Sunday, February 28, 2010

BUS STORY # 173 (Cars, Kids, Cars, Kids . . . )

Discover a Book, originally uploaded by busboy4.

She’s a bundled-all-in-pink, curly-haired blondie, five at the most. Her little brother is maybe three. They’re moving down the aisle, their dad behind them. Improbably, he finds two completely empty rows of seats across from one another. He directs the kids into the row to their right.

They pull up short. The little girl has her eyes set on the elevated platform at the back of the bus.

“C’mon, sit down.”

She takes the seat her dad wants her to take, her disappointment on full display. Slowly, reluctantly, she moves to the window seat. Her little brother sits beside her. Dad sits sideways in the aisle seat opposite him, feet in the aisle.

A fourth boarder sits in the seat in front of dad. He also swings sideways, and they begin to talk. It becomes obvious they’re all four together.

The kids are looking all around, taking everything and everybody in. The boy’s eyes are wide and unguarded, the girl’s curious but wary.

Dad pulls out a magazine which he shares with his buddy. It’s one of those used-cars-for-sale catalogs full of photos, and both guys are quickly absorbed.

The little girl stands up, turns around, and kneels in her seat facing back to the platform. Then she gets up, slides past her brother, and moves into the aisle. Dad is into the cars, oblivious.

She sees the red “Stop Requested” button on the pole by the back door and wanders over to it, looks at it curiously, reaches up and pushes it. In her world, nothing happens. In the bus world, the annunciator says “Stop requested” and the driver starts pulling over toward the coming stop.

Wanna know how to really irritate a bus driver? Activate the stop-requested system, then make sure no one exits when the bus comes to a stop and the doors pop open. I’m prepared for the worst.

Saved by the fact there is someone waiting at the stop.

The stop causes the little girl to lurch a bit. It gets dad’s attention.

“Siddown! Now!”

The little girl takes the bench seat facing the back door. Her brother is looking back wide-eyed at the commotion.

Dad returns to the magazine and the discussion with his friend. The little girl sits staring at the back doors. Her expression suggests she is trying very hard to work something out. Her brother stares at her for a while, then loses interest now that the fireworks have stopped.

She looks over to her right. She’s sharing the bench seat with a tall, old black man bundled up in an overcoat and watch cap. She looks up at his face. He looks down at hers. She watches him for a long time, and he watches back. From where I’m sitting, I can’t see what his face is doing. I wish I could.

Finally, her eyes wander to the children’s book holder bolted to the frame just behind and to the left of her seatmate.

(This is part of ABQ RIDE’s “Discover a Book” program. The goal of the program is to provide books for children to read on the bus.)

There’s a book in the holder.

She stares at the book, then turns toward her dad.






Dad and friend are entranced by the glossy car pictures.

She fidgets, stares at the back door, yawns.

Then, quite unexpectedly, dad looks up and says “What?”

She points to the book. He gets up, goes back to the bookrack, gets the book and hands it to her. He returns to his seat and the magazine. She opens the book.

There is big print on the right hand page, big pictures on the left. She pours over the pictures, turning each page. She begins talking to the pictures. She’s now as caught up in her pictures as her dad is in his.

Dad pulls the cord when their stop is coming up. At the stop, he herds the kids out the back door, the magazine now rolled up and stuck in his jacket pocket.

The little girl has left the book on her seat. Her seatmate picks it up and puts it back in the rack.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

BUS STORY # 172 (Maddie’s Bus Story # 1)

The 16/18, originally uploaded by busboy4.

Maddie* waves to me when she boards the bus, just like she always does. Maddie’s been a regular since before I even thought about taking the bus.

She takes a seat and unfolds the Albuquerque Journal, just like she always does.

A couple of stops later, she gets up and goes to talk to the driver. When she returns, she gives me a shrug and a look that says, “So much for that.”

I move to the seat behind her and ask what’s going on.

She tells me she asked the driver if he could radio ahead and remind the driver of the 16/18 that she and Ralph* would be making the connection at University this morning.

Maddie explains that the connection is always tight. When she first made the transition, it was not uncommon for her to arrive at the connection just in time to see the 16/18 just pulling away – sometimes after they’d already gotten off the 11 and were trying to catch it. She’s had good luck persuading the drivers to wait for her and/or Ralph.

