Sunday, May 29, 2011

BUS STORY # 238 (He Said)


Hearts On Fire , originally uploaded by busboy4.


They’ve been married 20 years, my co-rider explains, but things started going south when he lost his job.

He was making $50,000 a year, not enough to buy a home, but enough to raise a son and fully fund a 401k and an IRA. His wife was a stay-at-home mom, even when their son was in high school.

When he lost his job, he went down to the VA for help. But he felt they weren’t very adept at matching his skill set with prospective employers. Meanwhile, his wife continued to spend as she always had. In time, they began burning through his retirement savings. They had their first fights over money.

A few months later, still unemployed, doing his own job searches alongside the VA effort, he suggested she might look for work herself. She didn’t think it was worth the effort for minimum wage. He thought minimum wage would be better than nothing. The relationship cooled off considerably after that exchange.

One day, he cleaned up the kitchen and the living room. That made her angry. She took it as a criticism of her housekeeping skills. He suggested as much when he explained he only did it because it needed doing.

Then she started getting upset when he did the laundry, even though he’d been doing the laundry even before losing his job. He said he’s never minded doing the laundry.

One day, he went to another VA referral. The prospective employer told him he didn’t have a job for him, but given his experience, he knew exactly who he needed to go see. He made the call, set up the appointment. My co-rider went for the appointment and was hired on the spot.

The timing couldn’t have been better; his savings were exhausted. It didn’t pay the $50K he’d earned before at his old job, but it was enough to pay the rent, buy the groceries, take care of school and household expenses. But, he explained to his wife, not enough to continue the allowance he’d always provided.

His wife got a job. He’s pretty sure that was a "tipping point."

He’s also taken to working an extra half-day every weekend. He gets overtime, but the real reward is getting out of the house. He cranks the radio, busies himself for a few hours with stuff he can’t get done during the week when other people are around.

Afterwards, he does the laundry, away from home. He does the laundry away from home because she doesn’t want him tying up the washer and dryer when she needs it. But she never seems to get around to his laundry in a timely manner.

He doesn’t mind. Keeps him out of the house a little longer. Besides, he’s never minded doing the laundry.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

BUS STORY # 237 (Two Old Guys Have A Conversation)


After writing last week’s story about controversial bus advertisements, I overheard this conversation between two old guys. I was especially attuned because I go to the same barbershop and went to the same barber these guys were talking about. But I don’t think I’d have thought of it as Bus Story material before last week’s post. It occurs to me that this is the kind of conversation that makes riding the bus and interacting with one’s fellow riders a pleasant and positive experience. I prefer this to whatever fireworks might be generated by an argument between two riders over religion or politics. I think all of us just want to have a nice day, thank you.

An old guy boards, works his way down the aisle, nods toward another old guy in an aisle seat, then takes the aisle seat across from him.

“You’re riding late this morning.”

“Yeah, I’ve got an appointment at the VA.”

“What do you do? Catch the 16-18?”

“I get off at San Mateo and catch the San Mateo bus. It goes right into the VA, you know.”

“Oh, yeah, yeah.”

There’s a pause. Then the VA guy says, “I looked at myself in the mirror this morning, and I need to get my ears lowered.”

“Where do you go?”

“That place up near Menaul...It’s at the corner of Menaul and Juan Tabo, at the end of -- “

“The Foothills.”

“Yeah, that’s it.”

“I’ve been going there for years.”

“That’s my barbershop. I’ve been going there for years, too.”

“Yeah, I go to the girl in the back, you know, the one with dark hair, there in the back. I think her name is Lucy*”

“Yeah, I got a couple of ones I always go to.”

“You can’t beat the price.”

“That’s for sure.”

There is a pause.

“You remember the old Navy guy used to have the chair in the corner there on the left?”

“Oh, yeah. He was my barber. He died, what? A year ago?”

“Yeah, we swapped a lot of sea stories. I was in the Navy for 30 years.”

“I’ll bet you did.”

“He was always worried about his wife. I think she had cancer.”

“I think that’s right.”

“I didn’t know his health wasn’t good.”

“Well, I think he started going downhill after that motorcycle accident. I think he was in a lot of pain after that.”

“Yeah, he went into the VA for something, and he never came out.”

“I can’t remember his name.”

“Me, either.”

“There’s always a lot of turnover there. But he was always there.”

“Yeah, it took me a while to find somebody else. Then they moved on. But there’s a couple of girls there now that are good.”

“Where do you live?”

“Up near Turner.”

“That the closest barbershop?”

“I’ve been going there for years. I just catch the Juan Tabo.”

Roger.* His name was Roger.”

“That’s it.”

There’s a lull in the conversation. The bus arrives at San Mateo.

“Nice talking to you.”

“Same here. You have a good day.”

“I plan to.”

“Beautiful day out there.”

“Yes it is.”

The VA guy exits, and his co-rider and I watch him making his way toward the San Mateo stop. And then we move on.
__________

*Real name changed.
__________

The photo at the top of this story is titled “Bus Ride down the Strand” ⓒ All Rights Reserved and is posted with the kind permission of Reds.. You can see this and all Reds.’ photos on Flickr at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/reds42/3485936746/

Sunday, May 15, 2011

BUS STORY # 236 (In Your Face)


We Are Not For Sale!, originally uploaded by busboy4.


Back near the end of 2007, I wrote a story about how wraps had begun changing the impact of advertising on the bus. (You can read it here.)

The reaction fell into two camps: 1) it was a tacky sell-out of a municipal service; 2) it was better than raising fares. Both camps were not necessarily mutually exclusive.

Ever since, as far as I can tell, it’s been a non-issue here in Albuquerque. The wrap ads have been dominated by casinos, attorneys, and Shelton Jewelers, while the sideboards predominately promote syndicated television series reruns and local events.

What has disappeared are the posters inside the bus. Most are now public service displays (although one of the casinos is promoting a “star search” campaign).

Probably the most provocative wrap we’ve seen is the current one highlighting a national campaign against human trafficking.

Since the overwhelming majority of us agree human trafficking is a bad thing, there’s virtually no controversy here.

However, in other communities, controversial advertising on the bus has riled some of the ridership, vexed municipal transit companies, and gotten folks involved who don’t live in the community, or even the state, where the ads have appeared.

The first such controversy I am aware of began in the fall of 2008 in London. A comedy writer and an atheist organization teamed up to respond to a series of religious advertisements they found offensive with a sideboard declaring “There’s probably no God.” (You can read the story here.)

That drew cries of protest and a counter bus advertising campaign by a Christian coalition. (I posted a story about the controversy in the spring of 2009. You can read it here.)

Following the London flap, the atheist-Christian bus ad conflict worked its way through a number of cities world wide, including here in the U.S. and in Canada. (You can read one of many, many stories here.)

Around the same time the London story broke, another, decidedly more secular, story broke in Boston about how some riders -- and drivers -- were offended by some of a series of bus ads being run by a local fresh fish purveyor. (You can read the story here.)

Tellingly, the debate came down to an interpretation of the MBTA’s “court-approved” guidelines for advertising.

A year later, in Seattle, bus advertising became more controversial and much less entertaining when King County Metro Transit accepted an ad alleging Israeli war crimes. A counter anti-Islamist ad campaign was submitted to the transit system, and the battle was on. (You can read one of the stories here.)

At the heart of the debate was whether the original ad conformed with Metro’s advertising guidelines. Big surprise: There was disagreement over whether it did or did not.

Emotions escalated on both sides, and the county sheriff was concerned: "In particular, I was concerned about innocent bus riders being converted into human billboards" on buses carrying the ads. The fear was that those buses might be targeted the way they have been in Israel -- by both sides, depending on which ad the bus was carrying.

Metro ended up electing not to run either ad and was quickly sued for violating the Constitutional right of free speech. (You can read the story here.)

The case is still not settled. However, last month, King County Metro amended its advertising policy to specifically prohibit:

• Political advertising promoting or opposing a political party; the election of any candidate or group of candidates for federal, state or local government offices; and initiatives, referendums and other ballot measures;
 
• Public issue advertising expressing or advocating an opinion, position or viewpoint on matters of public debate about economic, political, religious or social issues;

(You can read the story here.)

