Sunday, June 30, 2013

BUS STORY # 347 (Livin' The Dream)

You live in Albuquerque and are having this recurring dream: you step outside your front door one morning, and there is a bus stop about a hundred yards away where you can catch a bus into downtown. That bus drops you a block away from one of the most incredible markets you’ve ever seen: stand after stand of “still alive” fresh produce locally grown; fresh fish just off the boat; huge, cheap bouquets of freshly-cut flowers of all kinds; a bakery offering at least a dozen superb, artisanal loaves of bread and all manner of other bakery sweets and savories; wine shops; cheese shops, one of which makes its own cheese right on the premises; a handful of specialty shops just in case you need, say, some red peppercorns or white truffle oil or blue... my gosh, yes, at a little shop at the end of an alley: blue corn masa harina! And after you and the lovely woman who’s come with you have filled your shopping bags, you walk two blocks up the street where you have your choice of not one, not two, but seven different routes that will take you to a stop that is either fifty yards from your front door, or to a stop one street over that will let you out at some stairs that take you down to the bus stop where you caught the bus in the first place.

In wide-awake life, my wife is regaling the eight adults at the dinner table (the children, four of our grandchildren, are just around the corner at their own dinner table) over a communally-prepared dinner of items and ingredients we’d fetched that morning from Pike Place Market using the city bus with just such a tale. She wraps up the story with an amused but indulgent “You should have see him. Busboy was really livin’ the dream this morning.”

But wait! Before you wake up, there’s more!

Imagine that, instead of taking your car downtown to meet friends for dinner, parking it somewhere blocks away from where you are meeting and for a fee greater than you’d be paying a baby sitter, imagine instead you take that same bus from that same bus stop and get off a short block from your restaurant. And after a long evening of good food, fine wine, remarkable locally-distilled dessert, and extraordinarily wonderful company and conversation, you walk two blocks up the street where you have your choice of not one, not two, but those same seven different routes that will take you to one of those same two stops by your front door.

And imagine that, on a particular Friday night around, say, 10:30, after a five-minute wait, you board a very crowded 26 and find just enough space for the two of you right in front, on the aisle-facing bench seat across from the driver. And that, after you sit down, the young woman sitting beside you turns to you both and tells you she saw you get on her bus earlier in the evening, and more than that, it was the 28, and here we all are, both going home on the 26 several hours later... You learn she’s from California, while her boyfriend is a native of Seattle. She knows hot from her father’s living in Palm Springs. She and your wife also talk about the differences between the water-saturated airs of Seattle and Boston ("Yes, it's damp here, but it's a dry damp..."), while you and the boyfriend talk about what happens when it snows. (Yes, it snows in Albuquerque, too. We’re a mile up, you know.) They are coming back from a Mariners game, lost to the A’s in the top of the ninth, but there’s always the Seahawks to look forward to... And they tell us when our exit is two stops away, and so it is.

Our week in Seattle, in a small apartment in the Queen Anne district, was magical. Seattle was magical. The buses were magical. We had only one day of rain and, being from New Mexico, that was magical, too. We spent more time and more outings with our grandchildren than we have ever been able to before, and we had great visits with our children, their spouses, one set of our children’s in-laws, and with good friends too long unvisited.

I’ve been told more than once the quickest way to ruin a place you enjoy is to move there. I have to say, that hasn’t been the case for New Mexico for either of us, but my wife and I both agree Santa Fe would be a lot less fun if we lived there. And so I can imagine that might be true for Seattle as well.

But it’s hard to imagine the frequency and variety of bus routes getting old, of watching an almost continuous stream of buses pulling up to the stops downtown, or looking out the back window and always seeing another bus right behind you, of using an exceptional trip planner which gives you multiple options with waits so short you can only dream about them in Albuquerque.

We’re fortunate to be livin’ the life here in Albuquerque. And, as I’ve said before and will say again now, I think we’re pretty fortunate to have the public transportation system we do have, and a network of local governments committed to improving on what we already have. This isn’t the case in a lot of places. (Seattle itself is having problems.)

But we’re also fortunate to be able to suspend reality for a week, to go off to some foreign urban wonderland where there are family, friends, staggering greenery, and bus service that makes owning a car an option. Talk about livin’ the dream...

