Sunday, February 26, 2012

BUS STORY # 277 (Other Voices)

I remember when I first discovered there were other public transportation story tellers out in the blogosphere. My daughter sent me a link to The Subway Chronicles. Not only is Jacquelin Cangro an astute observer and talented writer, but her site featured an annual collection of wonderfully literate subway stories written by others, a new one posted each month.

The Subway Chronicles by busboy4

Sadly, The Subway Chronicles is no more. Happily, Jacquelin’s blog, up to its final post in May, 2009, remains accessible. The monthly stories, however, are no longer available. (There is a book now with the same title featuring 27 of those entries.)

I don’t remember how I found Bus Chick. When I first discovered Carla Saulter, I learned that if I happened to be in Seattle on any given Saturday night, I might catch her “running for the number 27 in heels and a backless dress.”

Bus Chick by busboy4

Times have changed. Bus Chick married Bus Nerd (yes, they met on the bus) and is now the mother of Chicklet and Busling. And (yes, again) the whole family is still riding, and Bus Chick is still writing.

Over time, one bus blog led to the discovery of another, until I had a daisy chain of links which I began listing to the right of my bus stories.

Also over time, many of these blogs have come and gone. Some blogs were active for only a few posts, then languished like abandoned New Year’s resolutions. Some bloggers announced the end of their blogs (see Today on the Lightrail from Houston for an interesting explanation). Others simply quit posting. Some took their blogs off the web.

Today on the Lightrail by busboy4

Today on the Lightrail

The ones that are still accessible I’ve grouped under the heading “Gone But Not Forgotten.” I use this rule of thumb: no posts for six months means the blog is inactive. My current worry is for the riders-written Bus Tales from Minneapolis-St. Paul. Stories seem to have dried up starting about a year ago, and there has been one lonely post since August, 2011. I confess I’m reluctant to apply my “rule of thumb” to this website.

Bus Tales by busboy4

It shouldn’t be any surprise that, taken together, these blogs present a wide variety of voices, styles, experiences, interests, viewpoints and concerns. Most of them have been the source for a “This Week’s Featured Link” at least once.

What does surprise me is I’m still discovering bus blogs out there that are not new. Just a few months ago, I stumbled across a Maryland blog, Another One Rides The Bus, that Nancy Luse has been posting to at least weekly since early 2008.

Another One Rides The Bus by busboy4

My latest discovery came from a lovely story featured in Muni Diaries which linked me to its source, Fog City Notes. Rachel has been “spying on [San Francisco], but nicely,” mostly from the bus, since mid-2004! She may well be the longest running bus blogger on the web.

Muni Diaries by busboy4

Other such serendipitous discoveries include Bus Stories: Observations on Life In Transit (from Seattle since March, 2009) and Today’s Bus Story (from Louisville, Kentucky), the latter out there since 2010 and only discovered here within the last year.

How is it that, despite my regular and persistent ransacking of Google for weekly featured links, it has taken me so long to find these blogs? And how many more of them are out there waiting to be found?

I’m hoping some of you will point me to some of those sites I haven’t found yet. And I’m hoping that all of you -- especially you bus riders -- will check out some of these other links for yourselves. There are a lot of good stories out there.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

BUS STORY # 276 (On The Road To Shenzhen)

I don’t know his name. I used to see him on the earlier bus all the time. We sat together a few of those times and made small talk, mostly about sports and his time in the military. Then my work schedule changed.

He’s boarding this morning, same spot as always, just an hour later. He sees me, joins me. I tell him he’s running later than usual. He tells me he overslept.

He worked late yesterday. He’s been working a lot. Lots of overtime. The money is good, but he’s beginning to feel like all he’s doing is working and eating and sleeping.

Weekends have disappeared. Used to be he’d work a couple of Saturday mornings a month. Now, Saturday’s just another work day, and sometimes he has to come in on Sunday mornings or afternoons, depends on what’s going on that Sunday.

It’s gotten so his wife and son don’t even ask anymore if he’s going in Saturday, or when he’s coming home. His son’s in high school, and he’d like to be around for him more than he’s been lately, before he leaves home. His son is a really neat kid, he tells me, and he likes hanging out with him.

His boss works 80 hours a week, and he expects them to do the same. They don’t want to do the same, and he gets frustrated with them.

His boss didn’t always work 80 hours a week. But several months ago, a manager left and the company decided it would be cheaper to split up the manager’s job responsibilities and assign different ones to the remaining managers. That’s why his boss is working 80 hours a week.

Not surprisingly, some of those new responsibilities seem to have become theirs as well, job description or no, like it or not.

His boss lives some 15 miles outside of Albuquerque. It's not all that far, but he’s decided he can get an extra couple hours of sleep a night by not going home during the work week. He’s converted an empty storeroom to a little bedroom. There’s a shower on site. He goes home late Friday, is back early Monday morning.

There used to be a sign-up sheet whenever overtime was needed. It wasn’t all that often, and there were a handful of folks who jumped at the opportunity.

The sign-up sheet started becoming a regular feature, and also taking up more and more of the page. Pretty soon, people quit signing up for all the slots. So the boss began signing them up himself.

