Sunday, December 27, 2009

BUS STORY # 165 (Thank You, Driver)

A few weeks ago, I posted a story about boarding a bus and finding myself in the middle of a heated exchange between two old guys.

This morning, I’m riding into work when I recognize the older guy in that story boarding at one of the stops. Same old style plastic frames, same thick lenses, same enormous, magnified eyes. The woman sitting next to me – a regular – says quietly, “Uh oh, it’s Pete.”*

Of course, I am on this like a roadrunner on a whiptail lizard.

She explains Pete is a cantankerous fellow who has a tendency to provoke arguments with other riders, usually over political issues.

That explanation sheds some light on how that argument I walked in on might have gotten started.

Pete is standing by the driver, just behind the yellow line. He’s got a newspaper rolled up and stuck into the back pocket of his jeans.

My co-rider tells me our driver is familiar with Pete, and with what might happen if Pete makes it past the till and back to where the rest of us are. She tells me he purposely engages him in conversation and keeps him up close where he won’t cause any trouble on his bus.

Sure enough, the two of them are talking away. Or rather, Pete is talking away and the driver is slipping in a “uh huh” or a “yup.” Right now, I can hear Pete telling the driver about some outrage or other being perpetrated by the governor’s office.

I was already impressed with our driver’s good nature. But my admiration takes on a whole new dimension with what he’s taken on here.

Thank you, driver.

*Real name changed.

The photo at the top of this story is titled STAND BEHIND THE YELLOW LINE and is posted with the kind permission of Lulu Vision. You can see this and all Lulu Vision's photos on Flickr at:

Sunday, December 20, 2009

BUS STORY # 164 (Fantasia Upon A Theme By Luke The Gospel Writer. Or, A Christmas Bus Story That Didn’t Happen But Could Have, And Wouldn’t It Be Something If It Really Had?)

There’s a town in western Massachusetts called Adams. It is a small town, the kind we urban folk have made into an iconic repository for all the American and Christian values we left behind when we moved to the Big City.

I have a friend who grew up in Adams, and who’s written a fine account of it here:

Growing Up In Adams

Like most towns in this part of the world, Adams began as a farming community, and evolved into an industrial one. It also grew with the steady flow of immigrants who worked the quarries and manned the mills and built the infrastructure and ran the businesses.

The largest groups of immigrants were from Quebec, Italy, Ireland, and Poland. These immigrants were Catholics. They were Roman Catholics in that they acknowledged the Bishop of Rome to be the head of their Church. But in reality, they were French Catholics and Italian Catholics and Irish Catholics and Polish Catholics.

These groups were – and to some degree, still are – vibrant, unique cultural entities. And for a very long time, even unto this day, the Church has been the warp– the essential, inextricable, common thread – to the cultural weft in these otherwise distinct national fabrics.

We New Mexicans have no problem understanding this sort of Catholicism. New World Spanish Catholicism is embedded in our culture. It’s part of what makes New Mexico the Land of Enchantment, Santa Fe the City Different. But we also have the distinct Catholicism of the Puebloans, the plain vanilla of middle class Catholicism from the Midwest, and, lately, Mexican Catholicism from our burgeoning immigrant population. We even have Traditionalist Catholics, who have declared anything promulgated by the Church after Vatican II to be anathema (and who are true to another grand Christian tradition: disagreeing among themselves over just about everything else).

The most telling illustration of these differences I know of comes from an Irish-Catholic co-worker talking about his rural Mexican wife of some 20 years: “You look at our practices, our holy days, and even our saints, and it’s hard to believe we belong to the same religion. She’s still not sure I’m really Catholic.”

Back in Adams, these immigrants worked to keep their cultural identities and communities alive and intact. And central to this effort was building a community church. In time, the French and Polish communities were able to build their own churches, and the Irish and Italians shared a third.

The Polish church was St. Stanislaus Kostka.

Last December, two of those churches were closed. One was St. Thomas Aquinas – the Irish/Italian church. The other was St. Stan’s.

The explanation sounded reasonable enough. The Diocese of Springfield was consolidating where it could. Adams had three Catholic churches for a population less than 9,000 and declining.

But everyone knew the real reason behind the consolidation.

Everyone knew the pedophilia lawsuits had drained the coffers of the Archdiocese of Boston.

And everyone knew the Archdiocese had spent decades either ignoring or covering up the problem.

Which meant that everyone knew the real reason their community church was being taken away from them.

