Sunday, August 25, 2013

BUS STORY # 355 (Portrait # 23: Rupert)

I don’t really know his name. I call him Rupert because Rupert Brooks is the British poet who wrote "The Soldier" after his military experiences at Antwerp in World War I.

World War I makes me think of “shell shocked,” a diagnosis that came out of “The Great War” which described a constellation of symptoms afflicting a large number of soldiers fighting in the trenches.

“Shell shocked” also makes me think of Rupert. The bus rider, not the poet. The poet died in 1915 on a hospital ship after contracting blood poisoning. I think maybe Rupert Brooks would have written a very different poem if he had lived to be Rupert the bus rider’s age.

Rupert the bus rider is a regular. He gets on at the same place, and he gets off at the same place, and he does that more often than not on the days I ride on this particular bus and this particular schedule.

He’s a big guy, a tall guy, slightly stooped. The first thing you notice is that he moves very slowly and very deliberately.

The next thing you notice is his face. It is a frozen, expressionless face, the mouth open, the eyes not moving but focused, almost fiercely so.

When he sits, he picks a seat on the aisle, and he turns slowly, and slowly lowers himself into it. He keeps one hand on the seat in front of him after he’s seated, while the rest of him leans forward and watches out the front windshield.

I know he is watching for the landmarks that tell him where his stop is, and he is prepared to begin the process of getting off the bus. He is paying attention. Nothing distracts him from his watch or his position.

I know this is not shell shock. For one thing, the diagnosis itself is outdated. For another, he may be an old guy, but he’s no 125-year-old World War I vet. It is highly improbable he’s British. I’ve googled his behavioral characteristics and come up with a slew of hits for Parkinson’s.

The first time he sat in the seat in front of me, I saw an area behind one ear that was either an old burn or a skin graft.

I noticed his thinning hair was neatly combed. He’d shaved that morning, but had missed some spots in the difficult places.

One morning, after his stop, we were also stopped for the light. I looked for him outside the window and didn’t see him at first. I twisted in my seat and looked back. There he was, getting ready to light a cigarette! He was using matches, too, and he was successful, the match igniting after only one slow scratch. The whole process was a seamless flow of painfully slow, deliberate motions. Before we pulled away, I saw him take the lit cigarette between his thumb and fingers.

I think I know what makes me think “soldier.” It is not the cigarette -- I think of that as an act of independence, maybe even of defiance, one of the last pleasures left to him. Rather, it’s the thought that Rupert, despite the obvious limitations he has that the rest of us don’t, is getting out there and getting to wherever he’s going. He’s “soldiering on,” “a real trooper.”

Still, what makes this particular soldier “Rupert” is the shell shock.


The photo at the top of this story is titled “Remember take hold of your time here,” © All Rights Reserved, and is posted with the permission of QsySue. You can see all QsySue’s photos on Flickr here.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

BUS STORY # 354 (To Garage)

To Garage by busboy4
To Garage, a photo by busboy4 on Flickr.

The engine dies as the bus is pulling up to a stop.

“This can’t be good,” says one rider.  There is nervous laughter.

“This is the third time this morning,” says the driver.  He then announces that we’re all gonna have to get out at the next stop and catch the next bus.  He’s phoning this one in.

One rider says to no one in particular, “So much for being on time this morning.”  Another rider says to him, “Maybe you can get the driver to write you a tardy note.”

The driver waits a few minutes, then tries restarting the engine.  It catches, and he pulls up to the intersection.  We have the red light.  It is still running when the light turns green.  We pull in at the stop on the other side of the intersection and file out.  The driver is telling each of us he’s really sorry, and I can tell he means it.

I step out on the sidewalk and am standing by the open front door where I can hear the driver talking to someone at ABQ RIDE.  He’s sitting in the driver’s seat talking on a phone that’s attached to the wall beside him.  Turns out he drove this same bus one day last week, and it stalled out near the end of his shift.  He reported it then, and he’s reminding them now that this is the same bus.

I look up at the number.  It’s one of the new 900 series.  I was expecting a 700 because I’d heard a rumor from another rider that the 700s are having problems and the mechanics don’t know why.

Just listening to his end of the exchanges, it sounds as if he’s having a difficult time convincing them there really is something wrong with the bus.  After a while, he hangs up the phone and steps back outside.

“They never believe you,” he says to me.  Which I take to mean he knows I was listening in.

I tell him I’ve heard the 700s are having trouble.

He doesn’t think so.  “They’ve got some miles on them by now, you know.”

