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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a cool guy.

7:20 AM  
Anonymous Brenda said...

Awesome. When I think of Vikram going back to school and furthering his education once again it encourages me that I may do the same. I guess it's never too late. What an amazing man. BTW, I also have a hard time understanding the Indian English accent. Perhaps it's too sophisticated for me! I speak plain 'ol American with a mid-western twang occasionally thrown in .

10:37 AM  

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