Sunday, February 27, 2011

BUS STORY # 225 (Portrait # 11: Vintage)

Hip-Hop On The Bus, Gus, originally uploaded by busboy4.

An oversized white baseball cap sits over his ears. It has an embroidered dollar sign, white on white, on the front, and smaller dollar signs, also white, printed randomly over the rest of the cap. The bill points exactly sideways to his right, but he adjusts it several times, reorienting the bill in different directions, using the window as a mirror. I can see cornrows when he adjusts his cap.

He’s wearing Flavor Flav-size sunglasses even though it is still dark outside.

He has a large cube of glass in his right ear. I’m thinking it’s a good thing these are so ubiquitous, because otherwise, someone would have cut that ear off and run with it by now.

He’s wearing a black sweatshirt with a blue and yellow and white sports logo on the front. I spend a lot of time failing to decipher just what team it belongs to. I strike out on the sport, too. Finally, I conclude it’s a generic sports design, nothing more. That’s different, I think. It should have been a jersey, with a real team logo. But what do I know?

I check to see if he's sagging. He isn't.

He’s got some fancy sneakers that you can’t tell where the shoe ends and the sole begins.

In my day, he would have been nationwide. But this morning, he has the curious feel of a relic.

When he exits, I watch him take possession of the sidewalk going north. Most of him disappears into the dark, but I can still see the white cap bobbing in the darkness when we pull away.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

BUS STORY # 224 (Sarah, Part Two)

Lonely wait at bus stop, originally uploaded by net_efekt.

I’ve had to work late tonight. I’m hustling up the hill hoping not to miss the six p.m. 50 and already worrying about what time the 11 switches from running every 20 minutes to every hour. I’m relieved to see someone standing at the stop across Yale.

“Has the bus gone by to the airport yet?” I ask.

She hasn’t seen it yet. She says she is an hour late, that the bus runs every 30 minutes, and last night it was here at 5:03, so it should be here at 6:03. The precision catches my attention.

So does her apprehension. Her voice is tremulous. It’s dark, and light from the streetlamp, some ten feet on the other side of her, is blocked by a huge pine tree close to the sidewalk. I maintain what I hope is a reassuring distance, and I make small talk about the bus service.

She tells me about an incident on last night’s bus involving an inebriated rider. She says her “partner” worked as a security officer for Sound Transit up in the Seattle area and “she” always came home from work with stories, but this is the first time she herself has ever witnessed an incident.

I’m not sure if she’s out and proud, or if she’s signaling she’s not one of my kind so as to discourage any notions on my part.

I ask why her partner moved to Albuquerque.

The two of them came down from Tacoma together. Sarah* -- she will tell me her name later -- is a coder working as a contractor for a local HMO. This is her first job since finishing school in Seattle, then an internship in a small town east of the Cascades. She’s just completed two weeks of orientation, and this is her second day of work.

So she’s only been here a few weeks then.

Four, to be exact. After finishing her internship, she went back to Tacoma to try and find work. “I sent out a thousand résumés, and heard nothing back. Absolutely nothing.”

Meanwhile, her partner had moved from here to Tacoma to join her. Turns out they met on line.

Sarah says she thinks her partner developed SAD -- “you know, that Seasonal Affective Disorder.” She points out New Mexico gets a whole lot more sunshine than the Pacific Northwest. Yes it does, I tell her.

So when Sarah couldn’t find a job locally, she started looking out here with the idea of getting her partner back home and in a happier frame of mind. She got a hit from her new employer immediately.

They moved to Albuquerque.

The hardest thing, she adds, was leaving her kids behind.

Whoa, I think to myself, and I ask about her kids.

She has three daughters. This year, the oldest is a senior in college, the middle a senior in high school, and the youngest has just started high school.

Her oldest is pretty much on her own and is getting ready to start a teaching job.

Her middle child is very involved in school and extracurricular projects, and Sarah says she did not want to deprive her daughter of having a senior year which would cap a wonderful high school experience. “It just wouldn’t be fair to her.” The parents of a fellow student invited her to stay with them for her senior year.

The youngest has been somewhat of a problem ever since Sarah’s partner came to join her. They didn’t get along. Sarah’s ex-husband offered to take her in.

Sarah allowed this reluctantly. Her ex-husband, she explains, is bi-polar, and during their marriage attempted suicide several times. But he’s remarried, and seems to be doing much better with his current wife. His wife reassured Sarah her daughter was welcome in their home.

Her divorce was the beginning of a series of catastrophes that left her homeless for a period of time. (That experience could surely explain her wariness.)

She suffered not one, not two, but three automobile accidents, each of which totaled her car. She had insurance, but each accident raised her premiums and diminished her reimbursements to the point she could afford neither car nor insurance. That’s when she started taking the bus.

In between accidents, she lost her job.

She says she worked as an accountant for the Port of Seattle for 20 years. The economic collapse dominoed down to local governments who had to downsize. She knew two accounting positions in her department were going to be eliminated, but she was hoping seniority would protect her.

She said they called her in one morning and told her she had done an outstanding job, that the department was a better place for the contributions she had made, and that the Port had saved thousands of dollars because of her. Then they let her go.

She found herself among a lot of newly unemployed accountants looking for work in the Pacific Northwest. When she ran out of funds, she moved herself and her daughters out of their home and to a campground. She set her daughters up in a small camper trailer while she slept in her car. Her daughters were not happy. Neither was Sarah. But it was all she knew to do.

Although I didn’t get all the details, I heard enough to understand Sarah figured out the bureaucracy for getting various kinds of assistance, and she knows now she was slow to realize what help was out there. Assistance included medical coverage which, when she first used it, brought her the news she was diabetic.

It also must have included educational aid, because Sarah went back to school to become a coder. She says she was told there was a coming change in the current coding system, and that coders who knew the new coding would soon be in great demand.

She was also happy that, like accounting, coding didn’t require a lot of interaction with people. She tells me she’s not really an extrovert.

I think this is probably true. Even though she’s sharing a remarkable amount of personal history with me, it doesn’t just flow. She answers my questions, but for the most part, she’s leaving me to put the pieces together myself.

So why is she telling me any of this in the first place? I’m guessing she’s been needing to unburden herself, has no one else other than her partner to talk to, and here I am, asking questions and showing interest. The classic stranger in the night.

She finished her coding program with an out-of-town internship. I’m pretty sure her daughters were back in Tacoma since she doesn’t mention them. What she does mention is that she fell in love with another employee, a woman, who broke off the relationship near the end of her internship.

She loved the job, loved her employer, loved the town. They offered her a permanent job, but she felt unable to stay in such close proximity to the woman she still had feelings for. “And I would have had medical insurance,” she adds, weighing the loss.

Does she have insurance with her company here, I ask.

No, but she has gotten onto a plan at the University Hospital. On her very first visit, they told her she needed to start taking insulin. Also, she was suffering from altitude sickness. They told her that should pass in a few months after she’s adjusted to living here.

After finishing her internship, she returned to Tacoma. Somewhere between then and now, she met her new partner on line.

Happy ending? Well, not exactly. More like life goes on.

She’s had to start hiding her money from her partner, even though her partner has a job here. And when I say, “You’re kidding!” I see tears start rolling down her cheeks. “I had to do the same thing with my ex-husband,” she says. Then she says her partner has promised to start couples counseling in January.

She tells me there’s a Bible verse that says we need to forgive 7,777 times, and she’s started keeping track. The only scriptural calculation for forgiveness I know of is from one of the the Gospels, and that comes to 490. But I keep that to myself.

Just before we reach her stop, she tells me she feels fortunate she met me, and thanks me for showing her the Red Line alternative home. I wish her luck.

Riding on alone, I try to sort out all the strands I’ve heard this evening, but at first, all that comes to mind is the mournful lyric, “Nobody knows the trouble I seen.” God bless and keep you, Sarah.

*Real name changed.

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

Sunday, February 13, 2011

BUS STORY # 223 (Sarah, Part One)

back to basics #3, originally uploaded by mugley.

I met Sarah* at the bus stop. We’d both worked late and were waiting for the 6 p.m. No. 50.

We got to talking and discovered we both got home by transferring to the No. 11. When I explained I either walked across the UNM campus to catch the 11, or else walked down to The Frontier to catch the Red Line to Lomas, she told me she just rode downtown and transferred at the Alvarado.

She didn’t realize that, starting with the six o’clock, the 50 doesn’t go downtown. It turns around at Central and Yale and heads for the Yale Depot. This is when I learned she’d just started riding the bus.

After explaining how the schedule works, I offered to walk with her to The Frontier and get off with her at Lomas. Once she was on the 11, I knew she’d be more comfortable. I’m not sure she completely believed me until the 50 turned west on Lead.

Once she knew she wasn’t going to be going downtown this particular night, she took me up on my offer. She confided the street life on Central made her uneasy. I understood I was the less fearful alternative to going it alone.

Then she wanted to know how far The Frontier was. She told me she was suffering from altitude sickness and was having a lot of trouble getting her breath when she had very far to walk.

I told her we only had to walk a couple of blocks, and we would go as slow as she needed. Slow going it was. A Red Line passed us while we were crossing the intersection near The Satellite. She was mildly winded when we got to the station, but not in any distress.

We waited about 10 minutes for the Rapid Ride, then waited at Lomas and Louisiana another 15 for the 11. Her stop was past Eubank.

Altogether, that gave us better than an hour together. In that hour, Sarah told me much of her story. I got most of it by asking questions. Over time, she began to answer more expansively. Still, there were too many questions that didn’t have time to get asked. But what she did share with me was remarkable.

When I began writing this out, I tried combining the details of our ride together with the story Sarah shared with me during that ride. It made the story too long and too disrupted. So now that I’ve explained how I met Sarah, next week I’ll tell the rest of the story -- Sarah’s story.


*Real name changed.

The photo at the top of this story is titled “back to basics #3” and is posted with the kind permission of mugley. You can see this and all mugley’s photos on Flickr at:

Sunday, February 06, 2011

BUS STORY # 222 (New Bus Passes)

New Bus Passes from ABQ RIDE, originally uploaded from the City of Albuquerque website by busboy4.

Last week’s brutal winter storm marred the debut of ABQ RIDE’s new bus passes. It turned the transition from old to new from just being a little awkward to an uncomfortable inconvenience.

The day before, you made sure the pass hanging from your neck or clipped to your shirt was facing the driver, and took a seat. That next day, blasted by icy winds, you boarded, fumbled with your bag and your gloves, got your ticket either into the activation slot (“No, not like that. The other way.”) or the magnetic strip reader (“No, you’ve got it facing the wrong way...Now you’ve got it upside down.”), then found a seat and started figuring out what to do with your pass so you wouldn’t fold, spindle, mutilate, or just plain lose it while you were dealing with the rest of your stuff.

Boarding took longer, of course, and the cold took its toll.

One old guy took off his gloves to take his pass out of his wallet. His fingers were numb and he had trouble extracting it. He got it most of the way out when he dropped it. The wind threatened to blow it down the street, but somehow it got stuck to the floor of the bus. When he leaned down to pick it up, he dropped his wallet into the gutter just beneath the bus. He had one glove under his left armpit and the other in his teeth when he got to the reader.

The young guy behind him knelt down and retrieved the wallet for him. But he bent his own bus pass in the process.

Another rider realized after the bus had left the stop that she’d lost her glove somewhere between waiting in line and passing her card through the slot. It’s never a good thing to lose a glove. But it was a particularly bad thing on this particular day.

I’m working on my own cold weather strategy. Right now, I’m tucking it into the same pocket holder I used for the old pass. It’s handy, it’s protected, and it’s a designated and exclusive location which makes the pass harder to misplace.

But it also means dealing with a loose glove and cold-numbed fingers -- either that, or waiting until I’m at the reader to begin removing the glove and extracting the card. This latter won’t endear me to the people behind me or to the driver who’s trying to stay on schedule.

None of this will be a problem for anyone with two free and functional hands.

As for the rest of us, well, we’ll probably have something all worked out by the end of the month.

In the meantime, there is already discussion on the ABQ Bus Riders group on Duke City Fix about moving from the somewhat flimsy paper pass to a more durable and rechargeable card.

It’s a brave new world.

This illustration is taken from the City of Albuquerque website. You can see the illustration, but more important, read all about the new passes, here.