Sunday, November 25, 2012

BUS STORY # 316 (Rainy Day Women)

What just happened? by busboy4
What just happened?, downloaded from Alberto Ayora’s essay ”Think Zombie” on the website ACV.

A light rain has been falling. When we pull up to the stop, there are two women sitting on the bench. One of them turns to the other, says something, then comes to the door with her bike.

I’m surprised the driver lets her on with the bike. We’re pretty empty, but the bike rack is empty, too. Must be because of the rain.

She’s young, maybe late 20s, with her hair pulled back and tight into a thick braid. It looks like a hawser. She sits on the bench seat across from the driver, and pulls her bike up in front of her.

The bus pulls forward to the light and stops.

The girl looks over her shoulder, out the window, to where the other woman is sitting in the rain, looking at a cell phone. A rueful little smile and a quiet shake of the head.

The woman on the bench looks older. Mother and daughter? I don't think so. It doesn't feel that way at all.

The driver asks her why her friend is sitting in the rain.

Because she doesn’t have money for the bus.

The driver opens the door and calls to the woman.

The woman comes to the door.

He asks her if she needs a ride.

She says she doesn’t have any money.

It’s all right, he tells her. Come in out of the rain.

She does.

“Thank you,” she says. “Thank you.”

She takes the window seat near the younger woman. She is older, maybe early 40s. The younger woman smiles at her, says something, The older woman replies, then turns and looks out the window. The younger woman looks at her for a while, smile fading, then turns away.

Two friends who got into a fight? Two strangers? Did the older woman ask her for bus fare and the younger woman not give her anything? Did the younger woman not have anything to give? Did she refuse? Or maybe the younger woman offered the older woman bus fare and the older woman refused.

We all ride in silence for a while. I watch the younger woman’s face. It is a plain, earnest face. Large eyes. She looks like someone who has something to say and is just waiting for the right moment.

She does say something when the other woman turns back from the window and looks toward her. Again, the exchange is brief. And quiet. I can’t hear either one of them. But I can tell the older woman doesn’t want to talk.

Then, several stops later, the older woman speaks first. The younger woman turns in her seat, focuses intently, listens, speaks, listens. speaks.

I can hear bits of what the young woman is telling her. “ don’t have to...there are places you can go...”

The younger woman is firm, but kind. Insistent, but gentle. And patient.

I’ve got a story: the older woman has impetuously fled an abusive situation. Fled to the bus stop because that’s all she’s got at the moment to make her escape. Fled with nothing but a cell phone -- no money, no purse, just the clothes on her back. And now, sitting on the bus, she is overcome with the realization of what she has just done: burned a bridge behind her, and now she doesn’t know where she’s going, or what she’s going to do at the inevitable end of the line. And she is telling this to a younger woman who is not only listening, but who is willing and, it appears, able to help.

I reach my stop as this discussion is unfolding, and I walk home in the rain, wondering how different my bus story is from the bus story going on right now in the bus moving farther and farther away from where I got off.


At the top of this story, this still from the iconic scene in the film The Graduate was downloaded from Alberto Ayora’s essay ”Think Zombie” on the website ACV, a “student-written, student-run blog at Amherst College.”

Sunday, November 18, 2012

BUS STORY # 315 (Portrait # 7.1: Leader, Revisited)

Bar Bulletin for March 30, 2011 by busboy4
Bar Bulletin for March 30, 2011, downloaded from the website for Helen Gwinn , a New Mexico artist whose painting, “Let’s Talk,” was chosen for the March 30, 2011, issue of Bar Bulletin, “the Official Publication of the State Bar of New Mexico.”

Back in May of 2010, I posted a portrait of a rider that included this speculation: “He looks like a lawyer or an ex-politician...” (You can read it here.)

Now, I have some new information.

I spotted him boarding my bus, and noticed he was carrying a book and magazine. He sat where I could see the tops of both.

The title of the magazine was “Bar Bulletin.”

I googled the title when I got home that evening, and at the top of my returns was the State Bar Of New Mexico Bar Bulletin.

(Reading further, I discovered there are Bar Bulletins for any number of states and municipalities. I wonder if New Mexico came up first in my search because Google has been implementing what are called “semantic” algorithms to give us what it thinks we want to see when we search. But that’s a whole ‘nother story.)

If the magazine has strengthened my hunch he is a lawyer, it is the book that now allows me to imagine a man looking for more than success in his profession and comfort in his daily life.

Running across the top of the book cover was Great Courses. His arm covered the remainder. But I had something else to google now. What I found was a wide variety of self-education options -- books, tapes, CDs -- spanning the whole of western civilization.

A few titles suggest they challenge the conventional wisdom in a given field of study, which would require the reader or listener to already know what the conventional wisdom is.

I can see a lawyer appreciating a good counter-argument and looking for strengths and weaknesses in the evidence.

But what I really end up seeing is a black man who I now imagine is systematically providing himself with a liberal arts education, a complete history of western civilization, a history that explains not only the improbability of how he has wound up being a part of it, but is now an essential part of his understanding his own transplanted roots.

Or: after a polite interval, he is returning the Great Courses volume to the colleague who lent it to him assuming, mistakenly, he would appreciate it. He actually prefers John Grisham.

Or: Well, the possibilities are endless, aren't they?


The photo at the top of this story was downloaded from the website for Helen Gwinn, a New Mexico artist whose painting, “Let’s Talk,” was chosen for the March 30, 2011, issue of Bar Bulletin, “the Official Publication of the State Bar of New Mexico.”

Sunday, November 11, 2012

BUS STORY # 314 (Politics On The Bus)

Politics by busboy4
Image downloaded from the September 20, 2012 post, The Limits Of Politics , from the blog Renew .

It is remarkable to me that in the past six-and-a-half years of riding the bus – years that span two presidential races and one mid-term election – I have heard only four bus conversations that involved politics.

From the get-go, I didn’t want Busboy bringing partisan politics into the blog, no matter how interesting or amusing the story.  At most, I anticipated possibly discussing local issues affecting public transportation.  Fortunately, we’ve had mayors from both sides of the fence supportive of ABQ RIDE.

I can recall all four conversations.  One was a simple partisan observation made out loud by a regular the morning after the 2008 election, to which there was a single partisan response.  Followed by silence all around.

Another was from a woman who told me she worked in an office where her coworkers were divided along the usual lines, and who almost daily argued their views over whatever the morning’s headlines happened to be.  Besides being upsetting and disruptive to her work, she said it was like listening to people who came from two entirely different planets.

The third was more amusing.  A rider used salt and pepper in a cooking analogy, and described the pros and cons of each.  It was clever enough that I might have used it had there not been a bias toward one of the seasonings.

But this past election morning, I overheard a discussion between two older guys in the back of the bus.  This one I feel I can share:

1st rider: “Have you voted yet?”

2nd rider: “Sure have.  I voted early ‘cuz I didn’t want to stand in line.”

1st rider: “I’m still undecided.  But I’m gonna figure out who to vote for by noon.”

2nd rider: “How you gonna do that?”

1st rider: “I’m gonna count commercials. Whoever has the least commercials wins.”

2nd rider: Laughs, then asks, “What’s that gonna tell you?”

1st rider: “It tells me he’s done his job getting his [bunch of malarkey] out there early and doesn’t need to be wasting any more money.”


The image at the top of this story was downloaded from the September 20, 2012 post, The Limits Of Politics , from the blog Renew .

Saturday, November 03, 2012

BUS STORY # 313 (Office Politics)

the office by busboy4
the office, a photo by busboy4 on Flickr.

We both get off at UNM, beauty before age. About 20 yards in, she turns back to me and asks me if I’m going to catch the 5 or 11. I tell her I am. She tells me she’s seen me on the bus a few times before, and she drops back so we can walk side by side and talk. I don’t remember seeing her before, but I keep that to myself.

Turns out she does clerical work in a state office in my area. She’s been there for three years, and was happy to be there until she got sick and was out for two months on FMLA.

She doesn’t tell me anything more about her illness other than it was progressive, and that she tried to keep working until she was physically unable.

After she returned, everything was different.

Most of her projects had been given to others, and she was told she would not be getting them back. The problem was that the folks she’d been working with for the past three years kept calling her and asking for her help. When she explained the project assignments had been switched, they told her they weren’t getting the support they needed from the new liaisons.

The other liaisons, her co-workers, knew about the calls and resented her for getting them. (“Like it’s my fault!”) Her manager also began scrutinizing her work like he had never done before. This was after he had asked her to take on some additional responsibilities -- without an increase in pay. She had taken them on. (“I like learning new things, and I’m a fast learner.”)

Two veterans had warned her about taking on the extra responsibilities. They told her any perception that she was trying to advance herself or her career would invite sabotage. They advised her to find her niche, keep a low profile, do a “mediocre” job, and nobody would feel threatened. She’d be fine.

She is not fine.

She knows she needs to start looking for another job, but she hates leaving this one because her son’s school is so close (They take the bus in together; she walks over to pick him up after work and they bus home together.); good jobs are hard to come by; the state benefits are good; it was a great job before she got sick...

I ask about her son. He’s five. And he’s not with her this week because he’s with his father.

She goes on to explain how her son getting sick cost her a job with one of the large for-profit insurance companies. He was a few months old when he developed RSV. (I googled RSV when I got home. You can read about it here.)

In the hospital, she learned she would be taking him home when he was stable, and would have to recognize when he needed nebulizer treatments -- and how to give them.

She applied for FMLA and got it.

Getting him over the problem took longer than expected, and she felt pressure from her employer to return to work. She told them sorry, but her child came first.

Shortly after returning to work, her son got salmonella “from the day care” where she had placed him on work days. She applied once again for FMLA. This time she was turned down because, she says they told her, “it isn’t life-threatening.”

The poor thing was going almost continuously from both ends, she explained. She had no help. She is not from here, and her only family was her 20-year-old sister who was definitely not mature enough to take on child care, never mind a sick child. Her in-laws both worked. No mention of dad.

Apparently, she got an ultimatum, and chose to stay home with her child. And that was that.

I’m in the process of clarifying some details when the 5 pulls up.

“There’s my bus,” she tells me. She adds she’d be riding tomorrow, and maybe she’ll see me then.

It’s been a while, now, and I haven’t seen her since. Maybe she found a new job.