Sunday, November 29, 2009

BUS STORY # 161 (Which Reminds Me)

Two weeks ago, I posted a bus story about a rider giving a driver a tip for helping another rider with her luggage. Posting it reminded me of a time when I, too, tipped a bus driver.

I don’t remember how long ago. It could have been six months, it could have been two years. At the time, it didn’t seem like bus story material, and it wasn’t until I posted the November 15th story that I even recalled the incident.

I was on my way downtown from the office. I had my backpack, and also a bag with a projector I’d borrowed from the department secretary so I could make a Powerpoint presentation from my laptop.

I put the bag down on one side of me and my backpack on the other side, and began reading while waiting for the bus.

I was engrossed in my reading when the bus surprised me at the stop. I hurriedly stuck the magazine in my pack and swung it up and on board with me.

The driver asked me if that was my bag back there on the sidewalk.

D’oh! I quickly fetched the projector case, and thanked her profusely when I reboarded.

As we headed toward my next stop, I imagined arriving at my meeting without the projector and having my presentation hosed. Then I thought about having to explain to the department secretary, and then my boss, how I left the projector sitting on the sidewalk.

I decided I should do something above and beyond another thank you at the exit.

I remember looking in my wallet to see what I had on hand, then wondering what a reasonable tip for what had happened might be. I settled on a five dollar bill. That seemed large enough to signify how grateful I was, and also large enough to be useful in terms of, say, buying a good part of lunch on her break.

When we came to my stop, I went to the front and told her it really meant a lot to me that she had saved me from leaving the projector back there on the sidewalk. But when I tried to hand her the bill, she waved her hand “no” and said it was just part of her job.

I told her I wished she would take it because she had saved me an awful lot of grief. I suggested it would buy her lunch when she took her break.

She still refused to take it, saying she was just glad I hadn’t lost anything.

Finally, I told if she took the bill, I’d get to take her to lunch and she’d get to have me take her to lunch without having to actually go to lunch with me. I explained it was a win-win situation.

That made her laugh, and she finally said OK. I recall some still-lingering reluctance as she took the proffered bill.

And now that I’m remembering it, I’m wondering if five was really enough.

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

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Mayor Martin J. Chávez

BUS STORY # 160 (A Thanksgiving Thank You Note)

On December 1, we’ll have a new mayor and a new director of ABQ RIDE.

I’d like to take this opportunity to recognize and thank the outgoing mayor, Martin Chávez – “Mayor Marty” – and outgoing ABQ RIDE Director, Greg Payne, for their efforts and successes in advancing the quality of public transportation here in Albuquerque.

In the three and a half years I’ve been riding the bus, there have been over a hundred new buses introduced to the fleet. Most of these replaced the old 100s and 200s introduced at the end of the 1980s. These were diesel-powered and had no wheelchair access.

The new buses, besides being ADA-compliant, are diesel-electric hybrids, a reflection of the overall “green” emphasis of the Chávez administration in city services and infrastructure.

24 of those new buses are the articulated buses introduced along with limited-stop express service of one, then two, and now three Rapid Ride lines. This particular innovation has made using the bus a practical option for many of us, particularly for getting to work or school (or both, in the case of one of my co-riders).

Another innovation has been the Rapid After Dark. Every Friday and Saturday, from June 5 to September 5, the Red Line runs till 2:30 a.m. rather than going to bed before 10:00 p.m. The route covers Uptown, Nob Hill, the University area, and downtown.

Attention has been paid to make the bus and the bus stops safe places.

Online access to schedules and services on the city website is quick and easy to understand and navigate.

And we now have a serviceable trip planner for those needing help figuring out how to get from point A to point B.

While the astute pursuit of federal funds has provided the bulk of our rolling stock and infrastructure, the city also proposed and advocated for renewal of the local transportation tax. Further, it increased the allotment of that tax from 20% to 36% to ABQ Ride.

ABQ RIDE has certainly pursued advertising revenue. Although not everybody is happy about it, bus wrap advertising (in addition to the traditional sideboards, bus backs, and aisle posters) has also increased revenue.

The improvements that I value most are the marked decrease in the number of no-shows at the bus stop, and the notable improvement in punctuality. I know the former is likely attributable to the replacement of the old buses by the new ones. But I believe the improved punctuality was an ABQ RIDE initiative, and I am not the only rider who is grateful for the advocacy on our behalf.

The new mayor, Richard Barry, and the new director, Bruce Rizzieri, are inheriting an ABQ RIDE that has been well positioned and, I believe, very well cared for. I’ve seen enough news stories and bus blogs to know the riders in many metropolitan areas aren’t nearly so fortunate as we have been these past several years.

Marty, Greg: thank you.

The two photos at the top of this story are from the city website at and

Sunday, November 15, 2009

BUS STORY # 159 (The Tip)

We’re on the 50 coming from the airport.

