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:


Anonymous Roberto Tocino said...

Nice story Padre.

We watched "The Help" last night. Your story reminds me of it.

Maybe your almost interviews are the best part of Bus Stories.

? Are you wearing any special collars on the bus.

8:10 AM  
Blogger Busboy said...

Hello, Robert. Thank you for your kind words. No, I am not wearing any special collars on the bus, or anywhere else, for that matter. Now that it's cold, I do wear a muffler on occasion.

5:02 PM  

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