Sunday, September 26, 2010

BUS STORY # 203 (Dean’s Story)

MTS Bus, originally uploaded by So Cal Metro.

(Back in September of ’07, my good friend Paul wrote one of my favorite bus stories about a bus driver in San Diego with Albuquerque ties, and how family and the economic times worked together to determine where he lived and worked. [You can read it here.] Three years later, here’s a story about a bus rider in Albuquerque with San Diego ties, and the same compelling constellation of family, work, and economic times. There’s even a service connection.)

Like most businesses with many employees doing different jobs at different locations in the area, we’re computer-dependent. We have a centralized Help Desk where we can call in our problems -- forgotten passwords, lost files, misbehaving computers, and so forth.

Most of the guys working the Help Desk are young, smart, and move on to something more lucrative and challenging as soon as the opportunity presents itself. In the current economic climate, other young, smart guys who’ve lost more lucrative and challenging jobs also wind up on Help Desks.

This is Dean’s* story.

I met Dean on the bus one morning on the way to work. When I found out he worked at our Help Desk, I asked him about a virus that had recently hit our system. His explanation included a history of this virus and its many evolutions, what its intention was and how it worked, and how this version was able to gain entry into our system despite our anti-virus program.

I told him he seemed uncommonly well-informed. He grinned, shyly, and explained he’d worked in encryption for the U.S. Navy and the FBI.

Where was this?

San Diego.

So he moved from San Diego and an incredibly interesting and challenging and well-paid job to Albuquerque and a job at a Help Desk? I figured it could only have been a girl.

“Family,” he explained.

His parents and his brothers and sisters all live here. They had been after him to come join them, and he finally agreed.

So was he raised here?

Turns out he was raised all over, but all over didn’t include here. His dad was career Navy.

His parents decided to retire to Albuquerque. I assumed it was because of the service connection -- a pretty common story out here, actually. But this wasn’t the case with his parents. They’d been on vacation, stopped here, looked around, and liked what they saw. That’s also a pretty common story out here.

By the time they moved to Albuquerque, Dean was already out of college and in the Navy. After being stationed in San Diego, he started settling in there -- house, share in a local business, good friends, cool city, great job . . . but his family kept after him to join them.

After landing a spot with one of the telecommunication giants with a local presence, he sold his house, his share of the business, and moved to Albuquerque.

He was smart with his money. He invested it so he wouldn’t be tempted to spend it. That was about three years ago.

Shortly after moving, the economy tanked and he lost half the value of his investments. Then, along with a few hundred others, he lost his job.

His supervisor gave him a heads-up and pointed him in our direction. Two weeks after his layoff, he was working at our Help Desk.

Given his background, I asked him, why couldn’t he get a job with our IT security?

Contract exclusion -- we outsourced our Help Desk and our contract prohibits us from raiding our partner’s employees. And besides, since the economy tanked, we’ve had a hiring freeze.

Then why couldn’t he get a job with Kirtland or Sandia Labs?

He laughed. He told me he’d applied to both from San Diego. They told him he was overqualified. Kirtland sends the kind of work he does to Dallas. The Labs didn’t have any job openings.

What about Los Alamos?

He smiled and told me they rejected his application. No, he doesn’t know why. He could probably ask his old boss to find out for him. But that would take a lot of time and effort, and probably wouldn’t change anything.

Has he ever thought of moving back to San Diego?

His old boss has called him a couple of times to tell him he can have his old job back any time. He said the devaluation of his investments meant he couldn’t buy a house right away. I’m thinking that when Dean buys a house, he pays cash.

But haven’t home prices gone down?

Not in San Diego, he told me. He then popped out all sorts of numbers and ratios comparing San Diego to here and to the nation at large. That told me he wasn’t just daydreaming about moving back.

He did have some concerns about moving back to California, though. He asked me if I’d heard about Governor Schwarzenegger’s I.O.U.s. I had. I told him I’d also read a long article on how the once-excellent university system there is disintegrating.

So, I ventured, are you thinking of moving back anyway?

He’s pretty much made up his mind he is.

Has he told his family?

No. No he hasn’t.

When is he planning on going back?

As soon as he saves enough money to buy a car.

He didn’t have a car from his San Diego days?

Oh, yes, a beauty. He drove it out here from San Diego.

So what happened to it?

“It’s part of a parking lot.” He explained: early one morning, one of those monster trucks with the jacked-up suspension and big tires was being chased by the police. The chase ended in his parking lot where the truck literally squashed his car and two others. He got an insurance settlement, but needs to save up the difference between the payout and the cost of a new car.

So that’s why he’s taking the bus.

No, not really. He was taking the bus here even when he had his car, just like he did in San Diego. Only, he says, the bus service here is nowhere near as good as in San Diego.

He went on to describe a system that covers the whole city from center to perimeter with a network of routes that runs buses 10-15 minutes apart from 5:00 A.M to after midnight. (I googled the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System later on and a spot check of the schedules confirmed his description.)

So how well is the system used?

He laughed and told me it is not uncommon to have to wait for a second or even third bus because the one you planned to catch is full. He says buses have color-coded signals to let you know whether you’ll be able to get on. Orange means “full,” blue means “moderate," and green means “empty.”

“Empty?” I asked.

Dean thought that meant ten or less riders.

I told him I’ve ridden a few “empties” here in Albuquerque. He laughed, and pointed out San Diego has a substantially larger ridership than Albuquerque.

True enough.

Right now, Dean thinks he’ll be returning to San Diego around Christmas. I can appreciate his needing the challenge his old job afforded him. Throw in the salary and the city and the only thing missing is . . . his family.

*Real name changed.

The photo at the top of this story is titled “MTS Bus” and is posted with the kind permission of So Cal Metro. You can see this and all So Cal Metro’s photos on Flickr at:

An additional thanks to Paul for this week's featured link: Last Week In: Santa Fe.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

BUS STORY # 202 (Migrant Worker)

He takes the seat across from me and is struggling to get his bus pass back into his wallet.

Older guy, all in black, including a black baseball cap. Unshaven.

“Too early in the morning for this,” he says, finally wedging the pass into a windowed compartment.

“You normally sleep in?”

“Yeah, but I got a job at the fair.”

He’s working in the State Fair employee commissary, and it starts with breakfast.

He explains he’s worked there before, but it’s just a job to tide him through to December when he’s starting a job in San Diego.

I ask him if he lives here or there.

He lives here. Right here, right in this neighborhood, all his life.

“I went to school right there 35 years ago,” he says, pointing to Manzano High School.

He says this area looks pretty much the same now as it did then.

I ask about the job in San Diego.

He explains he worked most of his life on computer electronics. “IBM, Honeywell, HP . . . ”

There’s not much call for him in Albuquerque right now. But San Diego looks promising.

“It’s expensive there -- you gotta have a bundle saved up just to get started,” he says. He’s planning to take the train to LA, then a bus down to San Diego.

At Eubank, he pulls the cord.

“Gonna get coffee first at Hastings,” he explains.

He’s got his standards. Most folks would walk the 10 yards from the stop to the Circle K for whatever’s on the burner. He’s gonna cross the intersection and walk into the corner shopping center where Hastings has a coffee bar.

I wish him luck -- and hope Hastings is open at this hour of the morning.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

BUS STORY # 201 (What Are The Odds II)

Santa Ana Casino Bus , originally uploaded by busboy4.

Jen* and I go back a ways, back before I met my wife, or at least before I was aware of her as a person of interest.

We worked for the same company and knew one another as fellow employees. But we didn’t actually meet until we both ended up being assigned to a task force for what we both knew was a hopeless project. I arrived at the first meeting with a book someone had given me: Craig Martin’s Fly Fishing In Northern New Mexico.

After the meeting, she asked me about the book. I told her I’d been fly fishing for a couple of years or so, loved it, but wasn’t very good at it.

The truth is, I was using it as a great distraction. I’d head out into the wilds of New Mexico every set of days off where I’d camp out and fish or birdwatch or hike or go ghost town hunting. I was licking my wounds from a failed marriage, and all these solitary outdoor pursuits far away from the city were a great comfort to me.

I didn’t explain all this to Jen -- at least, not then. Jen told me she’d also just recently taken up fly fishing and was really enjoying it. The problem, she explained, is that she wanted to try some isolated places up in the mountains north of us. Since the best fishing was early morning and late evening, she’d either have to leave Albuquerque a few hours before dawn, or else camp. She was uneasy about camping out by herself.

I told her I had a truck with a camper shell, and I’d be happy to go camping and fishing with her.

She told me later she was taken aback by my invitation -- we’d be sleeping together in the back of my truck -- and she asked around to see what kind of reputation I had. I guess you could say she was worried my line was more fishy than fishing.

Whatever she heard must have been OK because she took me up on the invitation shortly afterwards. I wish I could remember where we went that first time. But we did our fishing, cooked our supper, slept in the back of the truck in our separate sleeping bags, then got up and fished some more before driving back to Albuquerque. That trip was the basis for many more fishing trips and the beginning of a good friendship.

My favorite of our trips was near the headwaters of the Rio Grande, up in Colorado. We’d gone into Creede to buy whatever the locals were recommending.

“Number 14 House and Lot,” they told us. "Ike swore by the House and Lot." We bought several. Not enough, as it turned out.

We split up and fished Squaw Creek, a series of stair step pools. I’d cast into the pool above me and wham! there was a strike. Whether I set the hook or not, I only got one cast, and that pool was done.

In time, I managed to lose all my H & Ls, and no matter what other fly I tried, I didn’t have another hit for the rest of the day.

I know, I know, I’ve digressed. But you take an old guy reminiscing, a guy whose lineage is Irish, and a fisherman, and you’d be daft to think you’d be getting a short story here. Just be thankful the three of us aren't also drinking the beer. Oh, and the bus is coming.

Long story short, Jen and I became good friends. And when I did start dating my wife, and that relationship began to turn serious, Jen was one of two good women friends whose insights and advice were invaluable to the flourishing of that relationship.

Jen is one very bright woman -- much more so, I know now, than I realized back then. Unfortunately, her potential was lost on the company. So she moved on to bigger and better things. The sad part was she moved out of state.

You can take the very bright woman out of New Mexico, but you can’t take New Mexico out of the very bright woman. (I think Abraham Lincoln said that.) Over time, even while Jen was becoming spectacularly successful in her work, she kept returning to family and a multitude of friends here, and eventually bought a combination investment/retirement/place-to-stay-in-Albuquerque house. And she still makes an annual trip up into southern Colorado and the trout streams there.

Jen and my wife and I get together a couple of times a year and catch up on all the news. It had been several months since the last time we’d seen one another when I left work one Friday afternoon to catch the 50 home.

When I boarded, I was surprised to see there were only two other riders on the bus, two women sitting across from each other and leaning into the aisle. One was giving directions to the other. Both had suitcases which told me they were coming from the airport. I hoisted my backpack up and squeezed between the two and took a seat a few rows back.

When I looked again, it struck me how very much one of the women looked like Jen. And then her voice registered. I sat there staring at her and waited for the two women to finish talking. When they were done, Jen looked back and her right hand shot out and pointed at me. There was a tumbling over suitcases and backpacks and a hug.

We got off at Central and ended up at The Satellite where she told me her story.

“You know, when I was leaving the airport, I thought to myself, you get off work around this time, and it was possible I’d actually run into you.”

It was an incredibly lucky shot. I don’t always work at the main office. I don’t always take the 4:30 bus when I do. I mean, what are the odds?

The last time we’d talked, the three of us had dinner at La Provence. Jen had talked about wanting to avoid renting a car when she was in town. The only time she really needed it was to get back and forth from the airport. She knew I was taking the bus and about the blog, and I told her I thought the bus would work fine -- unless she was leaving on Sunday. (Don’t ask me why none of the three routes servicing the airport run on Sundays. I don’t know.)

Anyway, here she is, and here we are, and what a way to find out she’d decided to give the bus a try!

Really, now, what are the odds?

*Real name changed.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

BUS STORY # 200 (Shorts 16)

Love is on the way, originally uploaded by busboy4.

It’s one hot July afternoon, but the Rapid Ride is almost cold inside. We’re barreling up Central somewhere past Eubank when we have to pull up. There’s a cop car with its lights flashing in our lane and our driver couldn’t find an opening to the middle lane in time to bypass it. I can’t see anything from where I’m sitting except the back of the car and the bar of lights flashing red and blue over the top of the car. It isn’t until we find an opening and move around the cruiser that I can see what’s happening. The cop, a young guy, is assisting a decrepit old man into the back of the car. A walker is standing all by itself in the middle of the sidewalk. I don’t know if the guy was in obvious distress or if the cop decided it was just too hot to let an old man in his condition work his way up the long Central sidewalk on a walker. I like the latter version myself.


He’s maybe mid-40s. He’s explaining to the woman sitting across from him that he’s on his way to take some computer classes. He’s got this job as a receptionist, but he can’t really spell. He graduated from barber college, but he wasn’t strong in spelling. He can ask people to spell their last names, he’s OK with that part, but anything more and he just gets all balled up. The woman says the computer is just what he needs. If he learns Word, it’s got spell check on it, so all he has to do is get close and spell check will take care of it. His eyes widen. Yes, he says excitedly, that’s exactly what he needs!


Overheard from a conversation between two high school girls on the bus: “So he goes the third trimester starts the seventh month. I go no it doesn’t, it starts the sixth. Three, six, nine. I mean I’m the one who’s done it twice.”


I’m running a little late, but not too bad. I hustle out the door and get down to the stop a good couple of minutes before the bus comes. When the door opens, I reach down and grab the end of my lanyard and raise it up for the driver to see. At the same time the driver is looking blankly at what I’ve got in my hand, I’m registering what I’ve got in my hand doesn’t feel right. It’s my work badge, not my bus pass. I sheepishly tell her I know exactly where my bus pass is: hanging on the back of my closet door. She tells me to come on and board, she saw my pass yesterday morning, same place, same time, so she knows I’ve got one. I’m counting my blessings as we start to roll when she asks me how I’m planning to get home . . .