Sunday, May 30, 2010

BUS STORY # 186 (“Back Door!”)

Touch Here To Open Door, originally uploaded by busboy4.

I board the 11 on my way home. Moving up the aisle, I spot a familiar face and head for the platform at the rear of the bus.

Frank* is a committed regular, although more often than not we are taking different routes or are on different schedules.

On those occasions when we have ridden together, I’ve found Frank to be impressively well-informed about local politics in general, and public transportation (and ABQ RIDE) in particular.

We’re just getting started on our small talk when the bus makes a stop. Shortly afterwards, we hear “Back door!” from a rider trying to exit the rear door.

The driver tells him to push on the yellow strip. He pushes a couple of times before the door opens.

We continue to the next stop when I am again distracted by someone calling out “Back door.”

The driver calls back for him to push. He does. Nothing happens.

The driver tells him to run his hand down the yellow strip. He does. The door opens.

I look at the bus number. 980 – one of the newest buses.

I can’t believe a 900 bus is already having problems with the back door.

Frank tells me it’s not the bus.

He explains he’s had this driver several times now over the last couple of months, and he plays this game with the riders every time.

I’m flabbergasted.

I didn’t recognize the driver when I got on, but this is a later bus than the one I usually catch. I look frontward and see his face in the mirror. He's an older guy, doughy-faced, with round, bluish-tinted glasses.

At the next stop, we watch a mom and her young daughter at the back door. They push once, and after a slight pause, the door opens.

Frank considers that a pass.

From then on, we’re as attentive as bird watchers. The magic trick for opening the back door varies. Sometimes he tells the rider to push harder, sometimes to push elsewhere on the strip, sometimes to slide a hand up and down the yellow strip, sometimes to slide a hand between the yellow strips. And sometimes it’s various combinations of these maneuvers.

I pick up a pattern: he’s easier on the women than he is on the men. Frank tells me there’s one rider who gets off at Wyoming who won’t play the game. He just stands there and keeps shouting “Back door!” until the driver opens the door.

We wonder what in the world would drive a person to behave in this fashion. Some kind of serious anger and control issues, we speculate. And my mind’s ear is suddenly listening to a fragment of Pink Floyd’s "Another Brick in the Wall," about some abusive boarding school teachers:
But in the town it was well known
When they got home at night
Their fat and psychopathic wives would thrash them
Within inches of their lives
When we approach Frank’s stop, he says “We’ll see what happens.”

Frank has to push on the yellow strip a couple of times before the door opens.

I finish the ride to my stop wondering how I’m going to handle myself when I try and exit. Should I play the game? Follow the Wyoming rider’s example and not play? Walk all the way to the front door and avoid the whole thing?

I pull the cord, wait for the bus to stop, and, yielding to curiosity, go to the rear door. I push once against the yellow strip, right where it says “Touch here to open door.”

Nothing happens.

I stand there.

The driver tells me to run my hand down the middle between the two doors. My fingers find a groove and run downward.

The door opens, and I exit.

I’m walking down the sidewalk toward home, thinking about what this driver is doing, and suddenly, I burst out laughing. For whatever reason, I’ve ended up finding this whole business absurdly, laugh-out-loud funny rather than anger-making, and I am surprised.

I’m surprised because I would have predicted the anger, not the laughter. I may be a long way from compassion here, but I’m pleased to somehow have managed to distance myself from the other, angry end of the spectrum.

And while I really have no idea what is behind the bus driver’s displaced anger, I consider the possibility that part of the reason I haven’t reacted in anger is because I’m on my way home to a very different kind of wife.

*Real name changed.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

BUS STORY # 185 (Portrait # 7: Leader)

Watch Cap , originally uploaded by busboy4.

He’s got a face that’s seen it all, seen it all.

He’s a black man, not young, not old, who’s probably not as big as the impression he makes. I’d guess linebacker rather than fullback just because he looks like he’d rather take you down than run you over, but only because you were in his yard without asking, and even then, you’re making him take you down when he had other plans. And no mistake: when he takes you down, you’ll know you’ve been taken down.

In fact, he doesn’t really look like a football player. He looks like a lawyer or an ex-politician who might have played college ball. I’ve seen him in a suit a couple of times, but usually he’s wearing blue jeans or khakis, and an open neck dress shirt or a turtleneck. It’s always first-rate stuff. Great shoes, too.

Sometimes he’s got the right pants leg banded near the ankle. That’s when he’s riding his bike. He shaves his head, and he usually wears a hat of some kind. He looks great in all of them, but my favorite is the Navy watch cap.

He’s got one of those Deep River voices. The one time I heard it was when he spoke to another rider. He essentially told that rider to behave himself. It came across like, “Sit, Rover.” Rover sat. Smart dog.

But the rest of the time that voice is kept in reserve. Even when he’s getting ready to get off the bus, he speaks quietly. “Bike,” he says, indicating he’s got a bike he needs to take off the front rack. The voice is both quiet and impossible not to hear. He doesn’t waste a decibel. Or words, either.

He’s got presence. I can see him in the movies or on TV. He could be one of Jack Bauer’s Presidents. But I think his real role is the reluctant leader role where some disaster strikes – a towering inferno or an earthquake or a bus hijacking -- and everybody turns to him for direction. Which is exactly what I’d do. Then I’d do what he said, because whatever he does, his expression suggests he spends a lot of his time suffering fools, and not gladly.


The photo at the top of this story comes from the website. You can see it here.

Thanks to JM in Brooklyn for this week's featured link: Two Months Ago In: Düsseldorf (by way of NYC)

Sunday, May 16, 2010

BUS STORY # 184 (Bert’s Bus Story # 2)

Balloons and Bus, originally uploaded by busboy4.

Bert* is on his way in to work when the bus stops to take on a mom and daughter.

The daughter looks physically to be in her teens, but is clearly much, much younger in her mental development. When she boards the bus, she tells the driver today is her birthday. She tells the driver this several times with unabated excitement.

Yes, yes, it’s your birthday, honey, now let’s sit down, her mom tells her. She patiently maneuvers her daughter into a seat while the daughter makes sure everyone else on the bus knows it’s her birthday.

When they reach the northeast corner of Lomas and Wyoming where the Rich Ford lot is, the driver pulls over to the bus stop, even though no one is waiting there, and no one has pulled the “stop requested” cord, and the light is green.

Then he opens the front doors and exits the bus.

What the heck, Bert wonders. Where could he possibly be going?

A few minutes later, he re-enters the bus with three large helium balloons. He goes down the aisle to where Mom and daughter are sitting and he gives the daughter the balloons.

Happy Birthday, he tells her.

I imagine the riders looking out the north side windows at the row of cars and trucks for sale, each with a big helium balloon attached.

Well, all but three of them.

*Real name changed.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

BUS STORY # 183 (Bert’s Bus Story # 1)

300 and bus stop, originally uploaded by busboy4.

Back in September of 2006, I posted a blog about the wonderful relationships between our driver and we riders. (You can read it here.) There was a lot of laughter, a lot of joshing, and the kind of camaraderie that would make you think twice about calling in sick because you’d miss the ride in.

I've never had another driver like Gino.

But recently, Bert,* who’s one of the regulars, told me a few driver stories, and one of them brought back those wonderful Gino days of yesteryear.

Bert was running just a tad late. Sure enough, when he rounds the corner, there’s the bus already at the stop. Bert doesn’t run because he’s got bad knees, so he starts walking as fast as he can.

But the bus starts pulling away from the curb.

Well, heck, no point in hurrying, so Bert relaxes his pace.

The bus goes about 10 feet, then starts slowing down.

All right! Bert picks up the pace.

The bus starts rolling again.

Dang! Bert relaxes.

The bus stops after another 10 feet.

Bert figures some of the regulars must have seen him and persuaded the driver to wait for him.

He gets to the front door. It opens. He climbs aboard. The driver says, “Well, it’s about time!”

Before he can respond, he realizes all the regulars are struggling mightily to keep from breaking out in laughter. Bert realizes he’s been punk’d. The laughter explodes.

The driver breaks down laughing, too. Sometimes you gotta have a little fun when you’re working, she tells him.

Bert tells me this story with great relish.


*Real name changed.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

BUS STORY # 182 (“I’m Free”: Tina’s Bus Story # 1)

I'm free, originally uploaded by tinamathis.

If the photo above looks familiar, it should. I used the same photo for last week's Bus Story.

I’d done a search, “bus, tattoos,” on Flickr which returned better than a thousand options. This was the one I settled on. These tattoos looked very much like the ones I’d seen on my co-rider in last week's story.

Interestingly, at the time, “I’m free” was untitled.

I emailed Tina and requested permission to use her photo.

Tina not only gave me permission, but in a series of email exchanges, she told me the story this gentleman told her, and she directed me to the other photos in this short series in her photostream.

What Tina has here is a first-rate bus story.

Shopping, originally uploaded by tinamathis.

Tina’s comment reads: “Turns out there'll be a long story of crime, drug abuse, repenting and salvation, in store for me...”

Tina met him at a bus stop. He’d just come from the grocery store after visiting his parents and was on his way back to the Salvation Army where he lived. He told Tina he’d spent 26 years in and out of the penitentiary – “hard time, not just jail.”

Then he found Jesus.

Now, he’s dedicated the rest of his life to serving others on Jesus’ behalf. At the time these photos were taken, he’d been arrest-free for six years.

Where's the bus, Gus?, originally uploaded by tinamathis.

Tina was impressed by a couple of things. First, he was remarkably articulate and well-spoken, something she would not have associated with his history of drug abuse. She writes he’s “[l]ucky . . . he didn't fry his brains with all the years he was on drugs.”

The other thing that impressed her was how very courteous he was – “much, much more than the average male busrider in this city -- towards me and others on the bus.”

Tina concluded “you cannot judge all books by their cover . . .”

When Tina first emailed back giving me permission to use her photo, she wrote: “Meanwhile I've given it the title "I'm free" which has more than the one, apparent meaning, namely what's stamped on one of the wristbands the man is wearing.”

I had completely missed the imprint on the yellow wristband. I’d been focused instead on the tattoos.

Tina has the story on those, too. They feature his two ex-wives “who, I must assume, must be free as well!”

“Freedom’s just another word,” writes Kris Kristofferson, “for nothing left to lose.” Sounds like Tina’s co-rider has found his way past that. He’s not the only one whose life is better for it. Ours are, too.

Thank you, Tina, for the story.


Tina has another set of photos titled “Riding the bus.” You can see them on Flickr at: