Sunday, August 28, 2011

BUS STORY # 251 (I Remember)

She looks older than she is. Not uncommon among pre-teen/early teen girls these days. She wears her black hair long and straight, but skewed to one side so it covers the left side of her face.

I can’t tell you what color top or what kind of shoes she was wearing. I never got past the orange, ruffly, short short skirt and the long, long legs.

It’s the legs that give her away. They’re still coltish, not quite to wherever they’re going yet. I think back to my own coltish days when I would have found those legs disturbingly perfect. It’s probably to the benefit of my grade point average the skirts were considerably longer those days.

A few stops later, I watch a young guy and an older guy do the you-first dance. Age goes before beauty. The older guy has a pass he’s holding out to the driver. When he doesn’t move, I know something isn’t right with the pass.

He’s standing there listening to the driver, pass still thrust out. Longish gray hair, neatly combed back, trim gray beard. Neatly pressed blue oxford cloth shirt, tails out, over blue jeans. And something I haven’t seen in a long time: a fanny pack. It’s oversized, and he wears it in front. It’s in his way when he goes looking for his wallet.

Behind him the kid is waiting. He has a Harry Potter look about him which I suspect is no longer considered cool among kids his age. He looks to the back of the bus and smiles. I realize he is smiling at the girl in the short, short skirt who’s sitting in the back row. She’s smiling back. Ah, so...

The older guy is now fishing in his fanny pack. The younger guy looks mildly frustrated by this unexpected delay. No good deed goes unpunished. He gives her a “what-can-I-do” look. He’s too cool to shrug.

Eventually, the older guy finds his wallet, puts in his money, gets his pass, and heads for a seat. The kid is through in a flash. I love how he comes down the aisle: trying not to look like the hurry he’s in.

He gets to the back, spins, and drops into the seat next to her. They laugh, lean in towards one another, but they don’t touch. He starts talking a mile a minute about some video game, and I just laugh to myself and remember.

The photo at the top of this story is titled “Girl on tram - Hiroshima,” © All Rights Reserved, and is posted with the kind permission of Byron Edwards. You can see this and all Bryron Edward’s photos on Flickr at:

Sunday, August 21, 2011

BUS STORY # 250 (Shorts 21)

Discover A Book by busboy4
Discover A Book, a photo by busboy4 on Flickr.

A few blocks after picking up the first motorized wheelchair rider, we stop for a second. First time I’ve seen two at the same time. The driver asks the folks on the bench seat and first row behind the driver’s seat to move back so he can make room for the wheelchair. One of the displaced is an older woman in a quilted lavender jacket. She makes her way to the back platform, sits down, looks at the rest of us, then asks, “Is this the Lomas bus?”


Little guy, second or third grade, gets on the bus with his mother. He’s got a Lakers coat on and the hood is up. They climb up to the rear platform and sit next to one another. He sits forward and keeps his eye on the front windshield. Several blocks into the ride, he jumps up, pulls the cord, and shoots down to the back door. “Not yet!” his mother shouts. “Next one, driver.” The driver waves an OK. Mom adds, “He just can’t wait to get to school.”


When we stop at the Circle K, the driver leaves the bus and goes inside the store.  While he’s inside, a high school kid wanders over to the bus and boards through the rear door.  He takes the last seat in the last row on the driver’s side.  Maybe a minute later, the driver comes back outside and heads for the bus.  About halfway there, he veers to his left, toward the rear door.  Uh oh.  He walks in through the rear door, looks at the kid, and says “You don’t board through the rear door.  Understand?  Now come up front and take care of your fare.”  The kid is quiet.  He goes up front and has some trouble getting his money into the fare box.


It’s quiet this morning. I look up from my magazine and see a guy looking at what appears to be a child’s picture book. He’s maybe in his 40s. Long hair and beard streaked with gray. He’s wearing roughout work boots, blue jeans, a black sweatshirt, and on top of the long gray hair is an outrageously garish Iron Man baseball cap. The book is a big one. He’s got it opened wide and balanced on his thighs, and he’s examining the pictures with care and interest. I will catch the title later --The Loathsome Dragon -- when he puts it back in the Discover-A-Book bin before he gets off the bus. But right now, there’s a fascinated kid in his face.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

BUS STORY # 249 (Vikram’s Story)

ABQ RIDE System Map, originally uploaded by busboy4.

Vikram* is maybe 10 years younger than me, though it’s hard to tell. He’s got a head of just-beginning-to-thin gray hair and supple, light-complected skin. He’s short and slight -- really, he’s more like a slightly miniaturized, remarkably trim older guy.

He has a serious, almost intent, mien, but he is quick to smile. My favorite thing about him is his eyes. Even with his veddy British-like reserve, they are large and bright and liquid and -- well, they are windows to not just the soul, but to his whole alert, curious, receptive persona.

The hardest thing about him is his accent. His English is impeccable, as is his articulation. But the Indian accent can throw me, and I often find myself having to reconstruct the sounds to get the sense.

I consider this a defect on my part. I’ve noticed that Spanish-speaking folks seem to have no difficulty understanding Anglos speaking Spanish with an Anglo accent -- never mind the mangling of grammar and gender agreement and verb tense. But I digress.

Vikram was already a regular when I began riding five years ago. We went from being aware of one another in the morning, to nodding to one another when we sometimes rode the same bus home, to talking after our bus was hit from behind.

