Sunday, June 27, 2010

BUS STORY # 190 (Not Hawaii)

Across Lomas, I’m watching an old guy looking to cross the street. He’s got a small backpack and a cane for an obviously gimped-up leg. He’s nowhere near a crosswalk. It’s also four-thirty in the afternoon, and the traffic is heavy.

He waits for a break, then starts across. He’s slow. The west-bound turn lane on San Mateo starts pouring into Lomas. He throws a stiff-arm at the advancing traffic and keeps on hobbling toward the median. The traffic slows. No one honks until he reaches the median.

When there’s a break in the eastbound flow, he starts across toward the bench where I’m sitting, waiting for the 11. He reaches the sidewalk just in time. He turns and looks at the traffic rushing by, then collapses on the bench next to me.

“I was looking to buy a Stetson on Central,” he says, out of breath.

Forget Central is a mile south. There's still nothing to be said back to this.

“You know those kind that are made out of beaver?” he continues. “Only it’s rabbit, not beaver.”

After a brief pause, “It’s too hot for a Stetson.”

He starts rooting around in his pockets and finally pulls out a wallet. He opens the wallet and starts rooting around in it.

“You ever notice how people on Central get honk-happy in the

I tell him I had never noticed that, and I asked him why he thought that was.

He tells me he’s from Hawaii, and there’s a strong Japanese influence in the culture there. People don’t yammer on, they don’t use bad language. They don’t honk. You honk and you get “the death eye.” He demonstrates a glower at the passing traffic for me.

I tell him we’re a long way from Hawaii.

“You bet your boots,” he replies.

He pulls a smaller credit-card size folder from his wallet and flips it open. I can see an ABQ RIDE bus pass in one of the windows.

“I got a limousine and a limousine driver, and they’re called the city bus.”

He tells me he lost his motorcycle when an old woman hit him. She was on a cell phone.

He explains how he settled out of court. She was 73 and she came right out and admitted to the cops she was on the phone. He figures at her age, she knew she was close to meeting her maker and she didn’t want to screw things up at the end, so she told the truth.

He’s no spring chicken himself, and he wasn’t looking for eternal litigation. He was happy to take what he could get right now.

The bus comes and we board. He sits down just behind the driver. The bus crosses San Mateo and stops on the other side. He leans forward and asks the driver where San Mateo is.

“We just crossed it,” replies the driver.

“That was San Mateo?”

Several riders confirm.

“Well, I gotta get off here.”

And he does. He staggers down the stairs and onto the sidewalk. As we pull away, I can see him hobbling back toward the intersection.

I have a sudden premonition: he's planning to catch the San Mateo bus to Lomas.

The photo at the top of this story is titled Gillig Phantom as "The Beach Bus" @ Famous Hanauma Bay and is posted with the kind permission of indyinsane. You can see this and all indyinsane’s photos on Flickr at:

Sunday, June 20, 2010

BUS STORY # 189 (Transplant)

, originally uploaded by tcastlen.

We’re on San Mateo, just south of I-25, holding down the bench at each end and waiting for the bus.

He asks me if I know when the next bus comes.

I tell him they run about every 15 minutes or so. I figure it’s already been 10 minutes.

He asks if I’m a native. I tell him 30 years and ask him about himself.

He’s been here less than a year. He and his wife moved here from Las Vegas. Nevada, he adds, which tells me he’s been here long enough to know he needs to make that distinction.

Hot place in the summer, I say. Up to 117 four months out of the year, he replies. And the nights only cool off to a hundred.

Lemme tell you, he goes on, Las Vegas isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. You can’t walk to the grocery store and back without getting hit on for money or cigarettes a half dozen times. And there’s drunks everywhere, just lying in the street.

I tell him I’ve read the economic collapse hit Vegas especially hard. So is what he’s telling me because of the crash?

It’s Vegas, he replies. It’s a magnet for losers.

How long was he there?

12 years. He was in the tree trimming business. Palms, mostly. They’re filthy things, full of rats and roaches and pigeons and all kinds of crap. And tough to trim even when you know what you’re doing.

What brought him to Albuquerque?

His liver. He’s here waiting for a transplant.

How’d it happen?

Alcohol. He smiles ruefully. He was doing a case and a half a day.

I tell him he looks like he’s quit drinking to me.

He’s been sober for three years now. He woke up one morning and vomited a bucket of blood. Scared the hell out of him. He hasn’t touched the stuff since.

So is he still in the tree trimming business? I note there’s not much in the way of palm trees around here.

He’s disabled. He’s got three herniated discs. He says the docs gave him hydromorphone – “It’s a synthetic morphine” – and now he’s addicted to the damn things. He found this out when he ran out one weekend and couldn’t get his prescription filled until Monday. He came down with a bad case of nausea and the shakes.

“It was a lot worse than alcohol withdrawal.”

He says he asked for something less powerful, but the docs told him it wouldn’t relieve his pain. So he takes one when he gets up in the morning, then every three hours after that until he goes to bed at night. He says without them, he wouldn’t even be able to walk.

“See my eyes?” he asks me.

Sure enough, the pupils are tightly constricted.

The bus comes and we board. He grabs an empty aisle seat near the front. I head for the back. Going past him, I touch him lightly on the shoulder and wish him good luck.

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

Sunday, June 13, 2010

BUS STORY # 188 (73 Bus Stories About The No. 73 London Routemaster Bus)

Number 73, originally uploaded by thereminwar.

In late 2005, a friend and reader sent me a clipping from the New York Times. It told the story of the return of the St. Charles line in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. (You can read it here.)

I thought it was too good a story not to post, but I also knew it wasn’t an Albuquerque bus story. Thus was “This Week’s Feature” born. (You’ll find it at the bottom of several other links to the right of the bus stories.)

This past week, I came across a link to “73 Bus Stories.” It took me to a complex site called which was “designed to explore, experience and capture textual, visual and sensual narratives of the mobile London urban experience.”

The creator of the site is Kat Jungnickel who describes herself as “a member of Studio INCITE [Incubator for Critical Inquiry into Technology and Ethnography], in the Sociology Department at Goldsmiths College, University of London” on Studio INCITE's "about me" page.

It all sounded pretty dry to me. Fortunately, I persisted in poking around urban journey’s multiple links until I hit a gold mine: 73 Stories.

Here is how Kat set it up:

The old No.73 Routemaster was offically retired from London streets on Friday 3rd September, 2004. I have been gathering stories about it since July 2003.

73 stories
each around 73 words
about the 73 bus

A story can be about whatever you want - being on the bus, waiting at the bus stop or being on the street watching it go by. It can be observational, based on real events, daydreams or simply what you like or don’t like about it.

Write them here and I will add them to the bus or the street or the bus stop on the 73 bus website. Please include your location, when it took place and who you are to help locate the story.

The site is brilliant.

It opens to a seating diagram for both decks of a double-decker bus. Click on any seat in the diagram, and you get anywhere from one to four stories, each submitted by riders (and drivers) of the No. 73, and each “placed on the seat where the story happened.”

As you might expect, the stories run the gamut from memories of WW II to No. 73’s last run. They’re all interesting, and some are downright marvelous.

There are 32 separate seat links here. I plan to feature each one over the next 32 weeks of bus stories under “This Week’s Feature.”

If you can’t wait, here’s the link to all 73 stories:

73 Bus Stories.


The photo at the top of this story is titled “Number 73” and is posted with the kind permission of thereminwar. You can see this and all thereminwar’s photos on Flickr at:

Sunday, June 06, 2010

BUS STORY # 187 (What Are The Odds?)

What Are The Odds?, originally uploaded by busboy4.

“Hey, welcome back.”

This from the regulars who’ve noted I’ve been missing a week or so. I explain I was on vacation. We had some friends out from the east coast and were showing them the sights.

“Go anyplace interesting?”

“Yeah. Tent Rocks and Chaco Canyon. And we took the train to Santa Fe.”

A young guy, Seth,* asks me about Chaco. I tell him I hadn’t been out there in some 25 years, and I was happy it was on our friends’ “must see” list.

“I don’t remember the visitor’s center being so nice, and I don’t remember the loop road being paved.”

I also tell him the times I’d gone before, I’d taken the road from I-40. This time, we took the road from the north, just before Nageezi, and it was nowhere near as rough as the road in back in the early ‘80s.

Seth tells me he wants to get out there himself. He took a college course in southwestern archeoastronomy, and Chaco Canyon was a big section of the course.

I ask him where he went to school. Colorado. It rings a bell. I ask him who his professor was. The name doesn’t ring a bell. I explain there’s an archeologist from Colorado University who has a theory about migration routes, but I can’t recall his name. Steve something. That doesn’t ring a bell with Seth.

We talk about the solar and lunar petroglyph marker up on Fajada Butte, made famous by the Robert Redford-narrated documentary, The Mystery Of Chaco Canyon. I tell Seth that, on my first trip out in 1980, I was still under the impression Chaco Canyon was a settlement like Mesa Verde. He smiles and nods indulgently. My tree rings are showing.

I tell him how, this time, we took the tour, and how the ranger told us the term “Anasazi” has fallen out favor. “I think she was calling them 'pre-Puebloan-Chacoan,'” I tell him.

The next morning, right after I board, Seth hands me a copy of Prehistoric Astronomy In The Southwest by J. McKim Malville and Claudia Putnam. Malville was his professor, and this was his textbook.

I’m genuinely moved, and excited, too. I go home determined to find out about that CU archeologist. I finally locate Steve Lekson and several layman-level articles dealing with his controversial Chaco Meridian theory. I also find an exciting bonus: an online rebuttal of his thesis by a local guy, David Phillips, the curator of archeology at the Maxwell Museum. And then a response by Lekson. Good stuff all!

I print it all out to give to Seth the next morning. I feel elated to have found someone who not only knows about Chaco, but shares the same enthusiasm for this arcane, ancient place and all its attendant mysteries. And to think we met on the bus!

What are the odds?


*Real name changed