Until now.

She tells me the driver who has the route on Monday, Tuesday and Friday of this three-month rotation is not happy about having to wait for them. He tells them they should be taking the Red Line at Louisiana and transferring to the 50. They tell him the 50 doesn’t get them as close to work and as early as the 16/18 does.

I ask Maddie how long the 16/18 has to wait on them. She says two, maybe three minutes at the most. But he makes it up. Still, he’s grumpy about it, explaining he has nine minutes to get through seven stops to stay on schedule, and this waiting business adds to the pressure.

I’m sympathetic to both the driver and the riders here. The Red Line solution would mean two connections with a total of 20 minutes of standing-around time, and would put Maddie and Ralph farther away from the front door and later for work.

On the other hand, I am all for any driver with a firm commitment to keeping on schedule.

We’re looking at a couple of things here.

One is the age-old conflict between trying to do your job the way it’s supposed to be done and trying to accommodate your customers which is what your job is supposed to be all about. We’ve all been there – on both sides.

The other thing is that we’re a small city, with the typical small city barriers to providing quickly available public transportation. We simply don’t have the resources or the rider base to implement more frequent service with more timely connections. Increase the 16/18 to run every 15 or 20 minutes rather than every 45 and maybe a few riders’ connection problems might disappear. But you also are likely to have a lot of empty or near-empty buses running the route – unless the increased frequency made the 16/18 a more viable option for more riders who would then start taking the 16/18. (“If you build it . . . ”) In either case, though, the resources diverted to increasing the frequency would have to come from somewhere else.

If it were me, I’d defer to the driver here – at least on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays. And, with the three month driver rotation system, this could be a non-issue by late spring.

*Real name changed.

Local riders might be interested in John’s proposal for improving the 16/18. Here’s a link to his proposal at the DukeCityFix ABQ Bus Riders Forum:

Sunday, February 14, 2010

BUS STORY # 171 (The Old Couple)

They’re sitting to my right, across the aisle from me and one row up.

At first, I hardly notice them. It’s the woman’s headscarf, and then her face, which get my attention.

The scarf is dark red, with what looks like a corn stalk pattern in muted greens and yellows. She has it knotted under her chin, and even without seeing her face, I’d’ve thought “old, peasant.”

Her face is ancient and deeply etched with crisscrossing lines. Her expression is of near-infinite patience. Her eyes change back and forth between closed and half-open, but she is not drowsy. Watching her, I realize she is engaged in an ongoing conversation with the old man sitting next to her in the aisle seat.

He’s wearing a buffalo plaid flannel shirt and some dark mustard-colored pants. I see one slippered foot, and a sock that reminds me of the support hose my mother had to wear in the hospital after her surgery to prevent clots. He’s wearing glasses. (And I realize she is not.) I can see past his ear through the left lens, and it is thick. He’s wearing a mesh baseball cap, and I can see through the mesh that he is almost completely bald. A wooden cane hangs from the seatback in front of him.

The conversation is inaudible, but I can actually see it. When she is not speaking, she faces straight ahead, and her eyes are closed. When she does speak, she turns her face ever so slightly leftward, and her eyes open, half-lidded.

He keeps his head facing forward whether he is speaking or listening. But when she speaks, he tilts his head toward her. When she is finished, his head straightens back up and he responds quickly.

She waits a minute or so before responding, as if mulling over what he has said, or what strategy she should use in making her response.

Once, he raises his voice. I can hear his voice, but it is still much too quiet to hear the words. I sense he is provoked. While he is speaking, the woman closes her eyes and shakes her head, very gently, no.

I get the impression this conversation has been going on for the past half century, with little or no change in form, content or outcome.

At this point, I am daydreaming. I’m imagining them young and in love, and how each of them looked to the other. I’m wondering if either of them knew then how their conversations would eventually go, and if either one did, I can guess what made it not matter.

They are still talking with, or at, one another when I reach my stop. It’s been a good 20 minutes or so.

I imagine something else. After one of them is gone, the other will continue the conversation alone. And there will be precious little satisfaction in not being contradicted.

