, Texas, for this week's feature story: This Week In Laguna Niguel, California.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

BUS STORY # 140 (Shorts 11)

A construction worker boards the bus after a hard day’s work. Whatever job he’s been working on, it’s obvious from his work clothes he was doing the dirty work. He picks a seat facing the aisle, climbs up on the platform, carefully brushes off the seat, then sits down.


We’re stopped on red on Central at University. I’m sitting a few rows behind the driver. A partition blocks my view of him. I hear his voice boom out: “Where’re you headed?” I hear nothing. Then the driver again: “You want to go that way.” I see his right thumb poking out from behind the partition, pointing south. I look out my window. I see a white car with out-of-state plates in the lane next to us, even with the driver. I see someone leaning out the window on the passenger side, looking up at the driver. Then I hear the driver: “Go ahead on the light. I’ll wait on you.” When the light turns green, we don’t move. I follow the white car after it turns in front of the bus and heads south down University. We begin to move.


He boards the bus carrying two plastic bags. One has a big rectangular box inside, like a large kitchen appliance of some kind. The other looks like it has a few household or grocery items. He carries both bags in one hand, and the heaviness of the one bag makes his movements awkward and clumsy. The appliance bag bangs his leg a couple of times on his way down the aisle. He and the bags more or less crash into place in an empty row of seats just ahead of me. At the next stop, he gets up with the bags and crashes his way three rows forward. It seems like way too much trouble to get that little bit closer to the front door. Two stops later, he moves again, back two rows. A stop later and he moves to the last row at the back of the bus, bumping and thumping and almost losing his balance. He exits at the next stop.


Overheard: “My girlfriend gave a cell phone to her nine-year-old. I tell her what’s up with that? She says ‘Trust me – I know what I’m doing.’ So a couple a weeks later, she tells the kid her teacher called and said she hadn’t turned in some of her assignments. Then she says, ‘Give me the phone. You can have it back when your homework is done.’ That was a year ago, and it’s still working!”


The photo above features last year’s Poetry On The Bus second place winner in the adult category. The poem is Ganado, by Ray Reeder. Click on the photo to enlarge.