Sunday, December 25, 2011

BUS STORY # 268 (Mer’s Bus Story # 2: “Neither Snow Nor Rain...”)

Winter Storm Coming In by busboy4
Winter Storm Coming In, a photo by busboy4 on Flickr.

We haven’t been whacked by a bad winter storm since back in January of 2007. So we’ve been overdue for the pair that bracketed this past week.

Since my employer directed us to stay home during the worst of it, I really don’t have much to complain about. But the memory of that 2007 bus ride in the snow and ice reminds me of a second Macedonian bus story my niece shared with us when she was visiting us in September.

Mer was returning to her village with a number of other local teachers.

Her village had the same name as the village she was teaching in except hers was gorno (“upper”) and where the teachers taught was dolno (“lower”).

This is because the two communities are separated by a mountain road. The teachers take the bus down the road to school in the morning, and up the road back home at the end of the school day.

One day during school, a winter storm moved into the area. Lots of snow, and the roads became icy. The teachers headed for the bus home.

As they moved up the mountain road, it became obvious the bus was struggling. Mer could feel the occasional slippage on the ice.

When the going became slower and the slippage became more frequent, the teachers, all locals, began suggesting maybe they ought to stop where they were and just walk home from there.

Mer was of the same mind. She figured if the locals were concerned, her own concerns were not misplaced.

The driver, however, persisted.

The road became more treacherous as more snow and ice accumulated.

The teachers became more agitated. They began demanding the driver stop and let them out.

Incredibly, the driver began turning the bus around on the iced-over mountain road.

The teachers were not impressed by the daring maneuver. And they certainly didn’t want to go back down to the lower village. They just wanted to get out where they were.

Mer knew the walk up would be bitter cold and she would probably be soaking wet with snow by the time she got home. But she was sure she would live to tell the tale. She wasn’t sure this would be the case if she stayed on this bus.

But the driver wasn’t intending to return to the lower village. Once he was turned around, he began backing up the road!

The teachers were not appreciative of his genius in turning the bus into a front wheel drive vehicle. They were, however, deeply appreciative of going backwards up an icy mountain road. They began shouting at the driver to let them out now.

The driver capitulated to his riders, and, just as Mer had envisioned, she and the others had a long, blustery cold, wet walk home. And, yes, lived to tell the tale.


You can read Mer’s first Macedonian bus story here.


It’s become something of a tradition to post a Christmas-themed bus story Christmas Week. This Christmas, I don’t have one to tell, but I did find this wonderful Christmas bus photo on Flickr:

Rudolph by mag3737
Rudolph, a photo by mag3737 on Flickr.

"Rudolph” is posted with the kind permission of mag3737. You can see this and all mag3737’s photos on Flickr at:

Sunday, December 18, 2011

BUS STORY # 267 (“Because I’m Brown”)

Papers please by Zervas
Papers please, a photo by Zervas on Flickr.

The bus is jammed. The driver asks everyone to step to the back, please. I move back to the seat by the rear door, and set my bag down. The guy in the aisle seat moves over and invites me to sit. I thank him and take the seat.

I comment how crowded the bus is.

He tells me it’s because the one ahead of it was running early, and this one is picking up the riders for it and this bus both.

Ah, I say. So that’s why I was almost 30 minutes at my stop.

He tells me he’s getting off at Eubank.

I promise I’ll let him out.

He laughs and asks me where I’m from.

He’s from northern New Mexico. He says his family is part Spanish, part Indian, part French. His grandmother used to tell him this combination of blood lines worked to produce a remarkably worthless generation of drunks and lazy bums. He laughs.

I’m wondering if he’s including himself in this indictment.

He doesn’t look lazy or like an alcoholic. In fact, he has a somewhat academic air about him. Neatly cut hair. Neatly trimmed, graying beard. Rimless glasses. He’s got on a sage gray T-shirt and jeans.

He’s got an accent. It’s an accent I heard a lot more of thirty years ago when I was new here. I think of it as New Mexican, and especially northern New Mexican. To my ears, it is quite distinct from a Mexican accent. His kids probably don’t have it. They’re more likely to have a television accent, like everyone else their age.

