Sunday, January 30, 2011

BUS STORY # 221 (One Driver’s Story)


Green Line At Tramway, originally uploaded by busboy4.


I’m the only rider boarding the Green Line up by Tramway this morning.

The driver is still young, but the bloom of her youth looks to be near the end of August. Maybe she has a family, maybe not. I have this image of someone who floundered a bit after high school before landing at ABQ RIDE. The usual dull progression.

Once again, as I’m about to find out, what do I know!

We’re getting ready to pull back onto Central when she starts talking about a rider who was telling her how much he hated riding the bus. He can’t wait to have his car back. We get to talking about riders and drivers and traffic, and I move up to the bench seat just across from her to make the conversation easier.

I ask her how long she’s been driving. Eight years. But not all eight with ABQ RIDE.

She started out driving a school bus in a small, semi-rural community. But having all that responsibility for all those kids made her uneasy. After we invaded Iraq, she got an opportunity to drive a bus transporting troops. She took it.

Eventually, she went to Baghdad.

Driving in Baghdad was interesting. She explains how she always had great protection, how most of our security had been outsourced to private contractors, and how all these guys were ex-SWAT or ex-Special Forces -- people who knew what they were doing. She says they’d get on in the mornings with their weapons at the ready and tell her how they sure hoped today was the day somebody was gonna try something. She let them know she did not share their hopes.

I wonder how her security would have protected her from an IED. But then I think she was surely only driving inside the Green Zone. Still, I can’t believe the thought didn’t live with her every time she drove.

After Iraq, she taught driving safety courses and started driving for ABQ RIDE.

She’s big on safe driving. She describes the “five second rule” which prescribes a safe, city driving following distance. “You should be able to count to five -- one-one thousand, two-one thousand, and so on, between you and the vehicle ahead of you.” She says you should come to a stop behind another vehicle so that you can see their rear tires. This gives you room to move around the vehicle if that becomes necessary. She also prefers the middle lane which, as a bus driver, she can’t really use most of the time.

She says she can drive the bus all day and not get frazzled by the traffic until she’s driving home in her car after her shift. If she could, she’d take the bus to and from work.

I’m thinking of the old conundrum, “Who does the washer woman’s wash?” I smile at the irony of a bus driver who prefers taking the bus but who has to drive her car to her bus driving job because there’s no bus service.

And then I smile at the symmetry of how this conversation began: a rider who preferred driving his car to taking the bus.

And then I smile at my casual assumption hers would be “the usual” dull story.

Turns out we share a strategy for keeping our cool during rush hour: leaving early and listening to classical music. I’m thinking of a classical music station in Dallas that has a special program during the morning and evening peak traffic times. It’s called “Road Rage Remedy” and features especially soothing classical music.

As we get closer to town and take on more riders, our conversation dwindles. I find myself wondering more about her. Is she happy to be safely settled into driving a bus in Albuquerque? Does she miss the glory days in Iraq? Would she rather be doing something else somewhere else?

I’m glad she’s here at ABQ RIDE. Although I don’t recall seeing her before, I’ll always recognize her from now on. And I’ll be conscious of feeling extra safe and secure knowing she's my driver.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

BUS STORY # 220 (Shorts 18)


4 bus back ends, originally uploaded by busboy4.


He’s got on a knit watch cap but no earbuds. He’s got a personal size spiral notepad in his left hand and a pencil in his right. Right now, the pencil is keeping time along with his head to some inaudible beat. He’s looking at the notebook and mouthing words to the beat. Then he stops, writes in the notebook, resumes the silent mouthing and the beat. Hip-Hop? R&B? Poetry on the bus?

***

Sitting on the inbound Lomas, I notice a half-smoked cigarette lying on the floor between the seats in front of me. A little while later, I see a high school student pick it up and put it in his T-shirt pocket. If I were writing fiction, he would have been an old man who was spending a lot of time on the street. But I suspect the two of them have this in common: neither is thinking about cleaning up the litter.

***

A black guy boards the Rapid, walks back to the aisle-facing seats just before the pivot, and swings up into the seat. He looks across the aisle at the white woman facing him, and his face lights up. He jumps down, steps into the aisle, leans over and kisses her on the cheek, then retakes his seat. They begin an animated conversation about how glad they are to see one another, and they begin catching each other up with all the goings-on in their lives. But this conversation is a little different. He’s articulating very clearly and very loudly while simultaneously signing to her. She answers back with what is clearly a serious speech impediment, but she does not sign. Just as fascinating is how clearly joyous this conversation is for both of them.