Some sense of the local Polish reaction can be had from this letter-to-the-editor submission friends living in the Boston area sent my wife and me:

My wife Alexandra and I grew up in Adams, were childhood sweethearts, and like our parents were married in Saint Stanislaus Kostka Church. Enclosed is a photo of the interior. [See photo slide show below.] It rivals any European cathedral. It is especially spectacular for a small town in extreme western Massachusetts with a population of 10,000.

My wife's Cioci (Aunt) Florence, who was married there also, is in tears. Her father, Joseph Zabek, not only donated money for the building of the church, he labored on the project for free as did many of Adams' Polish American men.

It is rumored that the Archdiocese recently sold the beautiful center chandelier that the parishioners paid for with their hard-earned millworker wages.

A few years ago the church needed a new roof. The parishioners didn't bother to contact the Archdiocese -- they raised the money themselves and had the roof repaired.

  • St Stan's Photo Slide Show from

  • The plan was to close the two churches, and use the third church, Notre Dame, as the Adams Catholic church. The consolidated parish would be given a new name: Pope John Paul The Great.

    St. Stan’s did not go down quietly.

    Articles and letters to the editor in the North Adams Transcript, the Berkshire Eagle and the Bennington Banner portray a fractious affair, including confrontations during the last Mass, four days after Christmas, which the bishop had come to Adams to personally co-celebrate with local clergy.

    But, for me, the most arresting detail in all the articles and letters and emails was this one, single sentence from an email describing the final Mass itself.

    When mass was finally over he [the bishop] drove back to Springfield in his black 740 class B.M.W.

    Every picture tells a story, don’t it?

    A month earlier, the American auto “Big Three” had flown to Washington in their private jets to plead poormouth to the Senate. (A month later, Citigroup would spend 50 million of its bailout funds to buy themselves a corporate jet. From a French company.)

    A month before that, a group of AIG execs had thrown themselves a lavish little party days after being bailed out with millions of taxpayers’ dollars.

    And, of course, there were all those banking and investment executives who didn’t see why receiving bailout funds should mean they should have to give up their six or seven or eight figure salaries, cash bonuses, stock options, chauffeurs, home security, country club memberships and professional money management perks just because their greedy and irresponsible decisions caused ordinary folks to lose their homes, jobs, and hard-earned retirements.

    And now, a bishop had driven into town in his black B.M.W. to explain the Diocese didn’t have enough money to keep these folks’ church open. How many of the Adams Catholics consoled themselves with the thought that, praise God, there was at least enough in the collection plate to keep the bishop in his fancy car?

    Now: I don’t know the bishop’s story, of course. For all I know, he may give all his money to charity, wear a hair shirt, fast on Fridays, never drink anything stronger than a club soda with a twist, and was only driving that B.M.W. because some kind soul lent it to him to drive to Adams because he doesn’t own a car of his own.

    Whatever his particular level of commitment to whatever his sense of his priesthood is, I’m pretty sure he had no intention of identifying the Church hierarchy with the privileged and arrogant corporate executive class or the New Testament’s well-fed Pharisees. If only he’d been more careful about his choice of cars.

    So, WWBD?

    Or rather, WWBBD? What Would Bishop Busboy Do?

    First of all, if Busboy were Bishop of the Springfield diocese, you could ice-skate across the surface of Hell.

    But this is the Christmas bus story that didn’t happen, and so Busboy is now the Bishop of Springfield in December of 2008. And he may or may not have a black 740 class B.M.W. in his garage, but it doesn’t make any difference because he’s won’t be driving it to Adams.

    The bishop is gonna take the bus.

    He’s gonna leave on Saturday because there’s no bus service in Adams on Sunday, and Sunday’s the day he’s leading the celebration of the final Mass at St. Stan’s.

    He’s gonna catch the 10:15 a.m. Peter Pan in Springfield, and he’s gonna arrive at the Joseph Scelsi Intermodal Center in Pittsfield at 11:25 a.m. Then he’ll catch the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority’s No. 1 bus as soon as he’s stepped off the Peter Pan – if he’s got the luck of the Irish with his connections. If it turns out he’s got the luck of the Polish, he’s still got the 12:25 p.m., and he’ll get into Adams at 1:13 p.m.

    He’ll need a place to stay for a couple of nights because, after Sunday’s Mass, the next bus out of Adams is Monday morning. Of course, he won’t be able to find a room because – you already know where this is going – there are no rooms in the three local inns. Seems there’s lots of folks in town for Christmas, and even a few for the last Mass at St. Stan’s.

    So, he’ll walk over to St. Stan’s and ask if anyone in the parish can put him up for a couple of nights. And, of course, one of those parishioners has a spare room in a made-over garage he can
    use . . .

    He’ll say Mass at 3:00 p.m. on Sunday. It will still be a tumultuous affair, but not so much as it was. Most of the parishioners will cut him some slack because they'll be able to see for themselves the hard times that have fallen on them because of Archdiocesan mismanagement have fallen on him, too.

    Come Monday morning around nine, he’ll be out on Center Street at Route 8 to catch the BRTA’s No. 1 back to Pittsfield. He’ll be in Pittsfield by ten-thirty, Springfield by eleven-forty, home by noon.

    Back home, he’ll go into his office, pour himself a fat finger of Glenfiddich, collapse in his leather chair, think about the journey to Adams, and, like Eliot’s Magi, he’ll wonder if “this was all folly.”

    He’ll wonder if this was all folly because he is not the idealistic, passionate, and, God knows, energetic youth he was when he came out of the seminary. He’s grown in age and wisdom, and that’s left him with a legacy of prudent compromise and troublesome doubts. His young self might look at him with some disappointment, or even contempt, for what he’s become: a “professional priest.”

    Still, he is the bishop, and if he’s not exactly canonization material in the personal Imitation-of-Christ department, he can at least look like it when the occasion demands. He’s still seminarian enough to know that’s part of the job description, and he’s old and wise enough to understand that it matters here on earth.

    There is no question he needed to go to Adams. But how would Jesus have gone to Adams?

    Well, even for his triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, Jesus didn’t requisition a chariot, wasn’t portered in on a Sedan chair, didn’t mount a decked-out commander’s horse. He rode in on a donkey. Which, if you think about it, is also how he arrived in Bethlehem for his first Christmas.

    Jesus was clearly the kind of guy who’d’ve taken the bus.

    Of course, Jesus didn’t have to spend three days – three days! – on the bus and in Adams. But in a moment of grace, or weakness, and he’s not sure which, he figured if the Son of God could handle three days in a rock tomb for the sins of mankind, he could gut out three days for the sins of the clergy. After all, it wasn’t going to kill him.

    Which is how the bishop found himself getting ready to catch the bus to Pittsfield that Saturday morning. A little earlier, he’d finished shaving, took a long look at himself in the mirror, and said a little morning prayer: “It’s showtime, folks.”

    Politics, after all, is part of the job, too. And even though we all know better, we expect and respond well to the extraordinary care politicians take to make it look like they’re really one of us. And when we actually believe, well . . .

    Princes, on the other hand, never make any attempt to look like they’re one of us. Princes are different from you and me. They’re entitled. We’re here to service their entitlement.

    And that is why Bishop Busboy took the bus to Adams.

    That, and because it would make a heckuva Christmas bus story.


    The photo at the top of this story is titled 2008-10-02-dscn5911 and is posted with the kind permission of martin_kalfatovik. You can see this and all martin_kalfatovik's photos on Flickr at:

    The photo at the end of this story is from the home page of the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority website.

    Sunday, December 13, 2009

    BUS STORY # 163 (Ain’t Nobody Gonna Take My Joy Away)

    It’s the first cold morning of the season – 26 degrees according to the Weather Channel. When I arrive at my stop at Yale and Central, I’m surprised to find no one else there.

    It’s only a minute or two before I see Lilly* come out of McDonalds and start crossing the street towards me. When she gets to the curb, I tell her I don’t ever remember seeing no one at the stop at this time of the morning.

    Lilly says everyone else is still inside McDonalds trying to stay warm. Then she launches into a story about what just happened to her across the street.

    She was sitting at a table with some other folks when the manager approached them and told her she wasn’t allowed to sit there if she wasn’t buying something.

    Now, I’ve heard about this policy from folks who’ve been catching the 50 here for a lot longer than I have. And I can understand the manager’s plight. This area has an above average concentration of the homeless and the uninstutionalized. It doesn’t take much imagination to understand what would happen if the manager started cutting one or two unfortunates some slack when the weather is hostile outside. Pretty soon, word is out, and he’s looking at a half dozen or a dozen or who knows how many clogging up the tables and the bathrooms (and you don’t even want to think about that one), and there’s always the guy who breaks out in a shouting match with his personal demon. Most customers are gonna find somewhere else to go.

    Lilly tells me she let him know she wasn’t one of those. She let him know she had already bought her breakfast and had eaten it and was only waiting for the others to finish before going over to the bus stop. The other folks at the table vouched for her. He apologized and told her he hadn’t seen her earlier.

    She isn’t in the mood to accept that apology. Why, she asks me, did he tell her she couldn’t be sitting there if he hadn’t seen her earlier? How did he know she hadn’t bought something earlier? That apology don’t mean a thing. One thing’s for sure: she ain’t gonna be buyin’ no breakfast at this McDonalds from now on.