He lives in the South Valley now, but he works in the Northeast Heights. I miss the opportunity to find out what he does because we’re stopped, and he’s become intensely focused on someone unloading a bike from the front rack.

He tells me you have to be careful if you have a bike on the rack. They’ll steal them right in front of you.

I tell him I’ve heard of this happening in big cities like San Francisco, but not here.

“Two,” he tells me. He’s had two of them stolen off the bus rack.

“It still hurts,” he adds.

Then he talks about how high the crime rate is here in Albuquerque. Burglary, murder...and the cops are abusive.

I ask him what he means. He tells me the city and county hire a lot of cops from Michigan, Ohio, and northern California, who lost their jobs there for brutalizing minorities.

I ask him if he’s ever seen any of this first-hand.

Eight times. All eight times when he was waiting for the bus in the South Valley. They made him wait while they went through his bag. He says he finally filed a complaint, told them to either arrest him or leave him alone. Since then, they’ve left him alone. But he says he’s still scared of retaliation.

I ask him if they’re looking for drugs.

He replies they’re not looking for anything. They’re just messing with him.


“Because I’m brown.”

Then he tells me we’re approaching his stop. I get up and step into the aisle. He gathers his things, steps past me, and goes to the back doors.

He tells me he’s glad to have met me, and thanks me for the conversation.

I tell him it’s mutual and wish him luck. And then I sit back down and think about what he’s told me.

I don’t think of being repeatedly detained and searched as being brutalized. Bullied, demeaned, and frightened, maybe, but not brutalized.

But this assumes two things: one: my co-rider really has had some ongoing interactions with the local cops, and two: his perception of these interactions is in line with the facts.

I fall back on this invaluable rule of thumb: There are at least three sides to every story: his, hers, and God’s. And God’s not talking.

Still, I wish I hadn’t heard this story because I don’t want to think about the possibility that anything about it might be true.


The photo at the top of this story is “Papers please,” and is posted with the kind permission of Zervas. You can see this and all Zervas’s photos on Flickr at:

Sunday, December 11, 2011

BUS STORY # 266 (Collision)

DSC_2320 by helifino
DSC_2320, a photo by helifino on Flickr.

The Red Line has just shut the door at the Louisiana-Central bus stop. The driver starts forward.

I am on the driver’s side, looking straight out the front windshield, when I see a car go cutting straight across the front of the bus.

I’ve seen this maneuver before. Mostly, it’s been at intersections. The bus will be sitting at a red light in the outside lane. When the light turns green, the car waiting in the lane next to the bus guns its engine and blasts a right turn in front of the bus.

Once it was in moving traffic. (You can read that story here.)

This time, it’s a driver who thought he -- or she, as it turns out -- could make the parking lot of the CVS pharmacy faster than the bus could get going.

I feel the bus shudder hard to a stop. I can’t tell if we hit the car or the curb or it was just the hard braking we were feeling.

The car pulls into the parking lot and stops.

Nobody gets out of the car at first.

The driver is already on the phone.

He seems pretty calm. At least, his voice is quiet,

While he’s making the call, a figure emerges from the driver’s side. It’s getting dark, and our bus is wrapped, but I can make out a large woman in a white shirt. She comes around the front of her car and slowly walks past the passenger side, bent over in inspection mode. She stops at the right back wheel and spends some stooped-over time there.

Then she straightens up, gets back in the car, and drives off!

Now the driver’s voice goes up a few decibels.

A couple of riders get up and move tentatively to the front door. They look like they’re more interested in getting off the bus than in listening in to the conversation.

After a while, the driver gets off the phone, grabs two red caution triangles, and heads out to the back of the bus. We get off and wander to the front of the bus to check out the damage.

Damage looks minor. The bus rack has taken a hit. A couple of pieces of it are lying in the street in front of the bus. One of our riders is lucky. Unlike the bike in the photo at the top of this story, his bike was in the row closest to the bus and looks OK.