Sunday, June 23, 2013

BUS STORY # 346 (Portrait # 22: Not Your Father's Bus Driver)

Ralph Kramden by busboy4
Ralph Kramden, downloaded from the website

Right away, I notice two things about my driver this morning.

One is I’ve not seen her before.

The other is she’s out of uniform.

Instead of the standard black pants or knee-length black shorts, she’s got on a not-black miniskirt. It’s a classy, wide-weave, natural-colored fabric, and it stops halfway down her tanned, trim thighs.

I look up and see big sunglasses and a bright blonde pixie-cut. I also see she’s tan and trim all over.

This is when I notice the third thing: She’s a whole lot closer to my age than my daughter’s.

I swipe my pass and say good morning.

She gives me a big smile and says a cheery good morning back.

Wonderful voice! Contralto. Dark, rich, warm. She says good morning not only like she means it, but like she’s right about it.

And sure enough, now that I’ve heard her say it, I can see she is right about it.

I take a seat, and watch her swing the articulated Rapid back into the traffic. It’s pretty obvious she’s driven this bus around the block a time or two.

I don’t know the story behind the dress code departure, but I can’t imagine she is any more troubled by it than she is by this big ol’ bus or by her age. She’s in the driver’s seat and lovin’ it.

And that makes me smile.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

BUS STORY # 345 (Daddy's Girl)

"Untitled," © All Rights Reserved, a photo by Caitlin Gibson, on Flickr. 

When we stop for a wheelchair, the guy in front, sitting in the bench seat behind the driver with a stroller and a kid, heads to the back.

He’s a young guy, long blond hair and a dark blond beard. The child is somewhere between two and three, I’d say; a blondie like her daddy, with very red, round cheeks.

He takes the bench seat by the back door, where I am sitting.

From the moment he sits down until he gets off, he is talking to Crissy* pretty much non-stop, and most of it is a variation on “Don’t!”

Don’t put your hands in my pocket.

Don’t throw that on the floor. I’m gonna take it away from you if you keep doing that.

Don’t bounce on daddy, Crissy. Can’t you please sit down and be quiet?

It’s a southern voice. Tennessee is what I’d guess.

His daughter is a non-stop handful.

Cris, don’t be pulling daddy’s hair. I gotta look good in court today or the judge isn’t gonna be happy with me. Crissy!

The woman across the aisle from us turns in her seat to get a look at him. Her eyes radiate disapproval. And then I see she’s got Bette Davis eyes. Not the eyes of the song; the mature Bette Davis which, I now understand, is why they radiate disapproval.

After a long look, she turns and faces forward again.

Daddy is telling Crissy it’s not polite to put your hands in other people’s pockets. She must have been listening because she puts them somewhere else.

Cris! I told you don’t be pulling on my hair.

He grabs her under her arms and lifts her up in the air.

Why can’t you be a good girl?

She’s laughing and having a good ol’ time.

He brings her down so she’s standing in his lap, and then he starts tickling her. She is laughing and twisting every which way.

You want me to stop, Crissy? Huh? You want daddy to stop tickling you? You don’t like being tickled? Well that’s how daddy feels when you won’t do what he asks you to do. How do you like that, huh?

He tickles her a little more, then stops. Bette Davis has once again turned in her seat and her eyes are bearing down on dad. If looks could kill...

The little girl is hugging her daddy. Her right hand goes to his shirt pocket.


When they get off, he wheels the carriage to the door with his left hand. He’s carrying Crissy in his right arm. He stops and looks toward the driver.

“Thank you very much driver. You have a good day.”

Bette Davis turns toward the window and follows him until we’ve pulled away from the curb and down the street to where he is out of sight.

There are two stories in here I’d love to have had, and I spend the time until my own stop imagining what they might be, and how they have intertwined here on the bus.


*Real name changed.


The photo at the top of this story is titled “Untitled,” © All Rights Reserved, and is posted with the permission of Caitlin Gibson. You can see all Caitlin Gibson’s photos on Flickr here.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

BUS STORY # 344 (Stroller)

Downloaded from the January 8, 2013, YMC post, “Stroller Mom Lodges Complaint Against Bus Driver.”

I watch a couple with a large stroller board this morning.  The father puts the stroller in front of the empty bench seats across from the driver.  It takes up the space in front of all three seats.  He pulls the child out of the stroller and sits on the bench seats across the aisle, with the child on his lap.

His wife has also taken one of the bench seats, and placed a large bag in the middle seat between her and her husband.

The driver tells them they won’t be able to block access to the bench seats, and that they’ll have to fold the stroller up and out of the way.

It’s a refreshing surprise, but neither of them argues with the driver.  Dad hands his wife the baby, then gets up and moves the stroller down the aisle – it’s a tight fit – to the space in front of the rear doors.

He begins unloading the stroller.  I watch him pull bags and a small backpack and sacks from the stroller and place them under the seats in front of the back doors.  After a while, I think of that stroller as the tiny circus car that a hundred clowns get out of, one at a time.  He removes a bunch of smaller things and finds places in the larger bags to store them.  He is diligent and patient.

The process lasts through several stops, and riders are all moving to the front doors to exit.

Finally, the stroller is empty, the space under the seats is stuffed full, and he folds the stroller up and leans it against the pole in front of the rear door.  He has to stand behind it to keep it upright, which effectively obstructs about half the exit space.

I exit before they do (through the front door), and so miss watching them go through the process of getting off the bus.  After watching him unload and fold, just imagining that process reminds me of something my mother used to say: “God knew what He was doing when He gave children to young people.”

Sunday, June 02, 2013

BUS STORY # 343 (Safety First)

*Explored* Run for the bus!! by minardiforever
*Explored* Run for the bus!!, © All Rights Reserved, a photo by minardiforever on Flickr.

“This guy ran out in front of my bus this morning.”

This out of the blue from our driver. He goes on to tell us how it was still dark. He was approaching the intersection at Candelaria when he saw this guy running through the sweep of his lights -- dark clothes, no reflectors -- he could’ve been hit by a car -- and signaling the bus to stop for him.

Our driver didn’t stop. No way was he gonna slam on the brakes and try making the stop before the intersection. That was just crazy. He had riders who would have been thrown forward, maybe out of their seats and injured. There could have been a car right behind him that could have rear-ended him. He might have ended up sticking partway into the intersection.

The guy’s probably mad at him for not stopping. He’d like to see that guy behind the wheel when another rider did that to him. Then maybe he’d understand.

I’m thinking I’m not sure even that would change the guy’s feelings that the bus should have stopped for him. These days, we seem to want what we want, and that’s about as far as we take it.

And then I’m thinking Busboy is an old man thinking grumpy old man thoughts.

When I shift my attention back to the driver, he’s explaining the drivers are only supposed to pick riders up at the designated stops. He knows there are times drivers exercise discretion and he’s good with that.

I’m thinking there isn’t a rider who doesn’t know he’s right and isn’t grateful for those discretions.

But, he goes on, the rider has a responsibility, too. He needs to get up a few minutes earlier to get out the door to be at that stop on time.

I’m thinking our driver was at my stop eight minutes early this morning. Although now that I think about it, he waited at the stop a couple of minutes before pulling back out into traffic.

There is no rule I know of that defines when a bus is “on time.” Each of us probably has his own definition against which we judge a bus to be early, on time, or late. I use five minutes as a parameter, but that is arbitrary.

And there’s the not-small matter of knowing your driver’s habits. Whenever the drivers all change routes, you can count on hearing stories from the regulars all that first week about how they missed or almost missed their bus or their connection because of the new driver.

There’s where you are along the route. No big surprise that the closer you get to the end of the route, the more wobble in the schedule. Traffic, wheelchair boardings, passenger incidents, drivers’ plans for the rest stop at the turnaround...

Finally, there is your time vs ABQ RIDE time. All experienced riders have at least one time piece synchronized with the time on the bus. Otherwise, your five-minute parameter may have you running across the street waving at the driver rather than standing at the stop when your bus comes.

There is no way to know whether the guy who ran in front of the bus this morning was “on time” or not. All we know for sure is that he was not at the stop when the bus came.

Our driver says he’s learned he can’t make everyone happy, and that his job is to deliver his riders to their destinations as safely as possible. Safety first, he says, underlining his primary standard.

I’m good with that.


The photo at the top of this story is titled “*Explored* Run for the bus!!,” © All Rights Reserved, and is posted with the permission of minardiforever. You can see all minardiforever’s photos on Flickr here.