Sunday, March 31, 2013

BUS STORY # 334 (Double Trouble)

We’re at the stop across from UNMH.  Several of us board, and the driver closes the front door.  I’ve settled in with a magazine when I hear the driver barking at someone.  I look up and see him standing in the open doorway.  He’s berating someone for waiting till he’s about to pull out to ask to board.

When he starts lowering the ramp, I know who it is.  While waiting for the bus, I saw an old guy with a big gray beard and a long gray ponytail in an electric wheelchair talking and laughing animatedly with a Native American in camo pants and a blue boonie. I’m guessing they were so preoccupied they did not realize their bus had arrived until the doors had already closed.

The driver is irritated and tells them they’re making everyone late.

When the old guy drives aboard, he apologizes very contritely, twice, before deftly maneuvering into the space the driver has opened up.  The driver secures the chair, pulls up the ramp, and waits for the guy in the boonie to board.

This last boarder stumbles to the back of the bus where he proceeds to attempt a conversation with his friend in the front of the bus.  The old guy turns in his chair, waves and grins, then turns forward again.

The guy in the back continues his one-sided conversation, repeating several sentences over and over before moving on to the next one.  This goes on until they both get off at San Pedro.

At Juan Tabo, we pick up another electric wheelchair rider.

This guy is enormous.  He’s wearing oxygen tubing.

The driver sends the folks on the passenger side bench seat and first row seat to the back of the bus, then lifts both seats up to make room for the chair.

The rider drives aboard and turns at the till, then stops. There is some sort of discussion going on which I cannot hear. But one of the three women sitting on the bench seat facing the open spot rises abruptly and heads for the back.

I see the driver gesture toward the space but cannot hear what he says. The rider spins his chair around and backs into the space, but he does a bad job of it. The oxygen tank on the back of his chair hits the window.

There is more discussion.

A second woman gets up to leave. I hear the driver tell her there’s plenty of room. She pauses, then resumes her flight toward the back.

The third woman, an old woman, then migrates toward the empty aisle seat in the first forward-facing row.

The wheelchair rider repositions his chair, and the driver starts to secure it to the bus.

Even as he is working, even though I can’t hear the conversation, it’s obvious now the two of them have gotten into it. I see the driver finish securing the straps, head back to his seat, stop, turn around and point to the rider, and tell him he doesn’t want to hear any more out of him. There is a pause during which I assume he hears more out of the rider because he then tells the rider to just shut up.

The rider tells him he doesn’t have to put up with this, and he’s getting off, now.

He fires out from his space, and in the process disconnects the chair’s power cord from its battery. This is probably a good thing since he is also still tethered.

Another rider sees the loose cord and tries to find where it should be seated.  He never does have any luck.

The chair blocks the aisle now, and the driver climbs over the wheel well to get to the back straps. But after he unfastens them, the chair is still without power.

The rider gets up out of the chair and starts pulling it forward in a series of jerks.  A couple of riders get up and help him maneuver the chair to the ramp, then out onto the sidewalk.

I don’t know if he has been reconnected to his power source or not.

When the bus pulls away, I can see him in his chair facing west, cell phone to his ear.  I’m guessing he’s calling 311 – the ABQ RIDE number goes to a pre-recorded menu after 5:00 p.m.

One of the riders sitting up back with us asks one of the riders who helped with the chair what happened.

He replies he thinks the wheelchair guy thought the passengers in the bench seat were in his way, and he got a little impatient.  He says he doesn’t think the old woman heard him at first.

Then he wonders if this rider and this driver have a history.

Whatever the story, the bus is very, very quiet the rest of the ride.


The next day, same time, same driver, we pick up a power wheelchair just west of the Sunflower [now Sprouts] Market. After the driver folds up the two seats on the passenger side, the rider zips on board, spins, and parks himself exactly where he needs to be. There are two other riders sitting on the bench seat across the aisle from him.

I’m reminded that these guys and gals exhibit this degree of skill almost every time. (So do most of the manual wheelchair riders.) But he doesn’t have a tank on the back of his chair, and now I am wondering if yesterday’s guy had a wider chair for his considerably wider self. Later, I will google “power chairs” and confirm chairs made for heavier riders can be as much as seven inches wider than the standard models.

The driver and rider make pleasant small talk while the driver straps down the chair. I get off before him.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

BUS STORY # 333 (The Entrepreneurial Spirit, Part Two)

Dream On by busboy4
downloaded from the 03/17/10 entry ‘Aerosmith®’ Rocks as New Mexico Lottery Scratcher on the website Aero Force One.

You can read Part One here.

I find David a week or so later at the same bus stop where I ask him if his leads had gotten him any work.

They had not. But one of them put him onto a job opening at a restaurant in Nob Hill.

He goes down to apply. The guy asks if he can wash dishes. He can wash dishes.

The guy takes him to the back, shows him a kitchen full of dirty dishes, glasses, silverware. The dishwasher quit yesterday. The guy wants David to show him what he can do.

David asks him if he has an apron, and where everything goes when it’s washed.

The guy comes back an hour later, looks around, tells David he’s hired.

Nine dollars an hour, David tells me, three hours a week. Better than nothing. He’d rather be painting -- he can earn a lot more -- but this job still leaves him time for any painting jobs that come up.

He’s got a scratcher in his hands.


The photo at the top of this page was downloaded from the 03/17/10 entry ‘Aerosmith®’ Rocks as New Mexico Lottery Scratcher on the website Aero Force One.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

BUS STORY # 332 (The Entrepreneurial Spirit, Part One)

Easy Money by busboy4
Easy Money, a photo by busboy4 on Flickr.

I find David the painter waiting for the downtown-bound Rapid this morning. He’s wearing jeans and a black hoodie, with the hood pulled up over an Atlanta Falcons baseball cap.

I tell him he doesn’t look dressed for work.

He tells me he’s hustling this morning.

He explains he currently has no painting jobs scheduled, but he has a lot of friends who give him leads.  He has a list of leads he’s planning to visit face-to-face this morning.

I ask how often this gets him work.

You never know, he says.  Better than sitting at home, though.  You can’t make money sitting at home.

He goes on to tell me about guys who’ve told him they’d rather make money by selling drugs.  He tells them they’re crazy.  They’re either gonna get caught or else ratted out, and then they’ll go to prison and ruin the rest of their lives.

I’m reminded of an article I read a couple of weeks earlier about a Detroit kid from “the hood” who told the reporter he learned early if you dealt drugs, you ended up one of two things: in jail or dead.

What do they say to that, I ask.

They don’t care.  They just want to make money.  I tell them why don’t you get a real job, flip burgers or something, instead of messing up your life?  They tell me “We don’t do that.” So they buy scratchers, you know? To try and get a stake.  They tell me, man, if they had a thousand dollars right now, they could turn it around for two.  That’s all they care about.

The bus comes, and we board. He takes a seat up front. I wish him good luck with his rounds today, then head for the back. I’m on my way to work.


Thanks to JM in Brooklyn for this week’s featured link: Last Month In: NYC

Sunday, March 10, 2013

BUS STORY # 331 (Cold Hands, Warm Heart)

I’m waiting for my transfer bus when I realize I overestimated the warmth of this late January day back at the house.

I’d been seduced by several windless days of lows in the 40s. This morning, I headed out in just a sweater and a windbreaker. The bus arrived in a couple of minutes; all I’d noticed was it was a little breezy.

It’s been ten minutes now at my connecting stop, plenty long enough to make me miss my hat and gloves and muffler. I’m trying to distract myself with a magazine.

A woman joins me on the bench. After a couple more minutes, she asks me aren’t I cold?

Yes I am, I tell her.

She says I don’t look like I feel cold. It made her wonder because she’s cold.

I assure her I am cold, and I wish I had my hat and gloves.

She shows me her mittens, black knit things. Then she unzips her jacket to show me the fleece inside. She told me she started out without her sweater, but a couple of steps out her door and she went back inside for it. She shows me the pink and white striped sweater poking out beneath the fleece jacket.

She says it's warmer in Peralta.* That’s where she’s from. She came up here to live with a friend of hers, but her friend has no car, and she needs to take the bus to the doctor.

This makes me remember a time last autumn, when I drove down to Peralta to have dinner with a former co-worker who’d moved to England a year earlier, and was back home visiting family. We had a lovely and lively evening at the home of his cousin and her family.

I am still entertaining that pleasant, warming memory when the bus arrives.

We board, taking separate seats across the aisle from one another.

She turns to look at me and catches me blowing into my cupped hands. She quickly strips off a glove and thrusts it towards me.

“Want to borrow my gloves?”

I laugh, and tell her no, thank you, I’m fine.

But her simple, spontaneous generosity touches and warms me.

I remember the welcoming hospitality my old co-worker’s family showed me last autumn, and I think the woman must be right: it is warmer in Peralta.


*Peralta is a small community some 20 miles south of Albuquerque and east of I-25 and the Rio Grande.


The photo at the top of this story is titled Yolanda Shares Her Gloves, © All Rights Reserved, by BLTadventure, and is posted here by permission. You can see all BLTadventure's photos on Flickr here. You can see BLTadventure’s design website here.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

BUS STORY # 330 (Shorts 29)

Kid Graffiti by busboy4
Kid Graffiti, a photo by busboy4 on Flickr.

Today is a free ride day on this particular bus.  It seems the till isn’t working.  The driver has wedged some papers in the slot to keep riders from inserting their bills.  If you’ve got a pass, that part of the system is working fine.  But if all you have is cash, sorry: you gotta ride for free.


Typical young high schooler, black hoodie, jeans, athletic shoes, backpack between his feet. Head down, focused on what he’s working in his hands. Only it’s not a playlist or texting or the web. He’s working a Rubik’s Cube. Dude, that’s your father’s toy! And it just might be. The cube is worn. Some of the squares look like the color is curling back from the corners. He’s working it like he knows what he’s doing: a series of quick turns between brief study pauses. He’s a good way through getting one side orange when he shoves the relic in his pocket and gets ready for his stop.


Something white fluttering to the floor catches my eye. It’s a paper napkin.  I can’t tell if the woman it came from dropped it by accident or threw it there.  She’s focused on wrapping up whatever she was eating in its foil packaging.  She’s either oblivious to having lost the napkin, or doing a splendid job of appearing oblivious.  The man behind her, a 30-something guy in a coat and tie, looks at the napkin, then at the back of her head.  I read from his expression that he’s trying to sort it out, too.  He waits to see if she’s gonna pick it up.  Finally, he leans over, picks it up, then offers it to her.  She looks at it for a moment, then takes it and stuffs it into her purse. She doesn’t say a word.


Overheard on the bus the Wednesday after Super Bowl Sunday:
“Hey, who made it to the Super Bowl?”
“San Francisco and the Baltimore Ravens.”
“San Francisco, all right! When do they play?”
“Dude, they played last Sunday.”
“They already played? Who won?”
“The Ravens. By four.”*
“Oh, man! I was pullin’ for Montana.”


*You and I know the Ravens actually won by three. The same rider also reported the score at the half was “21 to 7.” But he nailed the game day, the winner, and he let Montana ride. He gets a pass from me.