Sunday, November 28, 2010

BUS STORY # 212 (Buddy, Can You Spare A Smoke?)

Whatcha got in there?, originally uploaded by busboy4.

There are three of us, all guys, up on the platform in the rear of the bus.

One guy is wearing a less-than-pristinely white T-shirt and pants. He’s sitting in the second seat of the last row on the driver’s side.

One guy is wearing a gray hoodie and a worn, dark gray baseball cap. He’s sitting on the driver side facing me across the aisle. He’s also holding a well-used skateboard. He looks lean and leathery, and about twenty years too old for that skateboard.

There’s a stop, and we’re joined by a woman who takes the far passenger side seat in the last row.

It’s while she’s putting the wallet back in her purse that the guy in white spots the cigarette pack. He asks her if she can spare a smoke. She doesn’t say anything, but she goes to the pack and pulls one out, then wordlessly hands it to him. He thanks her, then puts it between his thumb and forefinger and examines it, turning it this way and that, before tucking it behind his right ear.

A couple of stops later, a new guy gets on and joins us in the back, taking the first seat on the driver side bench, two seats up from skateboard guy. He’s got a gray T-shirt and yellow plaid Bermuda shorts.

A little while later, and the guy with the cigarette behind his ear pulls the cord and goes to stand by the back door.

The new guy spots the cigarette behind the ear and asks cigarette guy if he has an extra he could spare. Cigarette guy explains he only has the one, and that one only because someone gave it to him.

New guy holds up both hands and says it’s OK, he was just asking, and he certainly understands, no problem.

Skateboard guy reaches inside his hoodie and pulls out a cigarette. He hands it to the new guy.

The new guy thanks him, touches his heart with his two V-for-victory fingers, then touches the side of his forehead in a salute. Then he reaches out his hand.

“I’m Mac.”*

Skateboard guy reaches over and shakes.


“How come you’re ridin’ when you got that skateboard?”

“I only ride it downhill.”

Everybody chuckles. We’re all of us on the ride home from downtown -- one long climb toward the foothills.

*Real name changed.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

BUS STORY # 211 (Shorts 17)

sag, originally uploaded by robby-T.

The bus stop where we’ve pulled up is by a gas station. The driver has just closed the doors and started up when a white car comes racing into the gas station alongside the bus and honking. The bus stops. “All right, all right, all right,” says our driver, and he opens his door the same time the passenger door of the white car flies open. A high school girl gets out and runs for the bus. “Thanks for giving me a heart attack,” the driver says to the girl when she boards, but it sounds good-natured. They talk for a bit before he starts up again and she heads for a seat.


Somewhere near the Emma Ferguson Library, we stop for a tall high school kid in a red hat with the bill at five o’clock and a tattooed vine winding around his neck. He’s holding a skateboard almost as tall as he is. He looks back down the sidewalk before boarding, then steps up to the till and says something to the driver. He hangs around the front and looks back out the window a couple of times, then takes a seat in the back. It’s a long minute before an old woman in blue denim comes into view from the curbside windows. She’s moving as fast as she can which is not very fast at all. She climbs aboard and thanks the driver several times between bouts of breath-catching. She sits on the bench seat behind the driver. She’s beaming like she’s won the lottery. The kid’s paying a lot of attention to his skateboard.


Cell phone conversation overheard on the bus: “I’m on the bus . . . Yeah, I know. You were hitting on my girlfriend . . . No, I’m not angry. You were drunk. ____ like that happens . . . Yeah, I know. I love her, too . . . Dude, I am. Not. Angry . . . Because you’re the only friend I have . . . ”


He’s an old guy, maybe 70, maybe more. Baseball cap with the bill curved around those old-fashioned glasses with the oversized lenses, striped polo shirt, jeans, and boots. You think you’ve got him pegged -- until he turns his back to pay the fare. Holy frog! He’s sagging like a teenager! The jeans ride low, and his underwear is giving proof through the night. Not the jewel-toned sateen or plaid boxers the kids sport, but a pair of classic tighty-whities. And above the twisted waistband -- Dude, check out that cleavage!

The photo at the top of this story is titled “sag” and is posted with the kind permission of robby-T. You can see this and all robby-T’s photos on Flickr at:

Sunday, November 14, 2010

BUS STORY # 210 (And How Was Your Day, Dear?)

IMG_3421 Crowie, Photo license: ⓒ All Rights Reserved, originally uploaded by Leilah.

So: I get to my stop at 6:27 a.m., which is either going to be six minutes before the bus arrives or more, depending on whether the bus is on time or running late. The bus does not come in six minutes, or in seven, or in 10 or in 14 . . . The next bus appears right on time, 16 minutes later.

When I board, I spot Frank,* a regular on my route, but not always the same schedule. I sit across the aisle from him,and he tells me how the bus he intended to catch never came. That was my bus. Each of us is now reassured it wasn’t us.

Before we reach Tramway, we pick up four more regulars and we all go through the same routine about how the bus never came and it wasn’t us.

I’m already thinking I’m going to miss my connection at Yale and Central, which will wipe out the prep time I was counting on for a meeting at 8:15 a.m., and will possibly make me late as well. I’m wondering if I should get off at Louisiana and gamble on catching the Rapid. If it comes right away, I may have a shot at my regular connection.

The argument is settled when I watch the Rapid go by right in front of us as we’re stopped at a red light on the other side of Louisiana. I’m going to lose 30 minutes and my prep time.

Down at UNM, I’ve just gotten off the bus and am heading for the crosswalk when I realize my wallet is not in my pocket. The 11 has just taken off, and I’m standing there paralyzed. I could pray for a miracle, but I’ll likely never see that wallet again.

I recover my wits and pull out my cell phone. Maybe if I alert ABQ RIDE right now, they can reach the driver and somehow recover my wallet. Fat chance, but certainly worth the effort.

My cell phone battery is dead.


Well, there’s nothing to be done now but get to work and start calling ABQ RIDE, then my credit card companies and the New Mexico Department of Motor Vehicles.

Crossing the street, I realize this coming Saturday’s winning Powerball ticket is also in that wallet. I’m well into imagining how I’ll buy another ticket with the same lucky numbers (an amalgam of my kids’ birthdays and my wedding anniversary) and lay for my co-claimant, the dirty rat -- when I remember I was working on the budget at the kitchen table this morning.

Could I have left my wallet on the kitchen table?

My wife is not home and won’t be any time soon, so there’s no point in calling. I decide to go on to my meeting. It’ll be close, but if the 50 is on time, I have a shot.

I’m standing under one of the trees next to the shelter, waiting impatiently, when a heavy, wet plop hits the top of my head. I reach up instinctively and feel the spot, then pull my hand back to look. It’s covered with thick, yellowish liquid. I look up into the branches above. You, dear reader, are way ahead of me at this point. For those inquiring minds that want to know, it was a female House Sparrow.

Even with the lost wallet looming before me, I almost laugh. I mean, how much more perfect could this morning possibly get?

The 50 is on time, which means I have a shot at getting to the meeting on time. When I board, I see Maddie,* another regular who is one of the six of us who got left behind this morning. She must have missed the 16/18 connection and walked down to Martin Luther King and caught the 50 there.

Before I can ask, she asks me if I noticed that none of our regular co-riders who board the bus west of Tramway boarded the bus we ended up on this morning. Hmmm.

That means all those other riders either found another way to get to work, or were picked up by the bus that left us behind. Maddie says, “He shorted us.” Her theory is the driver was late to his starting point and decided to lop off the route east of Tramway to make up time.

I suggest maybe it was a driver who didn’t know the route. She gives me a look, then decides I am surely being facetious.

We discuss calling this in. I’m thinking I’ll email Rebecca Torres, ABQ RIDE’s contact person, after I get home from work. Right now, I’m trying to organize my thoughts about the problem I need to address at the meeting I’m still not sure I’m gonna be on time for, and how to handle my missing wallet.

At work, I go straight to the restroom to wash my hands. Then I look in the mirror. No visible trace of bird bomb. I go on to the meeting where I find out no one is prepared to discuss what I needed to be at the meeting for in order to discuss.

It’s not really the same thing that happened under the tree, not literally. The meeting is short (naturally), and I realize if I hurry, I can catch the 50 going back to Central.

I have a plan, you see: go home and see if my wallet’s there. If it isn’t, I’m taking the rest of the day off to take care of business. If it is, I can clean up, then go downtown where I’m supposed to be at another meeting at 11:00 a.m.

I get to the bus stop and pull out my cell. I’d better let my boss know where I am and why, and where I might not be for the rest of the day . . . Oh, yes, the phone. I forgot. I instinctively feel the top of my head.

The 50 is on time and the ride uneventful. I get off at Central, walk to The Frontier, and catch the Red Line 13 minutes later.

We’ve made the turn at Louisiana and pulled into the stop when the driver announces we all have to get off the bus. He explains he’s running an hour behind and has to turn around now. We have to get off and catch either the 3 or the 157 which should be along any minute now.

In the immortal words of Dave Barry, I am not making this up.

We all get off the bus, and watch it head north for Lomas. A few minutes later, the 157 arrives.

We all climb aboard. I’m seated when I see the last two riders from the Rapid still standing outside the door. It’s a young girl and her mother. The mother looks late 30s, the girl maybe third or fourth grade.

The young girl asks the driver where this bus goes. He tells her. She turns and explains to her mother in Spanish. They board, and the young girl puts money in the till. It slowly dawns on me that she’s just paid their fares a second time. They’d already paid when they boarded the Rapid that they were made to get off of.

I am too slow and too wrapped up in thinking about what lies ahead for me if my wallet is gone to fully register the sadness of what I’ve just seen. It isn’t that the driver was taking advantage; he didn’t know. It was the young girl and the woman who either didn’t understand, or else felt too intimidated to insist they’d already paid. The rest of us had passes. It isn’t until later that I think the cash in my wallet might be significantly less a loss to me than that extra $1.35 is to the girl and her mother.

We get to Lomas. Less than 15 minutes later, I’m on the 11 on my way back home. When I get there, I walk into the kitchen and there’s my wallet on the table. I reach for the sky, not the top of my head. Yes! And then I count my blessings. The bird deposit is suddenly a whole lot funnier.

After scrubbing my head with a wash cloth, I shoot my boss an email, send another to Rebecca Torres, then go back to work.

This time, I take the car.

*Real name changed.

Postscript: When I got home that evening, I had a response from Rebecca Torres. Rebecca said she’d checked with dispatch and they showed nothing happening. But she also said she’d have someone speak to the driver. (She also told me one of my co-riders had also called this in. I’m guessing that was Maddie.) That was a week ago last Thursday. As of the date/time of this post, I've heard nothing further.

The photo at the top of this story is titled “IMG_3421 Crowie” and is posted with the kind permission of Leilah. You can see this and all Leilah’s photos on Flickr at:

Sunday, November 07, 2010

BUS STORY # 209 (Honoring Our Veterans)

vietnam, originally uploaded by dirk32787.

We get off the Rapid together, me through the back door, him through the front after the ramp is put down and his motorized wheelchair makes the exit.

I’m waiting at the intersection, looking west for my connection. He rolls up and I move to one side. We both wait till the white stick figure appears and the numbers start ticking down from 25.

On the other side, we head for the bus stop to wait for our connection. He wheels his chair around and faces due west.

He looks to be in his 60s. Big guy, but solid, not fat. He’s in a navy blue polo shirt and navy blue shorts. The right leg is a long-healed above-the-knee amputation. The left is a long-healed below-the-knee. Later, I determine he’s also missing the first two digits of the fingers of his right hand.

He’s got a cap on that says “Vietnam Veteran” across the front of the hat and across the hatband in the back. He’s wearing those old style aviator sunglasses. He sits – and, really, this is the only way to describe it – he sits tall in his chair.

Things that he doesn’t have, and which are striking by their absence in this particular scenario -- at least, here in Albuquerque -- are an American flag or pennant flying from a flexible rod, and patriotic bumper stickers plastered across the back of his chair.

Across the intersection to the west, there’s another rider waiting for our bus. I’m thinking it’ll stop for him, then get caught by the light, and we’ll have to wait another two minutes for our turn.

But the rider is looking our way, too. And then he gets up and starts walking our way. In the crosswalk, I see a lean guy in a baseball cap, long black beard streaked with gray, a turquoise tank top and faded, ragged jeans.

He walks right up to the vet, leans over, says something to him, puts his hand on his shoulder, says something to him again, moves the flat of his hand to the side of the vet’s head, pulls it back to his heart, then gently thumps his heart. He starts to turn away, then turns back and says something more.

I can’t make out what he’s saying, and I can’t tell if it’s Spanish, or English slurred with emotion or alcohol or both. He puts his hand on the vet’s chest, then pulls it back to his. And then he walks to a railing behind the bus stop bench and sits in the shade.

Throughout this exchange, the vet hasn’t moved a muscle. I have no idea if he spoke to the man or not.

I don’t know if these are two vets who recognize one another and don’t need words, or if the guy is overcome, and the vet is gutting it out with dignity or a patient appreciation of the intent. A dozen other possible stories blossom.

The vet takes his hat off. His head is bald, lumpy, scarred. I assume it goes with the legs and fingers. He leaves it off until the bus comes.

The other guy and I wait for the ramp to come down, wait for the vet to board. That’s when I smell the alcohol.

He wants me to board, but I tell him I’m waiting for the driver to finish getting the chair buckled in. He goes around me, and waits by the till. When everything is settled in, he’s sitting on the bench seat across from the vet. The vet keeps his face fixed forward, and there is no conversation, attempted or otherwise.

When we reach the guy’s stop, he lurches forward and almost falls right across the wheelchair. He catches himself, and lurches out the front door.

The rider behind the vet turns to the guy sitting next to me and says he hasn’t seen Tommy* this drunk at this hour in a long time.

“He’s the sweetest guy when he’s sober, but he’s a mean drunk.”

And then he notices a plastic grocery bag Tommy must have left on the bench seat.

Throughout all of this, the vet has been sitting silent and motionless. He is staring straight ahead, out through the front windshield.

I’m thinking he knows something we don’t.

*Real name changed.

The photo at the top of this story is titled “vietnam” and is posted with the kind permission of dirk32787. You can see this and all dirk32787’s photos on Flickr at: