Sunday, July 31, 2011

BUS STORY # 247 (Baggage)

She’s a little bitty thing. Hard to say how old -- could be in her 60’s or 70s.

She boards with a bag in each hand which she sets down in front of the bench seats across from the driver. Then she goes back out the front door.

When she boards again, she has two plastic grocery bags in one hand and a cloth shopping bag in the other. She lays them along the floor next to her first two bags.

Then she goes back out the door.

She makes two more trips for a total of nine bags, the last two a pair of small but pretty hefty-looking duffel bags. These last two she places in front of the bench seats on the driver’s side since she’s run out of room on the opposite side. She occupies the one bench seat that isn’t blocked by the bags.

After settling in, she rummages through her purse and pulls out a turquoise handkerchief. She unfolds it, then begins to shake it violently over her purse. She pauses, looks at her purse, then starts again.

After a second pause, she starts scrubbing the top of the purse except there is no contact between the handkerchief and the purse.

After several more "scrubbings," she puts the handkerchief back in her purse, then pulls out a tube of lipstick. She holds the tube up to the light and gives it a good look. Then she moves it to her right ear and proceeds to have a phone conversation.

I can’t make out any of the words, but she has the tone down pat. It really sounds like she’s part of a two-way phone conversation.

Now that I think about it, she probably is.

The photo at the top of this story is titled “Kicked Out” ⓒ All Rights Reserved, and is posted with the kind permission of camera1. You can see this and all camera1’s photos on Flickr at:

Sunday, July 24, 2011

BUS STORY # 246 (Gabriela’s Bus Story #1)

This is one of those “Heard it from a friend who/Heard it from a friend who...” stories. But with a difference: I ultimately got to see a copy of the email train first-hand.

Gabriela* told her bus-riding coworkers she’d been thinking about taking the bus to work. But she didn’t think there was a practical route or schedule for where she lived.

Her coworkers told her to try the online Trip Planner. And so she did. That is where she discovered a route she could use which called for catching the 92 at Cedar and Martin Luther King.

She put in for a monthly bus pass from her employer, and when she got it, she went to try it out.

She was standing at the bus stop near the corner when she realized the 92 wasn’t going to stop for her. She tried waving the bus down. The driver did stop, did let her on, but was not happy about it. He said this was not a stop on his route. And, in truth, the bus stop only listed routes 9, 12, and 50. When Gabriela explained about the Trip Planner, he told her he didn’t care what the website said, he had his instructions.

Gabriela added that the driver was shouting all this at her, and she felt intimidated. Then she felt angry. At the encouragement of the other riders who had witnessed the exchange, she decided to report what had happened. And so she sent an email relating all this, and asking for an apology from the driver, to Rebecca Torres (no official title on the website, but I believe she functions as the Customer Service “point” person); Bruce Rizzieri (Director of ABQ RIDE), and Richard Berry (the mayor of Albuquerque).

She got a quick response from none of the above. Nota* thanked her for reporting what had happened, and apologized that things had not gone well. He told her he had reported the Trip Planner discrepancy to the appropriate departments, and added ABQ RIDE would look into putting a stop where the Trip Planner had said there was one. He said the driver’s supervisor was notified of the driver’s behavior, and that this would be addressed.

He was doing all right until he recommended she buy a one-day bus pass which would save her $2.00 each round trip...

Gabriela responded. Since she had already explained she had a bus pass from her employer, his recommendation for a one-day pass turned his personal response into a pro forma blah-blah-blah. She felt he hadn’t really read her email.

She went on to explain why the stop at Cedar and MLK was ideal, and how otherwise, she would have to walk under an interstate underpass often frequented by the homeless -- not something any reasonable woman would risk. And she repeated her request for an apology from the driver.

In less than a week, when driving by the corner of Cedar and MLK, she saw the 92 had been added to the current bus stop list. She wrote Nota to report what she had seen and thanking him for the quick turnaround. She promised to let all her friends know how quickly ABQ RIDE had responded to her request.

I’m told she didn’t get an apology from the driver, but she prefers the bus stop she did get.


*Real name changed.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

BUS STORY # 245 (Portrait # 13: Wild Bill)

Wild Bill Hickok by busboy4
Wild Bill Hickok, a public domain photo from Wikipedia Commons, uploaded to this blog by busboy4 on Flickr.

She’s a big woman, and she has to be in her 70s. She’s out there most afternoons waiting for the bus, hunched over a four-wheeled walker loaded with groceries.

This particular afternoon, it’s somewhere between 95 and 100, but she’s wearing a brown duster. And red pants. And a straw cowboy hat with a turquoise hatband. A wild spray of long white hair comes streaming out from under that hat in all directions.

I remember the first afternoon it hit me: Wild Bill Hickok! She doesn’t need the moustache. It’s the hat and the hair.

Sometimes the driver puts down the wheelchair ramp. Sometimes the bus is pulled flush with the sidewalk and the ramp isn’t needed. She boards slowly, looking around the piled up groceries and maneuvering the walker through the door and the left turn past the till.

She is always smiling, and she thanks the driver for having patience with her. The folks sitting on the bench seat bail and head for the back. It takes her a while to move herself into a seat, then pull her walker as close to her as she can. The folks on the bench seat opposite her sometimes give her a hand. The driver always waits until she is settled in before pulling back into traffic.

The walker doesn’t quite block the aisle, but it’s an obstruction – which everyone accommodates without complaint. I suspect we’re all thinking the same thing: Here she is, at her age and in her condition, out there taking care of business. And she radiates nothing but a pleasant, positive attitude despite the fact that this can’t be easy. And we, by God, are gonna cut her all the slack she needs.

During the ride to where she gets off, she engages in conversation with the folks across the aisle. Many of these are also regulars, and have gotten to know her.

A mile or so later, we reach her stop. She gathers herself and her walker and groceries together and exits, slowly, patiently, with a kind word of thanks to the driver. I watch her from the window as she hunches over the walker and starts guiding it slowly down the sidewalk. Still smiling.

You bet we’ll wait for you, Wild Bill.


This public domain photo is taken from Wikipedia Commons: File:Wild-Bill-5.jpg

Sunday, July 10, 2011

BUS STORY # 244 (New Job)

KFC Bus Stop, originally uploaded by busboy4.

We’re waiting for the bus when he asks me if I have a cigarette.

I don’t.

Man! he exclaims. Nobody smokes these days. Or else they’re just saying they don’t.

He’s tired. He started a new job today. First job he’s been able to find in almost two years. He got a job as a fry cook at a fast food franchise.

He wasn’t able to find a job in two years?

Everywhere he applied, they told him he was overqualified. He’s had eight years of fast food experience, but he knew the reason he was being turned down was because the managers were afraid with all his experience he was after their jobs.

Was this here in Albuquerque he couldn’t find work?

Not the whole two years. He moved to Albuquerque to stay with his cousin after his ex-wife tried to kill him. But his cousin and his cousin’s friends were a bunch of drunks who didn’t care about anything except partying, and they kicked him out.

He ended up staying at Joy Junction for six months. That’s where he met Brenda.* They’ve just had a baby five weeks ago.

They bounced around from Joy Junction back to his cousin’s to a friend’s, and finally to an apartment of their own after he started business school at CNM and got a student aid check.

Now he’s in his second semester. He’s thought about transferring to UNM, but he isn’t sure if the student aid would increase accordingly or not. If it didn’t, he’d never be able to afford the tuition.

But he’s excited about having a job. Even after being off for two years, everyone was amazed at how quickly he caught on to everything. He said he worked like a mad man. But he was gonna feel it in the morning! He’s not in the shape he was in back when he was working at Dairy Queen.

He works from two to seven five days a week. No insurance, but that’s OK. His wife and baby have Medicaid. He says wife, but they aren’t really married yet. He’s waiting to finish the semester.

His workplace is way out on the West Side, near the end of the Blue Line. He catches the 11 between Wyoming and Louisiana, rides to UNMH and catches the Blue Line to the West Side. And the reverse coming home.

That’s clear across town and then some, I say. That’s a long ride.

He’s so happy to be working again he doesn’t care. With the baby, there’s baby food and diapers and stuff. And he smokes... What with the baby and school and a new job, this is no time to try and quit smoking.

He’s happier now than he’s ever been. Not just because of the job, but because he’s met Brenda and he’s in school and now he’s working.

Brenda is the best thing ever happened to him. She’s an amazing woman -- she tells him she’ll take care of the baby so he can concentrate on school and work. And she always has a meal ready for him for supper. Not that she’s the greatest cook in the world, but still... And he’s got a bad back and she’ll massage it when it acts up. She has other wonderful attributes he goes into as well. He knows he is one lucky man. He just wishes his ex-wife had been even a little like Brenda.

Only problem is her parents. They really don’t like him at all. It’s because of the time his ex-wife tried to kill him. He defended himself and beat the crap out of her. Even the cops were on his side. They told him to get to the hospital and have that wound stitched up, and then they cuffed her and put her in the squad car.

She was out in a couple of days, though, and the charges were dropped. But somebody decided both of them were too dangerous to keep their two kids, so the kids got taken away from both of them. He can’t see them until they turn 18.

He explained all this to Brenda’s parents. He wanted to be straight with them. Everybody else he tells the story to understands. Even his own mother, who does not approve of men beating up on women, said he should’ve killed her. That wouldn’t have done him any good, he told her. He’d’ve gone to jail for sure. You gotta practice restraint.

But Brenda’s parents didn’t understand. They really hate him. They have him pegged as a wife beater and a child beater. He just doesn’t understand how they can jump to that kind of conclusion from defending himself against a crazy woman.

Another guy arrives at the stop, and he interrupts his story to ask the guy if he has a cigarette. He sure doesn’t. Dang. Nobody smokes anymore. Or else they’re just saying they don’t. Then he tells the guy how tired he is, and how this is his first day of work in almost two years.

*Real name changed.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

BUS STORY # 243 (Darlene’s Tucson Bus story)

I was having dinner with friends recently, and one of these friends said she had a bus story for me.

Darlene lived in Tucson from the mid-’80’s to the mid-‘90s. One of the things she did while she was there was arrange and lead Elderhostel tours.

It seems they had a contract with a private bus service that wasn’t always as dependable as she would have liked.

I asked if they were the only game in town.

She replied they were the cheapest game in town.

So, in the vein of “you get what you pay for,” one evening, when she and fifty elders had finished a tour of a local planetarium, the bus didn’t show.

She tried calling the service without success. After a half hour or so, she decided to take matters into her own hands.

She called Sun Tran, the local transit company, and told them how she and fifty elders came to be stranded at the planetarium. She said she had no money, and asked what they could do to help.

They had her take her elders a couple of blocks to a stop on Speedway where the last bus of the evening would be coming. She said the elders were wonderful about the whole thing and treated it like a great adventure.

Turns out Sun Tran and the driver were also wonderful about the whole thing.

When the bus arrived, the driver had already been notified of the situation by the dispatcher. He opened the doors and let everyone in, no fare needed. Darlene said they filled up the almost empty bus.

The driver was an exceptionally good-natured fellow, and instead of dropping them at the stop nearest their hotel, he left the route and drove them right to the hotel itself.

Darlene wrote the Sun Tran folks a thank you letter praising their help and the spirit with which it was given. She said the seniors were so impressed they were still talking about it the next morning. Of course, Darlene must have been impressed, too, because, after all these years, she’s still talking about it.

I’m impressed, too. And that’s why, after all these years, I’m telling the story again, right here, right now.

Long time Albuquerque riders will remember that our public transit system was also called Sun Tran before changing to ABQ RIDE back in 2004. Anyone who’s spent time in both cities knows we have a lot of other things in common with Tucson. I’d like to think that includes how our system and our drivers would have handled Darlene’s situation.


The photo at the top of this story is titled “La Estrella de Tucson” ⓒ All Rights Reserved and is posted with the kind permission of So Cal Metro. You can see this and all So Cal Metro’s photos on Flickr at: