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.

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