***

As we’re rolling through the intersection with Menaul, I see the No. 8 a block away and also heading for the intersection. It occurs to me there may be someone on that bus watching us roll through the intersection and thinking “Dang! Just missed it.” Our driver pulls into the first stop past the intersection and pops the doors. Nobody’s there. Nobody’s getting off. He sits there. Can it be? Is he possibly waiting to see if someone was trying to transfer from the 8 to our bus? A couple minutes later, a young guy comes into view on the sidewalk rapid-walking his bike. He goes to the front of the bus, loads it on the rack, then boards. All right driver!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

BUS STORY # 219 (GRH: This Is Cool)


It’s early Wednesday morning on January 12 when I click on ABQ RIDE’s Facebook page and notice a post from January 4: “How many of you have heard of GRH?”

Not me.

So I click on the link and read:
GRH stands for Guaranteed Ride Home. It is a form of insurance for commuters who regularly use alternative modes of transportation instead of the Single Occupancy Vehicle (SOV). [That’s “car” or “truck” or “motorcycle” in English.] When you choose to carpool, vanpool, ride the bus, bike, or walk to work or school at least 3 times a week, you will not be stranded should an emergency arise. In case of an emergency, this program gives you a FREE ride to your destination(s)*.
This is cool, I think to myself. But what is that asterisk at the end of the last sentence? I suspect fine print that will make this GRH less cool than it sounds.
*GRH only provides trips within the ABQ RIDE bus route service area.To view ABQ RIDE's service area view our System Map.
Oh, OK. Perfectly reasonable.

So when could I use it?

Examples of valid GRH emergencies:
1. Illness at work or school.
2. Personal medical emergency.
3. Family member is ill.
4. Family member emergency.
5. Left stranded by a carpool or vanpool.
6. Missed the last scheduled bus pick up.
7. Unscheduled overtime after arriving at work.
8. Problems with bicycle.
9. Any VALID emergency.
*Please Note: Use will be limited to FIVE GRH rides per calendar year, beginning on your registration date. Requests must be for rides to HOME from the workplace or school. Ride requests that originate from a residential address will be refused.

That “unscheduled overtime after arriving at work” catches my attention. That’s happened.

“Missed the last scheduled bus pick up.” ABQ RIDE is right: that one is a big concern. I’ve come too close for comfort more than once.

So how does it work?

It's easy, it's fast, and it's convenient!
1. Register with the GRH office (243-RIDE).
2. Dial the quick-ride dispatch number that you will be given when you register for GRH.
3. A driver will be sent to your location.
4. Present your GRH ID card*, or simply state that you are with the GRH program.
5. Tell the driver your destination(s).
6. When you arrive at your final destination, you will be asked to review and sign the GRH voucher provided by your driver. Your ride will be paid for by ABQ RIDE.


*Your GRH Card will be mailed to you upon receipt of your GRH Registration Form.
So how do I sign up?

4 Easy Ways to Register Today!
1. Complete the attached form from the brochure and mail to ABQ RIDE.
2. Fax a completed form to us at 764-3196.
3. Stop by our Customer Service Center located at: 100 1st Street, SW .
4. Register on-line by clicking HERE.
OK. Your guaranteed ride probably won't look anything like the MOV* at the top of this story. It'll probably look more like this:


small bus, originally uploaded by ed penguin.

But it's still cool.
__________

*Multiple Occupancy Vehicle, of course...
__________

The photo at the top of this story is titled “Pink Limo” ⓒ All Rights Reserved and is posted with the kind permission of tipper *. You can see this and all tipper *’s photos on Flickr at: http:/www.flickr.com/photos/63701271@N00/2465234084/

The photo at the bottom of this story is titled "small bus" and is posted with the kind permission of ed penguin. You can see this and all ed penguin’s photos at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ed2_penguin2/5352767335/

Sunday, January 09, 2011

BUS STORY # 218 (“As You Can Tell, I’ve Had A Problem With Alcohol Today”)


Choose Your Ride Tonight, originally uploaded by busboy4.


