Sunday, March 27, 2011

BUS STORY # 229 ("Excuse Me")

delivery truck, originally uploaded by ed penguin.

The 66 is fairly full, with most folks toward the back of the bus. I take the window seat in the front row.

At the next stop, several more folks board. One of them, an older guy -- he could be my age -- takes the seat next to me.

“Excuse me,” he says after sitting down.

He settles in, and I realize he’s not starting a conversation; he’s apologizing for taking the empty seat beside me!

“No problem,” I reply quickly.

I’ve noted in a previous post that ABQ RIDE commuters are a pretty considerate bunch on the whole. More often than not, riders will stand rather than squeeze into an empty bench seat between two riders, or past a rider sitting in the aisle seat next to an empty window seat.

But this is an empty aisle seat, and my co-rider’s “excuse me” borders on being exquisitely thoughtful.

I wonder if its his age.

Then I wonder if this is a ridership characteristic unique to Albuquerque, or to small towns, or to the West, or if I would find the same thing riding daily in places like San Francisco or New York City or Seattle or Minneapolis.

It’s late Saturday night here on the 66, so it’s no surprise when one of the boarders at another stop is three sheets to the wind. When he passes by our row, he lurches into my seat mate, steadies himself, then continues stolidly on toward the back of the bus.

A few minutes go by, then my seat mate speaks.

“I don’t get it. Drinking, I mean. All you do is numb yourself up and go sticking your elbow in other peoples’ eyes just like he did to me, no ‘sorry,’ no nothing.”

This is a preamble to a non-stop This I Believe about alcohol and drinkers. It’s long on discipline and responsibility, short on disease and addiction. There’s enough heat to make me wonder if there’s a personal history of damage done that’s fueling the fire.

He marks his finish with an emphatic head shake.

There’s a brief moment of silence before he speaks again.

“Sorry. I didn’t mean to talk your ear off.”

We don’t exchange another word until we reach his stop. He gets up and wishes me a good “rest of your life.” Then he steps into the rest of Saturday night, stone cold sober.

The photo at the top of this story is titled "delivery truck" and is posted with the kind permission of ed penguin. You can see this and all ed penguin’s photos at:

Sunday, March 20, 2011

BUS STORY # 228 (The Charter School Teacher)

My seat mate starts a conversation by asking me where I work. I tell him and return the question. He’s a teacher. He teaches junior high at a charter school.

How long has he been doing this?

Teaching? All his adult life. Junior high, six years.

Junior high, I muse out loud, and shake my head. Toughest gig in teaching. I ask him how he keeps from burning out.

He says he burnt out teaching public high school. The charter school has actually been a relief.

He looks to be in his 50s, square, strong face, gray hair combed straight back, rimless glasses. He’s articulate.

I ask him why teaching junior high in a charter school is easier than teaching public high school.

He explains his current class size is 20 students. It’s at least 35, usually more, in the public schools. He says with the smaller size class, you can make a difference.

He also explains that the rules are tougher: some principles have a one-strike-and-you’re-out policy.

He also explains that parental involvement is extremely high at his school, a marked difference between this and his Albuquerque Public Schools experiences. “It makes a difference.”

I tell him I understand charter schools are for the, quote, non-traditional, unquote, students. I’ve taken that to mean largely teenaged parents.

He says it’s a lot more heterogenous than that. His experience is that the majority of the kids were behavioral problems, and that “75 percent” of them respond well to more individualized attention and greater discipline. He says charter school teachers do a lot of teaching outside class hours. He calls it “tutoring,” but I sense there is some counseling and example-setting rolled into the tutoring.

He goes on to explain how the most difficult and frustrating part of the job has nothing to do with teaching. It has to do with negotiating the bureaucracy. Or, rather, bureaucracies. It seems charter schools are required to strictly adhere to the policies of the State of New Mexico, and to the policies of Albuquerque Public Schools. The problem is that the two entities’ policies don’t always match, and sometimes contradict one another. If they follow state policy, they get dinged by APS. And vice versa.

The real problem is that too many dings threaten the school’s existence. He says they’ve already closed three charter schools.

So why do charter schools have to abide by APS policy?

Because they’re really part of the APS and are funded through APS -- at least, initially. He explains that after six years, the charter schools have to come up with their own funding -- grants, federal funds -- whatever is available. Later, I will realize I'm unclear as to whether or not APS has any financial obligation to the charter schools after six years.

What about tuition?

Absolutely not. They remain a public education enterprise. That’s why they get funding from APS. He does offer the opinion that APS is not fond of the charter schools because they cut into the APS share of funding. When I counter with the proposition that it’s still funding for public school students within the district, he suggests the issue is less money for APS administration.

He doesn’t say it, but what I hear is a situation in which APS might have a vested financial interest in seeing charter schools dinged out of existence. I’m wondering if there could be a method in the dueling policies madness.

He says he believes the new governor is serious about cutting the fat from APS, and that he anticipates a significant reduction in the administrative overhead. He’s for that: “The money would be better spent on the kids.” I'm not sure the money is going to be there for anybody, but I keep that thought to myself.

If he's right about the governor, I’m wondering if unemployed policy writers will soon be swelling the ranks of the unemployed.

He has his own concerns about being unemployed. If his school gets closed down, he says he’ll finish his career as a sub. He won’t go back into the public school system. He hopes it doesn’t come to that. He likes what he’s doing and where he is now -- even though it means a daily commute from the West Side.

“Makes for a long day,” he says.

After this encounter, I went on line looking for information about New Mexico charter schools. Here’s a link to FAQs for anyone who’s interested:

Sunday, March 13, 2011

BUS STORY # 227 (Pete’s NYC Bus Story)

New York City Transit Authority 1962 GM New Look Bus #2151, originally uploaded by Ottawa Bus Gallery.

You’re from New York City where they don’t say no prayers
Anything goes and no one really cares

-- Don Henley, from “You Better Hang Up.”

I recently reconnected with a grade school classmate I hadn’t seen or heard from in 50 years.  When we found out we were next door neighbors (so to speak: he lives in Phoenix), I started making plans for a weekend reunion.

We met in downtown Phoenix, a place more reminiscent of LA in the ‘50s than the Disneyland Scottsdale area I’m familiar with from a recent business trip. Pete had picked Macayo’s, an old and venerable Mexican restaurant which turned out to be right on the light rail line.

Pete and I had come to Dallas in the fourth grade, although neither of us knew that until that first night in Phoenix. I’d left Dallas after grade school, but Pete finished high school there before going to Arizona State for college.

His mother and father divorced while he was in high school, and his father moved to New York. Pete spent a summer up there working as a temp at his father’s place of business. He took the bus to and from work, and he told me a bus story about a young Dallas boy’s encounter with New York City ways.

He says he was sitting in a crowded bus when an old woman burdened with grocery bags came on board. Pete did what any Texas gentleman would have done back in the day: he stood up and offered her his seat.

As soon as he stood up, a man standing in the aisle behind him slipped into his seat. Pete was shocked, then recovered and explained he was giving up his seat for the old woman, not for him.

The guy ignored him.

Pete explained again the seat was meant for the old woman, and asked him to stand back up.

He told Pete what he could do with himself.

Pete said at this point he was aware that everyone else in the immediate area, including the old woman, was looking at him as if he were from another planet. He was also aware that he was angry, and he explained to the man he’d intended to give his seat to the old woman, and if the man didn’t vacate the seat of his own free will, Pete would do it for him.

The man started cussing him out roundly, but he got up. The woman, still looking stunned, and perhaps thinking she’d better do as the crazy kid said, took the seat.

When he told his father what had happened, his father explained that Pete wasn't in Texas anymore. But, he added, Pete had done the polite thing, just as he’d been raised to do, and his father was proud of him.

I’m happy to say -- and my wife agrees -- that Pete is still the kind of guy who'd notice, then offer his seat. We’re already planning an Albuquerque visit for Pete which will include taking the Rail Runner to Santa Fe for a get-together with yet another grade school classmate. I just hope it won’t be standing room only.

The photo at the top of this story is titled “New York City Transit Authority 1962 GM New Look Bus #2151” and is posted with the kind permission of Ottawa Bus Gallery. You can see this and all Ottawa Bus Gallery’s photos on Flickr at:

Sunday, March 06, 2011

BUS STORY # 226 (Outside The Box)

There’s a bunch of us watching the 222 coming up Randolph and heading for that right turn south on Yale, toward the airport.

It’s a tough turn these days because, in what must be the 5oth road repair project on this section of Yale in the past nine months, the outside southbound lane is a ditch, and the middle lane is blocked off by a row of construction saw horses with big-eyed orange lights.

That leaves a tight entrance into the inside lane with saw horses on the right and an elevated median with a traffic light pole on the left.

The driver has to really thread the needle here.

We watch the light turn green and the bus move forward. We watch the driver turn, then slow, then stop. He’s not gonna make it.

And he’s stuck.

He’s essentially crosswise now, pointing southeast. Going forward will put him up onto the median and into the signal light. But traffic is stacked up behind him and there is nowhere to back up.

Those of us watching from the street are quiet. Not one “He oughta” from the entire group -- and these are mostly guys, too.

The driver waits until the three northbound Yale lanes have cleared, then roars around the median and up the wrong side of the street.

There’s a mix of gasps, exclamations, and laughter from the group. A couple of guys give the driver a thumbs up, but I can see from his expression he is neither amused nor pleased with himself.

We see the first car come round the bend from the airport. It’s in the middle lane and the driver certainly has a clear view of the bus coming toward him on his side of the street.

Not too far up, there’s a breach in the median, an opening for vehicles trying to turn left onto Yale. The bus driver converts that to an escape route back to the right side of the street. He’s there well before the first car passes him.

We are all too thunderstruck to cheer. It takes a few seconds before the first nervous laughter clears the way for a scattering of all’s-well-that-ends-well comments.

And you sure aren’t gonna hear any “He should’ve” from me.