    I suggest that maybe from now on, she’ll be fine whether she buys anything or not. He’ll surely remember her from this morning’s encounter and leave her alone.

    No, baby, she ain’t gonna go back in there for nothin’, not with his attitude. And he’s gone and tried to put that attitude on her. And here she got up this morning feeling full of joy. She was in church yesterday till five o’clock – yes, sir – five o’clock, because everybody was feeling too good to go home. They was standin’ and kneelin’ and talkin’ in tongues and laughin’ and cryin’ and everybody went home full of joy. She woke up this morning still full of joy, and then he shows up with his attitude. Well, she is not gonna let him ruin her morning. Ain’t nobody gonna take her joy away.

    Lilly is still picking up steam.

    You can’t have a heart full of joy and have the attitude he has, no, sir. That’s the devil workin’. He don’t want no joyful hearts, he can’t do his work in joyful hearts. God don’t want people with nasty hearts. He wants people with good hearts.

    There are about a half-dozen people at the stop now. Most have come from McDonalds. A couple have come from one of the Rapid Rides. One of them is a young girl with black frame glasses and a white hoodie. She steps closer to Lilly and tells her God wants everybody’s heart, and He can change those nasty hearts.

    That’s right, baby, that’s right, Lilly responds. She knows that’s right because she used to have a heart like that. But her heart changed when they put her in the water. She could see how clear the water was and the fish swimmin’ around her feet, and when they put her down, her heart changed. She felt so good, she didn’t want to get back up. They had to lift her up and haul her out of there.

    Her heart came out soft, just like the lining on her coat here. (She opens her coat to show the plush.) It made her heart soft, so she could feel other people’s pain. And she can feel her own pain, too, like she did this morning with that manager and his attitude.

    But God takes care of his own, she continues. You put yourself in God’s hands and ain’t nobody can touch you. They can go around you, but they can’t touch you. You can’t mess with God’s people and get away with it. You wait. Somethin’ bad is gonna happen to that manager today because he tried messin’ with one of God’s own. You don’t mess with God’s people and get away with it, no, sir. There’s gonna be a reckonin’ today, and he's brought it on himself.

    Lilly sounds like she’s just seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

    The bus arrives. We board and take our seats. I sit almost directly across from Lilly. Her eyes are still flashing, but it seems she’s gotten most of it out of her system.

    When she exits, she tells folks ya’ll have a good day now, just like she always does. She reaches over and touches me on the forearm when she says this, which is not something she does every day, or ever before.

    I have little doubt the manager will find himself dealing with some unexpected unpleasantness today. I am less sure it will be because he messed with one of God’s people than I am it will be because he’s the manager of the McDonalds at the corner of Central and Yale. I figure he did bring that last one on himself.

    *Real name changed.

    Sunday, December 06, 2009

    BUS STORY # 162 (Please Show ID)

    ABQ RIDE provides a variety of bus passes – for UNM students, CNM students, other college or vocational school students, grade school/junior high/high school students, and “Honored Citizens” (riders 62 and older, or folks with impaired mobility).

    Recently, the buses have been equipped with a new fare box which does a couple of things.

    One is to allow riders to purchase one, two, or three-day passes right there on the bus.

    The other is to register which passes are being used by riders as they board the bus.

    The driver captures this data by punching in a number on a remote keypad which corresponds to the pass being shown by the boarder. A UNM pass, for example, might be assigned to number eight, a CNM pass to number three, and so forth. I’m assuming the idea is to get a good fix on pass usage and rider demographics.

    The new fare box has one less than endearing feature, however. Every time the driver punches in a number, an automated female voice insists that the boarder “Please show ID.”

    So, as happened the other day at a particularly busy stop, the boarding of several riders provides all of us with this experience: “Please show ID. Please show ID. Please show ID. Please show ID. Please show ID. Please show ID.”

    “Doesn’t that drive you crazy?” asked the guy sitting in front and across from the driver.

    “Yeah,” the driver replied, “but there’s nothing we can do about it.”

    Directly behind the driver, a small kid looked up at his mother with a mischievous grin and started singsonging, “Please show ID, please show ID, please show ID . . . ”

    The photo at the top of this story is posted with the kind permission of Shawn Bennear. You can see this photo and many others on Shawn's website:
    Shawn's website, an obvious labor of love, is an extensive treatment of the Tampa Bay transit system (where he works now) with a link to another extensive treatment of the Pittsburg Transit system (where he worked then). Lots of great photos, too.