Sunday, February 24, 2013

BUS STORY # 329 (True Grit)

Elizabeth Marvel playing the character Mattie Ross, all grown up, from the Coen brothers film True Grit. by busboy4
Elizabeth Marvel playing the character Mattie Ross, all grown up, from the Coen brothers film True Grit. Downloaded from Kelli Marshall’s December 26, 2010, post “True Grit: Give Me A Different Ending And Some Freakin’ Contractions” from her website MediAcademia.

It happens. The northbound Rapid pulled up at a red light at the intersection of Louisiana and Lomas, and the eastbound 11 rolled past the front windshield and pulled into the stop. That was supposed to be my connection.

The woman across the aisle from me groaned out loud, then jumped up and asked the driver if he could let her off right where we were. No surprise that he did not. We had to wait tll the light turned green, then the bus to start up, then pass through the intersection, then pull over to the stop on the other side of Lomas where we would disembark and wait for the light to let us walk back over to the other side. The 11 would be long gone.

“That’ll be another 20 minutes,” she said out loud to no one in particular.

“I feel your pain,” I told her.

She smiled at me, then told me she’d been lucky all week. She guessed it was just her turn to be out of luck.

I told her I was sorry she hadn’t been out of luck earlier in the week instead of today.

We got off across the street and headed back toward the intersection. She took off east, then jay-walked across Lomas when traffic permitted. I stayed at the corner until the signal said “Walk.”

When I got to the stop where she was already waiting, she laughed and said she hadn’t realized on the Rapid that the 11 was my bus, too.

“I told you I felt your pain,” I said.

“I thought you were just being sympathetic,” she replied.

The bench was wet from an earlier rain, so we stood in front of it and waited and talked.

She reminded me a lot of one of my sisters-in-law.

I don’t remember exactly how we reached the subject, but she asked me did I know that if a person has a diagnosis of PTSD or some other “mental problem,” they can’t be turned out of their apartments or fired from their jobs?

No, I didn’t, I told her, and asked her how she knew this to be the case.

Because she had a lease on an apartment downtown, and when it expired, they told her they couldn’t renew it. But the guy in another apartment who sometimes did a little shouting at night, or who sometimes threw things out the window, they had to keep him as long as he wanted to stay because he had some kind of diagnosis and was “on government support.”

And when she worked at Goodwill, they told her it was a shame she didn’t have some kind of diagnosis so they could keep her on when her year was up.

She told me this was a subject that really irritated her. She’d been raised to work hard and make her own way, to take responsibility for her life. It galls her to see how some people work the system to get on whatever kind of support they can get and not have to do anything for themselves.

She told me she thought this was a generational thing. She doesn’t see any evidence of these values in young people today. She didn’t use the word “entitlement” when she talked about young people, but that is what she meant. I suggested there are still some kids around who were raised like we were. She conceded “maybe one in ten.”

Over the next 15-to-20 minutes or so, I asked more questions, and she told me a lot of her story.

She didn’t offer me any details, but I gathered she found herself in an untenable family situation and realized she needed to cut all ties, including with her grown children.

In the process of cutting her ties, she made herself homeless. She found shelter in the Barrett House. It took two years, but her case worker there found the apartment downtown for her, and arranged a one-year lease.

That same case worker got her a three-month job at Goodwill. After her three-month evaluation, they kept her on for the rest of the year. Apparently, this was meant to be a starter job with the goal that she would have earned income while she worked on finding a permanent job.

Again, her case worker provided her with some leads, and one of those panned out. She is doing “temp work,” now, but her employer has been arranging for her to get more training for better work opportunities.

She told me it had been really hard, and that she was getting by just “by the skin of my teeth.”

She did find a new place herself, where she is still living now with her cat. “It’s good to have a little company,” she said about the cat.

She babysits her grandchildren from time to time, but keeps her distance from the rest of her family -- except for a son.

She explained “they will probably have to hit bottom” before they realize they need to address their problems. But she believes that, quite recently, God has touched the heart of her son, just as He had touched hers. She is optimistic about him. There was joy in her face when she told me this.

“I’m not a Bible-thumper,” she told me, “but I know there is a God, and He works in mysterious ways.” She also gave a lot of credit to Barrett House.

I told her that I understood social workers like her case worker often get burned out because they rarely have clients like herself who are both able and willing to take advantage of the opportunities they’re given, and pull themselves back up on their own two feet. I told her she was probably as much a gift to them as they to her.

It was obvious she was touched.

So was I.

When the bus came, we shook hands. I thanked her for sharing her story with me.

The bus was pretty full, and we both ended up sitting on the bench seats facing the rear door.

We made small talk. She asked me how far I had to go, what kind of work I did, if I had any children, and so forth. When we got close to her stop, she again shook my hand, and thanked me. And then she was gone.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

BUS STORY # 328 (Get A Job Sha Na Na Na)

Job Corps Works by busboy4
Job Corps Works, a photo by busboy4 on Flickr.

There’s just the two of us waiting for the bus.

He looks to be in his 30s. He’s got a bike, some heavy but well-kept work shoes, a nice pair of khakis, and a jacket that looks a lot like mine. 

It’s the jackets that start the conversation.

He’s working for a temp agency right now.  He’d been looking for a job, but it’s tough.  He’s filled out he doesn’t know how many job applications, submitted his resume on line... But unless there’s that personal contact… He hasn’t been able to land an interview.

You either have to know someone, or they have to know you, he tells me.

He’s worked for the temp agency before.  He’s got a strong work ethic – “At the end of the day, it’s got my name on it, and I want it done right, no matter what they’re paying me” – and the agency now has businesses that request him by name.

I mention that is the way a lot of people end up getting permanent jobs.  The businesses they temp for see what kind of worker they are and offer them a job.

He says that’s true, but there are some difficulties.  First, he is actually an employee of the temp agency.  If someone wants to hire him, they would have to “buy out” his contract from the agency.  Considering that they pay “a fortune” to the agency while he gets minimum wage, it might be worth their while in the long run: they’d end up paying less salary, and he’d end up with a higher one.  The problem is that much of the work he does is cyclical.  He’s not needed full time.

He says he took some time off after his last job and made job-hunting his full-time job.  That’s when he filled out all those applications and submitted all those resumes he was referring to earlier.  But after a few weeks and no interviews or offers, he called up the temp agency and went back to work.

He says it’s pretty difficult to job-hunt when you’re working a day job.  I have no trouble grasping that.  It’s pretty difficult to do anything – see a doctor, go to the bank, wait for an electrician who’s coming sometime between one and five – when you’re working full time.

Throughout this conversation, I become aware that there is no trace of whining, or of anger or bitterness or cynicism in his voice, his face, his demeanor. He actually smiles a lot, and impresses me as a quintessentially happy man.

I’m thinking if this guy could just get an interview...

Sunday, February 10, 2013

BUS STORY # 327 (Old New Father)

securedownload by busboy4
On the Bus, © Elijah Zarwan, a photo by Elijah Zarwan on Flickr.

The first I see of him is his back all hunched over and backing up the stairs of the 300.

He’s pulling a good-sized stroller up the stairs.  A woman is on the other end, but she has two bags in addition to the back of the stroller, so he’s doing some heavy-duty pulling.

Up on the floor, he puts the stroller across the second set of bench seats directly across from me.  The woman drops the bags on two of the seats, then heads back to the till.

She swipes two bus passes, then comes over to the bench.  The man is already sitting in the third empty seat, behind the front end of the stroller.

Inside the stroller is one cute kid, maybe four or five months old, in a blue jumpsuit, an orange watch cap, and orange mittens. Denver Bronco colors.

I figure the man must be early 50s.  Faded blue jeans, brown sweatshirt, short, stand-up-straight gray hair.

She’s younger, but not young, maybe mid-30s.  Pretty good size, a sleeveless black blouse despite the cool weather.

She tells him he needs to take the child out of the stroller.

He jumps to it, and sits the child on his lap.  Both of them look happy.

She tells him he needs to give the child his bottle now.  He starts rummaging through one of the bags with one free hand.

“He’s still learning,” she explains to the rest of us watching the show.

“I’m 50 years old and I’m a father,” he says, “and this is my son. I have a son!”

Pride and a slightly stunned-looking wonder fill his face.  He leans over the child and kisses him on the top of his cap.

Later, as they are approaching their stop, Mom tells Dad to take the kid and the two bags.  She’ll get the stroller.  He does as he’s told, no trace of male resentment or testosterone-fueled pushback.  He’s looks happily bewildered, and grateful for direction.


The photo at the top of this story is titled On the Bus, © Elijah Zarwan, and is posted here by permission. You can see all Elijah Zarwan’s photos on Flickr here.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

BUS STORY # 326 (John's Bus Story # 1)

I’m indebted to my daughter for this Facebook-posted bus story from New York City, and to its author, John Scott Tynes, for permission to post.

Sitting at the bus stop at 7:30 in the morning. Car screeches to a halt right in front of me.

Passenger door swings open, woman leans out.

“How much for your hat?” she barks. “I collect stars!”

I’m wearing a light brown wool cap with a dark brown Converse-esque star on one side, which I bought used for five bucks at Buffalo Exchange a year ago on a very cold night on my way home from work.

“Nah, I kinda like it,” I reply.

She scowls and slams the door. The driver peels out.

Minutes later, the bus arrives.


The photo at the top of this story is downloaded from the website Sports Station (Your One-Stop Sports Apparel Store!).