Three of my co-riders have bikes, and when the next bus comes, there’s only room for two on the rack.  One of the riders defers to the other two, then asks the driver if he can bring his bike on through the back door.  The driver tells him the bus is too crowded.  My co-rider is cool with this.

The rest of us board. The new driver is right: We’ve made his bus crowded.

When I reach my stop and am walking down the sidewalk to my destination, I see another bus limping back the other way.  The signage reads “TO GARAGE.”

It’s a 700.


Thanks to Busninja in Provo, Utah, for this week's featured bus story: This Week In: Herriman, Utah.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

BUS STORY # 353 (Special Edition: Paul’s Bus Story # 2)

New Mexico Rail Runner Express, downloaded from New Mexico Rail Runner Express's Photos on Facebook. by busboy4
New Mexico Rail Runner Express, downloaded from New Mexico Rail Runner Express's Photos on facebook.

Paul is a long time friend from here in Albuquerque. He and I rode the bus together back in Bus Story # 46. A few weeks later, he sent me a fine bus story he’d written after a trip to San Diego. Here is his latest story.

My car’s in the shop on a day when I’ve planned to take the Rail Runner train from Albuquerque to Santa Fe. With my car needing service, I’ve got it worked out in my mind how I can drop my car off at my mechanic at 7:30 this morning, walk a block to catch the Central 66 line around 7:45, stop near my UNM office around 8, make some copies at a Kinko’s, grab a take-out biscuit breakfast, stop at my office to pick up a couple of things and hop back on the 66 to get down to the train downtown, which leaves the station at 9:35… I think. Might be 9:32.

All goes super smooth in my plan and I get everything done and find myself in my UNM office about ready to head back toward Central to pick up that leg to downtown. I re-check the options online. The ABQ RIDE planner says I can get the Westbound #66 at Yale and Central at 9:15 and get to the downtown station endpoint at 9:23. Right where the train boards. That’s 12 minutes of wiggle room, I figure. Pretty good. I can even hop onto the #66 up the street from my office at Girard and Central. That’s before the Yale stop so I’m guessing I need to be there at 9:13.

The planner also says there’s a Rapid Ride 777 Express that could get me at Central and Yale at 9:23. It would shoot me down to downtown without stops and get me there at 9:27. My friend the Busboy would tell me to get on the Rapid. “It’ll be faster.” But I think, “Yeah, but 4 minutes later than the 66. I’ll take the ol’ 66. It should be downtown before the Rapid would even pick me up. Then I won’t have to hoof it down to Yale, since the Rapid won’t stop at Girard near my office. So there, Busboy! I got this one figured out.

I look at the time on my office computer. 9:02. Hmmm. 10 minutes to get the 400 yards up to Girard stop on Central. I just had a 24-ounce Coke. Do I have time to hit the men’s room before I leave my building? I judge I have the time and do the deed, leaving the building at 9:04.

Striding up the hill to Girard, I notice how humid it is for this time of morning. Of course, I also think, my adrenaline is starting to surface. I know I’m on a clock and counting on some things that I’m not completely in control of. I make it to the bus stop on Girard as one of the express busses flies by. That can’t be the Rapid, I think. Must be another express. A stout young woman with piercings and tattoos who is standing at the curb, hollers to her male companion, “It didn’t stop!” Her companion, a skinny, tired-looking young man is resting his head on his backpack. He doesn’t seem alarmed. About 5 others are on the bench with him. Everyone is quietly unsurprised that the express didn’t stop. They’re waiting for the 66 and know the express doesn’t stop here.

The young man lifts his head from his backpack when he sees me. I can’t really hear him but I guess he’s asking if I know when the next bus is coming. With my computer bag on my shoulder, I must look like an experienced bus rider. I accept the role and say, “There’s another one coming soon.” As I walk toward him, he repeats himself and now I can actually hear him. He hadn’t asked about another bus after all.

“Do you have 35 cents for her to catch the bus?” he says.

“Oh - I think so,” I say, fishing change out of my pocket. I’ve already got my all day bus pass so I don’t figure I’ll need the change. I give her two quarters saying, “Isn’t the fare a buck?” “No, I’m a student,” she says. I thought students rode free, I think, but I figure she knows what she’s doing (even if she didn’t know the express didn’t stop here.)

I look at the schedule posted at the stop. It says the next 66 is supposed to be at Central and Yale, beyond this stop I’m at, by 9:13. I check my phone for the time. 9:15. Hmmm. It’s late. I start to wonder what I’d do if this one doesn’t show soon. I’ve been waiting at a stop before when a disabled bus didn’t show at all. If it doesn’t show soon, I could jog west to Yale and try for that express that’s supposed to get there by 9:23. Hmmm. When to bail?