Up front, sitting just behind the driver, is a well-dressed older lady in a fine, broad-brimmed straw hat and sunglasses, with a carry-on bag next to her and a two-stage suitcase on rollers nearly blocking the aisle in front of her. I figure she just flew in and she's not from here. When we cross Gibson, she leans forward and says something to the driver.

“I’ll drop you right at the front door,” he replies.

And he does. The stop is right in front of the Marriott Residence Inn.

“There it is!” she says, delighted.

She gets up and starts wrestling with her luggage. The driver jumps up and sends her down the stairs with her carry-on. Then he turns to her luggage.

He grabs the handle on the smaller second-stage bag and it lifts right off. “Uh oh,” he says, and we all laugh. He puts it back on, and I can hear the woman say “by the handle.” He grabs the pull handle and lifts the whole thing down the stairs and sets it on the sidewalk for her. Then he gets back in and we take off.

Down at Central, just about everyone else gets off. I’m in the line of riders from the front of the bus exiting through the front door. Just ahead of me is a guy who’s a semi-regular. He stops by the driver and tucks something in his hand. The driver looks up.

“It’s for helping the lady with the bags,” he explains on his way out the door.

I’m up by the driver now and see a rolled-up bill in his right hand.

“Thank you,” he calls out the door.

The guy just waves back and keeps walking.

Thanks to Bus Chick in Seattle for this week's featured link: Two Weeks Ago In: Slate.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

BUS STORY # 158 (There But For Fortune)

I board the bus and find a seat near the door. There are two old guys sitting in the two seats in front of me. At first, it sounds like they’re having a lively conversation. Then I realize why: the two of them are going at it.

The guy nearest the door is the older, somewhere in his 70s. He’s tall and rangy, and decked out like a worker: faded gray cap, blue work shirt and jeans, big brown well-worn boots. He’s got those old style plastic glasses with thick lenses and two enormous, magnified eyes.

The guy nearest me looks to be ten years younger. He’s maybe five-nine, but looks in good shape, too. He’s got a white, patterned short-sleeved sports shirt worn outside his light-colored pants. He’s got a straw hat with the front brim turned up. He’s also wearing glasses, also with thick lenses, but the style is more contemporary.

“So what branch of the military were you in? Marines?

The older guy stares at him.

“Army? Navy?”

He’s still staring back with those huge, distorted eyes.

“Coast Guard? Merchant Marine?”

“I didn’t say I was in the service.”

“You sure did.”

I said I was in the government service.”

“Well, that’s service, isn’t it?”

“Damn right.”

“I was in the Air Cav.”


“The Air Cav – Air Cavalry.”

“Sounds like more bull____ to me.”

“Here. Lemme show you.”

The younger guy reaches for his wallet. I’m looking around and everybody, including the driver, is listening to the exchange and laughing to him or herself and flashing knowing smiles at one another. The younger guy is playing the audience. He pulls out a card and holds it up.

“Anybody can buy a piece of plastic.”

“Just like anybody can say they were in government service.”

“You callin’ me a liar?”

“Oh, no, sir. I was taught to respect my elders – say, were you in the Depression?”


I said were you in the Depression – do you remember the Depression?”

“Damn right I do. You don’t know ____ about that, either.”

“How could I? I wasn’t there.”

“You think you’re so smart, but you don’t know ____.”

The younger guy just cackles. The older guy adds, “Lemme tell you something. You got a mouth even bigger than mine, and that’s sayin’ something.”

The young guy laughs hard, says “That’s a compliment I’ll take.” He puts out his knuckles. The older guy responds automatically, but you can see him try and catch himself. He doesn’t want to bump with this younger guy, doesn’t want to make what’s going on look like it’s not as hostile as it really is, at least where he’s concerned. But he’s gone and started, and he manfully finishes it off with a scowl. The younger guy understands exactly what has happened here, and laughs even more.

“That’s a good one, that’s a good one,” he laughs.

The older guy gets off a couple of stops later. He’s got a bike on the rack. When he gets the bike out, he slams the rack closed. Then he calls something I can’t make out through the front door. The bus driver closes the door, laughs, and shakes his head.

When the bus pulls out, the younger guy starts talking to those of us who were ringside for the exchange.

“That guy didn’t like me one little bit. He’s got some anger issues. But I’ll tell you this: I think he’s a good man. And strong, too. That guy is in shape. You know he works hard. He’s a hard worker. He’s just got somethin’ eatin’ at him.”

“Like a bad day at work,” ventures the guy across the aisle.

“Lot more’n that. But you know what? He’s tough. And I’m tough. I think he saw himself in me and it pissed him off. But you gotta be careful with guys like him. They go off and somebody gets hurt. That’s why I played him straight up.”

He continues.

“See, I was drafted when I was 19. And it was hell. They beat me and beat me and beat me and beat me. They had these socks with stuff in ‘em. And they made me crawl. Six, eight, 10 miles. But you know what? They taught me how to survive. You hated them so much you wanted to kill them, and you took that hatred with you and you just wanted to kill kill kill.”

The last three words have a slightly out-of-control intensity to them. He’s left the bus here for a few seconds. But he comes back quickly.

“And then you come back home and you try to put all that in the back of your head, but you can’t ever make it go away. Sometimes you sit at home at night and cry, and you ask God to take you away from here.”

Everybody is still listening, but nobody’s smiling.

“I’m 62 years old, and I’m as tough as I was when I was 19. Slower, but just as tough. That old guy was tough, too, but if I’d had to, I would’ve knocked him out the door. Right out the door.”

The guy across the aisle is looking like he wished he’d never opened his mouth.

“Hey, wanna see what I do now?”

With that sentence, our guy completely flips his mood. He whips out a cardboard photo envelope and pulls out two 5 X 8s. I can see a pretty fancy, very colorful bike.

“Looks like a Harley, don’t it?”

He laughs, puts the pictures back in his bag. He gets off at the next stop.

There is a kind of nervous laughter when the door closes. The woman sitting behind the driver makes the cuckoo sign at us. Somebody asks “Which one?”

I’m not laughing. I’m thinking about that high draft number back in 1969, and I’m listening to Joan Baez singing words I haven’t heard or even thought about for thirty, maybe forty years. The old Phil Ochs refrain comes through as crystal clear as young Joanie’s voice: “And there but for fortune go you or I, you or I.

No, sir, I'm not laughing.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Last spring, I saw a bus story on my way to the dentist. I wrote it out that night and put it in the queue. But it kept getting bumped by newer stories I thought were more interesting or more timely. Next thing I know, I get a notice from my dentist it's time once again for a checkup, and it reminds me this poor bus story has been stranded in the queue for six months now. The time has come.

BUS STORY # 157 (Phantom 307)

I’m driving north on San Mateo.

I’m driving because it’s a workday and I have a dentist appointment at 3:30 p.m.

Let me explain: If I drive, I can leave work at 2:50 p.m and get there just before 3:30 p.m. I lose only 40 minutes of work time.

If I take the bus, well, let’s just say I’d miss a lot more than 40 minutes. And y’know, Dad loves his work.

It’s not that I didn’t want to take the bus. When I first thought about it, I came up with a route involving three transfers. Then I remembered the new ABQ RIDE online trip planner.

The planner gave me two options, each with only one transfer. The best one gave me a 52-minute trip – very competitive with the 40-minute drive by car, and which I would have taken except for one small problem. There are three minutes between the scheduled arrival of my first bus and the departure of my connecting bus.

Three minutes is not what your experienced bus rider would call a sure thing. Some would not even waste a perfectly good prayer on it.

Taking an earlier bus for insurance would add another 42 minutes to the 52-minute trip. Gambling on making the connection and missing would tack on another 20 minutes and make me late.

The second option offered by the trip planner began at 84 minutes. Game over.

So, as I was saying, I’m driving north on San Mateo.

Just past Central, I spot the back end of a 300. A few blocks further on, I’m close enough to see the number 307 on its back end. I pass it when it makes a stop just north of Lomas.

I’m driving the speed limit when, somewhere between Constitution and Indian School, 307 goes roaring past me. I’m thinking about how much ground the driver has recovered since I passed him, and how fast he must be driving, and how amazingly lucky he is no one wants to board or exit his bus.

Those thoughts go into suspension when I see a person standing at the bus stop after the bus has gone flying past. He’s clearly stunned. He’s staring after the bus, and I see his hands go to his hips before he disappears from my view.

I’m thinking: He was wearing dark pants, a blue shirt, and a tie. I’m processing why a driver would want to pass up a would-be rider who looks like this. I’d bet there are some 66 drivers who would have traded a whole busload of their pickups for this guy.

Meanwhile, the bus is still flat moving out. I lose him at the light at Menaul.

There is no telling what the story is. Most of the explanations I come up with are lame. The best of these is that he’s behind schedule and he’s just learned there’s a super checking the schedule up the line and he’s on probation . . .

To my great surprise, I catch up with him again just south of Montgomery. I can see riders waiting at the stop on the north side of the intersection. I slow down so I can see if he’s gonna pull over or go on by. He pulls over. He’s gonna pick them up. Go figure!

I turn east on Montgomery and cannot get the curious behavior of 307 out of my mind. At least, not until I’m in the dentist chair with a mouthful of sharp instruments to distract me.

The photo at the top of this story is titled Market Street Bus and is posted with the kind permission of Chris Matta. You can see this and all Chris Matta's photos on Flickr at: