Sunday, December 26, 2010

BUS STORY # 216 (Portrait # 10: Woman With Red Suitcases)

Luggage, originally uploaded by Jaypeg.

She’s obviously coming from the airport. She’s sitting on the bench seat behind the driver, with a rucksack on the seat beside her and two large, red suitcases on carriers blocking the remaining bench seats to her right and a significant portion of the aisle.

She’s an older woman, straight silver hair, “old lady” hands.

Old enough to be embarrassed that her bags are inconveniencing everyone who boards. If she were a few decades younger, this wouldn’t be bothering her so much. But she’s not, so she’s apologizing to everyone who squeezes by. In between boardings, she fidgets with the positioning of the bags, trying to make a little more room.

Gray flannel slacks, dark green turtleneck, an outdoor vest in a color my wife would probably call “cayenne.” She doesn’t look like someone who is used to hauling a lot of luggage around on the bus. I look for a wedding band and see no jewelry at all.

No makeup, either.

A couple of stops later, I realize from the bus driver she’s not from here. He’s telling her he’ll let her know where she needs to get off to catch the bus to Coors, and he lays out a bit of the town geography for her.

All of these things show in her face: having to ride the bus with all this luggage, being the center of attention by inconveniencing everyone else, not knowing where she’s going, all by herself . . .

Here’s where the story is, and this is all I’m gonna get of it.

The driver tells her we’re approaching Central and this is where she will be getting off. She needs to walk across Central, turn left, and walk to the shelter where one of the Rapids is waiting. “But make sure it’s the Red Line,” he tells her. “There’s two other lines that stop there.”

At Central, she pulls on her rucksack and starts trying to maneuver the bags. The driver leaves his seat and hauls the bigger bag out to the sidewalk. One of the riders sitting close by, a small black woman, jumps up and grabs the wheel-end of the other bag so that the two women carry the bag off the bus. Although her expression says this is more help than she really wanted, she is profusely thankful for the other woman's kindness.

We last see her in the crosswalk, struggling with both suitcases bumping into one another behind her. I’m hoping there’s someone to meet her at the end of the line.

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

Sunday, December 19, 2010

BUS STORY # 215 (The Desert Bus Christmas Story)

desertbus, originally uploaded by busboy4 from the website TorrentFreak.

Here’s the lead: a sketch comedy team based in British Columbia raised $208,349.82 this past November for an organization that donates toys, books, and games to hospitalized children. They did this by by playing a video game until people stopped sending them donations.

What makes this a bus story is the video game used to raise the funds. The game is Desert Bus.

Here’s the story.

The organization donating toys to hospitalized children is called Child’s Play. Child’s Play was organized by gamers, and currently has over 100,000 members. It began in 2003 and to date has contributed more than seven million dollars to some 70 children’s hospitals in North America, including New Mexico’s UNM Children’s Hospital here in Albuquerque.

LoadingReadyRun is the sketch comedy team that raised the more than $200,000 for Child’s Play this November. Interestingly, they were also founded in 2003. The team is noted for producing a new sketch comedy video every week.

Desert Bus is an unreleased video game that was part of a package of minigames called Smoke and Mirrors. It was designed by the comedy team Penn & Teller (although Jillete Penn credits Eddie Gorodetsky for Desert Bus). Wikipedia provides a nice summary of the Smoke and Mirrors story:

"The game starred the comedy-magician duo Penn & Teller. The publisher Absolute Entertainment went out of business before they could release the game, yet the game was featured and previewed in various gaming publications such as Electronic Gaming Monthly and reviewed by VideoGames magazine...The game re-surfaced years later when Frank Cifaldi, editor of Lost Levels, a website dedicated to unreleased video games, received a copy of the game from a reviewer who had covered it years ago."
The Desert Bus game requires a player to drive a bus from Tucson to Las Vegas -- in real time. We’re talking an eight-hour drive/game here. And, no: the game cannot be paused.

But wait! There’s more!

The drive features an absolutely straight road through a virtually unchanging desert landscape in which nothing happens -- unless the driver lets his or her attention lapse. That’s because the bus, left to its own devices, will veer to the right or left. If the driver isn’t paying attention, the bus goes off the road and the game is over. (Actually, what happens is a tow truck eventually arrives and hauls the bus back to Tucson -- at the real time speed of 45 mph. The player gets to watch the road trip in reverse.)

Especially funny (at least to Busboy) is the fact that if you get all the way to Las Vegas without driving off the road, you win -- one point! You also win the opportunity to turn around and drive back to Tucson. The drive back features a change. Toward the end of the trip, you get sunset, then dusk, then night, with the road illuminated by the bus headlights.

A successful arrival in Tucson wins you another point and the opportunity to head back to Las Vegas. The maximum score you can win is 99 points.

The time it takes to score those 99 points depends either on your own clocked experience or on who you listen to. Wikipedia says each trip runs eight hours, which calculates out to 792 straight hours of driving. But TASVideos says the time is “41 days, 17 hours, 15 minutes and 6 seconds” -- or 1001+ hours.

More humor comes from Penn's story of the inspiration behind the game. He says the game was a reaction to the then-current controversy over the violence of video games. The joke was to create a real life scenario that was as boring as, well, reality. (Of course, any bus driver will recognize the reality flaw in the game: the nirvana of nothing happens never happens.)

As it turns out, the video game is not completely violence-free. Gamers report that about five hours into the drive, a bug gets splattered on the windshield.

LoadingReadyRun launched its first “Desert Bus For Hope” campaign in November, 2007. That marathon game lasted 4 days and 12 hours and raised $22,805. This year’s game ran for five days and 21 hours and raised $208,349.82. Since it’s inception, the team has raised over $442,000 for Child’s Play.

Contributions to Child’s Play can be made any time of the year to either the hospital of your choice or directly to Child's Play itself. Contributing to a hospital is more interesting because the site directs you to that hospital’s “wish list” on Amazon. I can see, for example, that, among other things, UNM Children’s is looking for three copies of the Ninetendo video game Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Time.

It’s pretty cool how a bunch of gamers have gotten together to provide diversionary entertainment to hospitalized kids. And it’s pretty wonderful how a sketch comedy team has taken the gaming theme and turned "the most boring video game ever" into an entertaining fund raiser.


The photo at the top of this story comes from the website TorrentFreak. Busboy is especially fond of the timely "Christmas tree" air freshener hanging from the mirror.

I’m indebted to Mrs. Busboy for bringing the Desert Bus For Hope story to my attention and suggesting it as a Christmas bus story. Thanks, love.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

BUS STORY # 214 (The Conversation Starter)

Bus Pass, originally uploaded by busboy4.

The conversation began when a rider pointed to a bus pass lying on the seat between us.

“Careful you don’t lose your pass,” he told us before exiting the rear door.

“Thanks," I said, even though it wasn’t mine.

The woman on the other side of the ticket laughed and said, “I’ll bet that’s from yesterday.”

She picked it up and turned it over. Bingo.

“Well, he was being thoughtful,” I offered, and she agreed.

The conversation might have lapsed at that point. But after a brief pause, she pointed out most of the school kids weren’t on the bus this morning. She thought it was called something like “fall break,” but she wasn’t getting any fall break. She was on her way to her pre-school class of four and five year olds.

I said something about the challenges of having a roomful of pre-schoolers.

She laughed and said they kept her on her toes, but they were good kids.

How many in the class?


So how long had she been teaching?

The kids? Three years.

Where else had she taught?

That, she said, was a long story.

By this time, I’d stuck my magazine into my backpack and turned in my seat toward her. She was Native American, maybe early 50s. Long dark hair pulled back tightly into a bun. Brown leather car coat, dark blue unwrinkled jeans, yellow work boots.

She’d worked 13 years in Window Rock at a shelter for battered women. One of the things she did was facilitate healing ceremonies for the women in the shelter. I got the sense this was a critical first step in getting the women to start moving in a constructive direction.

Window Rock told me she must surely be Navajo, but she did not have the characteristic Navajo cadence to her speech. In fact, she sounded like any of my well-educated, non-Native American, female coworkers. However, she did have the Navajo mannerism of not looking directly at me. She mostly kept her eyes on the seat across the aisle from me. I adopted the same mannerism, fastening on a pair of black shoes with Velcro straps up on the rear platform, and for the most part was able to maintain it for the remainder of the ride.

I told her 13 years in a women’s shelter sounded like emotionally draining work, and asked how she managed to keep from becoming burnt out.

She told me funding got cut and she lost her job. She said she came to Albuquerque to live with her daughter while she tried to figure out what to do next. She did get a job at a women’s shelter here, but quickly decided she was ready to leave this work behind.

I found myself wondering if being a Navajo among so many non-Navajo women meant she found herself unable to connect as effectively with her clients, or if there was a loss of passion for those who were not her own people, or if she found herself devalued or dismissed because she was Native American. Or maybe going back to the work simply made her realize how much she really didn’t want to do this anymore.

The school job just sort of fell into her lap, and she regarded it as a gift. She did find it humorous that she thought she’d left raising kids behind when her own children left home.

There was another pause, and then she added, “I also used to fight forest fires.”

“Were you a Hot Shot?” I asked, surprised and impressed.

“No, just a regular fire fighter.”

She proceeded to tell me how she’d done this work for five summers, and how she’d gone all over the country. Her last fire was in the mountains of North Carolina, and before that, the one in Raton -- I might remember that one . . .

I didn’t, but I did notice she’d become more animated remembering and telling me about those forest fire days. Something in her telling reminded me of a Joni Mitchell line: “I was a free man in Paris/I felt unfettered and alive.

And then we were at her stop.

“Have a good day,” she told me as she headed for the door.

And just like that, she was gone.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

BUS STORY # 213 (Some Things Are Universal)

Morning Bus Ride, ⓒ All Rights Reserved, originally uploaded by joeysee.

I’m watching what I’ve already assumed is a couple get on the bus.

It’s not that I’m an exceptionally perceptive guy. First, this is a middle-of-the-block stop, and there’s just the two of them. Second, the two of them are male and female who look to be around the same age. And: they are both black.

So I’m watching this man and woman board the bus, put their money in the fare box, then promptly upset my assumption by sitting in different seats. She takes the seat in front of me -- a window seat on the driver’s side of the bus -- and busies herself with her shopping bag and her purse. He takes the window seat directly across the aisle from her and looks out the window.

I have just finished processing this with the old saw, "Never assume, for it makes an ASS out of U and ME,” when the woman starts talking out loud. I don’t know who she’s talking to because she’s looking at the partition behind the driver’s seat. And I don’t know what she’s saying because she’s speaking a foreign language.

The man across the aisle answers her -- in a foreign language! The same foreign language, I assume.

I look over, and he’s looking at her. And now that I’m looking at him, I conclude they’re speaking an African language or dialect.

It’s not just that the sounds have no discernible trace of the Indo-European languages. It’s also that he now looks African to me, in the way the South African faces in the crowds or the Ghana soccer players looked African when I watched some of the World Cup games this summer. African, as distinct from African-American.

On the other hand, looking at the woman in front of me, I can’t see anything distinctly African about her at all. The only thing I notice is that, as the conversation continues, she continues to look straight ahead.

He continues to look at her when he answers, and now I see he’s using hand and arm gestures when he answers that don’t look at all American to me.

Still, I know something of what’s going on here. It’s there in the vocal tones, body language, and where the man is concerned, facial expressions. And that’s how I will realize later that neither of them is from Africa. He is from Mars; she is from Venus.

Some things are universal.

* This story was revised 12/7. See comments for discussion.

The photo at the top of this story is titled “Morning Bus Ride” ⓒ All Rights Reserved, and is posted with the kind permission of joeysee. You can see this photo at:

You can see all joeysee’s photos at:
Photo by JoeySee