Some of them refused to come in for their assigned slots. His boss would call the others at home and ask them if they could come in -- or, if they were already scheduled for later in the day, could they come in earlier.

He describes such a call. He’s sitting at the table eating breakfast with his family when the phone rings. It’s his boss. His boss tells him the guy who was scheduled didn’t show, and can he come in an hour earlier than he’s scheduled. When he tells his boss he cannot, his boss says oh, c’mon, you’re just hanging around the house doing nothing. But he held the line: he’d be in when he was scheduled.

He says he feels like he’s done more than his part, and he’s tired, and he wants his life back. He says he recently told his boss just that. His boss doesn’t understand his attitude, especially in times like these. He tells him there are folks out there who’d love to have his job.

I ask him why the company doesn’t just hire more people if the demand is so high. He answers when you factor in the training, the learning curve, and the benefits, overtime is a whole lot cheaper than hiring new employees.

I ask him if he watched last weekend’s Super Bowl. I’ve changed the subject, but I can’t imagine him missing the game, and of not bringing it up first thing in our conversation.

He says he did, and he immediately lightens up. He tells me he and his son and his wife watched the game together at a sports bar. We are both happy with the game because it was close, exciting, and the coach we wanted to lose lost.

We get to his stop. I tell him it’s good to see him again, and I wish him good luck. He gives me a wry smile.

I can’t believe the game came up so late in the conversation, and that I’m the one who brought it up.

Things are not all right.


The photo at the top of this story is titled “On the bus 2,” © All Rights Reserved, and is posted with the kind permission of Roving I. You can see all Roving 1’s photos on Flickr at:

Sunday, February 12, 2012

BUS STORY # 275 (Portrait # 16: The Couple)

They look like a couple out of an Amado Pena portrait.

I’d put him in his 40s. He’s not skinny, but he doesn’t carry any extra weight, either. Intense black eyes in a face that looks hard, but not mean. He’s not what you’d call handsome, but he’s definitely arresting.

She looks ten years younger. And while she gives me the impression she’s lived through exactly the same things that have made him look so hard (and very probably right there at his side then, too), her features are softer. She’s not beautiful or pretty, and certainly not cute. She is handsome.

Together, they look strong. I find it difficult to keep my eyes off them.

Sometimes there is conversation of a sort. He is the initiator. He leans in, and looking straight ahead, says a very few words in a very quiet voice. She responds in the same manner. They rarely need more than the single exchange.

My sense is that he is asking her about something that requires a decision or direction, or perhaps a confirmation. He defers to her without giving anything up. She knows how to accept that deferral without taking anything away.

This interaction doesn’t happen every time, and when it does, it only happens once on the ride. Still, I’ve seen it often enough that I’ve come to view it as ritualized, each word and gesture freighted with a world of shared understanding.

I’ve seen her on occasion by herself, and she is something less than when she is with him. I’ve never seen him by himself, but I feel sure it would be the same.

My wife would think of them as “soul mates.” I think of them as two halves, a male half and a female half, of a whole. The whole, of course, being greater than the sum of its parts.

The photo at the top of this story is of a painting titled “Mestizo Series: Los Novios” by Amado Pena, and is taken from the website AVANCE’s 10th Annual Toma Mi Corazon.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

BUS STORY # 274 (The Case Of The Purloined Bus Stop Sign)

I leave work late this evening, but my compensation is running into Vikram* on the ride home. I haven’t seen him in since he’s started his new job working at the university.

We’re having a good time catching up, and we are both amused that, for once, the layover by the Sunshine Apartments** is a good thing because we have a lot of catching up to do.

Our driver is a new guy, a young guy. Vikram nods at our driver and tells me one of his co-riders who also works at the university has another driver to train to stop at his stop.

I’m confused.

Well, his regular stop is just north of Marquette. Do I know that stop?

Sure I do.

Well, did I ever notice there’s no bus stop sign there?

As a matter of fact, I have not. I do know there’s a stop there because I’ve seen folks get off there. But I couldn’t tell you if it had a sign or a bench or both or neither.

Well, it used to have a sign, Vikram explains. But every time the city puts one up, it disappears shortly afterwards.

You’re kidding! Who’d steal a bus stop sign?

Somebody who doesn’t like the buses coming up this way.

Last Seen Right Here by busboy4
Last Seen Right Here, a photo by busboy4 on Flickr.

Vikram asked if I remembered when ABQ RIDE cut off our route at Tramway. Yes I did. I wrote several posts about the experience between December, 2006, and the final restoration of the route the following April. I remember hearing at the time several variations on the theme that some folks -- or some one folk with clout -- didn’t like the bus in our neighborhood.

It is Vikram’s suspicion that a disgruntled neighbor is taking the signs down as his personal protest.

It can’t be the noise anymore, Vikram points out. Back then, they were running the 300s. But they use only the new 700s and 900s on the route now, and they’re significantly quieter.

I smile. I smile because this is a pretty good little bus story, and because I like how Vikram, despite his many years of living among us native-born Americans, continues to look for the rational in our behaviors.

*Real name changed.

** The layover was returned to the original layover on Chelwood Park on December 31.