After that, we occasionally sat together and exchanged our stories.

Vikram moved from India to the east coast where he acquired an advanced degree in engineering and a command of the programming language, Fortran. These got him a job with IBM in Austin.

He was still in Austin when he sensed that the economic good times were coming to an end. He decided a graduate degree in counseling would give him some diversity.

It turned out to be a smart move. There came the time when having an engineering degree and a buck would get you a cup of coffee.

His new career brought him to Albuquerque where he worked in a number of venues -- CYFD, UNMH, the VA.

I asked him which he preferred: engineering or social work. While he never really answered that question, he did make an interesting observation. Counseling was harder -- both because of the work effort required and because of the stress of having a real impact on people’s lives. Engineering was more like playing. So he thought it curious that playing was so much better paid. I thought about professional athletes and school teachers, and decided Vikram hadn’t yet fully assimilated our American values.

He was assimilating the stress of his work, however. He told me he’d begun having health issues, and that he was back in school to expand his skill sets.

What now, I asked him.

He’s combining updating his computer skills with GIS programming.


Geographic Information System. He explains there are all kinds of specific GIS systems depending on what it is you want to do. But what they all have in common is combining maps with database technology for map analysis and development.

When I ask him what he plans to do with all this new education, he tells me these skill sets are in demand by companies in the utilities and communications businesses, urban municipalities, and pretty much any business looking at large scale real estate development.

Turns out, Vikram has been fascinated by maps from childhood. These days, what maps can do are equally fascinating to him, especially the analyses of satellite topographical mapping. His eyes really light up when he’s explaining how to decipher old maps when comparing them with current maps.

Maps are not his only fascination.

Ever since his time in India, he’s been fascinated by train and bus timetables. He knows the names and numbers of all the ABQ RIDE routes, and he’s ridden most of them. Even more interesting, he knows the schedules -- where bus x goes, and when it arrives at intersection a, and when bus y connects.

So this is why he takes the bus.

Well, this and the fact that someone talking on a cell phone ran a red light and T-boned him. His car was totaled. He had already been taking the bus to work, and after the accident, he decided not to replace the car and to make ABQ RIDE his primary means of transportation.

There’s a twinkle in his eye when he suggests that maybe when he’s finished his courses, he’ll take a job as a driver with ABQ RIDE.

I’m pretty sure he’s only halfway kidding.

*Real name changed.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

BUS STORY # 248 (“It’s Either The Bus Or Hoof It”)

5 Montgomery/Carlisle by busboy4
5 Montgomery/Carlisle, a photo by busboy4 on Flickr.

He asks me if the Montgomery/Carlisle bus stops here. I tell him it does.

Then he asks me if it still runs every 20 minutes. I tell him I don’t know.

He tells me it used to, but he’s heard there’ve been a lot of schedule changes since he last rode the bus. Now his car’s broken, and “It’s either the bus or hoof it.”

He’s interesting looking. Dress slacks with a nice drape, nice short sleeve shirt, untucked, and meant to be. Dress shoes, in excellent condition. He’s got an open weave straw hat, with gray hair curling at the back of his neck. And sunglasses. Wayfarers. I think “Florida.” And then, “in the ‘80s.”

He’s also missing his four front teeth.

He’s articulate and fast-talking. The missing teeth don’t hamper his speech any, and it is pouring out non-stop.

His car is an ‘86 Chevy Nova which he says is also a Corolla. This is news to me. But then, there is very little about cars that wouldn’t be news to me.

He says he bought it for $350, but this past winter, he tried to muscle it through a snowdrift in his driveway. He thinks he may have strained the transmission then.

Last week, it sounded pretty bad. His boss told him he better get it fixed or he’d find himself stuck somewhere and unable to get to work.

But then his boss fired him. He knew it was coming, so he put off getting the car fixed. He’s glad he did. Otherwise there he’d be, no job and a big bill he couldn’t pay.

His first car was a beauty. He told me what kind, and for the life of me, I do not recall what it was. I pictured something electric blue with lots of chrome, even though he didn’t tell me what color it was.

I do know it was a front-wheel drive.

I know this because he told me he’d fallen behind a couple of payments when it got stolen right out of his driveway by some repo men.

He says they don’t leave a note or anything, so you don’t know if someone has stolen your car for real, or what. Took him three days to track it down. They’d ruined it during the repossession.

He says he parked it right up close to the garage, and had it locked in gear. They hooked the back end to their truck, lifted it up, and dragged it away. He asks me if I know what that does to a front-wheel drive transmission.

He says the repo business is outright thievery. They give you an option: go into default and lose your car and your credit, or pay the balance plus all the charges they pile on right now. How’s someone who couldn’t make a monthly payment gonna pay the whole thing plus all the jacked up charges?

By taking out a second and high-interest loan, that’s how. That’s what he had to do to protect his credit.

But the car died a few months later. That transmission never was the same after the repo. And they’re not responsible for the damages. It’s your word against theirs, anyway.

He starts telling me how he came to own the Nova -- some guy he knew who was leaving town and wanted to sell it but couldn’t find a buyer -- when the Montgomery/Carlisle pulls up.

“There’s my bus,” he breaks off, and off he goes. I see him still standing by the driver when the bus pulls away.