It’s later than usual, and when I board the bus, there are only half a dozen other riders on board. I swing into an empty seat and start taking off my hat and gloves.

Across the aisle, a woman is applying Chapstick. Over and over and over again. Then she puts the tube in her purse.

Next thing I know, she’s holding a blue plastic squeeze bottle over her upturned head. She’s using it to irrigate her eyes. The rocking of the bus makes it a challenge.

After she puts the bottle back in her purse, she looks around, spots me, and gives me a well-hello-there smile.

Let’s just say my guardian angel doesn’t have to go into alert mode.

I flash a quick smile of acknowledgment, then start rearranging my stuff.

A short while later, we pass a car dealership. She turns to me and says, “I didn’t know they sold Jeeps here.”

I explain it’s a Chrysler dealership, and it’s been there a long time.

She knows that, she just didn’t know they sold Jeeps there.

There’s a pause, then she says she misses her car.

I ask what happened to her car.

It’s in the driveway.

What’s wrong with it?

She ran into something.

A brief pause.

“I got a DWI.”

She goes on to explain that she woke up in the hospital and found herself handcuffed to the bed. Then she woke up again and the handcuffs were gone. She figured they were needed elsewhere.

A month later, she got a call saying the paperwork was filed all wrong, and she wasn’t going to be prosecuted. Then another month later, she got a call from the D.A.’s office saying they got the paperwork filed correctly and she was going to be prosecuted.

I ask if this is her first time.

Yes.

Does she know why she did it?

She was fighting with her boyfriend.

Pause.

“And I have a problem with alcohol.”

She says she deserved the ticket, and she doesn’t know how she’s ever going to stop drinking.

I ask if she’s ever thought about AA.

She turns her head to the window and doesn’t answer.

A few blocks later, we reach her stop. She turns in her seat and tries to stand up. She has to lean forward and grab the vertical bar by my seat to pull herself up. She pulls up slowly.

When she’s upright, she looks at me and says, “As you can tell, I’ve had a problem with alcohol today.”

I wish her luck, and watch as she makes her way, slowly and carefully, out the rear door.

You Drink, You Drive, You Lose, originally uploaded by busboy4.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

BUS STORY # 217 (Proactive)


Cockeyed, originally uploaded by busboy4.


“Pardon me, but do you know how far is the school for the blind?”

She looks to be in her early 40s. Trim, nice blouse. Big, stylish sunglasses and hair rolling over her shoulders. Nice arms, too -- smooth skin, good muscle tone. She reminds me of a girlfriend from about a hundred lifetimes ago except for the bottom of the tear drop tattoo seeping out from under her right lens, and the small, circular tattoo on her neck. Pity, I think to my old man self.

I tell her the Institute for the Blind is the first stop past Gibson.

She thanks me, then explains she’s starting classes there today. I ask her what kind of classes.

She tells me she’s been blind in her right eye since birth. It hasn’t really posed any problems for her until about two years ago, when the vision in her left eye started going bad. She says she’s had to change prescriptions four times in the last two years.

She’s asked her doctor why this is. He says after years of doing double-duty for the right eye, it’s wearing out. She understands the relationship between aging and wearing out. She’s 54 (!). But she doesn’t understand why, in this age of technological wonders, there isn’t something that can be done to stop the deterioration.

I ask her if she’s considered getting a second opinion. She has -- and a third, too, if she isn’t satisfied with the second.

So what does the Institute for the Blind have to offer a still sighted person, I ask.

Everything a blind person would need, she replies.

She doesn’t use the word, but she is being what, these days, we call “proactive,” and what my grandmother used to call “planning ahead.” She’s decided to start preparing herself now for the possibility she will eventually go completely blind.

I am impressed. It’s smart, but even more, it’s gutsy.

I tell her I hope this works for her like the umbrella theory. I explain: “If you go to the trouble of taking your umbrella with you when you go out, you won’t need it. It only rains when you decide not to take it.”

She laughs and tells me she hopes I’m right.

When we’re crossing Gibson, I tell her the next stop is hers, and I’m pulling the cord.

“Oh, I see it now -- across the street,” she says.

When the bus stops, she thanks me and I wish her good luck. Then I kick myself for pulling the cord for her, as if she were helpless. The last thing she is, and is likely ever to be, is helpless.