Sunday, April 25, 2010

BUS STORY # 181 (Serious Tattoos)

I'm free, originally uploaded by tinamathis.

He’s in the far left seat in the last row at the back of the bus. Maybe late 30s or early 40s. Short, no nonsense hair, intense eyes, hard face. He’s wearing a blue bandanna, a black T-shirt with tattoos running from both wrists to underneath the sleeves, long blue jeans shorts, and athletic shoes.

The tattoos look like prison tattoos. But I’m told you can’t always be sure these days because a lot of parlors are specializing in prison-style tattoos. It seems they’re in demand among those who haven’t been inside yet.

This guy looks like his tats might be the real deal.

At the other end of the row is a guy in a baseball cap with the kind of yellow and orange flame pattern you’d see on a hot rod or a low rider. He’s got a ragged goatee and mustache and a few days growth on his cheeks. He’s also got a backpack on the seat next to him.

That leaves two seats open in the back row.

A couple makes its way to the back. They’re young, with smooth round faces, black plastic frame glasses, and goofy smiles. They’re also huge, and they’re the same size. She’s wearing a pink T-shirt. He’s wearing a black T-shirt. They look like two giant balloons bouncing softly down the aisle.

The girl sits down in the middle seat of the back row. She spills over into the seats on either side of her. The boy stands for a minute as if he’s not sure whether he should try asking the guy with the cap to move his backpack, or if he should try and squeeze in next to the guy with the tattoos.

“C’mon,” she smiles at him and nods her head to the empty seat.

He’s still grinning, but not moving.

The guy with the tattoos looks at him, then barks, “She your girlfriend or your sister?”

I’m somewhere between aghast and laughing out loud. He’s right. They could even be twins.

“Girlfriend,” he answers, smiling.

“What’re you standing out there for?”

He grins, shrugs.

“Well, sit down next to her.”

He does what he's told. It’s a tight fit for everybody. The couple locks arms, then they look at each other and smile. They are moonpie gone with luv.

Tattoo guy shouts out to another rider.

“Hey, can I use your phone when you’re done?”

The photo at the top of this story is titled “I'm free” and is posted with the kind permission of tinamathis. You can see this and all tinamathis’ photos on Flickr at:

Sunday, April 18, 2010

BUS STORY # 180 (Shorts 14)

HUGE, originally uploaded by busboy4.

Several stories back, I wrote about the annoying “Please show ID” announcement we got every time the driver recorded someone using a bus pass. (You can read it here.) That’s been fixed. Now the pass is recorded with either a “beep” or a “scre-e-e-e-beep.” The latter isn’t in the same league with fingernails on the chalkboard, but you can tell it would like to be. Still, it’s a vast improvement over the “Please show ID” message. Thank you, ABQ RIDE.


I’ve never seen the homebound 11 this full. Every seat is filled (really), and folks are standing in the aisle from back to front. At the stop just past Eubank, a bunch of folks get off. Some of the people in the aisles who remain nab seats. A young skateboarder grabs the seat just across from me, right at the front of the bus. The aisles fill right back up. The last guy to board is an old guy with a magnificent head of gray hair, a red backpack, and a dark blue Dallas Cowboys shirt. He looks over the seats, then starts to position himself for a standing ride. The skater jumps up and tells him to take the seat. “You sure?” says the old guy. “I get off in a couple of stops,” says the kid. The old guy nods to him, then slowly backs himself and his backpack into the seat.


Two Native American men looking like they’ve been on the road awhile are approaching the bus stop when they pull up about 10 yards out. They survey the group of us sitting and standing, waiting for the bus. They confer, quietly. After conferencing, they resume their approach. They stop at the bench where a Native American woman is sitting. They say something to the woman. They speak very softly, and there is a deference in their bearing which seems not of these times. The woman does not look at them, but she does shake her head no. They stand before her for just a bit, as if the “no” needs time to absorb. Then they move silently on, past the stop, past all the rest of us immigrant Americans, toward the intersection.


Two of the riders who board at San Mateo and Central end up sitting across from one another. The rider on the left is a lean, black guy in his early 30s. He’s wearing a white T-shirt, black jeans, and black work boots. The guy sitting across from him is a lean, Latino guy in his early 40’s. He’s wearing a baseball cap, white T-shirt, blue jeans and brown work boots. He says something to the guy across from him. There’s a response. After a couple more exchanges, the Latino introduces himself and the two riders reach out and – shake hands!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

BUS STORY # 179 (Yellow Cab)

My wife gave me a book for my birthday.

The title is Yellow Cab. It was written by Robert Leonard who, according to a blurb on the back of the book, is an “anthropology professor [who] began moonlighting as a cabdriver; Yellow Cab is a portrait of the city he found as he drove the streets of nighttime Albuquerque, picking up everyone from business people and drunken college kids to hookers and drug dealers.”

I decided to dip into the first few pages and didn’t come up for air until I was a quarter of the way through the book. I finished it before bedtime.

It didn’t take more than a dozen pages to understand why my wife thought this would be a good birthday present for Busboy. If this had been a blog, it could have been called Cab Stories.

The entries are short (61 stories in 179 pages). Some of them are straightforward prose. Others are reads-like-straightforward-prose poems. All of them are stories or observations gathered while Leonard was behind the wheel of the yellow “Crown Vic.”

The writing is lean and hard-boiled and reminds me of Dashiell Hammet. Here is the opening to the story “Crossroads Hotel” which happens to be a place any regular on the 66 or the Red and Green lines will know well:

I picked her up at the Crossroads Hotel, across Central from Presbyterian Hospital. The Crossroads is a dump in the footprint of northbound I-25. The hotel is so precariously perched next to the Interstate that in an accident a car going over the rail might well catapult into an unsuspecting lodger’s lap. She opened the door of the cab and the roar of traffic accompanied her and her nurse’s flowered-print scrubs into my backseat. She stank of hospital, cheap whiskey, and more.

“Sorry, I just need to go to the Presbyterian parking lot and pick up my car,” she said.

Don’t let “poem” scare you off, either. Here’s the opening verse to a poem-story titled “William:”

Every morning, about 3:15 or so
William rides eastbound past the bus station,
on his big, red, balloon-tired Schwinn
that was new in 1964.
See? You can handle that.

Yellow Cab was published by the University of New Mexico Press in 2006 – the same year I began writing and posting Bus Stories.

The book is available from The University of New Mexico Press – although you cannot order it on line. The ordering process is somewhat convoluted, and the site recommends you “patronize your local bookstore.”

Locals should be able to order it at Page One.

You can also go to Amazon and order a copy:

Don't wait for your birthday.


The photo at the top of this story comes from the Amazon website listed at the end of this story.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

BUS STORY # 178 (Paying It Forward)

Green Line, originally uploaded by busboy4.

The first time I rode the bus, I was fortunate enough to meet a veteran who helped ease me into the routine. (You can read about it here.) Many rides later, I expressed my appreciation for his kindness. Abel replied that someone had done the same for him when he began riding.

I’m also indebted to other co-riders for suggesting different routes or schedules or connections, some of which found their way into my current routines.

It’s been years now, and I don’t need to trial-and-error my schedules so much. But we riders still talk about schedules like we talk about the weather. Both are predictable, but neither is a sure thing. And both have ways of unexpectedly imposing on your day.

One afternoon, I’m walking toward a Rapid Ride stop on Central when I see a guy start running for the Green Line taking on riders.

He doesn’t make it.

When I get there, he’s still watching the back end of the Green Line disappearing up Central. Then he turns to me and says, “Man, I just missed it!”

“Yeah, I saw. But there’ll be another one in 15 minutes.”

He tells me he just started riding the bus a few weeks ago. His company started offering free bus passes to the employees and he thought he’d try it.

That’s my story, I tell him.

He says he only rides home. He has to be at work at a quarter to seven, and the bus just doesn’t quite cut it. So he catches a ride in with one of his kids.

He tells me he’s just stumbled across the Rapid Ride. He’d been taking the 66 and it took forehhhver.

I ask him where he gets off. Eubank, he replies.

I tell him he’s right about the Green Line. I tell him that’s the newest of the Rapid Ride routes, less than a year old.

He says he still has a 15-minute walk after he gets off. I convert that to “one mile” in my head.

“Where do you live?”

Just off Lomas, east of Eubank.

I’m thinking about Abel when I suggest he catch the next Red Line with me – just four minutes out according to the electronic message sign. I tell him the Red Line will drop him at the corner of Louisiana and Lomas. I explain that we just walk back across Lomas and wait for the 11 which will drop him a block from his house. I tell him I’ll show him where to get off on both buses so he won’t miss his stop.

And that’s what we do.

I tell him the worst case scenario on this route is that the 11 will either roll on by right in front of us when we’re on the Red Line and stopped at the light, or else it will roll on by right in front of us when we’re off the Red Line on the other side of Lomas and waiting for the light. That would cost us another 20 minutes of waiting, I explain.

And that’s exactly what happens.

But that 20 minutes turns out to be a good thing. We introduce ourselves to each other, and Rudy* tells me his story.

He’s a native New Mexican, born in Carlsbad. He moved to Albuquerque when he was six. He and his wife have raised three kids who are all out on their own and doing well. Two of them live here, one in Colorado. The grandkids are all here.

Rudy works two jobs, one full time. He’s had the same full time employer for over 25 years, and he’s worked his way upward taking on several different jobs when the opportunity presented itself.

Rudy tells me he loves his job, and he loves his company for giving him so many opportunities to better himself.

Wow, I think to myself, what’s in the Kool-Aid? But then I get to thinking about my own experiences, and I’m abashed to realize I can honestly say the same about my own job and employer. I end up feeling humbled by Rudy’s more generous appreciation.

He and his wife vacation in Disneyland. Every year.

His co-workers ask him why they don’t try something new. He tells them it never fails to make them happy, so why change? He says they always come back feeling peaceful.

I tell him that’s what a vacation is supposed to do.

When the next 11 comes, it’s crowded, and we’re separated. But when we get to the stop east of Eubank, he doesn’t need my signal. He gives me a thumbs-up before exiting.

If it were his style, I think Abel would give me a thumbs-up, too. Well, Abel, this is what sometimes happens when you set an example.

*Real name changed.