Looking east again, I see rising from the watery haze of the street horizon the front profile of a bus. Must be the 66. Like a sentry, I take the responsibility of reporting to the rest of those waiting, “Here it comes, guys.”

I hop on first, forgetting any protocol about letting the young woman on first, or even waiting for others to exit. I imagine that the young woman may not actually be able to get on with just the 50 cents, and I don’t want to be behind her. Realizing I need to at least wait for riders to get off, I edge to the right to let 3 or 4 out, then amateurishly hold up my day pass to the driver. “Slide it,” he says, pointing to the card reader. I start to put it in backwards. “Other way,” he says. I should know this by now but I always forget. I still forget to slide my credit card at store counters, too.

I sit in an empty forward facing seat near the front. I watch the time crawl on the light display above the driver. 9:20 as we pull away from my stop. 15 minutes until my train leaves downtown. Well it was supposed to make that distance in 10 minutes, according to the schedule. That would still give me 5 minutes to spare. Still, I should have left earlier all around. Oh well, it’s all in this bus’s wheels now.

I move to the window to make room for others.

And the others start to come.

At every stop. We seem to be crawling toward our destination.

A middle aged Native-American fella boards, fist bumps another Native fella sitting in front of me, and takes the seat next to me. They say nothing and don’t regard each other again after the fist bump.

After a moment or two, my seat mate pulls a little weathered pocket-sized book out of his back pocket. He flips through it. I can see it’s the Book of Psalms. But he’s not reading it. He’s looking for a particular note that he’s stuffed in it. He pulls out a worn index card that’s folded over twice. He opens it up to reveal an 888 phone number written in pencil just over the long middle fold. He rubs his thumb across the number. From reading Busboy’s stories, I start imagining a story about the number. Like perhaps it’s a number he needs to keep. Might be a new job riding on him getting the nerve up to call it. His careful thumb rub over it suggests it’s important enough to keep anyway. He studies the card and starts to tear it on the crease right below the number. He peels off the lower quarter of the card. He needs something to write on. He writes another phone number on the little quarter piece and places it randomly into the Book of Psalms.

The call bell keeps ringing. “Stop requested.” “Stop requested.” 9:22, 9:23, 9:24 on the clock. I notice I’m getting impatient with everyone who’s pulling the cord and everyone who is waiting to get on at each stop. At Central and University, a major intersection, about 12 people stream on, each taking a few seconds to drop their fare. Do the math. I’m losing another minute at this stop. 9:25. 10 minutes ‘til the train pulls away downtown.

The last man in this long line is fishing through his many pockets without any luck. The driver, whom I can’t see, is holding the bus while he looks. 9:26. I can’t quite hear as the sun-browned man with unkempt hair makes his plea to be allowed on the bus. Again, I can’t quite hear but the man looks toward some of the passengers standing near the front asking for change. “35 cents?” he asks. No one is responding. I start to fish back into my pocket. I’ll pay his fare if it means we get going. I imagine myself getting up and saying something boorish like “I’m trying to catch the Rail Runner. I’ll pay his way.” I realize I only have 30 cents left in my pocket after giving the young woman two quarters.

The hopeful rider is getting agitated with the driver and keeps talking, upset, as he backs off the bus. I won’t be saving him or acting boorish today. Well, I might still act boorish before this episode is over. It’s 9:27.

“Stop requested.” “Stop Requested.”

One man waiting to get off is standing behind the line at the driver. I glance at his left hand and he’s tapping his thumb against the other fingers on his hand in rapid sequence. I’m imagining that my nervousness about the time, that I’m trying so hard to contain, is leaping through the air and manifesting in this man’s nervous gesture.

“Stop Requested.”

The nervous twitch guy gets off at Broadway and Central. We stay at that stop for what seems like forever for a red light. Another minute. 9:29.

My seat mate is now reading his Book of Psalms. I think maybe I should read over his shoulder. Maybe I’ll find some comforting words that will engender patience and acceptance in me. I try but the print is super small. I can’t make anything out. I’ll have to find my patience in my own stored reserve. I hate using it up on menial stuff like this.

We’re finally nearing downtown and about to dip under the very railroad track that, I hope, will still carry me on to Santa Fe. I actually can see the Rail Runner waiting and people boarding a couple hundred yards to the south.

“Stop Requested. Central and First Street. Transfer to the Transportation Center.”

I think this bus terminates at the train station eventually but I have a vague memory that it goes around a few more downtown blocks before it lands there. I better get off the bus now. It actually turns North up First Street to get to the next stop which convinces me to get off right now because now it’s pointing away from my train and clearly about to move in that direction.