The photo at the top of this story is titled Old Couple taking one last bus ride?!? and is posted with the kind permission of hirenhp. You can see this and all hirenhp’s photos on Flickr at:

Sunday, February 07, 2010

BUS STORY # 170 (Shorts 13: The Metro Stories)

Reagan Metro-DC, originally uploaded by Dr. Fieldgood.

Last week, I wrote about my first experience with Washington, D.C.’s Metro. This week, I’m telling the stories I brought back from that experience.


Metro tickets, originally uploaded by welcometoalville.

I’m standing before an array of vending machines trying to figure out how to buy a ticket on the Metro when another rider comes up to the vending machine to my left. I decide to watch what he does. He stands there looking for a minute, then turns and asks me how the vending machine works. I tell him I was hoping he was about to show me the same thing. We laugh, then figure it out together.


DCA Metro Platform, originally uploaded by sfgamchick.

Out on the platform, it turns out my vending machine partner and I are both waiting for the Yellow line. We get to talking. I’m from Albuquerque. He was born in Albuquerque. He left when he was six months old. He still has family out there. He figures it’s unlikely, but would I possibly know Kathy King?* Is that Kathy with a K, I ask. Yes it is. Do you know what she does, I ask. No he doesn’t. But he knows she has a couple of kids. In high school and junior high, I ask. That’s about right, he says. Well, I do know a Kathy-with-a-K King who has two children, one in high school and one in junior high. She’s an administrator for the company I work for. He calls his dad in Irving, Texas, who promptly ruins a good story. His sister, Kathy King who lives in Albuquerque, is a housewife.


So you're from Irving, I say. You wouldn’t happen to know a – I give him my brother’s name. He can’t say that he does.


*heart* public transit, originally uploaded by rachaelvoorhees.

I come up to street level after getting off the Yellow line at the U Street station. There’s a bus stop right there, and the 90 and 92 are both on the sign. But which way do I need to go? I ask a woman if these are the buses going toward the Ellington Bridge. Across the street, she answers. I cross the street, but don’t see any bus stop signs. I walk a couple of blocks until I do see one and wait. The 92 is there in less than five minutes. I board the 92 and show the driver my Metro Rail ticket. She tells me that doesn’t work on the bus. (After looking at the Trip Planner, I understand she is right and I didn’t fully understand the fare and ticket structures.) I put $1.35 in the fare box and ask her how many stops till 18th and Wyoming. I don’t know, she says.


The bus features a very clear voice announcement for each stop. (On the Metro, each announcement sounds like “Mshhruffltm at pshffleshfft. Ammhlek fump om bizzfhiffzt.”) Along the way, I figure out where I think my stop will be, and I am correct. After the announcement, “18th and Wyoming,” a slender, well-dressed adolescent tells me this is where I want to get off. He’d obviously overheard my conversation with the driver and had decided to help me out without being asked.


reagan national, originally uploaded by 1600 Squirrels.

How far from home am I? Waiting in Terminal C for my return flight, in an airport full of all sorts of strange and exotic languages, I hear an overhead page: “If there is anyone who speaks Spanish, would they please report to the Travelers Aid desk at Terminal A?”

*Real name changed.


The photo at the top of this story is titled Reagan Metro-DC and is posted with the kind permission of Dr. Fieldgood. You can see this and all Dr. Fieldgood’s photos on Flickr at:

The second photo in this story is titled Metro tickets and is posted with the kind permission of welcometoalville. You can see this and all welcometoalville’s photos on Flickr at:

The third photo in this story is titled DCA Metro Platform and is posted with the kind permission of sfgamchick. You can see this and all sfgamchick's photos on Flickr at:

The fourth photo in this story is titled *heart* public transit and is posted with the kind permission of rachaelvoorhees. You can see this and all rachaelvoorhees' photos on Flickr at:

The last spectacular photo is titled reagan national and is posted with the kind permission of 1600 Squirrels. I owe a special debt of gratitude to 1600 Squirrels both for letting me know the proper way to post photos from Flickr and for a series of emails helping me to master that process. An unexpected but happy consequence is that the photos posted to this blog are now larger than ever. And in most cases, links to both the photo and the photographer on Flickr appear immediately below the photo.