Sunday, April 29, 2012

BUS STORY # 286 ("We Will")

We’re picking up the after-dinner crowd from Project Share. I always see a mix of new faces and old familiar ones, but everybody boarding always seems to know everybody else.

This evening, there’s a couple I haven’t seen before. I don’t realize they’re a couple until she sits in his lap when there aren’t any seats nearby. He makes a show of how heavy she is, but they are both having fun. The guy across the aisle gallantly offers her his seat, and she takes it.

I’m guessing they’re in their late 40s-early 50s, but they are wearing the patina of the street, and may look older than they really are. He’s in jeans and a flannel shirt jacket. She’s wearing her blonde hair in a pony tail.

After she moves across the aisle to her own seat, she calls out what a wonderful dinner they’ve just had. She repeats, a wonderful dinner, then adds, thank you Jesus.

She doesn’t get any amens, but she happily plunges into the hubbub of conversation filling the bus.

A short while later, we are approaching the Smiths at the corner of Yale and Coal.

She points out the window and says that’s where they used to live, about four blocks east of Smiths. She remembers one snowy evening she and her husband were pushing a grocery cart full of groceries back to their apartment.

Her husband takes over the story. They were pushing that cart down the street, down a tire track pathway made in the snow by passing cars. They had four hundred dollars worth of groceries in that cart. There was ice under the snow, and it was slow going. And every time they heard a car coming, they had to quick get the cart and themselves into the snow by the side of the street.

She adds, it took them two hours to get home that night.

Four hundred dollars worth of groceries in that cart, he says.

We had a freezer back then, she says. And then she adds, half to him, half to us, "Don’t worry, we’ll get back to where we were. We will."

Sunday, April 22, 2012

BUS STORY # 285 (Portrait # 17: Poster Child)

He hit me. Again. by busboy4
HE HIT ME. AGAIN., a photo by busboy4 on Flickr.

The bus is crowded. People are standing in the aisle even up here on the back platform.

Through all the shuffling of standing riders, I pick up on the quick, small, involuntary jerking movements of the young woman sitting across from me and one seat over.

She’s a small, delicate blonde girl, late teens or early 20s. Even though it’s already dark outside, she’s got on sunglasses. But I now see her mouth is twitching, and she can’t seem to get comfortable. She is, I realize, terribly agitated and trying very hard not to cry.

Then I see the bruises. One on her right cheek, one near the right corner of her mouth. They are small bruises. New bruises. “Knuckle-size,” I find myself thinking. Later, when she turns her head toward the back of the bus, I catch sight of a third small bruise on her left jaw.

She has earphones connected to her cell. She periodically looks at the cell, and then texts furiously. Later, I pick up on the fact that the cell lights up when she gets a text. That’s when she looks, then replies.

The process aggravates the twitching.

Once, when the cell lights up, she looks at it and just shakes her head, ever so slightly, no.

Up by Manzano High School, we pass an electronic billboard. Among the repeating images for local television and businesses is the full-face view of a battered young woman not much older than my young co-rider. To the left of her face, the caption reads: “HE HIT ME.” To the right: “AGAIN.” Beneath her face, the billboard urges us to “stop the cycle of abuse” and gives us a number to call.

But she doesn’t see the billboard. She’s looking at her cell phone again.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

BUS STORY # 284 (The Smile)

Mona Lisa on Bus Shelter by sameold2010
Mona Lisa on Bus Shelter, a photo by sameold2010 on Flickr.

Mom and child board the bus and take the bench seat behind the driver, right in front of me.

The little girl looks to be either a pre-schooler or a first-grader.

Both of them look out of sorts. Neither of them is talking to one another or even looking at one another, and neither is anywhere close to a smile.

Maybe they’ve just had some sort of argument. Maybe mom isn’t a morning person. Maybe neither of them is a morning person.

The girl stops at the bench seat, then turns and waits to see what mom is going to do.

Mom finishes the fare business, then heads for the first seat behind the driver. The girl takes the third seat, directly in front of me. Mom puts her purse in the middle seat, between them.

They still haven’t exchanged looks. If it hadn’t been for the girl turning and waiting to see what mom was gonna do, I’d be questioning my assumption they are together.

The girl hangs on to a plastic book bag. The bag has brightly-colored, big-petaled flowers, rainbows, and a peace symbol in the middle.

I look back up from the bag, and that’s when I notice her hair. Or rather, I notice the rows of little square islands of hair, each island pulled up in the middle and threaded through a colorful bead, and separated by perfectly even rows of skin running front to back and side to side.

(Thanks to the wonder of Google, I will learn these are called “box braids,” and that this little girl’s hair is too short to handle more than a one-bead braid.)

I am awestruck, not just by the geometrical artistry, but by the skill and patience this had to have required.

And not just the patience of mom. I am trying to imagine this little girl sitting still while her hair is being done. This would be team patience!

Maybe that is why the two of them are out of sorts with one another.

At this point, I have been staring intently and so preoccupied with her hair and my speculations about the two of them that I get caught staring.

I realize the little girl has just turned to look at me straight on. She must have sensed me staring at her.

We can’t be three feet apart, and before I can recover from my surprise, her face breaks into an impossibly open-hearted smile. So much innocent, unguarded joy!