While Seattle waits for a federal court decision on the free speech issue, Trimet of Portland is adjusting to a state court decision upholding a plaintiff’s claim that refusing an add violated plaintiff’s right to free speech. (You can read the story here.)

The free speech in question was an anti dams-on-the-Klamath-River poster.

(You can see the website here.)

The Oregon State Court Of Appeals says Trimet violated the right to free speech when it rejected this ad based on its guidelines of accepting only commercial and public service advertising. (The challengers questioned the public service neutrality of some ads previously allowed.)

Trimet is appealing the decision to the state supreme court. But in the meantime, it finds itself pretty much in the position of having to accept any commercial or political ad submitted by anyone. They’re a little nervous about sex-related business submissions: they feel they will be compelled to accept such advertising.

Finally, if things weren’t bad enough, consider this story from the New York Times:

On School Buses, Ad Space For Rent

Here is Busboy’s take on all of this:

I’m fortunate to be living in a backwater state where a bus is still for transportation and a school bus is still for getting our kids to school. We have a tradition of live and let live, of getting along with our neighbors, of actually finding it interesting there’s a bunch of other people not just like us. And: A lot of us live together with those other people in the same neighborhoods.

I don’t know about you, but when I think of riding on a bus which carries some sort of antagonistic socio-politico-religious advertising which might make my bus some kind of target for offended parties, I’m not likely to agree that riding the bus is less hassle than driving.

Nor is such advertising the sort of conversation-starter I’m looking for with my co-riders. Most of us are just trying to get to work or get home or otherwise take care of business without the intrusion of conflict and incivility. And when we do have conversations, I’d rather hear about people’s real lives than about some advertiser’s manipulative agenda.

How many of us have ever had our positions changed by an advertisement or a bumper sticker? Conversely, how many of us have become even more intransigent in our positions after seeing an ad or bumper sticker which challenges the truth or the integrity or the wisdom of our positions? Most of these ads just add more anger and tension to our lives. Who of us needs more of this?

There is a time and place for such discussions, but public transportation isn't the place, and commuting isn't the time. When Seattle’s Metro amended its advertising policy, Metro spokeswoman Linda Thielk explained, “We’re not here to serve as a mobile debate club.” To which I respond: “Amen, brothers and sisters.”

You can take a look at ABQ RIDE’s advertising policy guidelines here. I can’t imagine how they could be any more clear, to-the-point, and all-inclusive than they are.

But I’m not a lawyer.

And I know you can’t stop progress. It’s just a matter of time before some of that American culture currently plaguing the outer 49 seeps into New Mexico and turns up at ABQ RIDE.

I’m always on the lookout for a good bus story, but it’ll be a sad day when stories about people hot and bothered and bothering each other with their political or religious or cultural persuasions become commonplace.

When the time comes, and it probably will, let’s hope the good sense in the current ABQ RIDE advertising policy guidelines is rigorously followed, then left intact by the judicial system.


Have A Nice Day!, originally uploaded by busboy4.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

BUS STORY # 235 (Portrait # 12: The Reader)


I’d noticed her the day before. Or, rather, I’d noticed her hair, partly because it was all I could see of her, and partly because it reminded me of my wife’s.

My wife’s hair is silver-white, and it hangs straight. I still remember the time she told me she was tired of getting colored and permed, and how it was so damaging to her hair. And expensive. I told her if she was doing that for me, it wasn’t necessary.

She gave going natural a try. I’ve had a fondness for her hair ever since. So when I see the same hair on other women, I look.

That’s how I noticed my co-rider the day before, sitting at the driver’s end of the bench seat in the front, with a half dozen people between us blocking the view of anything more of her.

But this morning, the bus is emptier than usual. And so, when she boards and takes the same seat in front, I can see all of her now.

Her hair is more gray than silver, and it’s a little longer than my wife’s. She’s wearing a parka-like coat, jeans, and gray hiking boots. She’s got a red backpack and she’s carrying a trade-size paperback.

There is one person between us, a student who looks junior high to me. She flashes him a smile, and I see she’s missing two front teeth, the ones on the left. It’s still a nice smile. In fact, the missing teeth somehow make it all the more charming. She begins removing her backpack, and I notice she doesn’t let go of her book.

Once she’s settled, she smiles at the student again and begins a conversation with him. I can’t hear it. But in a short while, he pulls the cord.

When he gets up, she reaches out with her right hand -- her book is in her left -- and they shake. He goes and stands by the driver and waits there for his stop. I sense this kid was discomforted at being drawn into a conversation with this stranger of an adult.

She doesn’t look disappointed or discouraged. She unzips her coat a little, then takes off her glasses and hangs them in the zipper’s notch. She is still holding onto the book.

With her glasses off, her eyes are suddenly pretty. I feel a little shock when I look at her face and realize she must have been a looker in her day. Still is, really -- although I wouldn’t have seen that in junior high. The eyes, of course, but also a nice set of cheekbones and a fine nose.

She opens the book, curls the front page around the spine (ouch!) and begins. She’s holding the book in her left hand, and moving the little finger of her right along the rows of print. She mouths the words.

She’s focused from this point on. Once, there is a burst of laughter from the back which causes her to look up, smile (nice smile), then back to the book. I notice that, after a while, she quits using her finger to follow the lines, and the mouthing becomes less pronounced.

When a new rider boards and sits down beside her, she puts the book in her lap, smiles at her, and begins a conversation. After a while, she returns to the book, and to using her finger and distinctly mouthing the words.

When I get off, she’s back to just a murmuring of the reading.

How long has she been riding my bus? Was yesterday the first time, or just when I first noticed her? I can’t believe I didn’t notice her earlier. But, then, it took me a while to notice my wife that first time. Of course, that was before she’d gone natural.
__________


The photo at the top of this story is titled “RedReader” and is posted with the kind permission of JimScolman. You can see this and all JimScolman’s photos on Flickr at:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/jscolman/153926974/

Sunday, May 01, 2011

BUS STORY # 234 (Celebrating Five Years On ABQ RIDE)


Anniversary, originally uploaded by busboy4.


In some ways, it feels like I’ve been doing this forever. Riding the bus has become part of my daily routine. It feels strange when I don’t take the bus.

This month marks the fifth anniversary of my experiment with riding the bus instead of taking the car. It may have felt like a long, strange trip in the beginning, but not anymore.

As I wrote in my very first bus story, I was motivated by a combination of concern for the environment, the rising cost of gasoline, and the appearance of free bus passes courtesy of my employer who was experiencing a shortage of parking space.

OK, it’s true: it was the financial angle that finally got me off my cachangas.

But it’s been the experience that’s really kept me interested. This, of course, is where Bus Stories have come from. I started writing those a couple of months later, because I didn’t want to forget them.

In these five years, ABQ RIDE has come a long, long way. First and foremost to me is the schedule. Buses are more on time than ever. We may wish for more routes and for more frequent runs on our routes, but the reliability of the routes we have is more important.

The buses are more dependable. The purchase of new buses has greatly reduced those times the bus doesn’t show up because it broke down somewhere upstream. No bus is usually worse than a late bus -- especially when the weather isn’t its usual wonderful Albuquerque self.

The drivers are more professional than ever.

I am in awe of how they keep their cool. Just last night, waiting for the Rapid, I was watching the Green Line heading for the stop when a kid dropped a coin that bounced into the street. He ran right into the lane without looking to pick it up. Big screeching of brakes as the bus shuddered to a stop. The kid looked up, surprised, laughed, jumped back on the sidewalk. When I boarded, I said something like that kid was lucky he didn’t end up a bug splatter on the windshield. The driver just shook his head. Just another day in the life of. The kid has no idea how indebted he is to that driver.

Speaking of the Rapid, there’s another wonderful innovation. Three lines that span much of the city with stops only about a mile apart. We’d like to see more Rapid Ride routes, but we’re grateful for the three we have.

Bus passes and the elimination of transfer slips. I’m not sure why, but ever since this innovation, there’ve been no bus stories about boarders and drivers haggling over the fare. Less stress for everybody.

There is a slow but encouragingly incremental effort to integrate city service with regional transportation. ABQ RIDE has already done a good job integrating service with the Rail Runner. And we’re seeing efforts to provide more public transportation options to the folks in Rio Rancho.

The whole experience has me looking forward to two full-time retirements: the one from my job, and the other from my car.