Sunday, September 25, 2011

BUS STORY # 255 (Portrait # 14: Adolescent)

For several weeks, I couldn’t tell if she was 14 or 24.

I know, I know: there are several universes between 14 and 24. You would think it shouldn’t have been that hard to figure out.

She has that androgynous, Twiggy look: boy figure and all girl face. No makeup, though, and none needed. Her hair is cut in that same short, mod style, parted on the left. But it’s no-additives-black, not blonde. Sometimes her hair looks wet, as if she’s gone straight from the shower to the bus stop.

She wears skinny jeans, some with small holes that are not at the expected stress points and that were likely put there by the manufacturer. Her tops are modest, unisex T-shirts or sweaters in muted colors and with long sleeves. No frou-frou, and none of that bare midriff stuff. Not a tattoo in sight.

All of this says 14.

On the other hand, I’ve never seen her with books or a backpack or an iPod or a cell phone.

That says out of high school.

When she boards the bus, she looks for an empty aisle seat. Never a window seat, even if the pair of seats is empty. There is an initial tentativeness – you can see a barely perceptible pause during which she will decide whether she is going to sit down beside that person in the window seat or go stand by the back door. Once she decides, her movements are cat quick.

If she sits, she keeps herself skewed away from her seat mate, so that at least one foot is in the aisle. If she takes a seat on the bench in the back of the bus, she sits forward, one foot in front of the other, and keeps one hand on the pole. Wherever she sits, she looks ready to bolt.

This is more complicated. It could be nothing more than adolescent estrangement. Or it could be a conditioned wariness. And if the latter, having no books or backpack keeps her hands free; having no iPod and no cell keep her undistracted from what is going on around her.

I’m hoping for ordinary adolescence. Even the worst of ordinary adolescence – parent trouble, boyfriend trouble, sexual identity trouble, something-in-my-life-just-isn’t-right trouble – is better than the much darker alternatives.

I learned she is on the 14 side of the spread the day I saw her sitting straight in her aisle seat, with both feet on the floor in front of her. I saw her seat mate, a small, slightly overweight, nerdy-looking kid with glasses who looked like a seventh-grader. Ah, a safe seat mate, I concluded.

He began talking to her, and I leaned forward in my seat to hear what she would say. I’d never seen her talk to anyone, and everything I’ve seen of her signals she’s not looking to talk with anyone.

I saw her incline her head toward his, and then I heard her complain about the grade one of her teachers had given her on a report she’d turned in the previous week.

Wouldn’t it be great if grades are all it is? Is that even possible in this day and age?

Who am I kidding? Was it ever that simple at that age?

The photo at the top of this story is untitled, © All Rights Reserved, and is posted with the kind permission of kate flood. You can see this and all kate flood’s photos on Flickr at:

Sunday, September 18, 2011

BUS STORY # 254 (The Race)

As noted in last week's post, several schedule changes went into effect at the end of August, and the Lomas bus did not get away unscathed.

One of the more dispiriting changes is the location of the layover -- the place where the driver pulls over, gets out and stretches, looks over the outside of the bus, maybe has a smoke if he’s so inclined and there’s time.

The schedule for my bus allows eight minutes. If it’s late, that’s going to be eight minutes less however many minutes it’s late.

The new location is not necessarily dispiriting to the drivers.

There’s a Circle K across the street. The old stop, over on Chelwood Park, didn’t have any place the drivers could get something to eat or drink, or use the bathroom. They’d had to wait until they got back downtown to the Alvarado Transportation Center. The full loop takes about an hour and a half, so it isn’t cruel and unusual punishment. Still, it’s nice to have the option at the halfway point.

It is dispiriting to those riders on their way home, and whose homes lie along the box formed by the distal end of the route: Lomas-east-of-Tramway, Turner, Copper, and Chelwood Park.

On the first Monday of the schedule change, there were six of us in that situation.

Three of us were old guys sitting in the front of the bus. Three were young guys sitting in the back.

We three old guys got to talking about how many stops away we were. We were all within the next eight stops.

We decided we could probably beat the bus by walking.

The driver laughed and said no way.

Well, there was a challenge we weren’t gonna let pass.

So we told him goodbye and we’d see him tomorrow.

He told us he’d pick us up when he came around Turner.

We took a shortcut through Hupmobile and along the arroyo. The first guy peeled off at his stop.

We kept walking. It was hot, and it was uphill.

We weren't even to Marquette when the bus pulled up beside us. The driver popped open the front door.

We climbed aboard, and noticed how effective the bus air conditioning had become since the layover.

The driver was cool, too. He just grinned at us and didn’t say a word.

But the three young guys in the back had a good time giving us grief.

Win some, lose some.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

BUS STORY # 253 (Waves)

11 Lomas by busboy4
11 Lomas, a photo by busboy4 on Flickr.

It’s Monday, August 27, and we’re riding the Lomas bus on the first day of a schedule change.

I’m sitting with one of the regulars, and we’re both taking in the fact that the bus is almost full before we even get back to Lomas going west.

It’s crowded for three reasons: One, it’s commuter time. Two, school’s back in session. Three, the new schedule has caused a lot of folks to shift their bus-riding schedules so they won’t miss their connections and be late for work.

I explain to my seat mate how I’ve lost 20 minutes of my morning to the new schedule, and how that 20 minutes has cost me my usual second cup of coffee. I tell her I could get always up 20 minutes earlier...and we laugh.

Several other folks around us weigh in with the impact of the new schedule on their mornings. One of them is now missing a Juan Tabo connection which is costing her an hour. She’s needing to get her not-yet-toddler to day care before going on to work. To do that, she’s gonna have to get an earlier bus, plus trade the old three-minute wait for the Juan Tabo for a new 20 minute wait, with the child.

My second cup of coffee isn’ t looking like such a big deal anymore.

While we’re having this conversation, I’m also watching a co-rider across the aisle and one row up.

She’s a student, and she’s wearing what looks like the summer blues of a Navy ROTC uniform. It’s gotta be a junior ROTC. She looks like a kid. Short blonde hair, and what would probably be a cute face if it wasn’t so drawn with distress.

I first noticed her when she got on. The seat had just opened up. She looked at it, balked for a minute, looked over the rest of the bus, then took it. There was a student with a Monzano football jersey sitting in the window seat. She sat on the edge of the seat, one foot out in the aisle, and arranged her satchel and back pack on the floor.

Now, she sits perched on the edge, mostly looking out the front, but looking over the rest of us on occasion with an almost desperate expression on her face.

When the Monzano jersey kid wants up, she struggles with her baggage, gets it rearranged after he’s out, and then is obviously distressed when a new boarder indicates she’d like to get into that window seat.

When she gets off the bus, I mention her to my seat mate. Turns out she’s been watching her, too -- for the same reasons.

Our first impression is that she was overwhelmed by whatever bad fortune dealt her the you-have-to-ride-the-bus card. We took her distressed looking around as a kind of reality check. OMG-am-I-really-here?!

We took her being perched on the seat, face fixed forward out the front window, as an I-can’t-wait-to-get-out-of-here pose.

And we’d both watched her exit and walk past our window with an expression that prompted an image of Scarlet O’Hara raising a fist to the heavens and vowing “I’ll never go carless again!”

Later, I wonder if we’d misdiagnosed the whole scene.

Maybe she was one of us, someone whose world also got turned upside down with the schedule change. Maybe that distressed expression was more an OMG-I-am-so-late-and-I-am-going- to-be-in-so-much-trouble expression.

Maybe her anxious looking around was really her registering all the people who were boarding at every single stop there was and making her even later than she already was.

And maybe her being perched on the edge of her seat looking out the window was more an internal willing the bus to C’mon!-C’mon!-Get-there!

Another bus story that got away.

This time next week, most of us will have figured out which bus we need to be catching to make our connections and not be late to school or work. And we’ll not only have a better sense of what our losses are, but we’ll have already begun learning to live with the new reality.

And surely there are people out there for whom the schedule change is actually a good thing, or at least an inconsequential one.


Sunday, September 04, 2011

BUS STORY # 252 (ABQ RIDE Roulette)

Well, fudge. by busboy4
Well, fudge., a photo by busboy4 on Flickr.

The 50, which left the airport at 5:30 p.m., is caught in traffic. I’m not gonna get to UNM in time to catch the 6:00 No. 11 by UNMH. That means I’m not gonna get home until around 6:50 -- 20 minutes later.


I can walk down to The Frontier and take the Red Line. If it comes early enough, I might snag the 6:00 No. 11 up at the intersection with Louisiana. That would get me home at 6:30.

If it doesn’t come early enough, I’m where I am now: getting home at 6:50.

I get off the 50 at Central and hike to The Frontier.

Down at The Frontier, the electronic Next Bus sign says the Green Line is arriving in one minute. There is no announcement for the Red Line. This can’t be good.

I’m standing next to a young guy wearing a camo boonie who’s smoking a pipe. I haven’t seen a pipe smoker in a while, and I haven’t seen anybody this young smoking a pipe in decades. It’s an aromatic tobacco.

The Green Line arrives, people exit and board, and it takes off. It’s just me and the pipe smoker left at the stop.

He tells me he was waiting for the Green Line, but the sign said the next Green Line was 14 minutes out, so he fired up his pipe. It pulled up a few minutes later. He let this one go by so he wouldn’t waste the bowl.

I check the sign again. Next Red Line in 22 minutes. Well, fudge.

I figure the one that was supposed to be due next must have broken down, and that’s why there was no signal.

22 minutes. It’s just after six now. There’s a good chance I’ll now miss the 6:30 11 up at Louisiana and be left another 20 minutes out. That means I’d be getting home after 7:00.


I could quick-step up to Girard, then up to Lomas, and catch the 6:20 there at the intersection. That would get me home at 6:50. I take off for Girard.

I’m halfway between The Frontier and Girard when the Red Line goes roaring by.

Well, fudge.

So much for the wonders of modern technology. I should’ve known from the pipe smoker’s story the signs were all screwed up. There went my shot at being home by 6:30. Now I gotta get to Lomas in time to catch the 11 to salvage the chance of getting home at 6:50.

I get to the intersection just in time to see a bus coming right up the street. But the stop is on the other side of Girard! I hustle over and reach the stop just as the bus pulls up and the doors pop open.

“Whew!” I say to the driver as I swipe my card. She says something back, but I can’t make her out. I just smile and nod and grab a seat.

The bus pulls out, then pulls into the far left lane. Well, fudge. Sure enough, the bus pulls into the turn lane on Carlisle, heading north. I pull the cord. It now occurs to me the driver was asking me if I was sure I had the right bus.

It’s not a long walk back to Lomas, and when I get there, I see another bus coming my way. I get across the street just in time to catch it. This time, I check the front of the bus to make sure it’s the right one. Yes, it’s the 11 Lomas. I’ve lucked out. I’ll be home by 6:50 after all.

Two guys sitting in front of me turn and ask me if I wasn’t on the Montgomery/Carlisle bus just now. Turns out they got off just before Carlisle to catch the 11. Um, well, yes I was. And I start to explain what happened, but they’re way ahead of me. There is no end to their amusement.

I get home at 6:50. There are two places at the table, but it’s clear my wife has already eaten.

“I thought you’d be home earlier,” she explains. She says she figured I got delayed at work again, and so she went ahead and ate.

I know I shouldn’t, but I know how she feels about the time it takes to get home on the bus. And I know I didn’t think to call her to let her know what had happened. So I cut my losses and let work take the blame.

Dinner is terrific.


As of posting time, it’s been three weeks now, and the Rapid Ride arrival signage is still completely dissociated from what the buses are actually doing. At least, at The Frontier.