I smile right back, almost as big. Can’t help myself. She has utterly disarmed me.

She holds my gaze, and I am the one who looks away first. I look over at mom who is either ignoring what is going on, or, more likely, is preoccupied herself.

I want to tell her her daughter just made my day.

I want to tell her daughter she just made my day.

But I don’t say anything to either of them. I hope my involuntary return smile said it for me.

At the end of the day, I still remember that smile perfectly, and I am still in thrall.

The photo at the top of this story is titled “Mona Lisa in Bus Shelter,” and is posted with the kind permission of sameold2010. You can see all sameold2010’s photos on Flickr at:

The photo in the body of this story is titled “Top view of her new do,” © All Rights Reserved, and is posted with the kind permission of eg2006. You can see all eg2006’s photos on Flicker at:

Sunday, April 08, 2012

BUS STORY # 283 (Interesting Ride Home This Evening)

We’re picking up a lot of riders on the way to Central, more than usual.

A large number of them board at the stop across from Project Share. One of those goes right past the till, no fare, no pass.

The driver calls out to her by name and tells her she needs to get back up there and pay the fare.

She is staggering, but I don’t think it’s alcohol.

She collapses onto a bench seat and tells the driver to keep his britches on. She goes through her purse and produces a bus pass.

The driver is encouraging the other boarders to hurry up, he wants to go home. He seems to know a lot of them by name.

Among the boarders is a woman and child. They take the seat behind me. The child is all wrapped up in a miniature Eskimo parka. I think it may be a boy, but I wouldn’t bet a bus pass on it. I don’t think he’s old enough to talk yet, but he can sing. And sing he does, wee wee wee, all the way home.

Once everyone is aboard, the woman who staggers gets up and works her way back to the till. Between her lurching and the lurching of the bus, I am waiting for her to fall. She doesn’t fall. But when she gets to the till, the driver says he’s already got her.

She staggers back to her seat.

We continue to take on more boarders and are almost full when we get to the corner of Cesar Chavez and Yale.

Four women board the bus. They look like they’ve been on the street. Three of them have swiped their passes and are working their way down the aisle looking for seats.

The fourth women makes the first step, then falls heavily, the lower half of her body over the stairs, and the upper half on the floor by the till.

The three women turn around and rush back to the front.

The woman on the floor calls out, “I’m not drunk.”

She does not sound like she’s not drunk.

“If you’re not drunk, how do you explain you’re bein’ on the floor?”

This from the driver.

The guy sitting across the aisle says he can smell the alcohol.

The other three women struggle to get her up. By the time they get her upright, all four of them are back on the sidewalk.

Quite abruptly, the woman who staggers jumps up and exits the bus.

The drivers calls out that if any of them want to ride this bus, they’d better get on now.

The drunk woman calls out something that I can’t make out but apparently the driver can. He slams the door shut and starts to pull out.

The woman who staggers is suddenly at the front door and shouting in a piercing voice to let her on, let her on.

The driver stops, opens the door, shouts the woman’s name, and asks her why she got off the bus in the first place.

She gets on, goes to her seat.

“I thought it was a code blue,” she finally answers.

“Who made you king of everything?” he asks.

She doesn’t answer for a minute, just sits there with a pouting face. Then, in a quiet voice, “I just wanted to help.”

The driver tells her she’s got all she can to do help herself.

The guy across the aisle by the door tells the driver the woman who fell left him a souvenir.

We all look. I can’t make it out, but the woman who staggers calls out, “It’s mine.”

“Now you’re lyin’,” replies the driver. “Don’t be tellin’ me no lies, now.”

She scowls. “I’m lyin’,” she finally says.

I still have no idea what’s on the floor, but I notice the driver isn’t keen on picking whatever it is up.

Throughout all of this, the kid has been singing happily away. I’m thinking this is one lucky mother.

We all get off at Central, including the mom and child. They go out ahead of me, and at the front, the driver asks her to say hello to her mom for him.

I walk down to the Frontier and catch what seems like an unusually quiet Rapid Ride home.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

BUS STORY # 282 (Crazy Bus)

Crazy Bus by busboy4
Crazy Bus, a photo downloaded from the Topsy Turvy Bus website by busboy4 on Flickr.

The bus is late.

I shouldn’t be surprised. The new front-door pickup feature is bound to throw the time-table off. The more people using it, the greater the delay.

On the positive side, I get most of the paper read.

When the bus finally does pull up in front of my house and I board, the driver apologizes. Seems she had to wait behind several school buses which were also boarding in the neighborhood this morning.

I get myself and all my stuff settled in when the stewardess comes by and offers me a hot cup of coffee. Say what you will about riding the bus, the mayor has done a darn good job of making it an attractive alternative to driving.

I pass on the earphones, though. Even though the DVD screen now features Good Morning America instead of the old municipal PSAs, I’d rather read.

But as we pull into another side street and a new neighborhood, I find myself wondering just how late am I going to be this morning. I look up at the signage at the front of the bus where the date and time scroll by.

April 1...

That should explain everything.

Sorry. I saw the due date for the next post and couldn’t resist.

Photo taken from the Topsy Turvy Bus website.