I get off the bus with an obligatory “Thank You.” The bus driver had done his job. Being a little behind time isn’t necessarily his fault.

I jog back across Central. At least I got the pedestrian light in my favor. The train’s only 100 yards away. I’m going to make it. I think. I look at my phone. 9:31. I can’t remember if it leaves at 9:35 or 9:32.

The doors of the train stay open. I hop on. I find a seat in the first car with a little table. I open up my laptop. 9:33. In a moment or two comes the announcement. “Doors are closing.”

I start writing this story for Busboy.

Now it’s done. Apply your own morals/lessons. As for me, (1) leave a little earlier next time – don’t place all your hopes on the one bus that can get you there just in time. (2) Carry enough change for two benevolence fares. (3) Maybe listen to Busboy’s advice about the Express bus more carefully.


The photo at the top of this story was downloaded from New Mexico Rail Runner Express's Photos on facebook.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

BUS STORY # 352 (Can You Say “Sequestration"?)

The Storm Is Coming by busboy4
The Storm Is Coming, a photo by busboy4 on Flickr.

We’re under the hot July sun, sitting on a bench and waiting for our bus. She’s got three big plastic bags of groceries which she has pulled in close so I can have a place to sit.

She also has a wide-brimmed straw hat which she tells me she always wears whenever she’s outdoors. She grew up here, and she spent most of her childhood outdoors. But the sun is different now, she says. More intense. She can tell.

The hat is why her skin looks as good as it does at her age, she explains. She’s 60. She gets teased about being brown everywhere but her face, but she prefers looking younger.

She is Native American, or possibly a Native-Latina mix, and I don’t see any difference between the coloration of her bare arms and her hat-shaded face. She’s wearing a Blue Oyster Cult T-shirt, a double strand small bead necklace, and a cross with a turquoise stone.

She tells me she has never owned a car. All her life she’s either walked or taken the bus. She uses the bus to do all her business: groceries, pay the light, pay the phone, everything.

The bus arrives, and there are two empty rows, one behind the other. She and the groceries take the first row, I the second. She turns in her seat and we continue our conversation.

She’s coming back from shopping at Walmart. This isn’t where she usually shops, she explains. But she was short of cash, and she asked a neighbor if she could front her some grocery money. The neighbor agreed if she would also pick up a few things for her at the Walmart.

She normally takes the bus clear across town to the “Mexican market at Atrisco.” I ask her if she means the Ranch Market. A few years ago, there was a rider on the 11 that used to go from near the end of the eastbound route clear on over to this westside grocery because, she told everyone within earshot, the prices were so good.

That’s the one, says my co-rider. She goes there twice a month. But the last time she was there, she had "a stroke." She was waiting in line and worried about whether she had enough money for her groceries.  She did, by exactly 99 cents. She remembers feeling a great relief, and then a sharp pain in her chest. The next thing she remembers is waking up in the hospital with seven doctors looking at her.

“They told me I was lucky to be alive.”

She isn’t sure what caused the stroke since she is careful about what she eats, and she doesn’t smoke or drink. Maybe the stress of not knowing if she had enough money.

But if stress was the cause of her stroke, she’s in real trouble now, she tells me. She’s just heard she might lose her home because the government is gonna stop funding HUD. She asks me if I have any idea how many people will end up homeless if this really happens.

I have no idea, of course. But assuming any truth in what she is telling me, I’m thinking this has to be fallout from sequestration.

(I will, of course, google later this day. I will type in “sequester, HUD, New Mexico.” I won’t find anything specific to New Mexico, but I will find what the HUD Secretary told Congress about HUD and sequestration in an article written in June in the Los Angeles Times:
--About 125,000 individuals and families to lose assistance from a housing voucher program, putting them at risk of homelessness.
--More than 100,000 formerly homeless people, including veterans, to be removed from housing or emergency shelter programs.)
She continues to talk about people losing their homes, and I can see she is getting worked up about it. So can some of the other riders. I think about her stroke and wonder if she’s taking anything for her blood pressure.

We reach her stop before she gets too wound up. She tells me it was nice talking with me, then reaches out her left hand (she has groceries in her right). “My name’s Bella.”* I shake with my left hand and tell her my name. She gathers up the rest of the bags and heads for the back door. Before exiting, she says, “May the Creator bless you.”

“You, too, Bella,” I manage to say.

May the Creator bless us all, I think to myself.


*Real name changed.


Thanks to Muni Diaries for this week’s featured bus story from Kate.