The driver heads for the drug store. We can see from the bus stop arrival signage that the next Red Line is nine minutes away.

One of our riders takes off north up Louisiana. The rest of us are still milling around by the front door.

It isn’t long before we see the driver walking rapidly back to the bus.

“She’s right here, in the parking lot,” he calls to us. “I got her license plate number.”

He calls in the information. When he’s done, he tells us the next Red Line should be here shortly, as well as the 157.

I ask him if he needs a witness.

Well, sure, if that’s what I really want to do.

He pulls out a notebook and I write my name and phone number.

I am remembering the last time I did this as I am writing in the notebook. It was in New York City, and I could tell by the reactions of every single person around me that I had just hung a big neon sign on myself that blinked out alternating messages: “TOURIST!” Then, “FROM THE STICKS!”

As I did then, I tell myself I’m doing the right thing, and I hope this is not another one of those good deeds that doesn’t go unpunished.

One of the riders spots the 157. We all head over to the bus stop and board there.

I get off at Louisiana and savor the treat of being able to get off on the southeast corner rather than the northeast where the Rapid stops. I don’t have to cross back over the intersection to get to my bus stop.

I’m sitting on the bench wondering if I’ve just missed my connection, and if it’s late enough that the schedule has switched from every 20 minutes to every 40 minutes, and how much longer I’ll be out here.

A few minutes later, the rider who’d headed north up Louisiana rounds the corner, sees me, and starts laughing.

“You beat me.”

We talk about what happened, and a few minutes later, we see the Lomas bus coming.

It occurs to me that, since we haven’t seen the Red Line yet, and they run 20 minutes apart, this may very well be the same bus we would have caught if our bus hadn’t been in a collision.

As I write this, it’s too early to tell if I’m gonna get a call from anyone. Stay tuned.

The photo at the top of this story is “DSC_2320,” © All Rights Reserved, and is posted with the kind permission of helifino. You can see this and all helifino’s photos on Flickr at:

Sunday, December 04, 2011

BUS STORY # 265 (Portrait # 15: In Country)

Hank Grant: Bible & A Bus Ticket Home downloaded from the CD Baby website by busboy4
Hank Grant: Bible & A Bus Ticket Home, downloaded from the CD Baby website by busboy4 on Flickr.

He’s young, college young, and he’s got a country boy’s face, open, but looking slightly perplexed, or maybe anxious, at being in the city.

Black T-shirt, blue jeans, black athletic shoes. He’s got a small tattoo inside his left forearm which I can’t make out. He’s got a black notebook and a larger, soft cover book with gold-edged pages and a red ribbon page marker showing near the spine.

I’m thinking Bible.

He opens the notebook and looks at the page. There’s handwriting top to bottom, and a heavily-outlined box near the top of the page with more handwriting inside.

He bends over the page, as if studying. Then he closes the notebook, sets it on top of the book, closes his eyes, and starts moving his lips.

At first, I think he’s trying to memorize something from the notebook. I associate this with school.

His lips are half-parted and moving slowly, deliberately. It goes on long enough that I switch my guess from memorizing to praying. Now I’m associating with the book.

After a while, he quits mouthing and opens his eyes. He doesn’t look any less perplexed or anxious than he did before.

After a while, he leans forward and asks the guy across from him how far it is to the airport.

That voice sounds straight out of Texas, or maybe from the southeast part of New Mexico, the place known locally as “Little Texas.”

The guy across the aisle tells the kid not far, it’s at the end of the line. Then he asks the kid if he knows the airport.

“No, sir. I’ve never been to New Mexico before.”

While the man explains how the road will start curving around to the left and bring him to the edge of the terminal, I think about the fact that the only things he’s carrying are the notebook and Bible.

He politely thanks the man.

Before I get off, I see him looking out the window on the opposite side of the bus, eyes wide open, lips moving.

Here’s a bus story I wish I had.

The photo at the top of this story is the album cover for Hank Grant’s CD, Bible And A Bus Ticket Home, taken from the CD Baby website, You can hear the title song here: